Opening this week

‘VIP 2: Lalkar’ film review: A gender war waged on a construction lot

In the Hindi dubbed version of the Tamil movie ‘Velai Illa Pattadhaari 2’, Dhanush plays the saintly civil engineer who brings Kajol’s corporate boss to heel.

VIP 2: Lalkar, the Hindi dubbed version of Dhanush’s Tamil movie Velai Illa Pattadhaari 2, badly wants to put women in their place – and it succeeds in a fashion. Kajol plays Vasundhara, everybody’s idea of why women should never be allowed to run companies. The founder of one of India’s largest construction firms, Vasundhara is abrasive, arrogant and in the habit of snapping her fingers when she wants to make a point or summon her terrorised minions. When she learns that Raghuvaran is the best civil engineer in this corner of the subcontinent, she makes him an offer she is sure he will not refuse: come and work for me, she tells him.

In a movie more tethered to the economic realities of India, Raghuvaran might have taken the offer. But since the character is a retread of the independent-minded and trailblazing engineer who created a “revolution” (their words, not ours) in the first film Velai Illa Pattadhaari (2014), Raghuvaran prefers to go his own way, earning Vasundhara’s wrath. She devotes considerable time to destroying him before realising that she is dealing with a saint in human form.

Raghuvaran has some practice in taming women. His wife Shalini (Amala Paul) puts up with his habit of coming home drunk every night and his endless laments about the stultifying nature of marriage. Except for fulfilling the stereotype of the nagging wife, Amala Paul has little to do in a movie that sets itself up as a Dhanush vehicle all the way. The actor and producer has also written the story and dialogue, and his sister-in-law, Soundarya Rajinikanth, sits in the director’s chair. Nepotism doesn’t only rock in Bollywood.

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VIP 2: Lalkar.

Had the movie been made 30 years ago, it would have allowed Raghuvaran to slap Vasundhara a few times. She might have lost her heart to Raghuvaran and indulged in a fantasy song sequence with him. The exact source of Vasundhara’s animosity towards Raghuvaran never comes into view. Is it business? Thwarted love? A bit of both?

The movie is too timid to give full expression to its latent sexism and make Vasundhara the arch-villain at a time when the portrayal of women on the screen is under scrutiny. Raghuvaran does manage to show Vasundhara where he thinks she belongs – he calls her “Amul Baby” at one point, and blows her a kiss.

A pantomime villain who rarely displays the business smarts that have supposedly made her rich and powerful, Vasundhara is the movie’s most wasted character. The supporting cast (including P Samuthirakani as Raghuvaran’s father and Vivek as his colleague) stay respectfully in the background as Dhanush wins every battle, major and minor.

Dhanush made his Hindi debut in Aanand L Rai’s surprise hit Raanjhanaa (2013). In terms of setting up a foundation for a parallel career in Hindi films, VIP 2: Lalkaar is decidedly poorly constructed.

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