Vada Chennai

Cast: Dhanush, Aishwarya Rajesh, Samuthirakani, Ameer, Andrea, Daniel Balaji, Kishore, Radha Ravi
Director: Vetri Maran

A game of carrom is all fun until you pocket the red coin. Immediately, you’re put into a spot where you’re forced to pocket another coin, that too one of yours and that’s when the pressure gets real. You got to nail it, as failing to do so will give your opponent an opportunity. That’s the story of Vada Chennai’s Anbu (Dhanush), an aspiring carrom board player, whose unintentional moves get him from the plain flat regular life into the webbed underworld that’s so unpredictable that you might not even know which direction you’ll fall in.

Vada Chennai, though fresh with its treatment and content, does remind you a little of director Vetri Maran’s previous films as well as Dhanush’s first gangster film, Puthupettai, which became a cult classic over the years. Apart from different factions doing what it takes to bring the other side down, there’s the politics within the same group, similar to Polladhavan; a story of a simple boy-next-door who is forced to swim in an ocean he had only seen from a distance a la all the filmmaker’s flicks as well as Puthupettai and there’s even a failed assassination plan that results in a prime character getting paralysed (seen in Polladhavan as well as Puthupettai). But that’s what you see macroscopically because deep inside, Vada Chennai is a world of its own, a cruel world we’ll get to know very well about and yet can’t get enough of.

In a scene, a police constable sits in between two steel-mesh netted walls, in a narrow corridor that separates prisoners from visitors and he pulls a strong thread that goes through the length of the entire room – to flick the illegal contents that are tried to get smuggled in. In another scene, how basic necessities one can access in a jail is shown as materials for making weapons. What a regular human finds shocking seems to be normalized in this world and imagine what a havoc in such a world might look like.

We also get to see the basic emotions that lubricate the chains of every rusty gangster film — there’s the ‘I attacked him because he slapped my parent’ angle, unadulterated love, never-ending ego, a blinded thirst to go up the ranks and become a leader, betrayal and more. But on the other hand, there are also some more elements that you wouldn’t really expect in such a genre. Instead of just using women as pawns, sort of similar to the recently released Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, the women of Vada Chennai are extremely strong characters. And when I say so, I even mean the smallest of female characters.

The film has an ensemble cast that includes talents who’ve proven their mettle in Vetri’s previous films and thanks to them, the film does its job of awing you. As the film covers quite a few years, Dhanush’s looks keep changing often and his characterisation too evolves along with it. The innocent, clean shaved teen is nowhere close to the rugged, more grounded man that his clan reveres during the end. There’s also a ton of talents behind the camera who deserve their due recognition. The costumes and art direction are brilliant and they do their bits in letting the audience keep a track on the varying timelines. You should be living under a rock if you haven’t listened to (and fallen in love too) and even if that doesn’t get you, the background score is easily one of the best in recent times. The dialogues too, though explicit, doesn’t sound out of place and words such as ‘flayer’ for player and other colloquial Tamil words used, bring in a sense of authenticity to the film.

What didn’t work for me is the sudden hero worship the film resorts to closer to the end and a rather out of the blue action sequence that seems to be a forced jib to satiate the quench of the actor’s fans. The twists too, which are quite a few, are rather easy to gauge. But those revelations are actually shown to be more of a reveal rather than a twist and knowing it doesn’t deter the experience. Said to be a trilogy, the film opts for an open ending without opting for a cliffhanger and that does give a certain level of satisfaction. With quite a few raw nerves touched, the sequel has enough scope to be as entertaining as this has been and that’s a new to Tamil cinema.

Rating: 3.5/5

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