But as always with Telugu movies, there were no subtitles, so at the time I decided to wait with my review until I had seen it with subs because I've learned over the years that the most awesome looking films can have the dumbest dialogues, so the saying about judging a book by its cover really applies most of the times.
The film follows the inter-weaved stories of:
- Cable Raju (Allu Arjun), a slum cable provider whose goal is to marry a rich girl
- Vivek (Manchu Manoj), a rock band singer looking to make it big in Hyderabad with his band
- Saroja (Anushka Shetty), a prostitute trying to move on to bigger business
- Ramulu (Nagayya), a weaver who owes money to the local gangster
- Khureshi (Manoj Bajpay, always a joy to watch), a Muslim man whose wife's unborn twins get killed in a religious incident.
All five stories come together in the end during a terrorist attack.
Namak: Boy, am I glad we had no subs for the first song in the theatre. We really should have turned them off on the DVD too.
Dolce: I'm sure they're not that bad in the original form.
Namak: But it's not just the lyrics, the picturization is atrocious as well.
Dolce: Heh, not every movie is a Rockstar, you know. Besides, what do we know about metal bands in Bangalore, maybe they all practice in huge empty warehouses and pose for imaginary photoshoots while singing and being all badass, smoking on the "sets" and other such acts of rebellion.
Namak: Ha! Or maybe the only reason why this song even exists is to make sure everyone got a song.
Dolce: Speaking of songs---
Namak: Yeah... I know. I know. How sexy and awesome is Prapancham?
Dolce: Possibly my favourite moves from Arjun, despite really loving a lot of his other songs. There's something uber-sexy in this one, and it's not just the fact that he wears his jeans "street-dancing style".
Namak: To show how gangsta' he is, yo!
Dolce: Shut up, you know you watched this song on repeat before writing this review.
Jokes aside, it is rather neat that almost every character intro is done through a song. Even the old man Ramulu is introduced to the rhythmic beats of the silk machine and the poem recited by his grandson. It's not an easy story to tell, with 5 different tracks eventually merging together in the end, but because of how different their environments are and because of how unique each character is, I was never confused. The ample intros really helped with that.
In the beginning of the film the theme connecting everyone is escape: everyone is looking to get out of their current situation and build a better future for themselves (through money, fame or just respect). Krish seems to like ragging on that stereotype, it was a running theme in his first film as well, Gamyam. Which is fine, it's a good message to pass on, and it's cleverly used in this film because as the money or gold travels from one character to the next we get to really evaluate how deserving they are of it, and also how important it is for us as the viewer to see their problem resolved. I liked that just like the film's characters, I was also forced to choose who should end up with it.
Namak: Quite a few layers of the pyramid of needs here, no? Everything from wanting a rich wife, to wanting an education for your children, to starting a new business.
Dolce: Needs and wants. Old Ramulu's plight was really the only valid need.
Namak: Why just his? When you think about it, his is also more of a want than a need: they're trying to get the money so his grandson can go to school and get an education which will provide a better life. Just because his sacrifice is bigger doesn't make his situation more tragic, emotions aside, of course.
Dolce: Well, if you look at it like that, anything other than the need for food is a "nice-to-have". How is Raju's situation then different from Ramulu's? He just wants a better life. And the persecuted Khureshi? He doesn't need to leave, he wants to.Namak: That's just it, it's hard to draw the line. Who has the bigger need and who is more deserving. Which is probably what the movie was trying to say too, in giving us all these different scenarios. In the end, everyone earns their right to happiness, whatever that happy may be.
But there's more than one theme in Vedam, and another one that comes up in every story is religion. As much as I disliked the rock-band's entire story (including the obnoxiousness of Vivek's character, though there is a point to it in the end), they had a couple of good dialogues about humanity, thinking bigger than themselves and also, about how religion only divides because people don't "speak the same language". I found that track to be the most rushed and poorly established, but if more time had been spent on it, it could have been the best one. I'm always happy to see young people who successfully blend universal values such as compassion and tolerance with unorthodox lifestyles and I thought Lasya, Vivek's love-interest, really nailed that combo despite having only a few small scenes. It's too bad so much screentime had to be spent on Manoj Manchu's singing, but such is the filmi world we live in... it's all about the heroes.
But ultimately Vedam is a movie about sacrifice and humanity. It's a movie about how heroes are made in a world that is neither selfless, nor fair. And it's about those very rare moments when one realizes that being self-absorbed is an even bigger sin than stealing or lying. Sure, Vedam puts it in a very idealistic set-up, but hey, what's life without a little hyperbole?
Krish always seems to do well with visuals in his films, though song picturizations are not his forte. But he has an eye for atmospheric moments and snapshots that tell their own stories. The colony in which Raju conducts his illicit cable business got some of the coolest shots, though Saroja's brothel is a close second. Krish is almost as good with brothels as Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Uh... no pun intended, of course.
And because Allu Arjun was the main reason for me to even see this movie, can't leave without a word about him. The first time I watched Vedam I was convinced my favourite Arjun moments were his emotional scenes in the hospital. They're still my favourites. But I've added one more: in one of their very few interactions Saroja asks Raju if it's true love between him and the rich girl. His hesitant expression: part guilt, part conviction, part self-doubt... as if it was the first time he had to ask himself that question... Brilliant.
It's not that Vedam is a perfect film, it's not. It tries too hard in many places and stretches plausibility. And it has less than mediocre music. But it's also full of perfect little moments and imperfect little characters that win your heart. It may have taken the DVD a long time to come out, but it's one that was well worth the wait. Now excuse me while I go watch that wicked song again. Another 50 times.
Vedam (2011, Telugu)
Starring: Allu Arjun, Manchu Manoj, Anushka Shetty, Nagayya, Manoj Bajpai
Music: MM Keeravani