Thank you Siddharth Roy Kapur and UTV motion pictures for making the wise decision to bring Vettai to overseas markets - with subtitles. It is the rare film that lives up to it’s trailer but Vettai packs just as much punch as the trailer promises and then some! It’s films like this that bring back all the reasons I fell in love with masala films in the first place. There are already talks to remake Vettai in Hindi but, honestly, I don’t know who could possibly top the jodi of Madhavan and Arya, as brothers in crime-busting and general awesomeness.
Vettai is the story of brothers Thirumurthy (Madhavan) and Gurumurthy (Arya). Thirumurthy is the elder but he has a sensitive disposition and relies on younger brother Gurumurthy for strength. When Thiru gets in trouble, he calls on Guru... and when Guru is paining, Thiru is the one who feels it keenly. Their father is a policeman and when he passes away, Guru encourages Thiru to take his place on the force - thinking that it would be like throwing a kid in the deep end of the pool, sink or swim time. Thiru has to toughen up, right? The rest of the film follows that journey.
Thiru is posted to Thoothukudi (I think) and Guru follows him.
There is no better place for sink-or-swim as Thoothukudi is home to two warring ganglords - the ominously named Anna (Ashutosh Rana) and his former captain Mari (Muthukumar). Thiru, as the naive newbie on the force, is immediately thrust into the conflict between them... with Guru to back him up. After all, says Guru, if thugs can hire rowdies, why not policemen?
But it wouldn’t be masala without a pair of lovely heroines for our heroes to romance and they are more than equally matched with Sameera Reddy and Amala Paul playing a pair of sisters - a pair of sisters who put up with absolutely no nonsense whatsoever. Sameera’s firey older sister is a good match for the sensitive Thiru, while Amala Paul’s sparkly-eyed younger sister has sizzling chemistry with Arya.
I won’t spoil what happens but I will say that it’s extremely awesome and Madhavan got numerous cheers towards the end of the second half of the film - well-earned cheers. And wolf whistles. Possibly from me. And possibly while he was showing off his physique in a pair of sweat pants for us. (Somebody call Briyanshu out of retirement!)
First things first, masala is about people, so let’s unpack the performances. Madhavan and Arya make a dynamic duo! Maddy does a wonderful job of showing Thiru as sensitive but not weak and never really falling into comedy territory. He’s just a very likable guy and you understand why younger brother Guru is willing to put his life on the line to defend him. Who wouldn’t?! You just want to snuggle him up! Arya, on the other hand, was pure boss the entire way through. Some of the biggest laugh lines in the film come from the villains underestimating Guru’s strength... because anybody taking on Arya is just inherently hilarious.
The heroines were equally awesome. Sameera Reddy is one of those chronically underused actresses kicking around Mumbai, so I’m always happy to see her pop up in regional cinema. Sameera has a steely will and when she can use it to good effect (hands up who saw her amazing performance in Red Alert) she is as fierce as any singham. Amala Paul I had never seen in anything before but she has a new fan - cute, witty, bright-eyed, and full of spice, I really enjoyed her act. Amala and Sameera were adorable as the two sisters and their introduction song, “Damma Damma” was one of the high points of the first half.
Villain-wise, Ashutosh Rana was adequate. He wasn’t nearly threatening enough to match up against both Madhavan and Arya and I would have rather seen somebody with real teeth to him - like Pradeep Rawat as the big boss but you can’t have everything. Anna’s thugs more than make up for his middle manager persona, with a special shout-out to Sreejith Ravi for glowering very effectively and to Muthukumar for whatever that was he was doing with his tongue.
I’ve only ever seen Linguswamy’s Bheema before but I may have to seek out his previous films. His sense of pacing is pretty good - although the beginning of the second act suffers a bit from Chandni Chowk to China syndrome where we take a bit too long to reach the point where Thiru learns to stand up for himself. And there were a handful of really nice sequences - a burning man racing into the police station; Amala Paul and a towel; Arya and a wounded dog; Maddy doing push-ups; Sameera Reddy with serious stomach pains; little boys flying kites - that will stay with me. (The towel sequence, especially, has a good chance of making it to my best of 2012 list.)
The songs were fun even if nothing too special. And the lyrics helpfully had subtitles, too, for which I also want to thank Siddharth Roy Kapur. I went home and (legally) downloaded the soundtrack.
Overall, I really enjoyed Vettai. It just goes to show that you don’t need fancy CGI or foreign locations or million dollar promotional budgets to make an engaging and entertaining film. The thing that I love about masala films is the people. What CGI could possibly be more fun than Arya and Maddy dishooming rowdies and saving puppy dogs? What foreign location could be more beautiful than Amala Paul’s flashing eyes? And who needs a blockbuster promotional budget when you have Maddy saying, “Enakke shutter-aa?” with a wicked glint in his eye in the trailer? Fads in film may come and go but as long as masala remains rooted in the stories of characters, it will always find an audience.
And the audience certainly enjoyed Vettai.
(Also, was that Ko being screened inside the theater in the film? Nice to see Jeeva promoting this as well as his Nanban showing across the hall.)