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Dhanush has long been typecast as an uneducated person who doesn’t care to hold down a job, hangs out with undesirables and yet gets the glamorous heroine. But recent films Thiruchitrambalam and Naane Varuven are a break from the overused template. Vaathi too makes a shift from Dhanush’s ‘padikathavan’ style.
The storyline goes as follows: (spoiler alert!)
A teacher joins a school in a village where the enrolment rate is very poor. He takes it upon himself to bring dropouts back to the classroom and teach them with passion so that they excel academically. This upsets the villain’s schemes. Does the hero manage to overcome the hurdles the villain puts hurdles in his way and attain his goal of changing the young generation’s life for the better?
Just as a sports-oriented film ends on a note of success, an education-oriented film will have an identical storyline. Vaathi does not deviate from the pattern. But the way director Venky Atluri has translated the theme into a vivacious visual language feels exciting.
In Vaathi, though Dhanush and Samyuktha play teachers who fall in love with each other, that is not the central theme of the film, and thankfully there are no embarrassing duets with the lead pair running around trees on school grounds
The film travels through the times when private schools formed a syndicate and stalled the growth of government schools. Under a scheme of redeploying some private school teachers to government schools, the hero finds himself working in a government school. It’s not the typical storyline you’d expect for a commercial hero, and that sets apart this Dhanush-starrer from other ‘mass’ films.
Sometimes sensible, sometimes annoying
Samuthirakani-starrers Saattai and Appa brought out the pressures of student life and the lapses of the education system. The film Aduththa Saattai depicted the challenges of college life, similarly. Those films focused on teens having fun, trolling each other and also portrayed their fascination with the opposite sex. In Vaathi, though Dhanush and Samyuktha play teachers who fall in love with each other, that is not the central theme of the film, and thankfully there are no embarrassing duets with the lead pair running around trees on school grounds.
Director A Sarkunam had made a film Vaagai Sooda Vaa that portrayed bonded child labourers in a brick kiln and how they were brought to school. Vaathi appears similar. The plot is set in the year 2000, and the techniques the hero employs to bring children doing odd jobs to the classroom evoke a sense of déjà vu.
The screenplay has been structured in a way that the audience can easily guess how the sequences would flow. The frames showing Dhanush in the guise of cultural icons — Ravana, Narasimha and Bharathiar — are annoying for the viewers, while the scene of the hero standing grief-stricken amid heavy rain is an overused cliché.
As the story is told through a flashback narrative, lots of elements that are incongruous with the tale creep in. Something about the screenplay feels artificial.
Despite many drawbacks, Vaathi has what it takes to attract the audience to theatres. Certain scenes have gravitas and the potential to stir up tears. For instance, it captures the ugly face of casteism and the misery of the marginalised in a moving manner. And for once, stunt sequences shy from being gory and violent.
All the actors from Dhanush to Samuthirakani, Tanikella Bharani, Aadukalam Naren and Sai Kumar have delivered performances that support the narrative well. On the flip side, Vaathi has traces of the Hindi films Super 30 and 3 Idiots. Besides, Dhanush’s style of rolling his sleeves up and the resounding call of ‘Vathiyaar’ surely are an ode to MGR, the iconic matinee idol.
The film travels through the times when private schools formed a syndicate and stalled the growth of government schools
Against private schools
Private schools mushroomed in Tamil Nadu around 1985 and grew at the cost of government schools. Over the years, people began thinking that good education was only available in private schools and at a high cost. Vaathi tries to redeem the image of government schools. Of course, the film may not have an impact on trends in the education sector but it at least puts the idea out.
Dhanush in one of his earlier films portrayed someone who resented education. “Books, notebooks, geometry, exams, marks etc are all anathema to me,” he said. Vaathi is at the other end of the spectrum.
It’s only once in a blue moon that big stars act in films that create social awareness. When such a film comes, we must celebrate it, no matter the flaws in filmmaking.
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