Madras gets off to a clunky start, with some lengthy exposition explaining the history of a political rivalry in a north Chennai neighbourhood. The rivalry is centered around a large wall, where one of the political parties has painted a mural of their deceased leader, while the other political party plots to paint over it with their own propaganda. After introducing numerous neighbourhood characters during the opening credits, we finally meet our hero Kaali (Karthi) an educated young man with a white-collar job and a short temper. Kaali’s best friend Anbu (Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan) is active in one of the political parties and as a result Kaali gets drawn into the rivalry between the two parties over the wall.
We arrived in Chennai on December 18, 2012 to find the city plastered with posters for a film which, it turned out, had just opened the Friday before. Some of the posters featured a man with an elephant, while others featured the man under a basket with a woman in a yellow field. Luckily we had Dolce Namak‘s friend Mukundh with us, and he told us that the movie was called Kumki, that it was about an elephant trainer, and that it was the debut film of Vikram Prabhu – grandson of the legendary Tamil actor Sivaji Ganesan.
I was intrigued by the subject matter of the film, which certainly seemed different from the usual Tamil masala, and I suppose I am also susceptible to advertising, because I decided I would go watch the film. Movie tickets in Tamil Nadu are regulated, which means they always cost 120 rupees no matter what movie you go to see, where, and at what time. As a result, for less than three Canadian dollars I went to a Thursday afternoon show at what is no doubt the fanciest movie theatre I have ever seen. Located on the top floor of the Express Avenue mall, it featured crystal chandeliers, red velvet panels on the wall, and large leather seats. The theatre was fancy – but it was also very loud, and very cold. I found myself wishing I had ear plugs and a blanket.
Vathikuchi is written and directed by debutant P. Kinslin, produced by A. R. Murugadoss, and features the acting debut of Murugadoss’s brother Dileepan. Dileepan plays Sakthi, who lives on the outskirts of Chennai with his parents and sister, and works as an autorickshaw driver. The structure of the film is relatively sophisticated, with a present-day storyline involving Sakthi’s crush on his neighbour Leena, played by Anjali, and numerous flashbacks showing how he unknowingly made enemies of three different people. First, he is robbed by some thugs outside an ATM, but later beats them and their leader up and gets his money back. As a result the leader (played by Sampath Raj) loses respect and ends up destitute. Next, he foils an assassination attempt against a man and his family, making an enemy of the gangster who ordered the assassination (played by Jayaprakash) (this storyline was hard to grasp without subtitles). Finally, a neighbour of Sakthi’s (played by Jagan) has a plan to extort money from a wealthy man – maybe by kidnapping his son? However, the wealthy man helps Sakthi when he is involved in a traffic accident, and as a result of Sakthi’s presence in the wealthy man’s life the extortion plan fails. At the end of the film these three enemies come together to give Sakthi basically the worst 48 hours ever. The final flashback shows us how Sakthi managed to overcome his enemies and is, I think, delightfully cheeky.