The release of the first part of Vada Chennai is the breakthrough for the 15-year long effort that has gone into the forming of this film. Vetri Maaran helms this film with Dhanush playing the lead alongside Aishwarya Rajesh, Andrea, Ameer, Samuthirakani, Kishore, Daniel Balaji, and many others.
This blood-soaked drama of cunning, ruthless men and women, their betrayal, loyalties and lust for revenge is set in late 1980s and goes on till the early 2000s. Vetrimaaran has smartly crafted the film against the political landscape in Tamil Nadu during that era with the death of MGR, Rajiv Gandhi assassination and the ascendancy of Jayalalithaa to power. The film works for its multiple characters and terrific set of actors who bring them alive on screen.
In the beginning you get the feel that Vada Chennai is another Tamil gangster story set in North Madras (so many Tamil Kollywood gangster films have been set in the same milieu including Dhanush’s Pudhupettai), but Vetrimaran’s direction and characterisation makes the film different and gripping. The director is able to recreate the North Madras area accurately with real locations including the port area, fishing boats and dialogues-laced with cuss words.
His set design sets up this universe and it is so real that you feel like you’re trapped in the community. Thirdly, R Velraj. To capture this universe is a challenging matter. Velraj’s framing is on point and the lighting is never unnecessary. Finally, Santhosh Narayanan completes the spine. There is enormous space in Vada Chennai for Santhosh to exploit and he does that to the best of his abilities. He uses tones right out of the neighborhood and putting them together is what breeds intensity throughout the screenplay.
The ensemble of Vada Chennai: The cast list is huge, and the best performances are extracted from each of them. The space for experimentation in terms of body language and reaction is big, so each actor takes complete control of the screen, whenever they are gifted with that space. Ameer, Samuthirakani, Kishore, Andrea, Aishwarya, Daniel Balaji, Pavan, and almost all the other stars shine bright.
But as expected, Dhanush the star works in tandem with Dhanush the performer to bring out one of his finest shows on screen. The best part of Anbu is that he is not necessarily the protagonist, but is most definitely the pivotal character that connects all chapters flawlessly.
The drawback per se, could be understanding the premise comfortably. Vada Chennai is split into multiple chapters that connect many characters and following the language might pose a minor issue. At few junctures, the story could come off as predictable as we have seen similar circumstances before.
Vetri Maaran finely crafts this gangster drama with all the aspects of filmmaking at it’s best. His 15 year long vision, research and ground work has paid off.
Aishwarya Rajesh as the foul-mouthed love interest of Dhanush is a scream and Andrea as the mastermind is fantastic. Jackie’s production designs and Velraj’s camera adds a slickness to the technicalities in the film. On the downside at 2 hours and 46 minutes, the film is a bit too long and sags in the middle portion. It picks up speed only in the last 20 minutes.
Vada Chennai is another feather on Vetrimaaran’s cap though not in the same league as his earlier films. The way he has built into the story, the rise of gangsters and thrown in political allegories is brutally honest. It also shows how politicians and the slum lords, in the name of development and welfare of the people, are similar in their opportunistic approach and selfish interests.