Dhanush and his director brother Selvaraghavan, known for hits like Kadhal Kondein and Mayakkam Enna, have reunited after nearly a decade to make the weakest of their collaborations.
Naane Varuven has the rushed feel of a hastily edited first draught of a film with a brilliant idea at its core. The film, written by Dhanush and directed by his brother Selvaraghavan, is based on a crazy and wicked idea — a film about sibling rivalry by real-life brothers. That’s a movie we can watch. It’s a shame that it’s only an idea and will never become a real-life film.
From the start, there is something wrong with Naane Varuven. Even Dhanush as Prabhu (he plays two roles in the film) comes across as odd and synthetic. And that’s a loaded statement for an actor who made you root for him in a cameo in the otherwise forgettable The Gray Man by the Russo Brothers. You overlook these flaws because you are confident that something unexpected will soon unfold on the screen. The film’s lack of promotion has worked in its favour — the film’s genre is the biggest mystery. It’s an exhilarating surprise when it’s revealed, and it leaves you excited for what’s to come. For a brief moment, you consider the filmmakers to be geniuses for not promoting the film. The thrill is short-lived, as awe is replaced by befuddlement in the second half. Those subtle flaws emerge, and the film implodes, leaving you with a sense of betrayal.
In terms of plot, Naane Varuven is a supernatural horror reimagining of Kamal Haasan’s Aalavandhan. Kathir and Prabhu are identical twins. The elder twin, who is severely punished by his father for his creepy behaviour, has a sinister air about him. He is tied up in the backyard of the house and is abducted by a psychopath (played by Selvaraghavan) who enjoys hunting humans with a bow and arrow. Kathir escapes and kills the monster by transforming into it. The hunted becomes the hunter, and so on. All of this is’spoken’ in a few scenes. There is no context or detail, which is the film’s defining characteristic. Kathir is eventually abandoned by his mother and younger brother. The younger brother lives a normal, happy life with his understanding wife Bhuvana (Indhuja Ravichandran) and daughter Sathya. Things take a dramatic turn when Sathya begins acting strangely after returning from a vacation in Himachal Pradesh. Prabhu realises that the ghost of his past has returned to haunt him.
Even as a story, Naane Varuven isn’t particularly original. It contains all of the tropes of a typical horror film, with a significant portion playing out similarly to The Conjuring (2013). The film takes the easy way out; there are numerous expositions, and the film relies on voiceovers and dull dialogue to move forward. Another example is actor Prabhu’s portrayal of a psychiatrist who also happens to be a spiritual healer. I mean, why bother creating another character? Two jobs for the price of one! We also have Yogi Babu as the ‘hero’s friend,’ who is unimportant to the plot of the film. Selvaraghavan points out the character’s absurdity, but his self-awareness does not absolve him.
Surprisingly, despite its flaws, the film does not punish you. Dhanush may have been drab as Prabhu, but he shines as Kathir. Dhanush demonstrates his abilities in a scene near the end of the film. The high calibre of his acting feels at odds with the poor quality of the film. For that brief moment, all of your criticisms of the film fade away… But it’s only for a short time. The rest of the time, you’re just staring at the ruins of a failed idea.