'Vada Chennai' movie review: A city gangster Hamlet

'Vada Chennai' movie review: A city gangster Hamlet

A scene from Vada Chennai.

Film: Vada Chennai

Rating: 3.5/5

Director: Vetri Maaran

Cast: Dhanush, Andrea Jeremiah, Aishwarya Rajesh, Daniel Balaji

For someone who is as sweet as Anbu (Dhanush), the gangs of North (Vada) Chennai are not great company, but he grew up among them, and perhaps that is why he is dragged into fights he never wanted to start and made to wear a hero's cape that is too big a size for him.

The everyman-turned-gangster trope has been been done to death, but Vetri Maaran manages to make the story arc all his own.

And Anbu is his key to do that. Anbu, and his genuine niceness, stands in stark juxtaposition to a bloody world he lives in, so much so that you'd wonder if he walked into the wrong movie.

His mother makes him steal from a shop when anarchy breaks out after Rajiv Gandhi's death; he turns murderer because he doesn't want to be murdered; and has to turn rogue again because he is now indebted to his saviour.

Vada Chennai is the story of such misadventures that follow, necessarily, like the fall of dominoes.

But even a brilliant Dhanush doesn't take the movie over with his Anbu, nor do the many well-written and well-acted characters, as the plot never stays still on one thing.

Vetri Maaran, while marking Anbu as his center, takes pleasure in moving in and out of plenty of other lives, and why the movie lives up to the director's claims of being an epic is that the film is coherent even when it has nothing to do with Anbu.

The most interesting thing about Vada Chennai is how he does this 'in and out' — the film does not have one precise beginning.

Divided into chapters that are nothing but different permutations of the names of the characters, newer chapters bring you newer stories from their lives, which will make you reconstitute the story in your head again and again.

And that is no simple task because of the movie's epic structure. A wealth of details and sub-plots make up Vada Chennai, which moves from the personal to the political, even making winks at Shakespeare.

You see a prophetic witch from Macbeth, Gertrude from Hamlet and one scene where "Et tu, Brute?" is replaced with "Why did you, Senthila?". There's even something of Prince Hamlet in Anbu's vengeance and reluctance to act. 

Two things you may not be pleased with are: one, the grittiness of the early scenes are replaced with melodrama at the crescendo; and two, given that the version in the theatres is cut down from a running time of 5 and a half hours, some scenes may not look as fleshed out as they should.

As good as Vada Chennai is, the latter point may make you wonder whether the director's cut would have been more fulfilling.

P.S.: Dhanush would make a fantastic Hamlet.

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