In Selvaraghavan’s new film, Naane Varuvean, the conflict stems from the very root of the family. It’s a genre staple of twin brothers with one twisted and another straitlaced. The duo are Prabhu and Kathir. Both are quiet but Prabhu is the nice, sweet kid. Kathir is the one perennially troubling the parents with his disturbing acts of violence and hatred. When we meet him, his father is admonishing him for some heinous crime and when he doesn’t apologize—or even so much as separate his lips—uses violence in ways that you see only in a Selvaraghavan film—he brings a rope and ties him to their fence, leaving him captive outside his house under torrential downpour. Kathir set a girl’s skirt on fire (admittedly, in a Selvaraghavan film this is expected, nothing really twisted about it if you are familiar with the man’s work) and remains unmoved, unhinged and tongue tied. The father recognizes the problem—we need to talk about Kathir.
If you are expecting Lynne Ramsay-esque simmering horror that slowly rips your soul apart with fear and dread (We Need to Talk About Kevin), you may walk out now. Selvaraghavan skips several years to show Prabhu (Dhanush) in a heaven of domesticity. A wife, a satisfying job and a twelve year old daughter Sathya. From we-need-to-talk-about-kathir the film goes to we-need-to-forget-about-kathir and talk about Sathya. Another kid, another case of twisted fantasy.
There is no love lost between this film and the lighting department. It is drenched in darkness even as Prabhu’s life shines bright. His living room is dark, his bedroom is dark and so is Sathya’s room. Even a doctor’s room has no light. We only catch rays of sunshine at the edges of windows. But the film looks artificial, as if everything was an afterthought from a single line idea. Sathya is soon possessed, and Prabhu has no answers. We learn about violent patricide and abandonment issues. A tense stretch around the halfway mark makes us look past the comical plotting of college kids moonlighting as ghostbusters. From a cheery family of an everyman we go to a brightly lit family of a macabre individual. These contrasts are interesting but after about an hour, the film doesn’t know where to go.
We really feel for Indhuja Ravichandran who plays Prabhu’s wife. He could have been a single father in the film, and the script would remain the same. Yogi Babu is Prabhu’s colleague and also only hint of a friend or relative, following him in every situation and breaking the tension in a supernatural horror with mere one liners.
Naan Varuvean is a film that loses itself in punctuation. The college kids with snazzy gizmo to chase ghosts is a blot on a serious situation in Prabhu’s family and the film, to its credit, is self-aware about this. Yogi Babu mocks the idea of hiring these amateurs to help tackle Prabhu’s issues with his daughter and the paranormal activity around their home. And then there is a psychiatrist (played by actor Prabhu) who reads MRI scans and chants some mantras. The doctor himself adds, “oh, you are probably wondering how a doctor can talk like this, but I am a spiritual healer too.” And again, the film loses its grip over us. It is moments like this that make us wonder what exactly this film’s purpose is—it draws us in and then splashes a bucket of water over us. And for good measure kicks the bucket at the audience.