A sizeable portion of Villain is dedicated to reassuring the audience about the proficiency of its hero—ADGP Mathew Manjooran (Mohanlal). Mathew is the only police officer who can unravel this case. Or any knotty murder case. His senior begs, and finally emotionally blackmails him into take up a murder case. Because only he can do this. Even the maniacal antagonist thinks Mathew can “deconstruct a crime scene like no one else.” Because of course, he is brilliant. B. Unnikrishnan is meticulous when it comes to slyly, broadly, or bluntly glorifying his hero in every other frame. Villain begins on that very superficial note—a forewarning to the narrative that is in store.
The film begins with a triple murder. And then a double murder. ADGP Mathew Manjooran, who has been in hibernation following a personal tragedy, walks into the frame and he is coaxed by his superior to take up the case.
B. Unnikrishnan takes up from where he left Grandmaster. If in Grandmaster, the cop hero parallelly battles divorce, in Villain he is mourning the death of his wife (Manju Warrier) and teenage daughter.
Mathew Manjooran except for his nicely trimmed salt and pepper beard is an extension of Grandmaster’s Chandrasekar. He is a brilliant recluse who keeps quoting weighty philosophies from Shakespeare (Lady Macbeth) and self-help books about life, death and humans (“Everything is grey” "In every hero there is a villain and viceversa"). He is also a “great husband and father.” The husband-wife conversations vacillate between saccharine sweet and pretentious. Manju Warrier’s Neelima is always zen-like and seems to be having a fan-girl moment during the brief time with her husband.
But Villain’s biggest undoing turns out to be its predictability, inconsistent editing, and sluggish pace. Not even during the most crucial breakthrough are we sitting on the edge of our seats, instead a lot of reveals seem too premeditated. The sub-characters are terribly half-baked, unoriginal and seem borrowed from Tamil films of the same genre. Vishal, who plays Dr Sakthivel, is a caricature—the ominous Tamilian doctor with a familiar backstory. His turn comes as a vigilante. Hansika, who plays his girlfriend is caricature no.2—the pretty young thing who assists him in his mission also breaks into a badly choreographed stage song strangely similar to Roma’s act in Grandmaster.
A lady cop (when we realise that the talented Shwetha Menon has turned into a dubbing artist) whose intelligence is either sneered at or doused by the superior brain of Mathew. In a scene she comes running to inform Mathew about an enlightening disclosure and the senior smiles calmly—“I knew all this. Of course, you are an intuitive officer, but since you are inexperienced you took time to figure this out.”
In films where superstars masquerade as cops, it’s given that either the subordinate, or superior, and even criminals must be in awe of the hero. Here, Unnikrishnan makes the hierarchical glorification of Manjooran even. There is Iqbal, (Chemban Vinod) whose character sketch is so stale that it’s easy to guess his turnaround. The murders are linked to some of the recurring socio-political issues and those portions are terribly written (sexual crime offenders and real-estate mafia).
In one scene, Manjooran drives into a green hilly stretch to ponder about his wife’s biggest dream and then comes the big face-off between Vishal and Lal, which makes you think the previous scene looks so faultily placed. Or even redundant.
Probably the only memorable scene occurs in the hospital, where Manjooran sits blankly staring at his wife lying in coma. He has a look of utter pain when she cries out—a sort of helpless love. Mohanlal is superb here.
Vishal suffers from a badly written character—he is an anti-hero, but we can’t invest in his grief or understand fully his frustrations about the system. And making matters worse are the unintentionally hilarious dialogues—his relationship with his girlfriend is described as a “strange neurotic attraction.” The face-off between Vishal (who looks disoriented) and Lal suffers due to this one-sided hero worship. This whole profound ideological debate in the climax between ‘villain’ and ‘hero’ seems like a stagey predictable discourse.
Villain is better than the director’s previous thriller Mr Fraud. But clearly that’s no flattering yardstick!
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