Revathi’s Phir Milenge (2004) dealt with the subject of AIDS; her latest directorial Salaam Venky is again a medical / illness slice-of-life drama centered around a true story of Kolavennu Venkatesh, a 24-year-old chess player, dealing with the subject of a person suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) and euthanasia. Bollywood has seen a story on the subject of euthanasia not so long ago in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hrithik Roshan-Aishwarya Rai starrer Guzaarish (2010). Salaam Venky may be telling a sad story, but it picks up hints from the evergreen Rajesh Khanna-Amitabh Bachchan starrer Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand (1971), “Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin” (roughly meaning life should be lived to the fullest); where the patient is aware of his illness but takes it in his stride and stays cheerful. On similar lines, the protagonist Venky picks up lines and references from popular films’ characters and tries to keep everyone cheerful.
Based on ‘The Last Hurrah’ by Shrikant Murthy Revathi’s Salaam Venky is centered around a true story of a mother who does everything she can to let her son, diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), live life to the fullest. Sujata’s (Kajol) son Venkatesh / Venky (Vishal Jethwa) is brought to a hospital (yet again) in a critical condition. Other than his mother, in the hospital, Venky is surrounded by a caring nurse and a compassionate doctor (Rajeev Khandelwal), sister (Ridhhi Kumar), childhood friend (Aneet Padda). Venky is also in love with this childhood friend, having vision disability. Most of the first half is about Venky’s medical condition and the routine that is set around him to comfort his suffering. Through flashbacks, we are taken to his childhood, his relationship with his girlfriend, peers, and his hobbies.
The later part of the film shifts gears and transforms into a fight ‘to die with dignity’ when Venky pronounces his last wish – to donate his organs. Rahul Bose plays a lawyer for Venky’s petition who with the help of his friend Aahana Kumra, a TV news reporter/journalist take it up to themselves to prepare a strong case favouring euthanasia for Venky opposed by public prosecutor (Priyamani).
Euthanasia has been discussed for a long time and there are debates pro and against and remains so. As for Salaam Venky, the concluding part of the story is about how the case is presented in a very dramatized narrative.
Vishal Jethwa gets the meatiest and toughest role to play. Most of his scenes are lying down and expressing with minimal hand gestures. Thanks to the smart cinematography, Vishal’s acting prowess is in full display with the focus mostly being on his face in tight shots showing his minute facial expressions, hand gestures and the zeal that the character is intended to display. This film could be a gamechanger for Vishal who is mostly seen in TV shows.
As much as the subject of the film or the protagonist Venky, the film belongs to Venky’s (now single) mother. Sujata is steadfast in fighting with herself (probably represented as Aamir Khan as her conscience) to keep her son live and kicking and later to fulfil his last wish.
Aamir Khan has a cameo but there is no clarity of his role/character, however, from the goings on or the crux of the matter, it appears that the narrator has used Aamir Khan as Sujata’s alterego / conscience that she constantly communicates with. Aamir Khan as always leaves a lasting impression with his personality and subtle performance. Aamir looks absolutely refreshing.
Rajeev Khandelwal, Rahul Bose, Aahana Kumra, Prakash Raj
Rajeev Khandelwal lightens up the screen with his smile and sweet gestures and sets a good example of a compassionate doctor. Rahul Bose, with a straight face, looks believable as a lawyer who always takes up cases to help people and has his own logics for them joined with Aahana Kumra getting to play a TV news reporter fits the bill. Prakash Raj gets to play someone whom everyone would watch without blinking, he plays the judge hearing Sujata’s petition for euthanasia. He looks very much the part he is performing and is impressive.
The music of Salaam Venky is composed by Mithoon. Lyrics are penned by Mithoon, Sandeep Shrivastava and Kausar Munir. There is nothing much about music except the ‘Dhan Te Nan Zindagi’ song sung by Mohit Chauhan & Mithoon that attracts one’s attention, rest are mostly used as backgrounders.
Kolavennu Venkatesh passed away in 2004; Salaam Venky tries to spotlight pertinent issues and hopes to start a conversation all over again. The intention with Revathi’s Salaam Venky is right, but it is too disconsolate a film to position as an entertainer and that could go against. However, the same might just work when it may stream on OTT or may be a TV channel.
Movie: Salaam Venky
Cast: Kajol, Vishal Jethwa, Rajeev Khandelwal, Aamir Khan, Rahul Bose, Aahana Kumra, Prakash Raj, Anant Mahadevan, Priyamani, Kamal Sadanah, Maala Parvathi, Ridhi Kumar, Aneet Padda
Duration: 136.5 Mins