‘Dharma Durai’: Enjoyable in moments, but losing out on the big picture

Where "Dharma Durai" falls is in the strangely haphazard scripting and editing.
‘Dharma Durai’: Enjoyable in moments, but losing out on the big picture
‘Dharma Durai’: Enjoyable in moments, but losing out on the big picture
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As the end credits roll by on the Vijay Sethupathi-starrer “Dharma Durai”, I feel nothing so much as a strange bewilderment. It’s not that “Dharma Durai” doesn’t have its moments. In brief flashes, the film actually has a few moments that stick.

However, between those moments, the film wanders over so many diversions and tangents that it’s hard to grasp just quite what happened between opening and closing credits.

When the film opens, Dharma Durai (Vijay Sethupathi), the eponymous doctor around whom the film revolves, is a man who’s gone to seed. He’s drunk through the day and does nothing but pray for his brothers’ ruin, his brothers hate his ability to constantly embarrass the family in public, and even his thoroughly devoted mother seems to think that the best thing for him would be to disappear from the village.

From that point, the film tells of how a once brilliant and sincere medical student ended up a drunk, and why he hates his family so, and how he eventually recovers his life.

Along the way, there’s a lot of social messaging the film tries to do. From telling doctors their education is built on the backs of the toilers of the country and needs to be paid back in service to them, to centering the story around a question of dowry, many of the intended messages feel like they’re coming to us from Tamil cinema of a much earlier time.

But between these, in a much less ostentatious fashion, there are scattered moments and tendencies that are certainly exciting. Like the two women that Dharma Durai spends much of the movie being in love with.

The first is an agricultural labourer, (Aishwarya Rajesh), whose education stopped in high school, but who insists on broadcasting her voice to the world as a writer of snippets and stories in Tamil magazines.

The second is a doctor, Suhasini, (Tamannaah) who’s taken that message about the duty of doctors to heart, to the extent that she divorces her husband whose only aim in life is to move abroad and live in first-world luxury.

And in Dharma Durai’s interactions with them, are some of the more enjoyable moments of the film, thanks to the nonchalance with which it treats moments and events that otherwise end up feeling excessively sugary or melodramatic.

It’s also in these moments that Vijay Sethupathi shines. Although he manages to keep the story moving in other parts of the film, he’s let down in many places by the uneven plotting of the film.

Where the film falls is in its strangely haphazard scripting and editing, that give the impression that it was put together as a series of individual scenes, rather than conceived as a full film. Events unfold as if told by an amateur storyteller adding in details as and when they occur to him, rather than building up within a coherent narrative sequence.

Even within individual scenes this problem occurs, so that the dramatic tension constantly fizzles before it can build up.

The result is a film that gets mired in false starts and lurching finishes, wasting what potential it had.

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