Oct 18 2011
Director Sargunam’s debut Kalavaani was a charming film that told a simple love story with a consistent undertone of humor. For his sophomore effort Vaagai Sooda Vaa, Sargunam aims higher in both canvas and scope as he delivers a period film that drives home an important message. The uncomplicated screenplay and natural humor work when the movie keeps things simple but the director’s low-key approach dilutes the impact of his message when he gets around to conveying it.
The year is 1966 and Velu(Vimal) takes up a short-term teaching assignment in the village of Kandeduthankadu to get the certificate that will enable him to land a government job. The kids and their parents all work in the brick kiln run by Andai(Ponvannan) and the kids show no interest in attending Velu’s school. As he tries to figure out ways to get them interested, Madhi(Iniya), who runs a teastall, develops a liking for him.
In Kalavaani, Sargunam reminded us of Bagyaraj with his ability to effortlessly extract humor from every situation. Here he underscores the similarity more directly as Vimal’s profession and the nature of his encounters with Iniya and the village kids bring to mind Bagyaraj’s most successful film Mundhaanai Mudichu. So its no surprise that Bagyaraj’s introduction sees him returning from the market with a bag of drumsticks!
Situations like Vimal’s lack of excitement about his job, the kids’ playfulness and their unwillingness to attend school are ripe for humor and the film exploits them well. The episodes where the kids pull a fast one over Vimal are all funny(his encounter with the goat is the pick of the lot) with the simple and natural dialogs making a considerable contribution. Vimal being the butt of the jokes ensures that the romance with Iniya(the role food plays in this is another aspect that reminds us of Mundhaanai Mudichu) and his conversations with Thambi Ramaiyah(revolving around math problems) also get their share of laughs.
Though the plight of the villagers is clear right from the beginning, the humor keeps it in the background for most of the film. When the hardships the kids and parents undergo by working at the kiln is finally brought to the forefront and the film’s tone undergoes an abrupt shift, it feels rather late. As a result, the proceedings feel rushed. Also, many of the key scenes after that, whether its the kids finally going to school or the parents realizing that they’ve been cheated and fighting back, are rather muted and don’t contain the soaring emotions that accompany such scenarios.
Vimal is content playing the foil to Iniya and the kids and fits well into the 60s. Iniya is very expressive and is able to convey a lot with a squint of her eyes or a slight smile. Bagyaraj doesn’t get much screen time but manages to deliver a rant that raises laughs because of his trademark style of dialog delivery. Ponvannan, in keeping with the film’s low-key style, plays a bad guy without much fanfare. The kids are a fun lot and their innocent expressions and smiles as they lie blatantly never fail to make us smile.
Music director Ghibran makes a sensational debut here. Sara Sara… is a fabulous number sung beautifully by Chinmayi. The picturization too excels in both concept and cinematography, making it a song sequence where everything comes together. Poraaney… is another instantly catchy number sung with a unique style by Neha Basin as is Senga Soola Kaara…, sung energetically by Anitha. Aanaa Aavannaa… is a slow number that still manages to serve as a fitting backdrop to the scenario of kids being educated. As in any period film, the cinematography and art direction are crucial here too. With the film being set in a remote village, there’s no need for big sets(unlike in, say, Madharasapattinam) but props like the radio and the old-style utensils help recreate the era. Om Prakash’s cinematography is fabulous. The starkness of the land is brought to life through the sepia tones and brown really looks beautiful.
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