After touring Eastern Europe in Vivegam, which didn't go so well, Siva brings Ajith back to Tamil Nadu and reinstates him in a veshti-white shirt. It's a wise move, because Viswasam is familiar territory to the director and he appears more sure-footed of what he's doing than in his previous ambitious venture. One can even say that Siva has risen like his favourite phoenix bird from Vivegam. And flown to the land of Veeram and Vedalam which the bird knows all too well.
Oh the elements are still there. The hero has a pack of yes-men around him whose primary duty is to hail every move of his. As in times of royalty when the king's arrival would be preceded by a minion reading out his titles and praises, so too in Tamil star vehicles. These duties are fulfilled by Thambi Ramaiah, Robo Shankar, and Yogi Babu every time Ajith appears on screen. As Thookudurai from Theni, Ajith is quite comfortable bashing goons up and running a rice mill on the side. He's one of our few heroes who can pull off roles that require him to look sophisticated and also fit into a rustic character – as Thookudurai who displays a cheerful ignorance of English, he's very likable indeed.
Viswasam means 'trust' or 'loyalty'. After the Vivegam debacle, when it was announced that Ajith was going to do yet another film with Siva, the title seemed to reflect their friendship. But beyond that, it also forms the crux of the story – how much can you trust the person you love? And how loyal will they be towards you?
Nayanthara is stunning as Dr Niranjana, who distances herself from her spouse for a reason. While this romance itself is pretty unbelievable (how often do you meet a Stanford educated doctor who wants to marry a village thug?), the two actors strike up a chemistry that makes the film watchable.
Though there are some cringe-worthy bits of Yogi Babu trying his luck with the women doctors and nurses who accompany Niranjana for a medical camp, the heroine's role itself is mostly progressive for a mainstream Tamil film. The plot follows an Avvai Shanmugi trajectory, but where Janaki (Meena) was castigated for her "arrogance", Niranjana doesn't receive any moral lecturing for her decisions. A pleasant surprise that.
Child actor Anihka is impressive as the daughter, and though her scenes with Ajith verge on the melodramatic, she manages to keep it real with her natural performance. Certain incidents in the film reminded me of Salt Mango Tree, a Malayalam film on parental pressure – perhaps an inspiration or maybe not. The two are very different films at the end of the day.
If you are a fan of mega serials, Siva's style of direction will hold appeal. He likes to underline the obvious, mine every moment for sentiment. The lines are sometimes so long, you wonder how much effort the actors must have put in to memorise them. Take that dialogue Ajith reels off to Jagapathi Babu – about what sort of girl you can lay your hand on, depending on her relationship with her father. I could feel myself getting irritated by what he was trying to say, but the line was so convoluted that I lost my annoyance in just trying to make sense out of it.
You have only yourself to blame if you go around looking for logic in films such as these. So if you wonder how a thug from Theni knows Mumbai streets like the back of his hand, or why nobody thinks of calling the police when their loved one is being nearly murdered in front of their eyes, you deserve a slap from Thookudurai right across your face.
Vivek and Kovai Sarala are two other additions to the cast of comedians. But the humour is as tame as it is loud – Ajith, in fact, is better than all of them in delivering his comic lines. D Imman's Adichuthooku is fun though there are so many songs in the first half that you feel like the scenes were written in as an afterthought.
The fatal flaw in Vivegam was that Siva had clearly bitten off more than he could chew. Viswasam is no classic but it doesn't aspire to be anything more than what it is. The makers have advertised it as a 'family rural entertainer' (a genre you will find only in Indian cinema) and that's exactly what you get.
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.