July 30, 2014 – I entered the hostel of my engineering college that was going to be my home for the next 4 years. The hostel had awfully draconian rules, at least on paper. The most horrendous one was – No mobile phones allowed. We were allowed to have a music player though, and I had a Philips GoGear Mix, that could accommodate 4GB of music. My taste of music was extremely mainstream, only the popular Hindi and Telugu film music. Yet, I had music for 3GB comprising of the said music in my Nokia E-63. I transferred all my music to Mix and had a cool pair of matching skull candy earphones, which I used to shamelessly show off. Utterly unprepared and unsure of my future, I entered the hostel. Wait, did I tell that the college was in Chennai? And that everyone around spoke Tamil? That’s where the fun and fear began. I, on the other hand, was from Andhra where I grew up before moving to Mumbai, then, Surat and then to Pune, where I did my 12th from. So, Chennai was not in the RADAR. I couldn’t speak Tamil. And was being thrown into a zone I have never been before and never wanted to be in. But, that’s how it happened. And I have to say, being a Telugu helped. I found Tamil pretty similar to my mother tongue. Anyway, coming back to the hostel, they screened a movie for hostelites every Saturday provided there were no exams around the corner, which would become the case in the future. This was the part I was super thrilled for.
It was August 2nd, the first-ever Saturday in the hostel. Me, along with a newly made friend of mine, went to the proclaimed open-air auditorium whose seats were the actual steps of the indoor auditorium’s entrance. I had a minimal knowledge of Tamil cinema most of which came in from watching dubbed versions of Tamil films in Telugu and Hindi. Anniyan, which was Aparichithudu in Telugu, was my favourite Tamil movie back then. So, I silently sat among the crowd of homesick teenagers waiting for the movie to begin. But, we had bonus content waiting for us, songs! As the trending songs played one after the other, I kept bothering my friend with my questions about each song – who is the hero? When did this movie release? Was this a hit? And many irrelevant ones, which he patiently answered.
Then began THE film. THE film that would change my prefixed notion of Tamil cinema. THE film that would make me fall in love with Tamil cinema. THE film that made me realize sensibility and masala can coexist. And most importantly, THE film which gave me songs that I would listen for the years to come.
It was R. Velraj’s Velaiyilla Pattathari(VIP), extraordinarily contradictory and kind of satirical title for the first movie to be screened for a new batch of engineering students.
I asked my friend what it meant.
He replied, “Graduate with no job”.
“Oh. That’s the name? Okay”, I responded, as I kept wondering that it’s a crime to screen a pirated copy of the film to a crowd.
I actually had some expectations set for the film, my roommate (who would later become one of my closest friends in life) was an ardent fan of Dhanush and had told me that evening that it was a great movie when I asked him about it as I was curious to know what movie would they be playing.
The very first shot of the movie is the protagonist’s father waking up his son, who has been unemployed for four years after completing Civil engineering. And the ‘hero’, whose name is Raghuvaran, is introduced as he wakes up with a sleepy and dull face. This is the very first time we see the hero. Going by the norm, the hero’s introduction is a celebration and has them flying with colours, literally. This was pretty different for a film that is led by a South star. I could understand it in bits and pieces, but I started to like it from the very first scene.
There is a very generic conversation between the son, Dhanush and the mother, Saranya Ponvannan. The mother seems to have a solution to her son’s unemployment. She just wants him to be cleanly shaven.
Raghuvaran, for those not familiar with south cinema, was an actor iconic for his negative roles. There is even a brilliant call-out to this fact when a frustrated Raghuvaran (from this film) bursts out at his parents for naming him after a villain but his brother, after a hero, Karthik. I didn’t know who Karthik was, but I laughed hard. These conversations are my favourite thing about VIP. It’s been more than 5 years since I first saw it, but I remember every line that comes out of Raghu’s mouth. A scene that gives the essence of the film is when Raghu is deep thought of earning money. We also see a drafter beside his bed. He calls his brother and asks him to switch on the fan and then asks the question thathe wants to.
Till then, I didn’t know that Tamil films were this light-hearted. All that would come to my mind was people in white veshtis holding a sword(which I would come to know in future, is called Aruva) and killing each other. Another opinion I had on Tamil cinema was how masala films rely on violence and melodrama. VIP changed it. For Tamils, it might be just another entertainer. For me, it’s an eye-opener that there is a lot which I had no idea about. All of this only after showing the best kind of masala entertainment.
The writing of the film is brilliant and had me floored. The fact that it was written, shot and directed by a former cinematographer is just mind-boggling. There is smartness in the dialogues all over. The screenplay never rushes to go to the mass scenes. It takes its time. And when the mass actually happens, it was unlike anything I saw before. A couple of goons come and beat up Raghuvaran in his house as his helpless mother stands and watches them thrashing her son. A couple of flower pots are broken too, to the dismay of the mother. When Raghu realizes that his father is not at home, he slowly asks his mother why couldn’t she say it a little earlier. And this sets up the first fight of the movie. In the sit-out area of a normal residential area. It’s soo simple that a couple of flower pots are all that is broken again and the mom is super serious about it! This simplicity is what every other movie misses.
