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Review: Vaasthavam

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In one of the most powerful scenes  in Vaasthavam we see  Unnithan(Jagathi) and Balachandran(Prithviraj) dividing five lakh rupees in hundreds of envelopes.  This is the money for bribing various individuals in state secretariat to get approval for a factory. In this occasion  Unnithan waxes eloquent about power of envelope and its place in democracy. This scene defines the movie.

Balachandran Adiga, is a member of a poor Brahmin family, son of an idealistic communist leader.  It’s Balachandran’s responsibility to marry off his sisters and get his family out of poverty. Balachandran’s job as priest in local temple and his sister Subha’s (Usha) tailoring is not enough to see them off from this desperate situation. Meanwhile Subha is in love with a local adivasi leader, and the whole family is against this as he’s of a different caste. Balachandran is in love with his cousin Sumitra(Kavya Madhavan), an affair both families approve.

At this juncture Thruppan Namboodiri(Salim Kumar) appears with an offer of arranging a job for Balachandran in state secretariat if Balachandran marries his niece Surabhi(Samvrutha Sunil). Balachandran is against this alliance. Sumitra, in order save Balachandran and his family decides to sacrifice her love. She asks Balachandran to take up Thruppan Namboodiri’s offer.

Balachandran marries Surabhi, and on the night of the marriage Subha elopes with Sreedharan, the adivasi leader. Heartbroken, Balachandran’s mother dies. After the funeral Balachandran leaves for Thiruvananthapuram to take up his job in secretariat.

And all this happens before the titles are shown!

In the secretariat, under the tutelage of Unnithan, Balachandran learns the lessons in corruption. Unnithan is a veteran in secretariat, has spend his whole life in that place. He is well versed in navigating the intricate bureaucracy and has no principles when it comes to accepting bribes. He considers and accepts corruption as a way of life in  secretariat. Balachandran who arrives at Thiruvananthapuram, with a strong resolve of leaving his past life behind accepts Unnithan as a moral guide.

Thruppan Namboodiri had arranged this job for Balachandran with the intention of having his own man in secreatriat. He had invested crores in a ceramic factory in Kasargod, the approval of which is stuck deep in bureaucratic jungle. He hopes that Balachandran will be able to get approval for this factory.  It was for this purpose the five lakh rupees, supplied by Thruppan, was distributed.

Balachandran hides the fact that he’s married from everyone. He gets close to Vimala Thankachi(Sindhu Menon), a colleague, who is a divorcee. Vimala is niece of Pattom Raveendran(Murali), a politician. With encouragement from Unnithan, Balachandran gets closer to Vimala. When Pattom Raveendran becomes minister, Balachandran uses Vimala to become a member of minister’s personal staff.  Balachandran never looks back from this point. Using clever machinations, with the help of minister’s wife Radhamani(Sona Nair) and with help of goondas, Balachandran becomes all powerful and rich. He becomes more powerful than the minister himself and becomes the ultimate bureaucrat controlling all aspects of administration.

Balachandran’s personal life is in shambles. He ignores Surabhi his wife and she lives in his house in Kasargod. Vimala Thankaci is used and forgotten. Sumitra got married to Sasidharan Pillai(Meghanathan), a policeman, who makes her life a living hell because of her past relationship. Balachandran gets Sasidharan Pillai transferred to Thiruvananthapuram as minister’s gunman with the intention of meeting up with Sumitra again. Thruppan Namboodiri never gets his factory approved as there is another powerful industrial group attempting to set up a factory in the same place.  Bankrupt Thruppan follows and begs Balachandran to help him get approval for the factory. Balachandran offers to pay back his share from the  from five lakhs distributed as bribe – which is fifty thousand rupees!

Rest of the story shows the depth into which a morally bankrupt Balachandran has fallen and his attempts at salvation.  The story by Babu Janardhanan moves at brisk pace. The writer attempts to tell so many things in the brief duration of this movie and often leaves many things unexplained, for example Balachandran’s meteoric and mysterious rise as minister’s personal staff is not properly explained.  But the writer is successful in realistic depiction of corrupt bureaucracy in Kerala, the starkness of which leaves the viewer riveted.

Prithviraj as Balachandran tries to keep up with the pace of the movie and delivers a good performance. His brooding intensity adds to the dark mood of the movie.  Jagathi as seventy year old Unnithan delivers most commendable performance, he lives in that role. Salimkumar as Thruppan namboothiri gets a break from his usual buffoonery and displays his talents. All the heroines, though short, has significant roles, a rarity in todays malayalam cinema. Kavya as silently suffering Sumitra, does justice to the role. Samvrutha as Surabhi has the shortest role of the three heroines, but shows why she’s rated as a good actress. Other notable performances are from Jagadeesh as Shibhu Vattapara and Murali as Pattom Raveendran.

Director Padmakumar keeps the proceedings under tight control and extracts good performances from all the actors. The story is told in a very straighfoward manner, without many parallel threads.. Manoj Pillai’s photography, gives a grey tone to movie,  adds to the dark mood of the movie. Alex Paul’s music is excellent with good songs, Arappavan Ponnu being the best song.

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6 Comments

  1. Vaasthavam-Movie review

    I saw Padmakumar’s Vaasthavam last Friday at Padmam theatre in Chennai. I was pleasantly surprised to see a decent crowd for the matinee show on a working day. The movie is set in the Kerala state Secretariat and shows the dirty politics, corruption and red-tapism that takes place in the corridoors of power in a realistic manner.

    Prithviraj plays the role of Balachandra Adigal a Nambboothiri who is the sole breadwinner of his family. Situations force him to marry a woman whom he does not love to create a secure future for his sisters.

    Balan reaches Trivandrum, where he stays with Unnithan Jagathy Sreekumar in an excellent role that could fetch him one more award. He is a retired peon who is a living encyclopaedia of Kerala state politics, he initiates Balan into his job as a clerk in the Revenue department.

    Balan is attracted to a beautiful divorced woman played by Sindhu Menon they have a relationship using which Balan becomes the secretary of a minister played by Murali. Slowly Balan becomes a powerful playmaker, as he degrades morally. Meanwhile his true love played by Kavya Madhavan is married to an alcoholic policeman who keeps abusing her.

    Balan arranges for the policeman to be killed. He is involved in the forceful eviction of tribals for the construction a foreign investment based factory. At a juncture he makes Jagadheesh a replacement for Murali. He distances himself from Sindhu, who decides to teach him a lesson by sleeping with Jagadheesh and then threathening to disclose the news with evidence.

    [Spoilers deleted – Editor]
    The moral-“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    Two good songs and a tight screenplay, a movie for people who love serious cinema and a nice continuation to “Vargam.”

    My rating-3.5/5.

  2. How is this movie doing in Kerala Box Office, anybody knows?

  3. The movie surprisingly become a flop though everyone expected it to be a big hit, which it really deserves. The present situation in Mallu Industry contributed to this. As Lal Jose pointed out only two types of movies becoming sucess in Malayalam now a days irrespective of the quality. One if some of Super star movies and the other one is of Big directors, which is true.Now the situation slowly changing with big projects from big directors are coming. Like Ranjth, Shafi and Joshy movies for Prithvi and Lal Creations action movie with Narain. Lets hope some of these will change the very basic problem with our film world.

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