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Review: Varadhan


In a lawless land, a fugitive thief must confront his own past when he witnesses an execution he was never meant to see.


An area far too often overlooked in the short film landscape is the historical epic. Moreover, historical epics in the non-English speaking world even more fleetingly rare, so imagine our glee upon discovering writer/director Ramesh Menon’s action/adventure caper set in colonial India, during the reign of the British empire.


Varadhan is a classic ‘reluctant hero with a shady past’ film and Ramesh Menon’s big scale approach makes this film the perfect vehicle for this kind of story. Opening with a voice over of a father relaying a story to his daughter about a lawless age, we are immediately struck by the awe-inspiring cinematography that beautifully presents an unspoiled and mysterious wilderness. The aerial establishing shots immediately communicate the scope of the film and coupled with a sound mix designed to highlight the protagonist’s almost superhuman awareness, it quickly becomes clear that we are being introduced to a John Wick-esque adventure and we prepare ourselves accordingly.


The film takes the requisite time to establish the core relationship between father and daughter and their mission to live a quiet life away from the chaos of the region. Stylistically, we are given a blend of beauty and horror as the peaceful environment of the forest is punctuated with a hanging severed hand. Immediately, the film telegraphs that our main characters’ journey to find peace will not be as straightforward as they want it to be.


An interesting choice the film makes after having established such an epic scope, is to bring the action back down to a confined space. Where normally this might read as a cost-saving measure, in this case, Menon and cinematographer Achuthan Warrier perfectly stage a stand-off between the titular protagonist and the deliciously hissable villain Adhikari (played with relish by Akhilraj). The core dramatic conflict sees our hero, Varadhan (Vinod Prabhakar) trapped with his daughter by a group of bloodthirsty soldiers about to hang a wrongly accused woman (Greeshma Narendran) for theft. The enclosed space brilliantly traps our main characters together, seemingly without hope of escape, heightening the tension and threat level with brutal efficiency.


The dual threat gives way to a topflight fight sequence with a standard of fight choreography that puts any question of cost-cutting to rest. The way in which this film delivers on the promise of the explosive conclusion that we ultimately get, is the kind of action filmmaking that gets you to sit up and lean in. Where many would take the basic premise as an excuse to showcase excellent fight choreography, Menon and a next-to-perfect ensemble cast ensure that character-led storytelling is never pushed from centre-stage.


Vinod Prabhakar is able to communicate submissiveness and with a flick of a switch exude the kind of screen presence needed to portray a mythical hero. This in combination with the style and efficiency employed in the visual storytelling, creates a truly cinematic experience. We highly recommend watching this on this biggest screen you can find with the highest volume you can manage (responsibly, of course!)


Studio: Dractionreel Productions | Year: 2023 | Genre: Period Drama/Action/Adventure | Duration: 11 Mins | Suitability: Mature



Director: Ramesh Menon | Producers: Usha Menon, Veena Vasanth, Thaha Kolpad | Writer: Ramesh Menon

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