Vada Chennai movie review: A brilliant beginning to Dhanush-Vetrimaaran trilogy. 5 stars

Updated on Oct 17, 2018 11:41 AM IST

Vada Chennai movie review: Dhanush’s latest is built layer by layer and captures the gritty, dark bowels of North Chennai.

Dhanush’s trilogy project with Vetrimaaran is off to a great start with Vada Chennai.
Dhanush’s trilogy project with Vetrimaaran is off to a great start with Vada Chennai.
Hindustan Times | By

Vada Chennai
Director: Vetrimaaran
Cast: Dhanush, Samuthirakani, Kishore, Pavan, Daniel Balaji, Andrea Jeremiah, Sai Dheena
Rating: 5/5

Vada Chennai (North Chennai) is that part of the city that revels in staying true to its humble beginnings. The buildings, the roads, the sea breeze and the scent of dry fish with humdrum around is what makes this part of the city a world of its own. Gangsters, murderers, assassins and their schemes and plots is a part and parcel of the lives of people here. Vetrimaaran’s Vada Chennai starring Dhanush, Samuthirakani, Kishore, Daniel Balaji, Andrea Jeremiah and Aishwarya Rajesh captures the gritty, dark bowels of North Chennai.

Anbu (Dhanush) is a young guy who learns to play carrom hoping for a bright future. He wants to stay away from the dark side of his neighbourhood and become a respectable government employee. Padma (Aishwarya Rajesh) is a young woman with a lot of spunk. She goes to great lengths for a cause, and for every o***, omm*** uttered by the men, she truly stands on equal ground and swears back at them. Enough to have the leading man quiver in fear. Love is born after many meetings and Anbu is put in a situation where he is required to stand up for and speak up to protect his lover and her honour. There begins Anbu’s tryst with violence.


From the first shot of the film, director Vetrimaaran has managed to build suspense. This is not the kind where you wonder about the what, why and how every minute, but the suspense here is audience waiting with bated breath to see how a neighbourhood carrom player takes to violence. The first scene of four men sitting around a table with blood stained knives, and the 360 degree shot that begins from one character and ends with another is a clear indication what life has in store for these four characters.

The film is built layer by layer. We see not just the plot unravel, but characters also evolve. The effects of greed, lust and envy on relationships that were forged to symbolise loyaltly is truly what makes Vada Chennai a terrific film. As we flit between the past and present, we see Anbu grow not just as a character, but also as a performer who feeds off of other performances. The stories of Rajan (Ameer), Thambi (Daniel Balaji), Senthil (Kishore), Velu (Pavan), Guna (Samuthirakani) and Sai Dheena’s character are not new. The fight for the throne of a kingpin in any city is bloody, causes loss and becomes the feeding ground for betrayal. The way Vetrimaaran has presented this scenario — this fight to the top — will make Vada Chennai one of the classic gangster dramas of Tamil cinema.

The majority of the film’s colour palette is grey, black and blue. While Anbu’s present begins with him behind the bars and caged, his past is dark and tragic except for the light that new love brings to his life. And just before the interval, a revelation in the film is aided by blinding light. The thought and attention to detail by the director and cinematographer Velraj throughout the film adds stunning visual metaphors, each a pleasure on the silver screen when it is unveiled. For instance, the fight that takes place in the jail under the makeshift cloth ceiling full of holes is breathtaking to watch, especially because it was captured so sharply.

Such stunning scenes accompanied by brilliant background score composed by Santhosh Narayanan results in bone-chilling moments. The background score is not in your face, stand alone tune, but has an inherent quality when certain scenes playout. It is hard to imagine the visual without the melody in the background, and case in point is when Anbu has an epiphany about where he as an individual stands in the turf war that has been going on for a decade. Visually, there is tension and Dhanush’s anxiety plays a big part in this scene being translated effectively, but without that background score, I wonder if I would have sat forward to anticipate what would come next.

With brilliant writing, cinematography and music, Vetrimaaran also managed one mean feat when he brought such a talented star cast together. Each of the characters in the film is rooted in North Chennai. Their behavior, accent, belief system — it reflects North Madras unlike any other film.

The reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet is initially in the passing. Anbu’s confusion over who is right and who isn’t, coupled with his relationship with Rajan, and how that plays out in the end is plain and simple. So Dhanush has kept his performance powerful, but in a restrained manner. Every scene after the interval makes you wonder when the beast would break free. The power hungry men who betray one of their own, leading to an epic “Et Tu Brutus” moment is a highlight and performances by Samuthirakani, Pavan and Kishore in this scene is itself worthy of a short dark comedy.

While Dhanush’s performance was restrained and powerful, Aishwarya played the wife who did not just take care of her home, but was more educated than her husband. She is his equal and is treated just so. Andrea as Chandra is also another interesting character who influences the narrative. With just a smirk and a lift of an eyebrow, she manages to tell the audience where she stands in the turf war.

The best part of Vada Chennai is the language. Throughout the film, the Tamil that these characters speak, commonly referred to as pakka local, makes everything that the characters say more real. Vada Chennai is the first part of a three-part film and the fact that it is complete in itself speaks for director’s Vetrimaaran’s execution style. The fact that people cannot wait to see how Anbu’s character evolves further, speaks for the connect that the filmmaker has made with audience. Vada Chennai is a bloody brilliant film laced with some bone chilling moments accompanied with ingenious music. The writing is breathtaking, the performance exemplary and the visuals are dark and deep, Can a gangster drama be any better?

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