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Selvaraghavan’s Naane Varuvean, despite its shortcomings, is fascinating when it gets its act right

Dhanush is as earthy as ever and submits himself to the eerie world, playing two contrasting siblings

Selvaraghavan’s Naane Varuvean, despite its shortcomings, is fascinating when it gets its act right
Dhanush in Naane Varuvean
  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 03.55 AM, Sep 30, 2022

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The beauty of watching a Selvaraghavan film is his utter disregard for storytelling norms. Stories turn into toys in his hand and the moment you expect him to steer them in one direction, he trumps all your expectations and chases something else. It’s easily the reason why his films are conversation starters, regardless of how fulfilling the overall experience may be. This is exactly the case with his latest release Naane Varuvean too, a supernatural thriller with a redemption angle.

The film revolves around twin brothers - Prabhu and Kathir. The characterisation is rather straightforward; Prabhu is the soft-natured boy, and Kathir is the evil twin. There aren’t specific reasons to justify their behaviour - they’re just wired differently. Even with their parents, it’s the mom who’s slightly sympathetic towards Kathir’s plight. The father is quick to label him a monster. Despite the beast within Kathir, all he strives for is acceptance. How does destiny pit Prabhu against Kathir?

Naane Varuvean’s foundation is solid with the dysfunctional family thread and it tells the story through Prabhu’s eyes. The thrill behind the absence of any promotional campaign leading to its release is that you don’t quite see what’s coming. It’s refreshing to see an actor (Dhanush) who’s just delivered a romantic entertainer that has grossed Rs 100 crore at the box office (Thiruchitrambalam) effortlessly slip into the shoes of a father to a teenage daughter while showcasing his greys minus any fuss.

At most points, the film keeps you invested because Selvaraghavan puts several ideas into the same basket (I mean it in a good way) - there’s drama revolving around contrasting twins with elements of horror, redemption, and astrology thrown into the mix. However, the biggest USP of the film is its raw tension. There’s something very sinister about its world. If the first hour is all about the trauma within Prabhu’s world, the second hour takes the ‘Prabhu vs Kathir’ conflict forward.

While Prabhu’s world is constructed more like a puzzle, where there’s enough mystery to keep you hooked, the film misses the bus while shifting the focus towards Kathir. It’s disappointing when a director of Selvaraghavan’s calibre lets the viewer smell the trajectory of the story from a distance and does exactly what’s expected. Yuvan Shankar Raja further raises the stakes with a near-demonic score, suggesting something mythical and epic.

There are some fascinating moments where you sense something explosive and expect many layers to the climactic conflict. It turns out to be a case of a trailer turning out to be better than a film. Naane Varuvean feels breathtakingly original, to begin with, and settles for something convenient and simplistic towards the end. It’s a film where you can't come out of a theatre and instantly name it ‘good’ or ‘bad’. All you want to say is, it could’ve been something more.

Om Prakash’s cinematography coupled with the chilling sound design, the eerie retro numbers and Yuvan Shankar Raja’s score make for a delectable combo, more so in the second hour. The ambience of a woodhouse away from the heart of the town, surrounded by a lake with no soul in the vicinity and a dense forest - contributes so much to the storytelling. One wonders if the jungle indeed was a metaphor for the real world - it smartly establishes that you need to ‘hunt’ to survive in it.

Even when Selvaraghavan isn’t in the greatest of form in a few moments, he gives the keen connoisseur a lot to savour and that’s why he’s a unique filmmaker. It’s fantastic to see a star submitting himself to this experiment. Beyond the twins and their children, the other characters in the film aren’t fleshed out all that well. Indhuja, Elli AvrRam, Yogi Babu and Prabhu get a raw deal, though they do enough to not derail the narrative at any critical juncture.

Despite its imperfections, Naane Varuvean merits a watch. It’s a pity that it needs to compete with a historical extravaganza like Ponniyin Selvan to grab eyeballs. Not a fair contest, is it?

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