Vela's promising buildup, save for occasional bouts of intrigue, doesn’t quite evolve satisfactorily.
WHEN you have narratives headlining cops, it’s always a challenge to lend novelty to the proceedings. Perhaps that’s why director Syam Sasi decides to introduce a department that’s casually mentioned in cop stories — the police control room. Vela pivots on this nerve center of police operations. When rookie cop Ullas Augustine (Shane Nigam) gets a call from a man who complains of his son and friends consuming drugs, though officers are sent to the location, he suspects something amiss. Parallely, his corrupt senior Mallikarjun (Sunny Wayne) has already done his bit, which clearly points out his unhealthy nexus with the rich and powerful. That incident sets them up against each other. There is the usual tussle between good and evil, though the power dynamics never alter. And the promising buildup, save for occasional bouts of intrigue, doesn’t quite evolve satisfactorily.
The cop sketches are very generic. Ullas is the stereotypical honest, raring-to-go, young celluloid cop, frustrated with the system, with a backstory about a mother and brother who died in a landslide. Those bits are casually mentioned but effective. There is a girlfriend who desperately wants to be by his side. But he keeps evading her and that part comes across as laboured, an attempt to sketch him with complexity. Though Shane is earnest, he fails to add any fresh nuances to Ullas. Some of his reactions were similar to his character’s in Kumbalangi Nights. Meanwhile Mallikarjun is that irredeemable antagonist. He is corrupt, vindictive, greedy, ruthless, and a misogynist. In what can be termed as his career-best act (despite frail writing), Sunny explodes as casteist and classist Mallikarjun and he keeps it consistent, including that North Kerala slang. Their verbal exchanges correctly underline the power dynamics and both actors are especially good here. It’s interesting how they show Mallikarjun’s traits with a careless line thrown in or a phone call.
Vela denotes ‘temple festival’, but except for injecting fragments in the conversation, the title is never explored. Metaphorically in the local parlance, it also suggests one’s job. The workings of the control room, while nicely depicted, required more detailing. One felt they didn’t quite cover the gravity of the workings and how crucial they are to the police force. A bit of humour comes from there — cops answering fake, hilarious, and serious calls, often leading to unintentional fun. The man who calls to recite his favourite poem and the reaction to that, makes for an interesting touch.
The realistic narrative is structured between a procedural and an investigation. But one doesn’t feel invested in the core cases. It teeters between trite and unpredictable. There are areas where it loses its steam, especially the passages involving Ullas’ conflicting emotions with his girlfriend (interesting casting though). And except Sidharth Bharathan’s senior cop, none of the supporting characters add anything to the plot. Sidharth’s cop is perhaps the most transparent among all the characters — he is realistic, and unfussily aligns with the morally degenerate system. There is a nice scene when Mallikarjun visits him and the conversation which follows. The subtexts involving class, caste, and power dynamics in the system are barely touched upon. Maybe a less realistic treatment would have worked in the narrative’s favour. An interesting attempt nevertheless.