Review: When we first see Arivu (Sivakarthikeyan), the protagonist of Velaikkaran, he is pleading with Kasi (Prakash Raj), the gangster in his slum to let him start an FM for the area. Arivu’s intention, we learn later, is to use this FM to push his people towards upliftment, by making them aware of how much Kasi has been exploiting their helplessness. But circumstances force Arivu to stop broadcasting and join a FMCG company as a marketing executive, where he looks up to Adhi (Fahadh Faasil), an ambitious manager. Even as he continues his fight against Kasi, Arivu realises that what he is doing at work is no different from what the gangster has been doing – and decides to change the system.
Right from the opening scenes, Mohan Raja tells us what he is after with Velaikkaran is not telling a story but a message. Like Samuthirakani, perhaps the most unabashed of the ‘message movie’ specialists, Raja keeps hammering us with message after message (capitalism is crony, change has to begin within us, and so on) that after a point the film begins to feel like a lecture that shows no signs of ending. “Ulagin thalaisirandha sol seyal” – this is something that Raja’s hero keeps repeating, but unfortunately, the director forgets that good filmmaking also has a similar principle – ‘Show, don’t tell’.
For the most part, the film fails to walk the fine line between telling the story of an idealistic youngster and his face-off against a force of ambition, unlike the director’s previous film, the fantastic Thani Oruvan, and often resembles an empty rhetoric. There, the message and the detailing was in service of the story, but here, Raja keeps loading us with information from his research, and makes the story secondary. In an early scene, he shows us how departmental stores play on consumer psychology to make us buy more, and it does its job. But we get variants of this same information that add no further value. And his diatribe against capitalism and how it exploits consumers only calls to mind the similar speeches in Bhooloham, which starred his brother Jayam Ravi.
If it works to a certain extent, it is because of the earnestness in the performance of Sivakarthikeyan, who, for a change, plays a man with a purpose. It’s definitely a new attempt for this actor, who is often cast in roles of a wastrel who gets the girl he loves/stalks, and here, he convincingly captures the idealism of Arivu. And he is ably complemented by the understated Fahadh Faasil (making his Tamil debut), who is impressive in a role whose suspense the film reveals a little too early, therby reducing its impact. Nayanthara’s is largely a supporting role and the actress makes up for it with her screen presence. The host of supporting actors, from Prakash Raj and Sneha to Rohini and Charle, are well cast.
There are also a few scenes that stand out – a gangster war filmed as a live commentary, the cross-cutting between conversations of gangsters and marketing personnel to show us their approaches aren’t any different, and a hero moment involving people switching on lights at midnight. But the overdrawn narration and the preachy tone keep pulling down the film.