His characters are devoid of makeup and look so tangible you could be forgiven for thinking you are walking along with them in the tapered lanes of a North Madras housing colony.
Every shot is measured and rational; every frame is real and lifelike.
It’s no surprise that he introduces his characters just as calmly, without any fanfare. His hero Kaali (Karthi) slides into the frame – almost unnoticed – in a blue jersey, in the middle of a local football match. While his heroine, Kalaiarasi (Catherine Tresa) is introduced in a casual long shot. Kaali is with his friends, who point out the sumaar girl walking with her friends. A cotton salwar clad Kalaiarasi marches past, not even bothering to look back.
And then there is the backdrop. North Madras, brimming with verve, captured in all its authenticity. It looms over the movie – with its neon-lit street lamps, dingy cemented staircases, peeled walls, narrow muddy lanes and that outsized busy playground with rusty iron gates. And the corporation water pump that plays cupid to Kaali and Kalavarasi as they fill their colourful plastic kudams.
A giant wall with a picture of a politician painted on it stands near the housing board colony where Karthi and his entourage of friends live.
The wall is where the conflict begins. Karthi and his friend Anbu (a stellar performance by Kalaiarasan) get mired in the conflict; and things get out of hand. Friendships get tested, politics turn ugly, relationships sour.
Kaali is a hothead, someone who rarely thinks before he speaks. Except if he is trying to strike a conversation with a girl. When his mom’s efforts at match-making fail, he tries in vain to get Kalaiarasi to notice him. He sneakily looks at her over his carromboard, follows her on his bike and pretends to look the other way when she is filling up her water can. When a furious Kalavarasi confronts him, he looks at her quietly, then tries to explain himself to her – anger in his eyes.
But she leaves in a huff.
The next scene, a drunk Kaali – heartbroken – is pouring his woes out to his friends. Who are trying hard not to laugh.
Madras is bursting with these little moments of spontaneity and humour. The constant verbal duals between Kaali and his mom over her fussiness in selecting a bride for him. Or his paati with a gummy smile, who wants her share of pocket money no matter what.
The romance is deliciously spontaneous – one night after a series of missed calls, Kalaiarasi finally opens her heart to him and tells him to meet her down by a lonely lane.
Kaali can’t believe his luck. When they meet, she scolds him first- “Naan thittina, nee appadiye poyiduviya? Enne avoid pannittey irukke.”
And then Kaali asks with a shy grin- “Seri appo enakku mutham koduppiya.”
Anbu is the calmer one, a do-gooder who is madly in love with his wife and kid. He is also one hell of a friend.
Santhosh Narayanan’s brilliant and very native music ups the movie several notches, as he does one better than his edgy score for Jigarthanda. The background score is especially terrific, elevating the skillfully shot action sequences.
Karthi breezes through the role, readily getting into the psyche of Kaali; while Catherine Tresa’s free-spirited performance belies the fact that this is her debut in Tamil.
Pa Ranjith makes great use of night shots, using the darkness to setup impromptu fights and chases. While ensuring that everything looks real and artless.
Like we just woke up in the middle of the night, and ran to the terrace to find out what that commotion is all about.
The Madras Review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.