What do you do when a film lays out all its wares before you can properly settle into your seat? Within literally a minute of its opening ‘Salaam Venky’ kicks into explanatory mode, telling us how its incredibly brave 24-year-old principal character has spent so many years of his life fighting against DMD (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy), a degenerative disease which has no cure. And how his incredibly brave mother (Kajol) has fought alongside him every inch of the way. Just in case we miss the point, Venkatesh aka Venky (Vishal Jethwa) is to be seen lying on his bed, chatting sweetly with mum, spiralling into a crisis, being taken to hospital, where his supportive doctor (Rajeev Khandelwal) declares that he is out of danger, but that he will never be able to go home again.
Nothing I’ve told you can be considered a spoiler, because the film is based on a real-life story of a young man by the same name whose demand for an end to his life took a legal turn, and how he didn’t see euthanasia-caused death as an end, but as a new beginning for a number of desperate organ recipients.
In the 2004 ‘Phir Milenge’, which was about a man fighting against the challenges his AIDS diagnosis saddles him with, director Revathy had given us a stirring story of hope against all odds. In this one, whose subject is a direct tug at the heartstrings, she eschews all understatement. Every sequence is created to fill you with pathos, and leave you teary-eyed.
Watch Salaam Venky movie trailer:
It’s hard to stay sorry for the young man who uses humour to lift himself out of the horror of impending doom, but the first half is nothing but a montage of scenes which feel like fillers. Movie-mad Venky exchanging sweet nothings with a childhood sweetheart who happens to be visually impaired. Venky being chummy with his favourite nurse, teaching her to play chess. Venky being all upbeat with his long-lost, now restored-to-the-family sister. But most of all, Venky being the son that his ‘amma’ has nurtured with her heart-blood. It’s meant to be touching, but it is just grating, because it is done with such obviousness.
The real film only kicks in after the interval, in which a helpful lawyer (Rahul Bose), a plucky TV reporter (Ahana Kumra), a pugnacious public prosecutor (Priyamani), and a conscientious judge (Prakash Raj) join the canvas. There are a few moments where you are moved, despite yourself: how can you remain stoic in the face of a young life being leached away? Kamal Sadanah, who shared his debut film with Kajol (Bekhudi, 1992) shows up after a long time, as does Khandelwal. The other characters are in service to Jethwa, who does everything by the book. It is only Kajol who rises above the script, and gives us an unvarnished portrait of a mother and her pain. For relief, she has a starry companion (Aamir Khan, in an extended cameo), who comes and goes.The rest is just background-music fuelled melodrama.
Salaam Venky movie cast: Kajol, Vishal Jethwa, Rahul Bose, Rajeev Khandelwal, Ahana Kumra, Prakash Raj, Kamal Sadaanah
Salaam Venky movie director: Revathy
Salaam Venky movie rating: 2 stars