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Asuravadham Review: Asuravadham begins with a phone call. We see Samayan (Vasumitra) trying to convince his irate father-in-law that he doesn’t cheat on his wife. He ends the call and moves away to the adjacent room when the phone rings. He goes to pick it up, but the call ends. He sees the number. An unknown number. He ignores it and turns back, but the phone rings again! And the call ends before he can attend it. This happens a few times, infuriating the man. He tries to call back, but the person on the other end cuts the call without answering. Finally, the call is answered and the voice on the other end threatens him saying that he will fear for his life in the next few days and after a week, he will not be alive, and then tells him to button up his shirt. A panic-stricken Samayan rushes out of his house to see if he is being spied upon, but there is no one — apart from a few familiar faces who are doing their job.
Right in this brief opening stretch, Marudhupandian, who had previously directed Chennai Ungalai Anbudan Varaverkirathu, a film that showcased potential, sets up the eerie tone of Asuravadham and hooks us in. In the next few scenes, we learn that Samayan has a weakness for women, and see the face of the caller who threatened him. This bearded man (Sasikumar), whose name and back story we learn only in the pre-climax portion, keeps turning up everywhere Samayan goes to (even to his house), and tries to scare him off. Samayan ropes in a bunch of men to protect him, but the sickle-wielding group is no match for the gun-toting stranger. After a point, the former badly needs to know who his tormentor is.
And like him, throughout its first half, Asuravadham keeps us guessing about who this guy is and why he is so determined to finish Samayan off. For a while, the doggedness of this guy reminds you of the protagonist of Badlapur, who was also hell-bent on seeking revenge. But that film gave us the reason in its very first minutes. And unlike its multi-layered antagonist, Samayan, here, is a little one-note. Right from the first scene till the last, we mainly see him exclaiming, ‘Dei! Yaaru daa nee?’ Even his accomplices, like his friend (Rajasimman) and a cop (Srijith Ravi) are written the same way.
Also, there, the protagonist was so consumed by revenge that he had become the very cold and calculating animal he was trying to hunt down. Here, too, we get a guy who is obsessive about getting his revenge, but he isn’t presented as a damaged soul. This man is a vigilante. A hero. A man who has chosen the path of violence, but still retains his moral values. Take the scene just before the interval. It is implied that this guy might have raped Samayan’s wife (Sheela Rajkumar), but we know deep down that he wouldn’t have done so, and our suspicion is proved true some time later. Or the one we get a few minutes later where we see him take care of his wife (Nandita Swetha, in a sort-of extended cameo) in a mental asylum.
You begin to sense that Marudhupandian only wants to tell us a vigilante story and this is where Asuravadham begins to feel like a lesser film that what it initially promises. Perhaps it also has got to do with the fact that it is Sasikumar who is playing the lead. By the time the film gives us the mandatory flashback, you realise that of all the interesting paths that his juicy initial portions offered to take his story into, the director has chosen the most conventional and convenient one. Despite the horrific backstory, Marudhupandian’s approach — filling the second half with empty heroism and reliable but routine melodrama — lessens the overall impact of the film.
If the film finally feels a little underwhelming, it is only because the initial portions are terrific. The mood resembles that of a horror film, with the horror that is lurking in the shadows is the man’s past. And SR Kathir’s superb cinematography mirrors this lurking danger — the frames are filled with shadows and the camera angles suggest the existence of someone just next to the frame. The grungy score by Govind, too, maintains this suspenseful mood for a while, though, in the second half, the music becomes a tool to amp up the heroism and the melodrama. But even in the latter portions, some scenes are impactful. We get to experience the crime that set the protagonist on his vengeful path the same way he experienced it, and this makes the horror all the more chilling. If only had the director gone with this approach in the latter scenes, instead of turning the climax into yet another bash-them-up, Asuravadham would have ended up transcending its ambitions.