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The story revolves around Jara (Jayam Ravi), a member of a tribe based in Andaman. He lands up in Chennai through Kavya (Sayeesha), a cold-hearted businesswoman. When the Andaman police manage to get him back to Andaman, Jara finds out that his whole tribe have been displaced from their home as the property was required for some industrial project and that the tribal community is under hiding somewhere nearby. Does Jara manage to reunite with his group and retain their livelihood or not forms the rest of the story.
The displacement of tribals from their livelihoods, leading to their population decrease is the core subject of this movie, which has to be appreciated. The end credits scenes indicate that scenario very well and the attempt is sincere from director Vijay. Another good message conveyed by Vijay is the extent to which humans have become materialistic and thereby, living an inhuman life.
The same cannot be said for the execution though. There isn't too much focus on the tribals' lives and their struggles, barring about 30 mins in the 2nd half. The other portions involved the heroine to a large extent. The last 30 minutes were an absolute drag. The climax, in particular, was below average to say the least. Instead of going a bit more in depth into the life and struggles of tribals, the story was diluted with a lot of commercial elements like romance portions and duet songs.
One of the biggest positives in Vanamagan is Jayam Ravi. Man, this guy is a terrific actor and he's proved it here too. The challenge in this role was that there are hardly any dialogues for him and all the emoting had to be done through his eyes. He has aced in all aspects and is completely convincing as a tribal person. The scene where Jara, getting back to his forest home, expresses his happiness is a sure standout.
Sayeesha's character's importance is shown only towards the end and till then she's shown as the usual Tamil Cinema heroine, who's used for song and romance portions. She has done a decent job with the emoting and lip sync. Her dance is fantastic though. Prakash Raj neither has a challenging nor important role and he just aces through the character. Thambi Ramaiah entertains at few places with his timing.
Coming to the musical aspect in Harris Jeyaraj's 50th movie, certain songs are praiseworthy both in terms of music and picturisation. The visuals for Silu Silu song is the pick of the lot for me as it shows the lifestyle of the tribals in the most natural manner. Yamma Hey Azhagamma impresses with its choreography and the lead chemistry, but its placement is questionable. The Pachai Uduthiya number during the last half and hour was an absolute waste. The BGM, to me, wasn't at Harris' level, barring a couple of tunes like the Silu Silu BGM. The CGI was also patchy at most places.
Overall, Vanamagan is a movie that had a lot of potential but was ruined to a good extent in the execution department. But if you're bored, then this film can be given a shot just once just for the stellar performance of Jayam Ravi.
The two positives about the film are a) The scene where Jayam Ravi's character Vaasi / Jaara treats the injured tiger that tried to harm a little child (the CGI isn't great but the sincerity in putting the thought across is felt!) b) The end credits which provide the audience with a brief on the dwindling numbers of tribal population all around the world.
What we get to see in the rest of the film is just stock characters (and a jungle-dweller) who go about their clichéd businesses of romance, song-and-dance routines, unconvincingly choreographed stunts, and oodles of tribal sentiment under the garb of a social message. A.L Vijay's intention is honest, but he succumbs to the 'isms' of Tamil cinema a tad too much for 'Vanamagan' to be taken seriously. The second half is slightly better than the first, mostly owing to the magnificent shooting locales in Andaman.
Sayyesha is an exceptional dancer but the same cannot be said about her acting skills (as yet!). Thambi Ramaiah annoys with his poor comic timing and one-liners. Prakash Raj repeats his trademark style while portraying the antagonist.
Verdict: Below average!
This is definitely worth a watch, in fact- it was good enough for me to write my first review for IMDb.