In a world light years away from ours, timid Maravan (Arya) is smitten by the bold but wild Varna (Anushka). On Earth, medical college student Ramya (Anushka) is attracted to college lecturer Madhu Balakrishnan (Arya). How does their love story inspire romance between Maravan and Varna, and save their planet?
Varna starts with a quote that tells us that there are many worlds in this universe, and people like us could exist in any of these worlds, and people who die do not necessarily depart us. The film's plot involves two romances — one that is set in our world and the other in a fantastical world. How one of these love stories inspires the other and what true love can do to a person is what the film is all about.
The film begins in an unnamed world, light years away from ours, where the timid Maravan is smitten by the bold but wild Varna. But she is a woman who values her independence in a decadent land where there is no true love, and women are seen as a commodity by the men. So, despite Maravan saving her from the clutches of the king, who plans to keep her in his harem, with a new-found bravery (courtesy, love, of course!), she detests the idea of marrying him.
Meanwhile, on planet Earth, medical college student Ramya is attracted to Madhu Balakrishnan, college lecturer and more importantly, a do-gooder. He initially declines her as he feels marriage might come in the way of looking after his disabled dad, only to later fall madly for her. She has gotten engaged but he seeks her out after she embarks on a medical tour to Goa in order to win her back. An unexpected accident occurs and soon, Madhu finds himself in the other world, where he will act as a catalyst to kindle a romance between Maravan and Varna.
Varna is thematically closer to Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. Both these films dwell on themes of love and death; the lead actors play different characters in different worlds and are involved in a romantic affair; and finally, both are ambitious but ultimately maddening. And the reason for this failure is that Selvaraghavan seems to be undecided on the tone of the film — the Madhu-Ramya track has a comparatively serious tone while the Maravan-Varna episodes are campy. Given that these unfold as parallel tracks, it is disconcerting and we are unsure what to feel about the developments on screen. It doesn't help that Arya and Anushka lack the explosive chemistry this story demands. Both are generally comfortable in lover boy/ lover girl roles but here, they are called on to exhibit a bit more range and subtlety and come up short.
That slightly off-kilter Selvaraghavan touches are visible only in the Earth-set scenes — you have girls sizing up a man part by part, a throwaway shot of a son helping his disabled father with the washing up in the loo, a very sudden tragedy. But whenever the action shifts to the other planet, we feel ourselves transported into 'dubbed movie' territory. This is not only because of the fact that we have white-skinned actors speaking in Tamil, but also because of the stilted dialogues.
This alternate world is also not fully realized. Its skyline is dotted with numerous stars and planets, it appears in several hues both during day and night, it has bizarre beasts (which oddly feel like the discarded drafts of beasts from Avatar), and it has mushrooms that sparkle. But for these obvious fantastical elements, the place looks like a quaint little European village, with Caucasian-looking people sporting Medieval costumes. The tacky visual effects and the sub-par stunts do not help either. We do not really get a feel for the everyday life in this. We are told this place has a king, a commander, a rival clan and a Holy Mother (who gets Madhu into this world) who is the target of this evil group, but all this is conveyed in a very hackneyed manner, and there is no real tension.
Given that this otherworldly planet is the film's USP (this is a plot that would have worked equally well even if both stories were set in two different cities or countries), this is disappointing. The disjointed way in which the scenes play out in this world at times makes one wonder if we are seeing the film version of a feverish dream Selvaraghavan might have had.