February 17, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Paresh Mokashi
Marathi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in India, from December 30, 2020, to January 1, 2021, the comedy/drama film “Vaalvi” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A married man and his mistress scheme up a plot to kill his wife in a fake suicide pact, but their conspiracy does not go as planned.
Culture Audience: “Vaalvi” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching thrillers with plot twists and don’t mind if the story gets increasingly stupid.
The comedic thriller “Vaalvi” starts off with an intriguing concept about a murder conspiracy. However, it’s ruined by the film’s idiotic second half that relies too much on gimmick gags and unfunny jokes about driving around with a corpse in plain view. The movie has a very uneven tone, as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide how to balance wacky comedy with serious drama. The first half of “Vaalvi” attempts to be realistic and cleverly constructed, while the second half just becomes a mishmash of ill-conceived slapstick scenes.
Directed by Paresh Mokashi (who co-wrote the “Vaalvi” screenplay with producer Madhugandha Kulkarni), “Vaalvi” (which means “termite” in Marathi) should be given some credit for its ambitions to be an entertaining and twist-filled comedy/drama. However, the ideas in the movie are undercut by repetitive and unoriginal scenes. Some scenes in “Vaalvi” might remind viewers of the 1989 American dark comedy “Weekend at Bernie’s,” a movie about two people who bring a corpse with them to public places and pretend that the dead person is still alive.
“Vaalvi” (which takes place over three days) begins by introducing the love triangle that’s becomes the reason for a murder plot. It’s December 30, 2020, in an unnamed city in India. Aniket (played by Swapnil Joshi), whose job is never mentioned in the movie, is unhappily married to a depressed homemaker named Avani (played by Anita Date-Kelkar), who turns 36 years old on this date. Aniket has been having a secret affair with a dentist named Devika (played by Shivani Surve), and they plan to be together by murdering Avani.
Why doesn’t Aniket divorce Avani instead? Avani doesn’t believe in divorce. She’s already told Aniket that she would never agree to a divorce and would put up a big legal fight if he ever tries to divorce her. Aniket has decided it will be less expensive and much easier for him if he kills Avani instead.
Aniket and Avani have been married for 14 years and have no children. Avani says being childless is one of the reasons why she feels worthless. She’s been in therapy with a psychiatrist named Anshuman (played by Subodh Bhave), who has prescribed anti-depressant medication to Avani.
Anshuman (who isn’t seen until much later in the movie) is the only person in Avani’s life who will listen to her problems. She’s grown emotionally attached to Anshuman. If Avani has fallen in love with her psychiatrist, Aniket doesn’t seem to notice or care. Avani is so lonely, her only companions at home are termites, which she names and treats as little pets. It’s a habit that Aniket finds very annoying and kind of disgusting.
In the beginning of “Vaalvi,” Aniket and Devika are discussing their murder scheme in detail because they plan to kill Avani the next day, on December 31, 2020. Aniket, who controls all of the finances for himself and Avani, plans to lie to Avani, by telling her on her birthday (on December 30, 2020) that because he was unable to pay off their debts, they have lost all of their money and ownership of their bungalow house. Another lie that he plans to tell Avani is that all of their furniture and other belongings will be repossessed the next day.
In reality, Aniket is not financially broke. Unbeknownst to Avani, he hired a moving company and told the movers that everything needed to be moved out of the house and put into storage because he is renovating his house. Aniket’s mistress Devika knows about this lie too, because it’s all part of the murder conspiracy.
The plan is that depressed Avani will be so distraught over losing the house and all of the couple’s possessions, she will want to commit suicide. It’s shown in the movie’s flashbacks that, over time, Aniket was planting the idea of a double-suicide pact in Avani’s head, because he knew she was already depressed. Avani has been open to the idea, but Aniket wants something to happen (such Avani thinking that the couple is financially ruined) to push her over the edge and go through with the double-suicide pact.
Aniket will pretend to want to commit suicide with her at the same time, after everything has been moved out of the house. And they will each write their own suicide note that says they made the decision to kill themselves of their own free will. Aniket has the two pistols that they will each use for this “suicide pact.” The black gun he will give to Avani will be loaded, while the silver gun he will have in his hand will have no bullets in it.
