Vada Chennai Movie Review: A Riveting Narrative of Entangled Lives

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Vada Chennai, which revolves around Anbu, is a consuming, gripping, ghastly and an exhilarating gangster movie… Spoilers ahead

Above everything else, it’s your ‘land’ that matters the most. It’s where you carve a life for yourself and your own people stand shoulder to shoulder. It is also where some of your own people can go against you and that’s where life can get as challenging as it can be. Director Vetrimaaran’s Vada Chennai (North Chennai) is a gangster film that takes us through an epic journey. And we see it all unfolding through the eyes of Anbu (Dhanush).

Vada Chennai narrates the story of the lives of few people in the northern part of Chennai over a period of time. It does not follow a pattern in its way of storytelling. It keeps juggling between two parallel stories that connect at some point and again goes back to a story in the past that finally culminates connecting all the dots. This is such a riveting style of narrative which keeps us on our toes, never has any humdrum moment of whatsoever and keeps us engrossed in the film.

It is a film which has given astronomical importance to each and every character so much so that every character has a scope of having a separate film based on their own life. No matter how much screen space a character has in this film, every other character leaves an indelible imprint on our mind. Thanks to the incredible performances by all the actors who made every little scene of this movie look brilliant. Rajan (Ameer Sultan) is a puissant character and does not have much of screen space but is the most potent in the context of the film. As a matter of fact, Rajan’s fall eventually leads to the rise of Anbu.

At 2 hours 44 minutes, Vada Chennai never feels like a banal and leaden film. Everything happens at a fast-clip with such an engaging manner leaving no room for you even to blink an eye. You keep thinking about brilliance in a scene and the very next moment another important scene pops up and it continues the scene after. After a while, you stop thinking about one particular scene and revel in the way nimble Vetrimaaran stitches different pieces together.

There is so much vehemence when Rajan, who is a smuggler and controls North Chennai, stands up for his people. He goes against the will of Muthu (Radha Ravi) and the industrialists by not giving the ‘go ahead’ signal in the land acquisition issue. It is reminiscent of the time Anbu raises concern for a similar issue and goes against the will of Guna (Samuthirakani) and Velu (Pavan). When Rajan gives a binocular to an eager kid at the seashore, it reminds us of the one Anbu uses on the top of the water tank to see his girlfriend Padma (Aishwarya Rajesh). And such things keep the interest factor intact among the audiences as we get absorbed more and more by it.

Another stupendous achievement of this movie is the different emotions that it successfully brings out. When Rajan is killed by his own men, including Senthil (Kishore Kumar G.) who planned everything, we sense the feeling of dolefulness through Rajan’s brother Thambi (Daniel Balaji) and his wife Chandra (Andrea Jeremiah). Just the sounds of billhooks being used to kill Rajan gruesomely gives a hair-raising feel. The movie actually opens with this very billhook covered with blood creating a spine-chilling feel in the very beginning.

We see the greed for power and authority when the conflict between Senthil and Guna builds up. There is a feeling of strangeness in the air when we see Anbu in the jail caught between the men of Senthil and Guna. There is a weird feeling when we see smuggling of drugs and alcohol happening inside the jail with drug-containing packets stuffed inside the anus, alcohol injected into coconut through syringes and cocaine powder inside the bathing soaps. We sense a feeling of trust developing between Senthil and Anbu inside the prison through the games of carrom board. And the next moment, we are caught off-guard and are completely taken by surprise when Anbu attacks Senthil. We sense the feeling of vengeance when Chandra, the ex-wife of Rajan, later goes on to marry Guna to take revenge against the men who killed Rajan.

With so much happening, the film is not just about gory violence. There is an immersing romance that blossoms through Anbu and Padma. When someone jocularly suggests Anbu to stand like a singam (lion) before Padma, he casually denies that he can’t. One may recall a popular dialogue of Rajinikanth from his movie ‘Sivaji – The Boss’ where he says – singam single ah thaan varum – that he is like a lion who handles things single-handedly. But again, this romantic angle gets caught in a violent turn of events and we feel the chills while Anbu and Padma’s brother wind up killing a man who is teasing her.

While Vetrimaaran has done a magnificent job of keeping us intrigued with this gripping story, the superabundance of cuss words used in the movie actually renders more originality to the film and makes it all look more real. Santhosh Narayanan’s background score and the songs fabulously capture the mood of the film and exemplify the impact of those brilliant performances by the actors.

The only slump which I felt slightly was the changeover towards the end when we see the heroic transformation. Anbu fights out goons single-handedly and even threatens Guna in a dauntless way that we have seen in Tamil cinema from time to time. I am not sure if Vetrimaaran did that on purpose keeping in mind Dhanush’s fans who may expect to see the elements of masala or commercial movie. It was disappointing to see something like that in a movie so original in all its essence. We do not see any dramatic metamorphosis in Vetrimaaran’s masterpiece Visaranai probably because it did not have any big star.

Well, Anbu reiterates in the film that he is like an anchor of the ship which keeps it from drifting away. Vada Chennai, which revolves around Anbu, is a consuming, gripping, ghastly and an exhilarating movie which makes an intricate and entangled story look so simpler. Written and directed by Vetrimaaran, this is the first instalment of the planned trilogy and only time will tell if we are going to see more of Anbu’s heroism or will the movie keep its realism intact. Nevertheless, this will go down as one of the most influential films of Indian cinema.

