H Vinoth’s Valimai begins with a series of chain-snatching incidents and smuggling committed by masked men on bikes in Chennai. The public is up in arms against the police force, who are clueless. In an internal monologue, the police chief (Selva) wishes for a super cop to prevent such crimes. The action then cuts to Madurai, where a temple procession is underway, then we are introduced to ACP Arjun (Ajith Kumar), the film’s protagonist, whose introduction is intercut with scenes from the procession. Like a God who is held up high, we see this character rising up from the depths. In short, a whistle-worthy hero-introduction scene.
We expect that Vinoth has done away with the mandatory fan service given his star’s stature and will get around to making the film he wanted to make. And it does seem so for a while when Arjun gets posted to Chennai and starts investigating a suicide case that seems connected to the chain-snatching and drug-smuggling cases from before. Like in his previous cop film, the relentless Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru, the director throws at us his research and while the detailing seems impressive, there is a sense of deja vu as much of it is something we have seen in films like Metro, Chakra and Marainthirunthu Parkkum Marmam Enna. And we get sentimentalism when he insists on showing us the fate of the victims, which feels redundant.
Even as Arjun starts going after the leads, the gang’s mastermind (Kartikeya Gummakonda) realises that the cop is on to him, and things turn into a dangerous cat-and-mouse game, in which Arjun’s family become pawns. Can Arjun save both his family and the city from this dangerous criminal?
It’s a clash between stunts and sentiment in Valimai, a somewhat engaging but overlong action movie that hides its simplistic writing with elaborate action set-pieces. We keep getting a sense of Vinoth trying hard to strike a balance between making a gritty action movie and satisfying the demands of a star vehicle, with message, sentiment, and ‘mass’ moments. Despite the story having scope for rooting the action scenes in emotion, he is content with treating them as just standalone set-pieces.
We see this approach clearly in the superficial manner in which the film deals with its secondary characters and their relationship with Arjun. They are mainly one-note — loving mother (Sumithra), drunkard brother (Achyuth Kumar), supportive colleague (Huma Qureshi); or worse, caricatures — corrupt cops (GM Sundar and Dinesh Prabhakar), tattoo-sporting, Goth-like villain’s girlfriend (Bani J). The arc of a dejected brother (Raj Ayyappan) who goes rogue, which is what drives the plot in the second half, isn’t built convincingly. We look for something different, like Huma’s character, which is refreshingly not that of a romantic interest. But even this character gets one kickass moment and then is relegated to being a sidekick. This is why the film feels less impactful when we are not in the middle of an action sequence. The plot begins to feel like it was written mainly as a relief between the stunt scenes. No wonder some scenes, like the ones inside a police conference room, appear amateurish.
Vinoth does try to make up for this with the stunts, which are mostly big-screen spectacles that are superbly choreographed (Dhilip Subbarayan is the stunt choreographer) and are undoubtedly the film’s highlight. A bike chase in the pre-interval portion and a chase involving a bus, a truck and many bikers in the second half are definitely edge-of-the-seat stuff. But they can only do so much, and we wish the director had put in as much effort into the other scenes as well.
Ultimately, Valimai is a battle between good and evil. There are clear analogies to Batman. Like that masked superhero, Arjun, too, doesn’t believe in killing criminals to eradicate crime. We often see him dressed in black, with his face hidden under a helmet, especially when is taking on the bad guys. He, too, is up against an anarchist who doesn’t believe in society. And at one point, he faces a situation in which he has to choose between saving his loved ones and the lives of the public.
And Ajith plays this role like a superhero. The other characters, too, look at him like he’s one. The actor lends credibility to the stunt scenes and tries to elevate the other scenes with his star power. There are times it works (a scene in prison when he has to break someone’s arm) and times when it doesn’t (the monologue in the climax). But there is no denying that it is his presence that holds together these two jarring tones of the film.
Valimai has also been dubbed and released in Hindi, Telugu and Kannada.