Vazhakku En: 18/9

Cast: Muthuraman, Muralidharan, Sri, Urmila Mahanta, Manisha Yadhav; Music: R Prasanna; Direction: Balaji Sakthivel

With the exception of Simbudevan, Shankar’s assistants have tried the formula of blending neo-realism, melodrama and social criticism. The commercial and critical success of these usually depended on which flavour dominated the work. In Kadhal, it was the melodrama and in Angadi Theru, the social criticism. In both these films, the right mix was eluding these directors.

Balaji Sakthivel hits bulls eye in getting that mix right this time. Vazhakku En 18/9 is low on melodrama and social criticism and high on neo-realism and, therefore, touches the right chords.

It is, ironically, a bit difficult to define the genre of this film. It plays out like a thriller and a whodunit, starting with a crime, which in itself doesn’t get explained much – meaning we don’t know what the actual crime was – and continues with the police investigation through which we learn the backstory. In this, the director usefully borrows the narrative device from Akira Kurosowa’s Rashomon to present the flashback from two perspectives – both obviously clashing in many points but revealing different facts. The first time this device was used effectively was in Balachander’s Nootrukku Nooru. Next time, after a gap of 33 years, was in Virumandi, with poor execution. Balaji Sakshivel, again, finds the right mix in this where we are taunted with different truths through different flashbacks. We do know the truth, because confusing it with the morality of the characters is not the intention of this film.

Hence, we meet people that are only bad; but are they really? Except one character, who is clearly defined as villain, the rest are just normal people doing normal things. They appear bad to judging eyes but they don’t know any other way to behave. From the humanistic perception, these people are exploitative. In a sociological perception, they are merely surviving.

Good films are supposed to bring these characters to foreground. They are supposed to open the window of your house and show the street where you will meet normal people, often doing abnormal things. From the distance, it appears like they are abnormal, until you realise that you’re one of them. You are a pot calling the kettle black. We are all black, not exactly racially.

The film’s end is a compromise, because we all need a happy ending. Although not exactly a typical Tamil movie ‘happy’, the ending offers a solace, a hope, a deliverance of justice, a closure. It is not very clear whether the director was ‘compelled’ to compromise by his financiers. In public functions and interviews, Balaji Sakthivel came across as an emotional man. He perhaps must have felt the need to deliver justice for his own sake. Like the success finally attained by Selvaraghavan’s hero in Mayakkam Enna. A kind of salvation. Not for the audience but for the filmmakers themselves. For the audience too, it serves well. We know that ordinary people are capable of extra-ordinary things. We needed happy ending and the director gives us that. Unlike Mynaa, where a great movie was ruined by a forced unhappy ending, Vazhakku decided to remain a great movie by offering a happy one, as far as the happy ending can go with this story.

Vazhakku is an intricately scripted, caringly directed and naturally acted film. From Bharatiraaja to Vasantha Balan, every director worth his salt has tried to blend drama with neo-realism and succeeded or failed at various levels. Vazhakku is the first perfect blend of this mixed genre in Tamil, and for this alone, Balaji Sakthivel deserves our applause. Although he would not have achieved this without the foundation laid by the greats such as Bharatiraaja, it is to be noted that he has taken it to the next level.

There are seven more months to go yet, but, considering what’s in the pipeline, we can confidently risk saying that Vazhakku En 18/9 is going to be the best film of the year.