From advocating sticking to family no matter how toxic they are (and we mean toxic in the level of an attempted murder), to sending goons flying as a manner of conflict resolution in business, actor Vijay's latest outing Varisu is everything that its trailer promised it would be. And with it, the actor manages to deliver a tried and tested drama, which — while highly predictable — still manages to entertain the audience.
But let's set the context first. Based in what seems to be a rather futuristic version of Chennai, the story revolves around a patriarchal family led by business tycoon Rajendran, who exhibits wildly narcissistic traits. A splendid Sarathkumar in three-piece suits carries this mantle with aplomb, bringing to life a father who believes that the earth spins on his orders. He controls his two elder sons Jay (Srikanth) and Ajay (Shaam) to the point where he sets them against each other. His third and estranged son Vijay meanwhile (a real throwback to the actor's blockbuster Suryavamsam), is living a page right out of Ranbir Kapoor's 'Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani', moving around with a camera to shoot exotic people and places in India. Except, the production was clearly short on a budget because low-grade computer graphics and unrealistic animation seems to be as far as they are willing to go to introduce the hero in the title track.
Just when you think Vijay has chosen the path less trodden and left to pursue the Arts (which all movie fathers hate), bam! You are suddenly in a press conference for the hero's start-up which seems to have got publicity despite having no funders yet.
Another sudden jump then leads to a flashback where we learn the reason for estrangement between father and son. No prizes for guessing that the root cause of all evils in Varisu is the male ego.
This lazy writing and choppy screenplay by director and writer Vamshi Paidipally extends for a large part of the movie's first half. The plot begins to thicken a little when Vijay comes back to the family home he angrily left, after seven long years. Despite the slow pace of the first half, Yogi Babu and Vijay's double act keeps you engaged, as they humorously untangle the simmering resentment within the joint family that seems perfect from the outside. Vijay shines in his comic avatar, bringing a playfulness to the screen that his fans have adored, and missed in his last outing Beast.
Unsurprisingly, he is just in time to lend a hand to the father who is facing both personal troubles in terms of unexpected news and professional setbacks because of his bitter business rival Jayaprakash (Prakash Raj). What follows next is a series of power struggles both within and outside the family unit.
Earlier in the movie, we are told that the youngest son has finished his MBA (Master of Business Administration) from Harvard on his 'own merit'. But Harvard unbeknownst to us seems to have updated its MBA to a Masters in Body Assault, because nothing else can explain how every business outing ends with 50 henchmen splayed on the ground surrounding the hero. While the villains all seem to have security guards, the hero's family seems to have made their son the de-facto 'Kaavalan'. Just when you think the movie will be all brawn and no brain, director Vamshi comes through with a hero who uses both comedy and cunning to protect his father's business. Vijay unexpectedly stumbles in his acting when made to switch between heavier emotions in the climax but stuns and enthrals when it comes to action and comedy. The second half, except for a completely unnecessary abduction curve, keeps the movie aloft and delivers the promised entertainer. Varisu without a doubt outshines some of the actor's latest and disappointing outings.
Its message that a family sticks together no matter what however, leaves you uncomfortable. At a time when mental health experts are advocating setting boundaries with toxic relatives and partners, the movie seems to be stuck in a bygone era. Vamshi advocates forgiving just about anything from complete spousal neglect, disrespect, betrayal and sabotage to even attempted murder because someone is 'family'.
Vijay himself labels the family 'toxic' in one comic sequence with Yogi Babu, but despite this awareness, the director does not want to move towards any logical conclusion on the matter.
At this point, if the movie seems complete without the mention of even a single woman in it, you are correct in your observation. There is zero effort made to give the female characters in 'Varisu' some depth or actual purpose in the film. Jayasudha plays the time-tested mother whose life is a saga of sacrifice.
The other women in this film too are restricted to only playing a role that in some way completes the image of the men in it and even there, they are given dialogues (if any at all) to justify the toxicity and sexism that prevails through the runtime. Jay's wife played by Sangeetha (a wasted talent) for instance is first told by Vijay that she will be happier alone given her husband's transgressions but is later asked to think about 'family' when she actually follows through. Just when you think the actor and director are empowering women in bad relationships, they decide to undo their good work and settle back for the trope of a wife who forgives all. But at least Sangeetha managed to wrangle a few dialogues. The second sister-in-law was merely a mute spectator meant to explain why there were two more children running around on screen.
Rashmika Mandanna meanwhile, purely introduced to play Vijay's love interest, waltzes in and out of screen for all of about 10 minutes if you don't count the songs. The director, who seems happy to include innumerable and elaborate fight sequences, doesn't feel the need to include more realistic emotions for the women involved in the film. Not fleshing out its women has definitely affected the film's effort to strike an emotional chord with family audiences.
Poorly crafted CGI aside, the cinematography of the film is impressive in parts and the supporting actors, especially both brothers, have delivered convincing performances. The music, especially 'Vaa Thalaivaa' feeds the energy and frenzy surrounding Vijay's introduction.
In short, Varisu is a predictable but enjoyable family drama. After all, the fact that 'family is difficult' is a universal emotion.
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.