Conceived as a two-part film, Gautham Vasudev Menon’s film has all the familiar material that you expect from a gangster film but also a few departures and inclusions that keep things engrossing.

Simbu in Vendhu Thanindhathu KaaduYouTube
Flix Review Thursday, September 15, 2022 - 16:12
Worth a watch

The problem with gangster sagas is that it’s very difficult to create something utterly new. There isn’t a Gangster University where one can enrol and learn how to be a gangster. It's a way of life born out of a set of circumstances that is depressingly common – poverty and desperation. How many permutations and combinations of this can be rendered with originality?

Conceived as a two-part film, Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu has all the familiar material that you expect from a gangster film but also a few departures and inclusions that keep things engrossing. In VTK, Gautham’s urban, upper middle class world with its expensive cotton clothes, boho cafes, guitars, English phrases in voiceovers and romantic bike rides makes way for the dimly-lit, grungy room above a parotta shop in Chembur that’s really a front for underworld activities. At times, it’s the parotta dough that’s being thumped and slapped into shape, and at times it’s a human being who needs to be brought to line.

Written by Jeyamohan, VTK’s hero – Muthu (Silambarasan) – finds himself in Mumbai after he’s forced to leave his village in Tamil Nadu due to an accidental fire in the forest that he’s supposed to be guarding. Muthu’s back is covered with thorns as he jumps through the flames and over the fence to save his life – it’s a metaphor for what’s to come. In Part 1, he will be scorched but he will live.

There isn’t any great heroism invested in Muthu’s character. He’s shown to be fearless in his village, but it’s more the fight of a cornered animal than the flamboyance of a hero. Simbu’s body language changes as his character arc progresses, and the actor makes it look effortless. When his mother (Radikaa looks miscast) makes him remove his shirt to make a point about their suffering to his uncle, you can see the loss of dignity in his face – and he conveys it without needing to break into tears. He’s also fantastic in the single take action sequences, reacting with a speed and agility that make the scenes look unchoreographed.

As he’s drawn more and more into the world of crime, Muthu becomes ruthless because that’s the only way he can survive. In tone, VTK is reminiscent of Selvaraghavan’s 2006 gangster film Pudhupettai (there’s also a similar scene when Muthu is taken for his first kill). There isn’t much moralising or deliberation on the nature of good and evil; people do what they have to do or the knife will come for them next.

Siddique plays a perverted and brutal Malayali gangster boss named Kutty who is pitted against Garji, Muthu’s Tamil boss. Mumbai is a mosaic of cultures, and Gautham has made the brave choice of letting the characters speak the languages that they would naturally speak. So, there’s a mix of Tamil, Hindi-influenced Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi that you hear through the course of the film. It’s a risk because the audience may complain that they didn’t understand a line here or there, but it makes the film sound a lot more authentic.

Neeraj Madhav’s Sreedhar is an interesting character, and one hopes to see more of him in Part 2. Much like Muthu, he arrives in Mumbai in the hope of finding work, but ends up being sexually abused by Kutty. Siddique has played the villain in quite a few Malayalam films, and he is chillingly sleazy in VTK. Gautham, thankfully, hints at the sexual violence but does not offer a voyeuristic view of what happened. Neeraj wonderfully portrays Sreedhar’s naivete, fear, passion and hope. Appukutty and Jaffer Sadiq also do well in their respective roles.

Just how far Gautham has moved away from his previous filmography is evident in where the hero and heroine (Siddhi Idnani, playing Paavai) meet – in a small clothes shop where a shy Muthu needs to buy underwear. There isn’t much by way of humour in VTK, but this scene will have you laughing plenty. You can still see the director’s stamp in the romance though – Muthu stalks Paavai but stops when she asks him to. The sequence before ‘Unna Nenachadhum’ is also typical GVM in the dialogue exchange. AR Rahman’s ‘Marakuma Nenjam’ is beautifully used in the film, both as a song and refrain.

The formulaic twist of using the wife/girlfriend as bait is quite disappointing (how it unfolds reminded me of Kaakha Kaakha), and I wish Siddhi had more to do in the film than play the love interest. The second half needed better editing, and the last 15 minutes that establish the premise of the sequel is way too rushed. The scenes pack in too much information – from a nod to Nayagan to a tragedy in Muthu’s personal life – and it feels clumsy.

Still, this is a return to form for Gautham Menon that fans can celebrate. It may be old wine in a new bottle (a ‘vendhu, thannindha kadhai’ if you prefer that), but wine is still wine and can be enjoyed.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

Sowmya Rajendran writes on gender, culture and cinema. She has written over 25 books, including a nonfiction book on gender for adolescents. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her novel Mayil Will Not Be Quiet in 2015.

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