Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather might have inspired quite a few films in the gangster genre all over the world but in South Indian cinema, it is Mani Ratnam’s Nayagan that has inspired filmmakers to try that genre. Promising filmmakers in the post-Nayagan era have made at least one film based on the Mumbai Don story, with mixed results of course. Priyadarshan’s Abhimanyu, Suresh Krissna’s Baashha, Lingusamy’s Anjaan, and Pa. Ranjith’s Kaala are all films that tell the tale of rise of a Mumbai don. With Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu (VTK), it is the turn of Director Gautham Menon to do a hat-tip to Mani’s Nayagan. And I must say, he has acquitted himself fairly well in this attempt.
With VTK, Gautham has consciously attempted to step out of his comfort zone of urban/cool-looking settings, a journey he started with his short Vaan magal in the Paava Kathaigal anthology. VTK tells the story of a youngster’s journey from a rural village in Tamil Nadu to Mumbai where he gets accidentally entangled and later wilfully subsumed into the world of crime. In any cinema, this is not a novel idea for sure. Therefore, the challenge is to make the screenplay different with novelty in the scenes and making.
In this effort, Gautham is ably supported by his writer, Jeyamohan on whose short story – apparently based on a real-life character, this film is based. The film avoids the heroism associated with Don films for the most part but the well-established template catches up towards the end as the makers set it up for a sequel. The screenplay captures very well the travails of an immigrant in a new city like Mumbai and the earthly dialogues keep us fairly engaged for most of the run time.
As a filmmaker, Gautham has made a mark in his films with his unique making style and in VTK also he tries to lift the storytelling a few notches above with his making style. The camera work by Siddhartha Nuni plays a significant part in this attempt. The extensive use of Steadicam and long shots in many dynamic and busy scenes add to the edginess of the narrative. The stunt choreography also stands out.
Of late, I notice that A.R.Rahman has upped his game on the background score front and I find it more interesting than his songs. In VTK, I guess that he has used some of the techniques discovered during his research for PS-1. For example, the BGM for some stunt sequences bears a resonance with the Devaralan Attam song of PS-1. Coming to the songs, they are good but continue to suffer from influences from his old compositions. Going a step further, I found the song ‘Unna Nenachadhum manasu mayanguthe’ very similar to the Viswanathan – Ramamurthy memorable number – ‘Kodi asaindhadhum Kaattru vandhadhaa’! What seemed odd was the poor lip-syncing for the songs when a montage technique would have worked far better.
I also found some of the Mumbai references inaccurate like finding a typical Tamil Parotta shop that too in Chembur!
Coming to performances, the film is pivoted on Simbu (STR) and he is brilliant. His portrayal as the young novice from a village in the initial scenes is brilliant. Likewise, his transformation through the phases of the film. It must count as one of his career-best performances. The supporting cast is vast and they all do their roles capably.
Gautham is an avowed fan of Mani Ratnam and it shows throughout the film whether it is bringing in the Iyer character of Nayagan (Delhi Ganesh in a cameo) or telling a scene similar to the one in Thalapathy where Mammootty goes to Shobana’s house with a marriage proposal for Rajini with Shobana or showing the physical progression of Simbu akin to Kamal in Nayagan in different phases of the film.
The title of the film means – The Scorched Forest. But with the promised sequel, there seems to be no end to the scorching. If you are a fan of the crime/gangster genre, Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu is worth a watch one time for its writing, performances and making. It’s streaming now on Amazon Prime.