Rating: 3 out of 5.

Watching “Vaathi” was like experiencing rapid mood-swings, in the first few minutes I was laughing, after one hour I was bored out of my mind, but by the climax I was quite moved by the emotional ending.

Written and directed by Venky Atluri, 2023 Tamil movie “Vaathi” stars Dhanush as schoolteacher Balamurugan, who tries to set an example against the privatization of education in his state. As someone whose native village didn’t even have a primary school, ‘access to affordable education’ is a theme I feel strongly about. So, “Vaathi” for me has a lot of heart in its core message, but the script is a pompous mess. Take the protagonist for example, Dhanush is a lanky math teacher, but beats up goons and criminals with ease like an action hero. He is both a math master and martial arts fighter, that’s a deadly combination, but in real-life students aren’t going to get superman to save their grades.

The very opening of the story is a little incredulous – three laid-back students discover an old video-tape of a man explaining a complex math problem like a boss. The students then set on a journey to find the teacher so they can take lessons from him. But I let the exaggerated introduction slide and allowed myself to be taken back to the glorious 90s, when single-screen theaters thrived, and a shady cinema hall somehow becomes the hub of great teaching.

Balamurugan (Dhanush), an assistant teacher at a private school in a big city, is deputed to a government school in a small town to address a severe teacher shortage. However, when he arrives, he finds empty classrooms as impoverished students choose menial jobs for extra income rather than attending what they perceive as poor-quality education. This is a story of how one man motivates an entire town and turns diamonds out of coal by inspiring his students to reach their full potential. Actor Samuthirakani plays Thirupati, a very standard forgettable villain, who isn’t despicable enough to evoke any feelings in the viewers. Samyuktha Menon has a supporting role which is as good as a blink-and-miss cameo.

Served with a generous dose of mass masala scenes, “Vaathi” alternates between peachy and preachy. There are some fun throwbacks that will have pre-2000s kids in splits, like a scene where three male schoolteachers use the “inky, pinky, ponky, father had a donkey” to pick a room for themselves. The music didn’t really stand-out and the songs could’ve just been trimmed out of the timeline. In a small surprise, the climax wasn’t too predictable and yet, it doesn’t really give viewers concrete solutions to the problem the plot attempts to explore. It’s a feel-good philosophical ending you must make do with

Only a star like Dhanush could’ve made a film like this watchable and even entertaining in parts.

It’s a 3 on 5 from me. Stream it on Netflix.

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