Aniket and Devika discuss this plan in her private office of the clinic where Devika works. According to their plan, when Avani shoots and kills herself, Aniket will pretend to shoot his unloaded gun on himself and then leave the crime scene and eat the fake suicide note that he wrote (to destroy the evidence), but leave behind Anika’s suicide note that she wrote. The plan is for the couple’s housekeeper to arrive for her scheduled work shift and find Avani’s dead body and Avani’s suicide note.
In order to establish an alibi, Aniket will go to Devika’s clinic for a scheduled appointment. While in her back office, he will disguise himself as a food delivery person, go out a back window, and drive a scooter (wearing a helmet to disguise his face) to his house. He will then go to the house and pretend that he’s a food delivery person when Avani answers the door. He will tell gullible Avani that he’s disguised himself to hide from debt collectors.
Once inside the house, he will urge Avani to go ahead with their double-suicide pact. Aniket will then leave the house disguised as the food delivery person, and secretly go to the back office at Devika’s clinic. Aniket and Devika will then pretend to the investigators and everyone else that Aniket was at Devika’s clinic the entire time that Avani was in the house and shot herself.
It’s an elaborate plan that could easily fall apart because of many variables. Devika is the more likely one in this devious infidelity couple to ask the “what if” questions about what they should do if anything goes wrong with the plan. Aniket is over-confident and brushes off any concerns, What if Avani changes her mind about commiting suicide? Aniket says he will just shoot her himself and make it look like a suicide. (It’s easier said than done.)
On December 30, 2020 (Avani’s 36th birthday), Aniket goes home that evening to see Avani literally throwing a pity party for herself. She’s ordered a birthday cake for herself, and she’s getting drunk, because she’s feeling sad about not having any children. Her birthday is about to get worse when Aniket tells her that they’ve lost everything and that their house will be cleared out by repossessors the next day. Avani is predictably devastated, and she agrees that she and Aniket should commit suicide together when the house is empty.
On December 31, 2020, Aniket and Devika start off the day thinking that they have the perfect murder plan. But, of course, this movie wouldn’t exist if things if went according to their plan. Without giving away any spoiler details, it’s enough to say that when Aniket arrives back at his house disguised as a delivery person, Avani doesn’t answer the door. When he goes inside anyway, Aniket finds Avani apparently passed out on the floor, with a prescription bottle next to her.
Here’s where the movie’s plot goes off the rails: Aniket, in all of his stupidity, doesn’t check to see if Avani is dead or not. He makes a decision that alters the course of the story and is the catalyst for the rest of the silly shenanigans that happen for the rest of the movie. And most of it is the plot misstep of certain people taking a corpse in public and pretending that the corpse is a living person.
The people who decide to pretend that a corpse is still alive could have easily hidden the corpse. Instead, they drive around with the dead body sitting up in the back seat of a car, with plenty of witnesses who ask about this silent passenger, thereby ruining the timeline that the deceivers hoped to establish to cover up the disappearance of this person. It’s one of many reasons why the ludicrous plot of “Vaalvi” is fundamentally flawed and doesn’t hold up under any logical scrutiny.
One of the most moronic things about “Vaalvi’ is that even with all the careful planning that Aniket and Devika think that they had for this murder, Aniket doesn’t use gloves after making a crucial decision to pick up Avani’s suicide note and leave it at the crime scene. Devika is worried about Aniket’s fingerprints being on other damning evidence, but he explains that since he lives in the house too, it would be normal for his fingerprints to be on this evidence. It doesn’t explain his fingerprints on the suicide note, if he wants people to think that he was somewhere else when Avani committed “suicide.”
“Vaalvi” expects viewers to overlook the movie’s many plot holes, which might be easier to take if the movie actually fulfilled its intention to be hilarious. Much of “Vaalvi” just becomes painful to watch because it becomes increasingly unrealistic, while the cast members start to become more over-the-top and shrill with their performances. The end of the “Vaalvi” is nothing but a big, lazy plot hole that buries the movie in a mindless pit of absurdity that cannot redeem this disappointing dud.
Zee Studios released “Vaalvi” in select U.S. cinemas on February 10, 2023. The movie was released in India on January 13, 2023.