Salaam Venky Movie Review: Kajol and Vishal Jethwa’s Emotional Drama, Directed by Revathy, Works Only in Parts (LatestLY Exclusive)

Salaam Venky Movie Review: After torturing her cousin with serial-killer madness in Mardaani 2, the wonderfully talented Vishal Jethwa now plays Kajol’s son in Revathy’s drama, Salaam Venky. Salaam Venky is based on the book The Last Hurrah by Shrikant Murthy based on the incredible and also tragic real-life story of K Venkatesh and his mother Sujatha. The movie focuses on this relationship and what makes Venkatesh’s life so inspiring enough to make the legal system take a pause and introspect its own laws. Kajol, Aamir Khan, Vishal Jethwa Pose Happily at ‘Salaam Venky’ Special Screening.

Jethwa plays Venky, who is afflicted with DMD (Duchenne muscular dystrophy) ever since he was a little child. The disorder makes the person suffer from degenerative muscle loss and reduces their life-expectancy considerably. In an early scene, a doctor tells Venky’s mother Sujatha (Kajol) that the boy might only live upto only 16-17 years. However, Venky’s admirable defiance and Sujatha’s dedicated care make sure that Venky enters his 24th year.

But the disease had finally wrapped its vicious tentacles around Venky, and the boy, knowing very well that his time is up, tells his mother to fulfill his wish, something she adamantly refuses to do.

Watch the Trailer:

Salaam Venky comes to the screens ignoring the existence of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish that had dealt with the subject of euthanasia. To be fair, Salaam Venky is set around 2004, while Hrithik Roshan-starrer only came about six years later, at a time where bulky Nokia mobile phones used to rule the markets and the news channels, while already in the throes of TRP-sucking theatrics, at least did some sort of actual news reporting. Salaam Venky does bring some nice nostalgia to those times, especially it was also the period where Revathy the director also brought out her best film to date, Phir Milenge (an unofficial remake of Philadelphia), along with the beautiful SEL composition “Jeene Ke Ishaare“. Mithoon’s score for Revathy’s latest, while owning a likeable charm, doesn’t have such a standout track, unfortunately.

Anyway, returning to Guzaarish, in the film, the reason why Hrithik Roshan’s Ethan Mascarenhas wanted to go for mercy-killing is because he didn’t want to live the life he is burdened with. The Malayalam film Beautiful has Jayasurya’s quadriplegic character troll Guzaarish for its protagonist’s pessimistic way of looking at life and wanting to end it.

Venky’s reason to end his life pre-maturely has a nobler cause, though. He wants to donate his organs, so that a part of himself could live in others, but his condition doesn’t allow him to do so after his natural demise. In the first half, he has to convince his mother to allow him to end his life earlier than what his Fate wants him to. In the second half, like with Guzaarish, it is about Venky and Sujatha trying to convince the court to allow him the dignity to die how he wants to be.

Where Salaam Venky works well are in the moments between the principal characters, in the emotional bonding between Venky and Sujatha, between Venky and his once-estranged sister Sharda (Riddhi Kumar, quite good). It sparkles between the playful banter between Venky and Dr Shekhar (Rajeev Khandelwal, often scene-stealing). While the trailer had already spoilt Aamir Khan’s cameo, his peer Shah Rukh Khan also finds himself being referenced frequently thanks to movie-quoting protagonist. You can’t help but smile when Venky plays ‘Palat‘ with his visually impaired childhood friend Nandini (Aneet Padda, brightening up the screen whenever she appears), and get warmed up in the sunniness of their love story.

There are times when Revathy stretches these moments to eke maximum sentimentality, and that I feel brings down the pacing big time for the film and also in turn, doesn’t produce the desired effects. The plot of Salaam Venky already has an inherent inclination to go straight for your tear ducts. Some scenes do work in that favour when there is a controlled hold over the its length and emotionality, like the scene where Sujatha puts to use the first time the sign language that Venky had taught her. It is fantastically performed and beautifully moving.

However, when certain sequences get stretched beyond required to achieve that emotional impact, instead of moving, I wished that the director would just rather move on to the next scene. This also applies when Salaam Venky drops focus from the smaller moments to go for the larger picture in the second half, into the media and the courtroom drama, that involves actors like Prakash Raj, Rahul Bose, Priya Mani Raj, Aahana Kumra and even a cameo from the director herself. I know that this is essential to Venky’s story, but the kitschy treatment to these scenes dilute the emotional core of the story.

Speaking of the performances, Kajol delivers and how, as the emotionally durable Sujatha, not a single wrong note in her act. The actress showcases the right amount of vulnerability and anguish to make some of the emotional scenes so impactful. Vishal Jethwa gives his veteran co-star quite a tough battle to own his space for the spotlight, and that helps in those scenes work so well. It isn’t very easy to portray such a character on screen with the needed sensitivity and the young actor does well in those scenes, especially when Venky has to struggle to articulate his words, while his muscles fail him. Ajay Devgn Says ‘Salaam Venky Charged Me Emotionally’, Praises Wifey Kajol’s Performance in the Film.

Coming to Aamir Khan’s much-talked about extended cameo, there is a fantasy element surrounding it, though I am not sure why Revathy want to make it as some sort of a reveal (which happens near the interval) when his occasional appearances make it very obvious of his ‘reality’. Aamir’s character allows Sujatha’s to voice out her anger, frustration, apprehension and acceptance in that particular order, and it also allows the actress in Kajol to display her versatility. As for Aamir, let’s say that the superstar, with his restrained and subdued act, did redeem himself for me after less-than-impressive showings in Thugs of Hindostan and Laal Singh Chaddha.

Final Thoughts

Salaam Venky is a drama that works only in parts and those parts are powered by the performances of the cast, especially Kajol and Vishal Jethwa. Otherwise, the over-stretched sequences and the insipid courtroom and media drama dilute the impact of what could have been a powerful movie on the right in dignity of death.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Dec 09, 2022 10:21 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website leakherald.com).