Viduthalai Part 1 is Vetrimaaran's closest to creating the impact of Russian director Elem Klimov's Come and See.
Last Updated: 10.40 AM, Apr 06, 2023
There is a popular anecdote that's attributed to celebrated anthropologist Margaret Mead. In recent years, many have questioned its authenticity as there is seemingly very little evidence to prove that Mead said this story. Nonetheless, it's a fantastic little story that underlines a very important aspect of human civilization. And for the time being, let us assume that Mead said this. The popular story goes thus: A student asked Mead what was, according to her, the first sign of human civilization. And Meed responded, "A healed human femur."
Femur is the large thick bone that connects the hip and knee. And she further explained that in the animal kingdom, a broken leg meant a certain death. The weak would have been preyed upon and eaten first. But, a healed femur suggested that the injured was taken care of by fellow humans, who provided him food, water and safety till the time his bone was healed and he was able to stand up again. “Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts," Meed opined.
The human component of Meed's story is comforting and inspiring at once. The story is philosophical, and deep and lets us add a solid meaning to our human experience. It provides us with a moral position that enables us to distinguish ourselves from animals. But, when you watch director Vetrimaaran's Viduthalai Part 1, you might feel the opposite is true. It serves as a reflection of our primitive tendencies, reminding us that we are not so distinct from our primate relatives.
Viduthalai is Vetrimaaran's closest to creating the impact of Russian director Elem Klimov's Come and See. As the name of this 1985 anti-war movie suggests, the film is an invitation to the audiences to come and witness the dehumanising nature of war. Come and See makes us witness a massacre. The brutal climactic scene is gut-wrenching. We all knew that war was horrifying and traumatising. But, did we really comprehend the pain of the victims of war crimes? We have heard stories of enormous violence committed by humans against humans. But, do we have the stomach to witness those acts of extreme violence? Films such as Come and See convey the brutal reality of historical atrocities, allowing us to experience the horrors of those times. Through this, it fosters a sense of shared humanity in the face of pain and trauma. Having borne witness to these events through films, we are better equipped to empathise with victims of human rights violations and can put a human face to these tragedies. No longer can we view them as distant news stories that don't impact us; we can now imagine the trauma that our fellow humans have endured.
It's probably the reason why Vetrimaaran never cuts away from traumatic moments in his films. The camera becomes static in places of violence as he gives us at once a very subjective and objective view of the dehumanising events.
Viduthalai should not be seen in terms of narrative arc or emotional beats. It should be analysed through the prism of an experience of oppression and lack of dignity. The film offers a raw and unfiltered glimpse into what it means to be deprived of basic rights and live in a world where anyone can be a victim without consequence. Through its powerful storytelling, Viduthalai challenges viewers to confront the uncomfortable realities of societal injustice and the struggle for true freedom.
The character of a top cop named Sunil Menon, played by Gautham Menon, is chilling. While it's easy to distinguish and classify people like Ragavendar (Chetan), who is a pervert, narcissistic and with all diagnosable sadistic traits, officers like Sunil Menon give us nightmares. You would think that Ragavendar is committing all the authorities against the tribal people without the knowledge of his higher officials. But, what if Sunil knows it and allows Ragavendar to carry out his sadistic desires under the guise of fulfilling his duty? The very law supposed to protect the people provides a perfect excuse for officers like Ragavendar to rape and torture innocent people.
We often hear about police brutality and deaths in custody, but do we truly comprehend what it means to be at the receiving end of it? Can we imagine the humiliation of being stripped naked in front of strangers or the terror of being shot at by those who go unpunished for their actions? Even when civilians are killed, the police are more concerned with covering their tracks than feeling remorse for taking a life.
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Viduthalai is the biting indictment of the system that allows cops like Ragavendar not just to survive but thrive. More than Ragavendar, it is suave-looking top officials Sunil and Subramaniyan, played by Rajiv Menon, are the ones who strike terror in our hearts. Their utter disregard for human suffering as they single-mindedly pursue their business interests sends shivers down our spines.
Viduthalai is grimmer than previous Vetrimaaran movies. Unlike most mainstream movies, it is not the story of the triumph of human resilience, hopes and redemption. The director doesn't falsify the narrative to give the audience a sense of comfort. He keeps it brutally simple and real. The shock value of this movie is intense. I can't recall any other movies in recent years that have managed to make tragedies look so real on the big screen.
The opening shot of Viduthalai, for example. The movie opens with the bombing of a passenger train and it fills up the screen with screams of terror and pain and visuals of blood and gore and volunteers working to save as many people as they can from the wreckage. We see a man, who seemed to have survived the train bombing without any injury, jump off the bridge in sheer panic. We see a newborn baby being exchanged from one hand to another. A man with a severed leg wailing in pain. The disturbing images are supplied to us through a well-choreographed tracking shot, giving us a very subjective view of the pain and loss.
Constable Kumaresan, played by a wonderful Soori, is the sole conscience keeper in the movie. We get a feeling that neither the cops nor the members of Makkal Padai are worried about innocent lives getting lost in the crossfire. Both parties seem to have made peace with the collateral loss caused by their actions. It's only Kumaresan who truly cares about innocent people. And it falls on his shoulders to control the collateral damage by doing whatever is necessary. And it forces him to take risks that are way above his pay grade.
In the midst of darkness and despair, the budding romance between Kumaresan and Tamilarasi (Bhavani Sre) in the film provides a glimmer of hope and warmth. Kumaresan is the only character with a developing character arc, while most of the characters in the movie are already fully formed, including Vijay Sethupathi's Perumal alias Vaathiyaar. It is as if Vetrimaaran doesn't have any other tale to tell, except for the brutality itself.
Viduthalai is not an art film. There is nothing subtle about this movie that requires us to examine it with great attention or have a highly evolved taste for cinema to appreciate it. The effect of this movie is simple and immediate and urgent. The movie wants us to be aware that countless people slip through the cracks of the system and get sucked into oblivion. If you cringe at the trope in movies or TV shows where a cop claims that the suspect will spill all the information if "they're interrogated properly," then Viduthalai has succeeded in its goal.