What aspects of a movie draw your attention from the very beginning? The casting? The opening scene? Cinematography? Acting? The introduction of characters? Have you ever had an instance when around 15 minutes down the line, you realize the film’s background score is so good that you re-watch from the beginning again just to pay more attention to it? Oh the perks of modern technology.
Although background scores and non-choreographed original sound tracks (OSTs) have a major hand in making what’s playing on the screen relevant, most of the time they are barely noticed unless they really stand out. The 2018 Tamil language crime-thriller “Vanjagar Ulagam” (“World of crafty people”) was a surprise though. It came as a random suggestion and became one of the best movies I have watched this year, mostly because of its music. In fact, it was not even on my review list initially but replaced a major Bollywood star’s release in this column. Thanks mostly to its music.
Vangajar Ulagam’s story revolves around Shanmugam alias Shaam (Ciby Bhuvana Chandran), who one day wakes up from a drunk stupor to find that he is accused of murdering his neighbor, Mythili (Chandini Tamilarasan). Shaam has no alibi and nothing to establish his whereabouts on the murder night. But his co-worker, investigative journalist Vishagan (Vishagan Vanangamudi), believes that the murder has a bigger backstory and is the ploy of a sinister criminal called Sampath/Durai Raj (Guru Somasundaram), who is also wanted by cops for multiple crimes. Thus begins the cat-and-mouse story of journalists, police officers and criminals all chasing each other throughout the film.
The plot of Vangajar Ulagam is relatively new, well-written and the screenplay holds the film together till the end. Writer/director Manoj Beedha uses a relatively unknown cast in lead roles and yet manages to create a cult classic-like vibe with the unsophisticated proceedings. Without the infamous, larger-than-life actors with “star” in their prefixes, the film relies on acting talents of the cast and the elegantly simple filmmaking instead of gaudy gimmicks.
Now coming back to the movie’s best part, the music by Sam C.S. literally stands out. With only three OSTs in the whole film and the rest as background score, sound design in Vangajar Ulagam is phenomenal. There’s a lot of Carnatic influence in the scores, accompanied by electronic music, mainly dubstep. Then there’s an addition of modern jazz and some really mean metal sounds. Combined with excellent cinematography, the music creates a cinematic experience that is mystical and trance-like. The film stays true to all genres of music it uses. Instead of the emulated facsimiles of rock, metal and jazz that mainstream Indian cinema usually creates, the music in Vangajar Ulagam is raw, punchy and hits you hard.
Another stand-out along with the music is the performance of Guru Somasundaram as Sampath/Durai Raj: the actor playing an eccentric criminal mastermind with a dark secret is convincing.
His physical appearance, dialogue delivery and facial expressions all align to give a realistic touch to the persona he embodies. Without any disrespect to other actors, Guru’s Sampath/Durai Raj alone seems like the inspiration behind the trippy background music.
If only the climax had been better the film would probably have gotten more popularity. Because despite the film’s chances of becoming a cult classic and a major twist in the end, including a shocking revelation, the climax seems to lack the intensity expected of a film that is consistently captivating for the most part.
Who should watch it?
This is a film we recommend not only to thriller movie fans but also to music lovers. Vangajar Ulagam is a treat to watch and listen to. This is one Netflix film that should come with a “must wear headphones” recommendation because the music hits you hard.