Vetrimanran’s consistency, craftsmanship, restraint and unwavering clarity puts Vada Chennai up with the likes of ‘En Uyir Thozhan’, ‘Pudhupettai’, ‘Aaranya Kaandam’ and ‘Madras’. He does this with a rare authenticity and command that is meticulously layered on four pillars – narrative style, language, cast and sound/music.
Vetrimaran’s biggest hurdle is telling a story of betrayal and revenge. That tale has been cooked over 3000 years. So how do you trick the listener into paying attention? Visual storytelling offers novel ways to overcome this. Tamil movies have abused the flashback (“எனக்கு இன்னொரு பேர் இருக்கு”) to a point of un-milkable absurdity. There’s the non-linear back-and-forth that can push you to the edge, if done right. Vada Chennai gets that beyond right. It keeps the intrigue and guesswork tight enough by breaking the narration down to episodes, each revealing a new dimension (something ‘Sacred Games’ did brilliantly). Vetrimaran jumbles these chapters. Jumping the linearity like a puzzle master is just a single trick.
The language of North Madras is so pivotal to the believability of the story and to make a character from there stick. That Royapuram harbour பாஷை is used eloquently. I’m not sure about rest of the world, but the US theaters had the சேரி tamil in all its glory. The uniqueness of the north Madras slang lends itself so well to flattening the dialogues delivered by not native actors. Kishore’s Kannada-tinged Tamil, Ameer’s southern accent and Andrea’s brushed intonations are barely noticeable when they speak in profanity.
Vetrimaran’s other strength is his focus on grooming every single player in a story. No wonder he needed another installment of the story. Instead of merely using supporting actors pawns in the service of a principal actor, Vetrimaran moves his pawn all the way until they can turn into a queen. Irrespective of how long the character appears on the screen, the hold their own arc. Consider the Assistant Commissioner that threatens Rajan (Ameer); he barely appear for 2-3 mins, but you hate his guts within 30 seconds. Same with Senthil’s brother-in-law (another cop). He is on-screen for roughly 10-12 minutes. Realize the amount of animosity we hold for him in the climax. When a movie employs more than a dozen minor characters like these, it is nothing short of writing masterstroke.
Santosh Narayanan needs no validation on the talent front. He runs the range from Jazz to soul-Ghaana. Stripped off the pressure to feed fan bases or meet outside expectations, he answers only to his directors. Vetrimaran, thankfully, is that director who can shape a film on the strength of the right music, be it Yuvan Shankar Raja, G V Prakash or a Santhosh Narayanan.
If Game of Thrones had a worthy Tamil inspiration, Vada Chennai must be the closest thing to it. All as amp’d for the next season of Vada Chennai.