I have always considered Gautham Vasudev Menon a vastly overrated director. Other than ‘Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu’, his films seemed cold and ultimately hollow. His most recent feature film ‘Enai Noki Paayum Thota’ continued this trend of stylish metropolitan storytelling, despite some interesting visual choices. For Vendhu Thanindhadhu Kaadu, Menon collaborates with Silambarasan TR and AR Rahman for the third time following 2010’s ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya’ and 2016’s ‘Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada’. Third time might indeed be the charm, because VTK is mostly a success.
The film follows Silambarasan TR’s Muthu, whose mother sends him away from his small Tamil Nadu village to Mumbai, fearing an astrologer who claims her son is destined to become a killer. Muthu gains employment at a parotta shop, and reluctantly becomes involved with gang activity in the area.
From the opening scene, we see a completely new side to Menon. We have a rural setting, and for once it is not seen exoticly. Our protagonist, Muthu, hails from the anglicised titular ‘Scorched Forest’. Of course, Menon does not handle this subject matter with the comfort a peer like Vetrimaaran, but his effort is certainly laudable.
There are major players whose contributions should be highlighted. Firstly, Jeyamohan’s story is layered and well thought out. The two main motifs of ‘the land’ and ‘the gun’ are personified throughout, both portrayed as intent on claiming human life. There are great touches such as a side character whistling perhaps the best - but also thematically perfect - lines from the opening song to the 1995 Rajinikanth starrer ‘Muthu’ as he washes blood off his clothes. Money is another major motif, as we see the dark paths trodden by people struggling to survive. The script is constantly quiet in its dark comedy, which is another positive.
The cinematography is brilliant. Siddhartha Nuni works wonders with the camera - the introductory scene for the heroine Siddhi Idnani’s Paavai has a magical moment with a mirror which was gasp-inducing. During action sequences, the camera moves with a frenetic energy which captures the right amount of chaos onscreen. Aesthetically, there is very little to poke holes at.
AR Rahman continues to be the gift from above that keeps on giving, providing a stellar soundtrack. VTK challenges the composer with its depth, something missing from the safer big budget films Rahman has been roped in for. ‘Marukkama Nenjam’ is a fantastic theme for the film which encapsulates the combined awe and fear of an unknown future, ‘Mallipoo’ is weaved into the narrative immaculately, ‘Kaalathakum Nee Venum’ is a soulful, romantic duet. And all these songs have great accompanying visuals. Finally, the lyricist Thamarai - who I believe to be the secret ingredient to Menon’s ongoing success - once again pulls the soul of the film out to thread poetry for the musical numbers. Thamarai has been the mainstay in all of Menon’s Tamil film soundtracks, which have often been the best part of his films, and I believe the reason for that is their undeniable filmic chemistry.
The cast do not disappoint either. Silambarasan TR has a second winner following the much deserved recent success of ‘Maanaadu’. Siddhi Idnani does a decent job for her Tamil debut (and thankfully dubs for herself). Radhika Sarathkumar, Neeraj Madhav and Jaffer Sadiq all play their roles excellently.
The film is aware of its genre predecessors. The Mumbai setting brings to mind 1987’s ‘Nayakan’ and there is a very obvious nod in the dialogue to ‘The Godfather Part III’. It is structurally similar to both Brian De Palma’s ‘Scarface’ and Selvaraghavan’s 2006 film ‘Pudhupettai’. There are two scenes which are reminiscent of both 1991’s ‘Thalapathi’ and Vetrimaaran’s recent magnum opus ‘Vada Chennai’. But these are merely homages, and Menon makes them his own.
The film is not perfect. The second half is not as tightly written as the first. Menon relies on plot tropes he has used multiple times before (but also knowingly subverts a few). The final ten minutes of the film feel slightly rushed, however the final scene is a perfect narrative point to make way for the sequel.
South Indian cinema has recently put forth a few two-part gangster dramas which have witnessed pan Indian success. The Kannada industry has ‘KGF’. The Telugu industry has ‘Pushpa’. This is the Tamil contribution from Menon, and it is undoubtedly the best of the three thus far. It is also definitely Menon’s best film - it is a hugely pleasant surprise to see him innovate and take risks so late in his career, which has certainly paid off. Hopefully, the sequel lives up to the high bar set by the first part, as the seeds have been sown for a great conclusion. I would recommend this film if you enjoy slow-rise-of-a-gangster type films such as ‘Nayakan’, ‘Pudhupettai’ or ‘Vada Chennai’.
Krishna's rating: 4 stars
Images Think Music
Official trailer for the film below.