Vada Chennai is a decade-spanning epic from a master storyteller brought to life by a brilliant ensemble cast.

I had recently gotten my hands on Conversations with Mani Ratnam, penned by my one of my favorite critics, Baradwaj Rangam, based on the freewheeling conversations he had with the legendary director. While it was an illuminating read, there was a portion which caught my eye:

“Even today, twenty-five years after the release of Nayagan, some of us remember our experience of the film as if we’d unknowingly stepped into the competition ring at a village fair and ended up flattened by the local wrestler. We couldn’t move, we couldn’t speak – during the film and even afterwards, as we lurched back home, too stunned to slip into the genial ritual of post-movie analysis.”

As I walked out of the multiplex after watching Vada Chennai, these words came to my mind unbidden. While we will have to wait for the remaining two films before even drawing parallels with Nayagan, the trilogy is definitely off to an explosive start.

As the first half unravels, we are introduced to a vast array of characters and their interwoven lives, involving friendship, power, violence, and betrayals. I had to mentally recite the flurry of names to make sure I didn’t miss out on anyone. The strong ensemble cast is a treat to watch, with each trying to outdo the other. While Vada Chennai is undoubtedly a dark movie, it’s not mindless violence for the sake of it, the way we are fed blood and gore in our usual masala movies. Vetri Maran’s meticulous research is very much apparent as he educates us on the mob underworld. India’s economic liberalization in 1991 isn’t something you would normally associate with a gangster movie, would you?

Take away the non-linear narrative, and we have a straightforward story of two warring clans thirsting for revenge. But unlike Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, which felt rushed, Vada Chennai plays out like a slow-burning game of chess, with each action having consequences. Santosh Narayanan’s music adds a dimension to each scene and elevates the movie to a different level. There are hardly any complaints about the movie. Dhanush’s transformation – his ascension from a passive onlooker to a powerful figure in the story – might feel a little rushed. I also felt the movie could have provided better closure at the end, as I sat praying for the movie to not get over.

Vada Chennai is a decade-spanning epic from a master storyteller brought to life by a brilliant ensemble cast. With plenty of story still left to tell about Vada Chennai, the possibilities are limitless.