Cast: Dhanush, Samuthirakani, Aishwarya Rajesh, Andrea Jeremiah
Tamil director Vetrimaaran has a few feathers in his cap. His 2011 film Aadukalam on rooster fight was a plot novelty, and his 2015 Venice Film Festival premiere, Visaaranai, was a gripping take on custodial violence, a story adapted from M. Chandrakumar's personal account, Lock Up. Both these were small canvasses which were finely focussed.
But Vetrimaaran's latest, a Dhanush-starrer, Vada Chennai, is a hugely ambitious work, which does not offer anything new while narrating a story that has been done to death. Violence among small-time smugglers, each amoral and ready to kill. Yes, that is exactly what Vada Chennai adds up to with Dhanush's Anbu playing a good samaritan even as he lives in the dark criminalised alleyways of North Chennai or Vada Chennai and is pushed into picking up arms and taking lives.
While Visaaranai grappled with a larger, pertinent societal anxiety of police brutality and how it affected the lives of impoverished migrant Tamil Labourers in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Vada Chennai takes on much more that what it can chew. The movie is about not only a romance between Anbu and Padma (Aishwarya Rajesh), but also rivalries between small-time gangsters (which turn boisterous and bloody). Not only this, Vetrimaaran's work also includes administrative corruption emerging from a Government scheme to demolish slums in order to build a highway. We have seen it all before, haven’t we?
If one can wade through a punishingly long take of 166 minutes of arguments, physical fights, knifing bravado, Shakespearean intrigues and Tarantino-type of orchestrated violence, occasionally peppered with stolen kisses (between Padma and Anbu), a slim storyline is visible through a foggy, sometimes confusing back-and-forth script.
Anbu is a carrom player who nurses an ambition to become a State-level champion, but life is not obliged to fulfil his wish. He gets pushed into the dark den of crime when he has to stand up for his love, and the tunnel he finds himself in appears to have no light. Vada Chennai takes up much of the running time in drawing up alignments between the bad men, while Anbu gets tossed and thrown about in the sea of deceit. Like most Indian movies, the hero has to be a good man and Anbu is no exception.
Dhanush is invariably controlled and subtle even in the most dramatic situations. But his range is imprisoned by his unflattering personality. Beyond Dhanush, both Samuthirakani and Rajesh impress with their extremely nuanced performances, but all this fails to add up to what one would expect from the creator of an amazingly memorable work like Visaaranai.