A delicious setup tapers – The New Indian Express

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Naane Varuvean begins when you learn that a deranged boy has set a young girl’s skirt on fire. Welcome back to my world, Selvaraghavan seems to be saying. Soon someone else speaks of the joys of hunting a man as opposed to an animal. Someone else is said to have eyes that seem to radiate something demonic, and the filmmaker captures that scowl convincingly.

There is something immensely gratifying about seeing Selvaraghavan do things so unusual in our cinema that few filmmakers dare to do so. There are moments in his films that are so dark and technically so convincing that it is impossible not to feel a primal rush. On Naane Varuvean I felt a glorious high at the interval point. The frame shows a grinning girl in the foreground and a man in the background, frozen in shock. In between, you can see the slow gait of another man behind him. Yuvan’s ritual title track does the rest. It’s also nice that Selvaraghavan is returning to something more emotional, intimate with this film.

However, I would be remiss not to emphasize the joys of the first half. I enjoyed the filmmaker’s take on the over-the-top horror space and show that a novel experience can still be created with a few tasteful touches. Among the many impressive visual options is an old Selvaraghavan recording of Prabhu (Dhanush) standing near a locked door while people around him run in panic. Since this film is about a persecuted child, it’s important to note that our cinema usually either makes children grow up or portrays them as unfortunate victims. Naane Varuvean’s writing establishes the victim, young Sathya (a most impressive Hiya Davey), as an individual capable of self-reflection. At one point, she even protests the condescending looks of the adults around her. I found Sathya to be a really likable child and that made the horrors she faces even more frightening.

How far can science fall behind in a horror film? There are some New Age ghostbusters in Naane Varuvean and also a psychiatrist (Prabhu), but there’s no real foray into this age-old mystery between science and religion.

Dhanush is great as Sathya’s docile father, Prabhu. Watch him radiate helplessness at not being able to help his daughter. My favorite is a scene on a patio where in a moment he counsels her from a position of reassurance and maturity, but then he hears a frightening word and it paralyzes him into a state of fear and uncertainty. Dhanush is wonderful in these vulnerable spaces as Prabhu. Oddly enough, it’s the other character – the dynamic Kathir – who doesn’t make as much of an impact as one would expect – especially after an explosive reveal. Dhanush gives Kathir confidence and charm, but the character just doesn’t have enough detail to understand – or get excited about.

Kathir feels rather empty, and the film doesn’t seem to quite settle the why of its violence, the nature-environment debate that usually surrounds such criminals. Where one feels sympathy and benevolence for Vinoth (Kaadhal Kondein) and where his fierce dancing feels somewhat like catharsis, it’s hard to feel anything for Kathir. So when you’re given a similar ritual dance and Yuvan steps in with a haunting score, you have the uncomfortable realization that grisly murders might be repurposed as entertainment. They are quite confused about the film’s goals as far as Kathir is concerned. Does it aim to provide us with morbid gratification? Does it aim to demonstrate a rot in society? There is no great joy in the second half.

Naane Varuvean begins by introducing two brothers and goes on to introduce two more brothers, but never goes deep into either relationship. One brother’s name is meant to instill paralyzing fear in the other, and yet not much is made of this bond. Duality is a constant theme in this film. I mean there are two pairs of twins. Is it even more dual? This film speaks of good and evil, light and dark, god and devil… I suppose there is bitter irony in how the film turned out to be an exercise in duality itself. The first half is captivating, but…

Directed by Selvaraghavan
Cast: Dhanush, Hiya Davey, Indhuja
Rating: 2.5/5

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