3.5 out of 5 (Very Good)
Vazhakku Enn 18/9 is a rewarding piece of cinema that establishes Balaji Sakthivel as a film-maker to look out for.
Rohit Ramachandran Sat, 05 May 2012
Vazhakku Enn 18/9, just as in Kadhal, has circumstances bring about a love affair between its lead actors after a series of altercations. We've seen it once in Kadhal; why again? We know where it is heading despite the role reversal. Oh never mind, let the guy leave his stamp. I suggest you read further only after you've seen the film.
The first half is typical of any product from Kollywood. There's the hero, an immediate stand-out-in-a-crowd personality, playing opposite an inconspicuous heroine. There's nothing unusual about this love story, which is established within an hour, when it breaks for an intermission. I sat thinking about Kollywood's lack of aspiration. But I was wrong. The real bite comes in the quintessential second half. Considering the roles they are playing and the misfortune that befalls them, I think it is a wise casting choice.
Again, the supporting characters are the ones that change colour when you least expect them to and imprint themselves in your memory. Who could forget Sandhya's uncle in Kadhal? We have conniving sons of bitches here too. And Balaji Sakthivel knows them inside out. A cop, who appears honest at first, is lured off track with a huge bone thrown by a hedonistic minister. Then there's a rich kid, Dinesh who thrives on the status of being held up by his peers for his ability to score chicks. He's so genuinely pretentious and scheming, thanks to dead-on dialogue delivery by debutant Mithun Murali. The entire cast is splendid and complement their co-actors on screen well, but this guy deserves a special mention.
Sakthivel lets loose his cinematographer, Vijay Milton, who seems at will with the camera playfully drawing our attention; especially when the shots are superimposed over one another. I liked that certain scenes, which act not just as connective tissue between the two storylines but as timeframe indicators, were replayed. Prasanna's music is very effective; be it for creating a foreboding atmosphere or preparing the viewer for the climax, it swells comfortably behind scenes.
Like Selvaraghavan, Sakthivel's personality sneaks into his films. But unlike Selvaraghavan, I think he wants it to. He can't resist from commenting on the espying nature of technology. We see that at various instances and we don't know whether he speaks for or against it. Aarthi is a victim here, out of good (the cop records their conversation) and bad (I don't have to tell you the crux of the story) will. If you've seen Kadhal, you'll know that social division bothers him. The issue is raked up again in Vazhakku Enn 18/9, but with far more restraint. In some sequences the implications were so subtle that I wondered if even Balaji Sakthivel was consciously aware that they rang so.
This is a more daring venture than Kadhal, which annoyed me for the innumerable compromises it made. Sakthivel is more focused here; refraining from interrupting our experience with low-brow humour and reducing the music number count. Questions are intentionally left unanswered to trigger debates. What was the point of blurring the minister's face? Is Sakthivel saying that the identities of people belonging to the highest rung of society are never disclosed? Or that he's an anonymous wildcard character and is applicable to every minister? Also, why does he repeatedly hint at an acid attack?
After my first viewing and I've seen it twice, there was something about the way things ended that I simply didn't buy. But I couldn't put my finger on it. On my second viewing, I realized what it was. I don't believe in altruistic fantasies and the love affair is the least of all the problems in the film's world. She feels sorry for the guy who takes the blame? That's why she retaliates? Not because she's angry for what has happened? I'm not pleased with that angle at all. She's spent more time with that face than with him, she's been put through a lot of pain, the trauma is going to take a while to settle down and the memory of the experience is going to sting every waking moment.
Where does it end? Today, she's in prison. He's outside and there's no hope for their love. Is love something of a language that is required to express a problem to the Tamilian? Does the Tamilian understand problems only in terms of love and does every problem have to be represented such? I don't think so. I wish the leads had their individual trajectories and hadn't known each other. It would have made this more real and powerful, without bordering on exploitation. Even with all of these problems, Vazhakku Enn 18/9 is a rewarding piece of cinema that establishes Balaji Sakthivel as a film-maker to look out for.
Critic: Rohit Ramachandran
3.5 out of 5 (Very Good)