At the end of Mohan Raja's Velaikkaran, the director makes an honest admission. This film is a marketing attempt, a hard sell for a principled utopia.
Velaikkaran begins well. There's an intelligent guy aptly named Arrivu (Sivakarthikeyan) who wants to change his life and those of others like him in his kuppam. He starts a community radio station called Kuppam FM to talk to everyone about the goings-on around them - which includes a live commentary of a murder. So far, so good. A beefed up Prakash Raj, his bulging eyes rotating menacingly, makes for a good villain.
But then, he's not the real villain. How can he be when he's also a velaikkaran for someone?
Mohan Raja's plot lines are like a pamphlet summary of communism - don't trust the suit-boot guys, they're out to suck your blood. So as in Thani Oruvan, we get a suave villain in the form of Aadhi - Fahadh Faasil, who makes his Tamil debut with this film. He is, as he always is, a joy to watch, pulling off humour and cunning in equal measure.
Although predictable, the first half of Velaikkaran is engaging. You get some genuine laughs from Robo Shankar, Sathish, RJ Balaji, Thambi Ramaiah and Sivakarthikeyan - it's not howlarious but the customer is still smiling at this point. Arrivu's earnestness and outbursts stay believable (nice jibe at Tablemate - my parents bought one too!) and when the kuppam lets him know that they're with him in his fight, you feel like the narrative is building towards something big.
The second half, however, turns into a long lecture. There's speech after speech on corporate evil (the cancer-through-food bogey from 36 Vayathiniley rears its head here too) and how our hero is going to defeat the moneybags and emerge victorious. People stop speaking to each other and spend more time either speaking into a mic or a camera. You wonder if you're watching a film or a power-point presentation.
There's so much talking down to the audience, so much spoon-feeding, much like a lecturer on a tedious monologue. The tricks that felt clever in Thani Oruvan just seem repetitive here.
Mohan Raja left us on the cusp of enlightenment in Thani Oruvan when Jayam Ravi lectures Nayanthara on true "women's empowerment", ending his speech with, "true women's empowerment is something else". In Velaikkaran, he finally reveals what that "something else" is - a liberated woman is someone who knows the "limits of her freedom". Slow claps. Maybe Mohan Raja films should address the statutory warnings about drinking and smoking only for women and be done with it?
Sneha and Rohini as the sacrificing mothers get the badge of real "women's empowerment". Though I did grow impatient with the director's penchant for mansplaining, having a mother discuss workplace sexual harassment with her son is not something we've seen in Tamil cinema. The realisation on the son's face makes for a rare moment of honesty in the otherwise bloated second half.
The editing is not quite smooth and there are quite a few scenes that end abruptly - as if the lecturer is aware that the bell is going to ring soon and is skipping entire paragraphs in the lesson he's stuffing down your throat. Anirudh's songs provide some relief in between all the information relay.
Earlier in the film, Aadhi tells Arrivu that supermarkets give customers a grocery cart to make them buy items that they had no intention of purchasing. Velaikkaran feels just like that overloaded grocery cart - there's too much in there, not all of it palatable, and definitely, not all of it necessary.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.