Following the failure of 2022’s highly anticipated ‘Beast,’ Vijay has completely changed track and has released ‘Varisu,’ returning to the family drama formula which has recently seen a decline in popularity. ‘Family sentiment’ is a trope that has never escaped the Tamil industry, being one of the few essential ingredients for the ‘masala’ film, however it has been a while since an out-and-out family drama has made its way back into the mainstream; the last one of note being 2018’s ‘Kadaikutty Singam’. With an estimated budget of 280 crores, ‘Varisu’ may be the grandest entry into the genre.
The film opens with the Rajendran family, headed by the patriarch (played by Sarathkumar), a billionaire mining tycoon with three sons - the eldest Jay (Meka Srikanth), the middle child Ajay (Shaam), and the exiled youngest child Vijay (played by Vijay himself). The main antagonist and business rival for the family is Prakash Raj’s Jayaprakash, who wishes nothing more than to best the mining industry leaders. The first half of the film sets out the family dynamics of each character in relation to the other, charting their weaknesses and flaws, and commences the guessing game of who will become heir to Rajendran’s mining throne.
The film is filled with references and self-aware moments. In a scene, Vijay sings the theme song to popular early 2000’s TV serial ‘Metti Oli,’ pre-empting the comparisons that would be made of the film to the melodrama of the small screen. There is an abundance of references to Vijay’s earlier work, reaching from his 1996 breakthrough ‘Poove Unakkaga’ all the way to 2021’s ‘Master’ (deftly skipping over last year’s ‘Beast’). There are multiple moments where Vijay breaks the fourth wall, and the dialogue is often tongue-in-cheek. The film pays ample fan service, garnering claps, whistles and hollering each time these references are made. Personally, these instances were equal amounts of hit and miss, sometimes eliciting a chuckle and other times causing a grimace.
Vijay plays his role well, the most fluid and lively character onscreen in comparison to everyone else who seem to be stuck in two-dimensional husks. Even the usually brilliant Prakash Raj seems strangely toned down, and one can only imagine it is to allow the star of the show to shine. Jayasudha as the mother Sudha Rajendran (the writers have been incredibly creative with these names) and Sarathkumar are the other standout performances. Rashmika Mandanna as Divya is perhaps the most unnecessary heroine in recent times, a blatant insert into the story to draw crowds and to ensure Vijay has someone to dance with during the song sequences.
The soundtrack by Thaman S serves the film well. None of the songs were tasteless or off-putting. Highlights from the album include the fiery ‘Thee Thalapathy’ and the hero intro song ‘Vaa Thalaivaa.’ The visualisation for these songs, however, is where some issues lie. ‘Vaa Thalaivaa’ is accompanied with roaming-the-nation visuals akin to ‘Life of Ram’ from ‘96.’ However, instead of capturing the natural beauty of the world and our relation to it, we are given garish and badly edited greenscreen. In the hit song ‘Ranjithame,’ Vijay has a customary portion of the song at the end which invites him to dance manically for appriximately a minute. However, this is not the same Vijay from fifteen years ago: he is obviously struggling with the choreography and seems to be in pain. I believe it is time to retire this gimmick, as it is also becoming painful to watch.
The technical aspects of the film also constantly wavers. The main set is of a lavish, modern family house, which effortlessly invites nice shots. There is one point in the film where Vijay’s costume matches the colour of the Rolls Royce he steps out of. These small details make a huge difference to the end product. However, one cannot help but feel a Bollywood hangover from all this glitz and glamour; many moments of this film seem to have been borrowed from blockbusters like ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.’
Overall, ‘Varisu’ is mostly successful in what it wants to be: a wave of nostalgia for Vijay fans and a safe ‘masala’ film. It can be enjoyed with the family, and Vijay has certainly played his cards well to ensure Pongal success.
Krishna's rating: 2.5 stars
Official trailer for the film below.