Vellam, inspired by a true story works because of Jayasuriya’s performance. As Murali, a chronic alcoholic, he spends the better part of the movie in various states of inebriation- from mildly buzzing to passed out. The remaining he spends on the lookout for a drink, his hands shaking, his movements restricted. The film should also be appreciated for not taking the easy way of having the bland moral ground of drinking is evil.
There are multiple characters including the head of a de-addiction centre who acknowledges that drinking is not bad unless you let it control the life. As examples, it shows other characters around Murali who consume a drink or two but do not let go of their families. Murali on the other hand is a completely non-functional guy whose addiction takes him spiralling down an abyss of darkness. Aptly, the movie begins with him being rescued from a well that he had jumped in to end his life. Through the doctor played by Siddique, Vellam takes an unbiased look at the afflicted person and those around him. Chronic alcoholism is treated as the disease it is and not an ‘immoral’ act beyond redemption that society makes it out to be.
The movie stays for long with Murali as he struggles through the highs and lows of his addiction and his battle with the bottle. Murali is not an ignorant addict but someone who is aware of the problem he is suffering from. He is also acutely aware that he is unable to fight through it. Jayasuriya’s drunken act is the highlight of the film and his success lies in the fact that he does not overplay the drunkard. He communicates all he needs to through his eyes (look carefully for the scene as he eagerly waits as a friend goes to fetch him a drink, his eyes follow the man with a mix of desperation and excitement that is almost animal like). Like a starving predator’s eyes wander at an approaching prey in the wild. Vellam in its execution is raw, from the cinematography to the sound design the movie strives not to glamourize the act of consuming alcohol.
The film stays mostly on the internal conflict that Murali goes through before succumbing to the temptation of gulping a drink or passed out in various places in the aftermath. This sequence is repeated through the movie to showcase the depth of his descent. Murali keeps losing this tug-of-war with an uneven opponent(addiction) at the other end and you notice his lose on a loop – until that final moment when he wins. Considering that there is little else that the movie is about other than this battle with the bottle, all credit to Jayasurya for keeping the proceedings engaging. As Murali, he makes you empathize with the character even when you hate some of his actions.
There is not much writing in the movie, and it is the director’s craft that comes on the forefront as you see some scenes linger beyond the usual with minimal or no dialogue. On the screenplay these scenes would be one-liners: ‘Mural is passed out in front of a bar’ or ‘Murali stares at the drink served to him in a coconut shell’. In the movie, these come out as poignant scenes, eg., the one where he is passed out under a tree, his clothing no longer modest. The camera then pans out to show his surrounding, people going about their business as usual, at one point his own father finds him in this state and the man’s expression is a mix of shame, anger and helplessness. Vellam is a hard-hitting tale of one man’s internal fight.
Captive of the 24 frames and admirer of the written word. If it is not on the silver screen or on the pages of a paperback, it might as well not exist.