Vallinam - A fairly engaging sports drama, which partially works

Vallinam - A fairly engaging sports drama, which partially works

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First things, first! No big spoilers in this too, but actually you wont pretty much mind it here, as there is nothing much to reveal here as a plot. 
You need not be a rocket scientist to guess that one- 'a hardworking underdog who wins against all odds'! And only one thing differentiated them- the basic sport itself- national cricket, women's hockey, football, athletics, street cricket, football/cricket and kabadi in that exact order!
And so, as it has become, this sports movie, just by its theme has nothing new to rave about as a story, other than being a rehash of the genre! Just that this time around, Arivazhagan chooses basketball (may be, jocularly, because it is the only sport, no film-maker has yet touched upon!), but being the ambitious film-maker that he is, he has definitely tried his best to give a new dimension to the sport, in a country, where the only popularity the game enjoys is in the college fests! In another first of its kind, instead of setting up two teams of the same sport, he pits the underrated one with the much publicized, money spurning, controversial one! And he does begin in out for the animated opening credits, where the director takes the comparison between hunting and sport to a totally new level!
Without an iota of doubt, the director's vision and his intention of making an action drama out of a lesser known sport, being bullied against the crowd-pulling 'cricket' is definitely laudable! But the execution of his vision, on- screen is far from perfect! The director, to begin with, resorts to showcasing the sport in an atmosphere of juvenile and cinematic college gang wars, which is by itself, a bit unappealing! Add to it, a ludicrously caricatured villain, humor which falls flat most of the times, an insipid romantic-segment, three forced songs which definitely don't have space in the script, and some excess melodrama- the first half of the film simply fails to deliver, especially after all the expectations, the first fifteen minutes of the film had created!
The director does start making amendments in the second half, by speeding up the proceedings a bit! He even sets us up for something philosophical, alluding to an 'epic battle of sorts' on screen instigating us with a scene showing 'Krishna' blowing the conch, with the film 'Karnan' playing on the background! (The male and female protagonists are named Krishna and Meera, incidentally!) He even manages to find a fitting reason for introducing the romantic angle, but somewhere down the lane, he loses the plot trying to make his protagonist, a 'super-hero'! From then on, as events pan out, it turns out to be a "See, I told you... this would happen!" routine after a while! And, as your attention span slowly dwindles, and the commercial must-haves line-up, you start lamenting and start crying out for the finale... "Come on yaar, give the dude his cup!"
Apart from the flimsy 'BB vs cricket' - 'recognition vs disregard' battle, three things stand out- First, Nagul's conviction and slogging practice schedule! As you see him shooting, air-balling, keying, rolling, pointing and dunking, you just gaze in awe and disbelief! Way to go, Man! Secondly, the spectacular striking visuals of cinematographer Baskaran and the crisp edits of Sabu Joseph in the opening and closing sport sequences- one word, breath-taking! And finally, the unsung hard work of sports choreographer Sundar for visualizing the matches- brilliance! 
But.. But, hold it right there... rehashing Ghilli's romance-victory tie-up, and the strange antics put up by the opponents are all pure cinematic nonsense, we don't deserve to be fed with!
Arivazhagan, taking into his hands, a script /theme with substantial potential, gets distracted in seeking to walk the commercial rope line, and tries to fit in elements like unnecessary violence, songs and over the top sentiments, which don't belong to the movie at all! And in the process, the original issue, the director wanted to address, got diluted in all that mindless commercial drama!
Coming out of the theater, I was lost in thoughts on "How great a film, this could have been?" My guess is that, either the true potential of the plot was never realized, or the director was not made to realize it for commercial reasons!
#Vallinam is not by any means a bad film, but its neither a totally engrossing 'edge of the seat' sports flick!
Mani Prabhu

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