While the crowd around me was laughing and enjoying the movie, the first real cheers came in for the slow-motion kick that Raghu lands on a thug. This slow-motion kick would later become famous in my hostel, at least in my room as the VIP kick. The said slow motion stood out because of the film’s second hero. Wait, did I mention that VIP is a multistarrer? Then another hero of this film with an equally important role is Anirudh, and it’s incredible that he doesn’t appear on the screen at all but is the backbone of the film.
FYI: He is the same person who composed ‘Why this Kolaveri di.’
Each and every piece from the music album is gold. What-a-karuvaad, Amma Amma, Udhungada Sangu, and smiling with pain are my favourites. Generally, background music is used to enhance and elevate the emotion of the scene. The employment of background score in VIP is no different. But, the background score over the years got an identity for itself. Being frank, just recalling the background score today makes me all nostalgic. Listening to it is a private screening of VIP in my mind. Very few background scores have this impact.
I’ll just give you an example: Raghuvaran after a messed up interview comes out of the office frustrated and throws the file in his hand on the road. Shalini (Amala Paul, who is his neighbour but not a love interest at that point), who is on the other side of the road, observes this and calls him. Raghu’s mood, after looking at the phone, shifts from frustration to relief. It feels like she is the only good thing to him at that point in his life. All this happens under a minute, and it’s the music that is actually the MVP of this scene.
The mother’s death hit me hard. Oh boy! That is not something a homesick guy should see on the first-ever weekend in a hostel. The song that follows, Amma Amma deals with the effect the homemaker’s death has on the house. It’s not just people sitting in a corner and crying. That’s what I expected to happen considering my prefixed mindset of Tamil films. Yes, that part is there. But it is minimal. But it changed whatever I had in mind about Tamil cinema.
The second half of the film should be used as a textbook for the current filmmakers who miserably fail when it comes to making a mass movie. When Raghu challenges the bad guy, you feel that he is getthu(a word that is somewhere close to thug-life and next range) because Raghu has been a failure his whole life and is becoming a hero now. In a regular masala movie, we are told that the hero is a boy-next-door, but is it really the case? No. The hero is unemployed in most of the films, or the writer doesn’t know what he does. All his friends and society worships him. But not Raghu, he is dismissed by society, no one values him, and Raghu knows this. So, when this guy becomes THE hero and mouths punch dialogues, it gives a kick for real and makes you cheer for him. All this was possible because of Velraj’s flawless writing.
Yes. To me, VIP is a perfect film because there was no reference movie for me to compare to when I saw it. Yes, I’m biased. VIP was the best Tamil movie I saw back then and still is one of the greatest achievements in Tamil cinema.
After a crowd pleasing fight in the climax, the hero and villain talk it over like to youngsters would. The hero even apologises the villain had he done something wrong. I say again, the brilliance of VIP lies in it’s simplicity to acknowledge the simplicity and celebrate the common man.
VIP was a yardstick for me to compare Tamil films that released over the next few years cause it had the set the standard of Tamil cinema soo high in my mind.
More importantly, when I went home for that independence day weekend, 2 weeks later, I downloaded the complete album and loaded them into my GoGear Mix. Thus, beginning my love affair with Tamil music and cinema. In the last 5 years, Mix died, I changed 5 phones, but the album has remained with me irrespective of the devices. When my first semester results had come out and I’d cleared all the subjects, I listened to what-a-karuvaad to celebrate. When I’d cleared a job interview in the final year, on my way back to hostel from the office, I listened to Udhungada Sangu! I was celebrating that I won’t be a VIP! Had I not cleared that interview, I would have sadly & proudly listened to the title song. At the end of the day, which movie celebrates and gives the unemployed, an identity? Unknowingly, VIP has been a part of my life for the past 5 years and will continue to be so despite getting fluent in Tamil and watching a ton of new and older Tamil films.
After the movie finished, I remember jumping with excitement “wow!”, “This is brilliant”, “is this a hit?”, to which my friend continued calmly answering and even dropped some trivia that Dhanush himself produced it, the low budget it was made on, etc. I felt happy about life and had hope that I can pull off those years! All because of a movie!
Everyone has a prefixed mindset about everything, which might not be right. But it is not wrong as well, we are human beings. All it takes to break it is one moment of realization, and for me, it took 140 minutes to realize how Tamil cinema is more than the flying cars, sword fights and all other bull shit. Remember, it takes only a moment.
To end it – Velaiyilla Pattathari is how I expect a film to be made. Sensible, thought provoking, memorable, and most importantly – entertaining as hell!
Fun fact: My friend who I saw this with shares his name with Raghuvaran’s brother’s.
Listen to the music here – https://www.jiosaavn.com/album/velaiyilla-pattathari/OlcoyL1Ed9Y_
So these are some of the songs which were shown before the movie.
Machi, open the bottle(Mankatha, 2011)
Vaanganna Vanakanganna(Thalaiva, 2013)
Title song of VVS(VVS, 2013)
Maanja(Maan Karate, 2014)
Mississippi (Biriyani, 2014)
And, teaser of Anjaan(2014) Remember?
Note: All the images used are screenshots from the film’s telugu version on youtube.