Consider the carom board, a single strike shakes up an entire setup; displacing even disks that are not in the direct line of the striker.
Vetrimaaran, believes that the impact of death has far reaching consequences even to those removed from the person. He supports these with the deaths of popular leaders; Rajiv Gandhi and MGR through the film.
<Eerily similar to how deaths of J and MK have in some way affected everyone in the state of Tamil Nadu>
Vada Chennai begins with a gruesome murder; but we are constantly shown (and guided through Vetrimaaran’s narration) that this death would soon shake up things for all of the characters, and these characters come by the dozen.
Alliances that were forged in time look weak moments later and so begins a classic case of one gang vs the other in a fight over the city’s dominance.
Moments later, these gangs have divided amongst themselves two prison blocks and in-effect the city and there is one guy in between. This did remind me of A Fistful of Dollars; but nope the director is not just interested in the surface; let’s go deeper and show how the gangs establish their dominance and an economy within the prison; the stated revenues of which are astounding (Vada Chennai is a period film and the movie doesn’t try to be in the face about it).
I also got used to how the director keeps drawing attention back to the first murder; even if it at times it feels that he has gone pretty far away. Drawing back/moving forward is also done differently, sometimes it is just the voice-over;a visual cue here, an on-screen narration there, another time it is just a fade to white. I would really like to go over these punctuation again.
But what is always there in the background, how will THAT murder be avenged?
The title “Vada Chennai” too is very emblematic; represents a whole section of the city, referred here as “janam” but for most part the film is really about a select few from this population and the power they fight for; so when towards the end of the film when it moves towards the ‘us vs them’ narrative, the movie has a slight jarring effect. Maybe this has been done to elevate the story of Anbu? Only the sequels will tell.
Or to put it differently, there are far more interesting stuff for me in the film than the politics of gentrification, a subject touched upon by Kaala too earlier this year. For example, the thread of how history keeps repeating itself and how the players find themselves in different positions every time that happens.
The kick-in-the head happens when the characters themselves realize this moment. Wow, that’s complex and damn good writing; to be able to feel what a secondary character is feeling (At one point it is Guna, at another point it is Chandra). Vetrimaran also throws in a clairvoyant who seems to be the only person who knows how this will all end. Superlative stuff.
Red & Follow
Yes, it does take it own time; but then this movie should. Even reading this as a basic revenge film needs convincing characters for viewers to revel in the avenging, but this isn’t just a basic revenge film.
The board is now set, the players are ready; we have a good game at hand.