Kajol, Vishal Jethwa Deliver Heartfelt Performances in Revathy’s Film
Salaam Venky has that rare and remarkable thing: an understated, heart-wrenchingly moving Bollywood melodrama. Directed by Revathy, Salaam Venky is based on The Last Hurrah by Shrikant Murthy. The book is inspired by the true story of Kolavennu Venkatesh, a 24-year-old chess player who suffered from the rare degenerative disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Adapted for the screen by Sameer Arora, the story is primarily about a mother and son.
The 24-year-old chess player named Ventakesh Krishnan (played by Vishal Jethwa) is bravely battling the genetic disorder DMD. Venky is meant to lead a sickly worthless life and dies at the age of 16, his perseverance and soaring human spirit beat the odds to surprise medical science. He loves Hindi films and swears by the line from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand (1971): ‘Zindagi lambi nahi, badi honi chahiye.’
Wishing to donate his organs before he passes away, which he is told is against the law of the land, the ever-smiling Venkatesh challenges the state and law. With him is his supportive single mother Sujata Prasad (Kajol) who puts up a brave front as she embarks on an expedition to fulfill her dying son’s last wish of grating him euthanasia and allowing him for organ donation.
Revathy treads lightly so that no point is hammered in and no emotion underlined. The actors, without exception, follow his cue so the tragedy never descends into bathos. The pacing occasionally lags especially in the first half which is all about Venky’s suffering and flashbacks about his childhood including his friend Nandini (Aneet Padda), a girl who is in love with since childhood and dreams of re-creating the famous ‘palat’ scene from Dilwale Dulahinya Le Jayenge or scaling a lighthouse. It is also about him getting his mother to agree to euthanasia which she is against. But once she agrees, the film turns into a courtroom drama which is when it picks up pace.
An emotional subject like this would only work with poignant performances. And the cast doesn’t let you down one bit. Kajol is in fine form and is the beating heart of Salaam Venky. Her solid portrayal of a mother is the highlight of the film. Interestingly, what leaves the audience teary-eyed on more than one occasion is her ability to emote through her beautiful eyes. But it is Vishal Jethwa in the principal role who steals the show. His physical and emotional transformation is sincere as he makes you smile, chuckle, dance and even cry out loud.
Rajeev Khandelwal as the doctor, Ahana Kumra as the journalist turned activist, Rahul Bose as the lawyer, Priyamani as the public prosecutor, and Prakash Raj as the judge are the perfect choices and ably support the film with their performances. There is also Aamir Khan who makes a cameo appearance and lends some emotional gravitas. And then there is director Revathy who also makes a cameo in the film.
Through its hiccups, Salaam Venky is a respectable outing by Revathy. The film s decidedly somber; with many moments to laugh about. Be warned though, overwhelming sadness will take a piece out of you and will even tear you up.
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