The title of the latest film from the Siva-Ajith Kumar camp Vivegam (Prudence) could not have been more apt. Prudence is indeed exercised in abundance and not just when it comes to the plot of the film. Ajith Kumar attempts to insure himself too against any possibility of failure in the foreseeable future. Cleverly exercised wisdom one must say, considering the film at hand.
After Veeram (2014) and Vedhalam (2016), this is the third film in which Siva is directing Ajith. Unlike the previous films in the series which were set in India, Vivegam takes the action all the way to the frozen winters of East Europe (but with remote access to India nevertheless). Ajith plays the role of Ajay Kumar aka AK, a counterterrorism squad agent who is on a mission to foil a nuclear attack targeting several countries. He is assisted by his dear friend Aryan (Vivek Oberoi) and a diverse team of agents played by Aarav Choudhary, Amilia Terzimehic and Serge Crozon-Cazin.
If you thought the quintessential Tamil touch was absent, AK is married to Yazhini (Kajal Aggarwal) who runs a South-indian restaurant in Serbia and teaches chidren there Bharathiyar songs.
AK is an exceptional agent, we are told. He snaps his fingers as he gauges suspects and records his insights. He is always one step ahead, swats the bad guys as if they are flies, and cruises through fight sequences across countries in Europe with a translator in tow (predictably, one who brings in the comic interludes).
Vivegam is desperate to look like the spy thrillers of Hollywood, especially the Mission Impossible franchise. And as far as mere looks are concerned, it even succeeds partially. But when it comes to the plot, under the garb of a thriller is an unbelievably sappy tale of friendship and betrayal. The film is riddled with lines about friendship that put WhatsApp forwards on Friendship Day to shame. If that wasn’t enough, AK and Aryan even refer to each other as “dear friend” throughout.
Siva serves up another bucket load of sentiment through the ideal husband narrative that he spins around AK and Yazhini. There is also a special dedication at the end: “The film is dedicated to all the hardworking husbands who strive hard for success and the wives behind them.” Yazhini is AK’s avowed cheerleader. She is a woman who shuts her eyes in devotion when her husband puts vermillion on her forehead and can speak for hours about his virtues. At the end of the day, she is still a damsel in distress who needs saving.
It is this sentiment-meets-spy thriller masala that weighs Vivegam down. For its part, the thriller too demands several leaps of logic, especially the nuclear attack.
Vivek Oberoi, who makes his debut in Tamil cinema with this film, is as melodramatic as the dialogues about friendship that he utters. Akshara Haasan makes a blink-and-go appearance in the film. The rage that one associates with Ajith’s performance is substantially tempered in Vivegam when compared to Veeram and Vedhalam. In fact, it is partially transferred onto Kajal Aggarwal. As AK, Ajith is composed most of the time, channeling the positivity that he expounds, only letting out a few glimpses of it as the camera gets close to him. The camera maintains a curious distance from Ajith in most scenes and even covers his eyes with sunglasses. However, in the few scenes that Siva takes the audience closer to Ajith, one sees the trademark combination of vulnerability and rage in plenty.
It is not coincidental that Ajith’s character is called AK, which are his initials too. There are a number of portions in the film wherein it is difficult to say who exactly is speaking – the actor or the character he is playing. Most of these lines sound like a serious pep talk that the actor is giving himself. “Even if the world stands against you, under all circumstances, if the world keeps telling you that you have failed...until you accept it, no one can defeat you,” he says as the film opens. He adds shortly after, “Never ever give up.” This line is reiterated one more time and variations of the sentiment are sprinkled throughout the film. Siva too is desperate to project Ajith as a survivor (a few scenes remind one of The Revenant).
Ajith seems to be on the backfoot right from the beginning of the film and in a hurry to secure insurance against future perils. One is tempted to read it all as a preemptive strike, an exercise in prudence in the event of failure for the actor. It’s a smart move, but the film doesn’t help this plan.