In this week's #WatchWithTNM Halloween edition, we take you back to this story about a freaky doll that is out for revenge.

Collage of still from Vaa Arugil Vaa and Ramya Krishnan
Flix Flix Flashback Friday, October 23, 2020 - 18:47

The image of the doll, wearing a bright pink frock and blue pants, its thick blonde hair tied up in two ponies, would remain etched in the minds of many adults who grew up during the '80s and '90s. The creepy smile plastered to its face (not unlike the pappadam-pappadam woman we’ve seen recently) might still send a faint wave of chill down the spine for some of us even today. Some from our generation, who grew up with a healthy dose of Tamil cinema, would forever remain wary of the talking-walking battery operated dolls (this writer included). Before Annabelle from The Conjuring-verse there was the Vaa Aruil Vaa bommai for us. In this week's Watch With TNM Halloween edition, we take you back to this story about a freaky doll that is out for revenge.

In one of the most thrilling scenes from the film, the doll armed with the butcher’s knife haunts a man in the middle of the night. It jumps, flips and rolls under the bed. One second it’s there behind him, the next it's gone. The effects from about 30 years ago are not as convincing or anywhere close to scaring us but it's still amazing to see how this impact was achieved back then, using stunt doubles.

Vaa Arugil Vaa released in 1991 and starred many actors including Vaishnavi,  Ramya Krishnan, Raja, Karate Thyagarajan, Radha Ravi and Vijya Chandrika among others. Directed by Kalaivanan Kannadasan, the film was produced by A Manavazhagan and had music by Chanakya. It was loosely based on the Hollywood horror film Child’s Play released a few years ago in 1988, that also had a creepy-looking doll called Chucky. Child’s Play, the film, was based on Don Mancini’s story and it had its own series of films released later on.

In India, Vaa Arugil Vaa was dubbed in Telugu, and then remade in Kannada and Odia.

It was the '90s, when the film The Exorcist and the TV series Goosebumps were some of the scariest horror watches and yet, they seemed far away, reassuring the viewer that evil lured elsewhere, in foreign lands. But Vaa Arugil Vaa brought horror close home. The possessed doll could be in anyone’s house!

Yet, it’s India— where evil is not entirely evil. “Pei" mostly is a “nalla peri” (good ghost) that listens to reason. It's still wandering around in human realms only for an unfinished task that usually involves killing those who killed it in the first place, and once that’s done, it goes back to peaceful resting. We never had those ambiguous endings from western cinema.

Vaa Arugil Vaa is a horror story of a possessed doll that is out for revenge. The first half of the film is deftly handled by actor Vaishnavi who plays Lakshmi. Lakshmi comes from a family of limited means but they were once wealthy landowners. Ramu’s (played by actor Raja) family who are greedy for more money assume that Lakshmi might still receive the property that’s caught in a legal tussle and agree to Lakshmi and Ramu’s love marriage.

However things go south when Lakshmi’s father loses the legal battle. She’s then tortured mercilessly by her in-laws who murder her. All the while, Ramu, the man who fell in love with her and married her is oblivious to all her suffering and believes all the lies his family tells him. One would have thought Lakshmi’s spirit would finish him off first, but well, this a Tamil film from the '90s.

Actor Ramya Krishnan enters as the second wife in the second half of the film. She plays Chandra, a devoted wife. She is also smart enough to see through the freaky doll’s schemes. While the doll manages to seek its revenge by murdering the in-laws, a portion of it is still left, just to add a bit of “thaali” drama to the film.

When watched now, Vaa Arugil Vaa may seem like a melodramatic attempt at horror, especially with its poor stunts and jarring effects. It is especially funny when the doll gets bigger during these stunts.  But on rewatching the film, it becomes apparent that the domestic violence and abuse against women that the film pegs itself on aren’t too far from reality.

The horror effects in this film come off as child’s play but the horrors of real life â€” which we’ve seen, read and heard about â€” women tortured, their bodies mutilated and brutally murdered by their in-laws for dowry, are graphically shown in the first half. If you’re able to get past the freaky doll, you’ll be able to see that the horrors of real life meted out to women, is the main horror in this film. 

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