Varisu: Vijay’s endearing charm is comfort food for our minds

Varisu was a welcome surprise. It was clear to everyone from the trailer that the film is betting on its sentimentality to win the audience’s affection. And it must have made many feel ambivalent about the movie. At a time, when bigger guns and bigger explosions are touted to be the must-have elements for a film to click with a larger audience, what do you make of a movie that tends to invoke the feelings that are the lifeline of television soap operas ?

Of course, there was a time when such movies enjoyed a lot of clout at the box office in Tamil cinema. Suryavamsam, Aanandham, Nattamai, and Vaanathaippola to name a few — were popular movies from the 90s and the early 2000s. And then Tamil cinema stopped making such feel-good, melodramatic family entertainers. Even Vijay rose to stardom doing his fair share of melodramas.

So it was understandable why Vijay opted for a family drama like Varisu for the Pongal festival. Not just in Vijay’s career, some of the biggest hits in Dil Raju’s (Bommarillu, Parugu, Mr. Perfect, Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu to name a few) career as a producer were from this genre.

Varisu proved the naysayers wrong by getting so many things right. And one of the biggest reasons for that is it used the pre-convinced notion of the audience about it in its favor. Director Vamshi Paidipally and his writers Hari, Ashishor Solomon and lyricist Vivek are mindful of changing times. They know that they can’t make a film with the sensibilities of Vaanathaippola, which takes itself too seriously.

The writers of Varisu have done a fantastic job of remaking the old themes into an enjoyable movie. There is a strong sense of familiarity, but the micro additions to the old set-up add up to something refreshing and pleasing. The themes and structure of the narrative are indebted to its predecessors in the genre. But, the moment we get ready to cringe watch a scene based on our assumptions of what happens next, thinking that we have seen it play out 100 times in the past, we are surprised.

The name of the game is self-awareness. The film knows that if it takes itself too seriously, the audience would turn it into a subject of ridicule. And Vijay walks the fine line in keeping the heavy sentiments in the film light and breezy. When Vijay sings the title song of the popular Tamil serial Metti Oli, it puts us immediately at ease. It sort of informs us that the filmmakers have a vision and they have the talent and knowledge to achieve it.

Even the blocking of the scenes is fluid. Take the scene where Vijay and Yogi Babu’s Kicha sit down to watch the drama that unfolds at the family dining table. While Vijay takes a seat on the sofa, Kicha sits on the floor. As they begin to converse, Vijay gets down from the sofa and sits next to Kicha. It shows that even though they are divided by their individual social status, they are united by their friendship. The bond between the two strikes a chord with us and we enjoy it when Kicha ridicules Vijay time and again because that invisible social barrier is eliminated. Now, it’s just two friends engaging in a fun banter.

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There is another shot of Vijay climbing down the staircase during an emotional scene. Before we see Vijay, we see his shadow of him as if it’s always watching over family members like a guardian angel. The boardroom scene where Vijay is on the cusp of being voted out from his company is an unmistakable riff on the boardroom scene from Allu Arjun’s blockbuster Vaikunthapurramuloo wing. In that scene, Bantu crashes a coup and upsets the villain’s game by humorously dancing to popular songs from the movies starring actors from Allu Arjun’s family. In the film’s most meta-moment, Vijay generously throws references to his past blockbusters to thwart a similar coup.

Vijay lifts the entire movie with his sheer charm. He unapologetically plays to the gallery scene after scene. And he keeps reminding us why we like to watch him. We enjoy his performance most when he’s doing comedy. Not while mouthing punchlines or performing stunts. We adore him when he’s performing smooth dance moves and preach to us about widely-accepted morality. It’s not the widely-celebrated folk number “Ranjithame” but the grossly underrated duet “Jimikki Ponnu” that steals the show. The production of the song and energetic and sleek performances by Vijay and Rashmika Mandanna leaves us wanting more.

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