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96 Movie Review : Nostalgic Rom-com Made To Be Cherished For A Long Time

It is an alluring, rejuvenating, rejoicing and romantic film which at the same time gives you the feeling of longing and separation…(Spoilers ahead)

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There is a scene in the movie where K. Ramachandran a.k.a Ram (Vijay Sethupathi) opens a suitcase in which he has kept everything that is dear to him especially that makes him reminisce about Janaki Devi a.k.a Jaanu (Trisha). Director C. Prem Kumar’s directorial debut with his romantic drama 96 is like a prized possession which can be safely kept in a suitcase and cherished for a long time to come.

A couple of things impressed me in the very beginning even before the movie got the wheels turning. Before the title of the movie came on the screen, one of the acknowledgements read ‘Thanks Iyarkai’ (Thanks Nature) which is so relaxing and suggestive of what was about to come. And when the names of Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha Krishnan came on the screen at the same time followed by the title, it became apparent how important they both are for each other in the film.

96 is like a prized possession which can be safely kept in a suitcase and cherished for a long time to come.

So we get to experience and relish different aspects of nature as the movie opens with Ram as the travel photographer. Unaccompanied, he is travelling to different places clicking pictures. But the amazing experience that he is having along the way gladdens our heart and makes us want to be in that moment. He is seen inside the sea among the fishes, he is literally feeding bread from his mouth to a deer, he is clicking photos of a rare plant in the desert, and he is even revelling in the rain opening his mouth to feel the drops of water from the sky. Nature is as much a significant character in the film as are the actors. There is no limit to how much nature can enthral us as Ram teaches his students the nuances of photography inside a picturesque temple.

This was all the photography that is shown in the film and as one of the students drives Ram home, the movie shifts its focus on this beauteous yet heartrending journey of Ram. En route to home, Ram sees a bridge and we get to sense the nostalgia inside him. He, then, meets an old watchman (Janagaraj) outside the school where he studied as a child and the past life of Ram starts taking shape.

This is just the beginning of a lot more nostalgic memories that the movie explores through the life of Ram thereby letting us relate with our own lives. We traverse through the 1990s and the present world of Ram and Jaanu parallelly.

We laugh, we feel the pain, we feel the longing and we yearn for them to be together.

A reunion of ‘96 school batch is planned (watch out for the hilarious online group chat between the nineties batch). Best part of this magical journey comes through the memories that flash in the eyes of Ram. We get transported into the 1990s and the young Ram (Adithya Bhaskar) and young Jaanu (Gouri Kishan) come to the fore. It is a magical phase where we get to feel his memories as we start remembering instances from our own life. As Ram, Jaanu and their friends meet up in school, jocosely converse and eat lunch together, we see Ram and Jaanu developing feelings for each other.

In the midst of the blossoming romance between the lead pair, the sequences that cover the whole school life involving Ram, Jaanu and their friends are so wondrous to watch. We laugh, we feel the pain, we feel the longing and we yearn for them to be together. Ram, who is strong and dominating when he is in the circle of his friends, becomes speechless in the presence of Jaanu.

After completing the school exams, meeting of Ram and Jaanu over the bridge happens to be last time they see each other. Such was the performances of Adithya and Gouri that we hanker for them to be together always. Anyone who has had the experience of the so-called first love (or even if they don’t) will definitely be touched by this heartening love story.

We swap back to the present world where Ram and Jaanu wind up meeting each other after 22 long years. It successfully establishes the sort of feeling it wants the audience to have. We realise nothing has altered since they last saw each other. There is a palpable feeling of strangeness, of course, meeting after all these years. As an audience, we can sense that peculiarity due to the marvellous performances of Vijay Sethupathi, Trisha Krishnan, and the supporting casts who did a perfect job as their grown-up friends.

It is shocking to us that they never got together and that is the success of this movie as well.

Gradually the strangeness in the air vanishes as Ram and Jaanu start from where they left off. Jaanu talks about the envisions that she had about him coming to see her while pursuing the graduation. She even had a childish hope of him appearing all of a sudden in her wedding ceremony and finally reunite with her which usually happens only in the movies. Well, thankfully that did not happen in this movie. Wait till you witness the element of surprise in this romantic tale as we get to know that Ram did come to see her in college and wedding. It is shocking to us that they never got together and that is the success of this movie as well.

So they walk, they talk, they cry and they laugh and so do we along with them on this magical journey. While Jaanu is peaceful with her current married life, Ram is happy to be living the bachelor’s life cherishing the memories he has with her. Amidst all these, the background score by Govind Menon (also credited as Govind Vasantha) is the backbone of giving more fuel to this charming and lovely narration. The album as a whole is not my personal favourite. But Kaadhale Kaadhale and Anthaathi songs were mesmerising and captivating as they gloriously blended with the whole drama.

While Vijay Sethupathi has given a different perspective to romanticism and has acted with flamboyance without trying to overdo anything, Trisha has stolen our hearts yet again which may remind one of Jessie character she did in Gautham Menon’s Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa. C. Prem Kumar’s 96 portrays an emotional and deep sense of love which shows what love is, what can it do to you and the feeling that accompanies with it. It is an alluring, rejuvenating, rejoicing and romantic film which at the same time gives you the feeling of longing and separation. 96 is like the best photo that you have captured which has to be framed and kept in that suitcase safely to cherish it for years.