Vada Chennai: One For The Books
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
In one of his recent interviews, director Vetrimaaran refers to Vada Chennai as his bible. He goes on to explain that only from Vada Chennai, the plot for his three previous films was born. After having seen it, one can’t help but agree. Vada Chennai is one of Tamil cinema’s finest gangster drama film, in fact, it is Vetrimaaran’s best work. But most of all, you will love the film because it will leave you satisfied and contented. From the way, the chapters of the film are named to the manner in which it interlaces Tamilnadu politics, every bit of the extensive detailing in Vada Chennai’s structure is fascinating. This is one for the books, for sure.
From the streets of Vada Chennai to the State Jail, the aftermath of an ongoing war between gangsters Guna (Samuthirakani) and Senthil (Kishore) wreck havoc in the lives of all those involved; sometimes even innocent onlookers get pulled in. Such is the entry of Anbu (Dhanush), who is a softie. He enters the jail to serve his time for an assault case and gets pulled into the horrific gang war. Soon, Anbu pledges his loyalty to Senthil but in one crucial event, the tides of loyalty take an unpredictable turn. Whether or not Anbu makes it through this mess and his metamorphosis from a vulnerable boy to a reluctant hero forms the crux of this story.
As you walk out of the theatre, one of the first things about Vada Chennai that leaves you astounded is its ability to say so much in just a little over two and a half hours. You might think that the film gives you too much to process but because of the detailing, the apt pacing, and the non-linear narration, you never feel overwhelmed even for a minute.
The second aspect of Vada Chennai that you are in awe of is the innate control filmmaker Vetrimaaran displays over all the departments of the film. He knows exactly what he wants and he has just the right amount of clarity to procure results from his team. Not even one frame in the film is unintentional.
As the film jumps back and forth between timelines, you can’t help but admire the authenticity that seeps into every aspect of Vada Chennai. Take the jail sequences for instance, from the way these goons smuggle drugs into their cells to the nail-biting carrom tournament, every detail falls in place spotlessly. There isn’t one loose end left untied. If you think Senthil doesn’t deserve what he gets, you are taken through a flashback that tells you he deserved worse. Setting aside all this, one of the reasons why this spotless detailing works is because you constantly feel what the characters feel. Their thoughts become your thoughts and because you are so invested in their journey, Vetrimaaran’s attention to details and his command over the execution contribute greatly to his craftsmanship.
Every layer of Vada Chennai has Tamil Nadu politics interweaved in it. The film begins with the death of Rajiv Gandhi and closes with the death of MGR. In a crucial scene, the gangsters discuss the possibility of Jayalalitha becoming the next Chief Minister. The casual approach with which such a powerful scene has been taken is truly admirable.
Any film that houses many vital characters risks the possibility of becoming tedious if their journey is developed in a complicated or simple manner. In such cases, maintaining a balance and ensuring that these characters tug at our heart-strings at some point is absolutely necessary. Director Vetrimaaran achieves this feat by layering the arc of these characters with shades of grey and also ensuring that they remain relatable throughout the film. None of the characters in the film are completely good or bad but this doesn’t stop you from getting involved in their journey. The suspense and mystery he builds around their character arcs make you want to know what is going to happen to them.
Some of the important characters in Vada Chennai include Rajan, Chandra, Guna, Senthil, Thambi, Anbu, and Padma. Playing the born leader, Rajan, Ameer brings to the table the right amounts of commandeering and affection, leaving you completely amazed. One can’t help but draw parallels between Don Vito Corleone and Rajan. Both of their screen presence is limited, but they leave such a magnanimous impression on you. One of the reasons why Ameer is the perfect fit to play Rajan because he is not an obvious choice. A role of this stature demands someone who doesn’t already have this image.
Chandra hardly appears in the first half. You never predict that she will make vital contributions to the plot. This unpredictability is her character’s biggest strength. Vetrimaaran builds a web of mystery around Chandra and Andreah Jeremiah organically inhabits this web with tact and subtlety.
Guna and Senthil are great grey characters as well. They bring out the good, bad and ugly in those around them. They are fine examples of men with a sense of outward machismo. They take strength from numbers and yet would not stand a chance if they fought alone. Playing these characters, Samuthirakani and Kishore are an absolute delight to watch on the silver screen. Remember the saying ‘Barking Dogs Seldom Bite’? They lend their characters the essence of this phrase, encapsulating their personalities to a T.
Daniel Balaji plays against type by stepping into the shoes of the always neutral, Thambi. He is the peacekeeper in the gang. He knows and sees all but seldom does anything to disrupt the peace. Daniel Balaji captures his character’s loyalty and driving influence with utmost perfection. It is refreshing to see him play a role that goes against the tide of his usual characters.
Playing Anbu, Dhanush is a dream. He takes you through Anbu’s metamorphosis with utmost conviction. Going from a naive and vulnerable boy to an angry young man, Dhanush effortlessly steps into Anbu’s shoes leaving you stunned. The role of a reluctant hero like Anbu appears to be tailor-made for a director’s actor like Dhanush. In a way, Anbu reminds you of Mikey from Godfather.
Aishwarya Rajesh’s character Padma is responsible for many light moments in the film. This is one of the actress’s noteworthy performances. The ease with which she fits in into her role is quite astounding.
The technicalities of Vada Chennai are airtight. No matter how deep you may dig, you will not find that many prominent flaws. Velraj’s cinematography heightens the suspense in the film. From shades of dark blue to the raw and dusted color palette in the flashback, his frames add authenticity to the film.
Art director Jacki’s extensively realistic work in reconstructing a state jail is excellent. A major portion of the entire first half takes place in the jail and his art direction in these sequences are quite fascinating. Dhilip Subbarayan’s stunt choreography in the film deserves a mention too. It is thrilling, realistic and adds character to the film.
Santhosh Narayanan’s background score brings the film alive. Whether it is the moment when Rajan becomes a leader or when Anbu takes after him many years later, it is the majestic and empowering BGM that brings about the emotions, director Vetrimaaran wants you to feel.
On the whole, Vada Chennai is one for the books. This gangster drama will enthrall you, excite you and simply leave you stunned.