Venky Atluri’s Vaathi, which is set in the late 1990s, is a straightforward film about one man’s fight against the privatisation of the education system. It doesn’t do anything pathbreaking in terms of storytelling, but it definitely manages to strike a chord or two in the fashion it chooses to narrate this story of one man’s dream to make good education accessible to all. Unlike most films that have dealt with the education system in the past, Vaathi never goes overboard in its messaging and at the same time is quite engaging. Also read: Dhanush’s film is about privatisation of education. Watch Vaathi trailer

Dhanush plays Bala Murugan, who works as an assistant teacher in a popular educational institute run by Thirupathi (Samuthirakani), who treats education as business. After the state government introduces a new bill, which forces private schools to take over government-funded schools, Thirupathi assigns three third-grade assistant teachers from his institute and sends them to teach in a government school in a remote village.

Bala happens to be one of the teachers and he takes it up as a challenge to bring about a change through his teaching methods and produce results. However, he’s faced with the challenge of dealing with students from the lowest economic background as most of them support their parents in running the family. After a lot of struggles, when Bala finally manages to convince the parents as well as the students to return to school, he’s faced with a different set of challenges. Does Bala succeed in his endeavor in reforming the students and producing the desired results?

Vaathi works to a large extent because of its relatability factor. From the story to characters and to its presentation, there’s so much to relate and agree with. If you’re someone from a middle-class family and have parents, who struggled to arrange funds to pay school as well as tuition fees, Vaathi will resonate strongly and leave a lasting impact. The film does commercialise quite a lot of things in a way to appeal to the masses, but the point it tries to drive home, which is about making good education accessible to everyone, connects on an emotional level. In the second half, the film does suffer from a Super 30 hangover, but the similarity doesn’t make Vaathi less effective. The film’s finale is smart writing as the story takes a very familiar trope and turns it on its head to send audiences home on a high.

Dhanush continues to shine in roles that highlight the sufferings of the middle class and people below them. It’s a brave film to pick and foray into an entirely new market as Dhanush makes his Telugu debut with the project which is titled SIR. He’s earnest as a dutiful teacher who desperately wants to bring about a change. The film does allow Dhanush to play to the gallery in a few instances but the story never glorifies his character. Samyuktha plays her part well and manages to score in the limited screen time she gets. The movie definitely needed a better written antagonist character as someone even as versatile as Samuthirakani couldn’t make the role interesting.