VALIMAI (2022)

Ajith Kumar is so good and Valimai is so entertaining that you will forget its many flaws

— Ambar Chatterjee

Before Valimai, H. Vinoth directed Theeran Adhigaram Ondru, one of the best cop-procedural-action-thrillers to have come out in years. After Theeran, he made an effective remake of Pink (Shoojit Sircar, 2016) in Nerkonda Paarvai (Ajith Kumar, 2019) where he was able to successfully integrate Ajith Kumar’s action-hero image into a sequel that had no action sequences in its original. The best part about it was that the action didn’t feel forced. Through his brief body of work, Vinoth proved that he was more than capable of dealing with elaborate action sequences and also had a knack for fast-paced and laid-out storytelling. His latest, Valimai is 3 hours long and even in that mammoth runtime, I didn’t feel restless or bored for even a second. The film has some major flaws in its writing, characters development, and the sheer limit to which suspension of disbelief can be stretched but even those flaws couldn’t spoil the sheer entertainment quotient that the film had to offer.

The plot of the film is simple and straight. ACP Arjun (Ajith Kumar) is brought back to Chennai to deal with a Biker Gang that has been terrorizing the town with murders, petty thefts, and supply of cocaine to the young. Arjun quickly understands that the different acts of crime perpetrated by the gang are interlinked and goes about unmasking their modus oparandi. As he gets closer to the leader of the gang, Naren (Kartikeya Gummakonda) who identifies himself with “Satan” and considers the other gang members as Satan’s slaves, Arjun realizes that he has for once met his match in intellect and strength. What happens next is what Valimai is all about.

I liked Valimai for its pace and concentration on the central plot point. There are a few subplots but they never meddle in the progression of the central plot. From the moment the film starts, the concentration of the story is on how Arjun nabs the leader of the nefarious gang. The film spends the initial few minutes establishing how the gang works and reveals their modus oparandi. The bulk of the time in the first half is spent on showing the various steps that Arjun takes to lure the gang and its leader out and how he finally nabs him. There are a few forced exchanges involving Arjun’s family that get on our nerves. However, by the time we get to the second half of the film, we understand what those awkward moments were forcibly driving to in the narrative.

In the second half, the film does slow down considerably and the emphasis shifts to the rivalry between Arjun and Naren. By the time we reach this point, Naren has personally picked a fight with Arjun and has inflicted emotional and physical pain on the man by not only corrupting the mind of a key member of Arjun’s family but also endangering the other members of his household. Naren also inflicts professional tragedy on Arjun when he is demoted and faces extreme humiliation due to the ruckus that the gang causes. Thus the stakes are higher than ever before for Arjun. He has days to nab the culprit before more tragedy befalls his family. By doing this, the director is able to put in a ticking clock in the second half of the narrative that helps in building and keeping up the tension.

The action set-pieces of the film are its greatest strength. I can safely say that I haven’t seen action sequences of this type in the Indian film industry for a long time and it does make quite an impact. The elaborate action set-piece just before the interval where the gang tries to get Naren out of Arjun’s clasp was one of the biggest and best bits of action that I have seen in a while. I was amazed at how elaborate it was and how much effort and thinking went into the choreography, shooting and editing of the sequence. The sequence was not only easy to follow but left a physical and impactful. The climactic action sequence was in no way nearly as good as this action sequence but it did serve its purpose. I also enjoyed the action sequence where we see Arjun going after Naren for the first time.

As is the case with all Ajith Kumar films, Valimai is practically a one-man show. It must be noted that Ajith Kumar is so good in his rendition of the protagonist and has such a screen presence that the audiences will never feel the absence of any other character. He mouths some of the most outrageous lines and is shown doing things that evidently he will never be able to pull off in real life. Still, all of it is executed with such flair and Ajith Kumar is so charismatic in his rendition of the character that it becomes easy for us to take the man and the things that he is shown doing as believable and natural. Most of Ajith Kumar’s act is centered on the search for the Bike Gang and later, on neutralizing Naren. The second half of the film had him enact some bizarre emotional bits that made no sense. Interestingly, Ajith Kumar successfully held his own in these sequences that were poorly written and defied logic and reason.

Kartikeya Gummakonda huffs and puffs and tries to look and act as menacing as he possibly can. Sadly he doesn’t have the kind of presence that would incite fear in the audience. It is also a matter that his character is written so poorly that there is very little that he can do to redeem it. Huma Qureshi is in there in what can be called at best a glorified cameo with one really good hero-entry. Gurbani AKA Bani J is barely there. An actor like Achyuth Kumar is wasted in a role that could have been done by anyone.

Speaking of the negatives, the writing by H.Vinoth is extremely weak. After the initial surge and the unwanted but still acceptable family drama, the reason and logic go for a tailspin after a member of Arjun’s family is implicated with the gang. The reasons that are provided to justify the actions of the member were bewilderingly inane. This character doesn’t stop at just being a member of the gang but goes on to betray Arjun twice and then leads to Arjun’s entire family falling prey to the antagonist. Again, the reason and the events leading up to these betrayals make little sense. The problems plaguing the member that leads him to commit the crimes were laughably trivial. This line of writing spoils the entire portion and the story loses its credibility. H.Vinoth had evidently written these bits to give the film a much-needed emotional jolt and hoped that the sentimentality would flow through the rest of the narrative and raise the stakes higher for the protagonist. Sadly, this portion was written so poorly that it bogged down a smoothly moving locomotive that is this film. Also, Vinoth should know that an ACP cannot be demoted to the rank of an Inspector.

The look and feel of the film were also very flat. Apart from the hyper-editing style that H.Vinoth mastered with Theeran, there isn’t anything in terms of presentation that we haven’t seen in some other action films before. Sans the action sequences that were efficiently done, the film mostly falls flat in terms of its visual appeal and cinematic aesthetics.

The two things that push this film forward are its constantly surging narrative and a sensational leading man who not only looks good but is also capable of holding on to your attention. I would choose a film like Valimai any day over some pseudo-social commentary that lectures a lot but entertains little. A film like Valimai will definitely find takers among audiences whose primary objective is to get entertained. It may be flawed but it does entertain from start to finish and that is also its biggest defense and greatest glory.   

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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