Naane Varuven has the hurried feel of a shoddily edited first draft of a film, which has a brilliant idea at its heart. The film, written by Dhanush and directed by his brother Selvaraghavan, has a wacky and wicked idea at its core — a film about sibling rivalry by real-life brothers. Now that’s a film we can watch. It is a pity that it only remains an idea and never develops into a flesh-and-blood film.
There is something amiss in Naane Varuven from the word go. Even Dhanush as Prabhu (he plays a double role in the film) seems a bit odd and synthetic. And that’s a loaded statement for an actor who made you root for him in a cameo in the Russo Brothers’ otherwise underwhelming The Gray Man. You let these shortcomings slide because you are sure that something unexpected will soon unravel on the screen. The lack of promotion has worked in the favour of the film — the biggest suspense about the film is its genre. When it is revealed, it’s an exhilarating surprise that leaves you enthused for what’s to come. For a moment, you think the makers are geniuses for not promoting the film. The excitement is short-lived as the sense of awe gets replaced by bafflement in the second half. Those subtle shortcomings become prominent and the film implodes, leaving you with a sense of betrayal.
As far as the story goes, Naane Varuven is a re-imagination of Kamal Haasan’s Aalavandhan as a supernatural horror. Kathir and Prabhu are twins. There’s something sinister about the elder twin, who is severely punished by his dad for his creepy acts. Once he is tied up in the house’s backyard and gets abducted by a psychopath (played by Selvaraghavan), who likes to hunt humans with a bow and arrow. Kathir escapes and kills the monster by becoming one. Hunted becomes the hunter, etc. All of this is ‘said’ in a scene or two. There’s no context or details, which is pretty much the overarching trait of this film. Eventually, Kathir gets abandoned by his mom and younger brother. The younger brother goes on to lead a normal happy life with an understanding wife Bhuvana (Indhuja Ravichandran), and daughter Sathya. Things take a drastic turn when Sathya starts to act weird after a vacation to Himachal Pradesh. Prabhu realizes the ghost of his past is back to haunt him.
Even as a story, there’s nothing novel about Naane Varuven. It has all the tropes of a typical horror movie, with a significant portion panning out like The Conjuring (2013). The film takes the easy way out, there are expositions galore as the film resorts to voiceovers and bland dialogues to move forward. Another such gaffe is actor Prabhu playing a psychiatrist (Prabhu), who also happens to be a spiritual healer. I mean, why even bother writing another character, right? Two roles for one paycheck! We also have Yogi Babu as the ‘hero’s friend’, who is irrelevant to the film’s proceedings. Selvaraghavan himself calls out the character’s silliness, but the self-awareness doesn’t absolve him.
Surprisingly, despite all its shortcomings, the film does not punish you. Dhanush might have been drab as Prabhu, but as Kathir, he shines. In a scene towards the end of the film, Dhanush shows what he is capable of. The great quality of his acting feels incongruous with the shoddy film. For that brief moment, all your complaints about the film fade away… but it’s all for that brief moment. The rest of the time, you are just watching the ruins of an abandoned idea.