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Vadhandhi The Fable of Velonie review: A slow-burn mystery that justifies the form

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Vadhandhi review; Despite some shortcomings, Vadhandhi: The Fable of Velonie is easily one of the commendable works in the Tamil web series space.

Vadhandhi: The Fable of VelonieVadhandhi: The Fable of Velonie is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Vadhandhi The Fable of Velonie cast: SJ Suryah, Laila, Sanjana, Vivek Prasanna
Vadhandhi The Fable of Velonie director: Andrew Louis
Vadhandhi The Fable of Velonie rating: 3.5/5

When filmmakers are increasingly worried about the dwindling attention span of the audience and the need to make the films tauter and rapidly progressive, it is commendable and bold of director Andrew Louis to make Vadhandhi, a slow-burn mystery thriller around the death of an 18-year-old girl, Velonie. Things start with a rather intriguing drama surrounding a case of mistaken identity. A film crew begins setting up things for the day on the foothills of a village in Kanyakumari. A bunch of assistant directors, after arriving on the sets, laud the work of the art director for making a realistic dummy of a dead body, which is lying on the sets. Turns out, it is actually a real corpse. It is first identified as the body of the film’s heroine, and the news quickly becomes the headline across all channels and websites. When the female actor calls the unit and screams that she is very much alive, police are left with an unidentified body of a young woman. Thus begins ‘The Fable of Velonie’.

What’s impressive about Vadhandhi is its brilliant writing. The script is dense and it is fully thought out, which is rare in the nascent Tamil web series scene. Every scene takes its time to settle in and the expositions are pretty seamless. Also, it is unabashedly bold in touching upon the dark side of things. For example, after the body is put inside the ambulance, a guy hops in it instead of taking a seat in the front. A police officer is enraged seeing this and asks him to get down. “I know what you are up to,” he says. To which he gives a chilling reply, “I can’t do anything sir. The corpse is already rotten.” Vadhandhi teems with such perverts. However, in an attempt to show them, sometimes the gaze of the director also becomes questionable.

That’s the major problem of the series. For a series, that strives to be progressive, the depiction of sexual violence needed better shot selection and staging as opposed to the voyeuristic natures of some of the scenes. However, it would be unfortunate to brush off the series for a few of its blunders and overlook its achievements. Like the depiction of how the murder, despite unfolding in Kanyakumari, is affected by people and events that are far removed from the place. A magistrate, who is about to retire in a few days, pulls some strings and makes the Madras High Court initiate suo motu proceedings, which forces the Superintendent of Police to appoint Vivek (SJ Suryah) to take over the case. It is clearly a creative choice to go all this length to show how the protagonist ends up with the case. But a few such choices don’t work like the conversations of a bunch of IT professionals, who crassly discuss Velonie’s case. They are supposed to be representatives of society. It was an unnecessary flab to the series, which is otherwise self-aware.

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The other major achievement of the series is the depth each character is given. Not just Velonie, even Vivek is a complex being. The most fascinating aspect of the series is the weird relationship he starts to have with the deceased. It is an age-old trope of crime thrillers, but such a meticulous depiction of it is unprecedented in Tamil. Vivek, a married man with a son, can’t help but fall for Velonie, which baffles his wife. These are unexplored territory and the series treads it with much ease.

Then we have SJ Suryah, who with Vadhandhi, proves that he can ace any character even without employing his trademark eccentric body language. It’s an absolute delight to watch him as Vivek. He is very authentic and has an affable presence. Even in a throwaway scene, Suryah makes a stark difference with his subtle performance. One such scene I relished is when he calls a suspect in Coimbatore several times, and when the person switches off his phone, Suryah casually tells his aide, “Coimbatore polam vaa.” There’s nothing significant about the scene, to be honest, but the actor breathes in some style and character which makes it stick.

Vadhandhi obviously derives a major influence from western whodunits and crime mysteries (Sinner is a major one) that are set in small towns, but it wins by incorporating the foreign genre into the place it is set in. There are many misses, but the making and the performances are convincing enough to overlook them.

First published on: 04-12-2022 at 21:08 IST
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