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What Dhanush and Vetrimaaran bring to Vada Chennai — Birthday special

The actor's 35th birthday (he was born on 28 July 1983) will see the launch of his major trilogy with Vetrimaaran — Vada Chennai.

Shriram Iyengar

At the trailer release of his Kaala (2018), Rajinikanth said, “My son-in-law Dhanush proved that he is not only a good artist but also an excellent producer. Initially, I had my own doubts whether Dhanush would be able to pull off a film like Kaala.”

If the veteran had observed his son-in-law more closely, he would have realised that it was no surprise. In a fairly short career as producer, Dhanush has proved himself to be gifted in aligning with the right stories. The stories do have a connection. Urban angst, a battle of the classes, the grimy stories beneath a rapidly developing city form the crux of films like Sullan (2004), Pudhupettai (2006), Polladhavan (2007), right down to the Velai Illa Pattadhaari series (2014-2018).

The 35-year-old actor will celebrate his birthday by releasing a magnum opus, a trilogy set in the crime infested part of Chennai city, Vada Chennai (North Chennai). Directed by Vetrimaaran, the film will track the rise of a national level carrom player (Dhanush) in the criminal underworld.

Incidentally, Vetrimaaran was one of director Balu Mahendra’s favourite assistants, and was also part of the Dhanush-starrer, Adhu Oru Kanak Kalam (2005). The experience is quite formative, as Dhanush revealed in an interview with Film Companion, “I started taking films seriously since then.”

Seems quite appropriate then that it was with this film he started forming a partnership with Vetrimaaran, who would be key in three major films in the actor’s career. The first of these was Polladhavan.

Dhanush, through Hansraj Saxena of Sun Pictures, met Kadiresan. "I also met Kadiresan and narrated the stories but he did not like Desiya Nedunchalai but liked Polladhavan and he agreed to do it,” said Vetrimaaran in an interview to behindwoods.com, an entertainment website.

The film, based on Vittorio De Sica’s iconic The Bicycle Thief (1948), revolved around the story of a young man’s search for his new bike which takes him deep into the criminal underworld of Chennai city.

While the comparisons to De Sica’s film are understandable (both revolve around the key plot device of the bike), Polladhavan is a lot more commercial. In the end, Dhanush’s hero walks away with the bike. While it did not have the Italian touch of neo-realism, the film did shape Vetrimaran’s own nascent idea of noir stories.

The next collaboration with Dhanush was Aadukalam (2011), which proved to be a fantastic decision. A sweeping epic story, the film trudged on themes of betrayal, revenge, greed, and crime wrapped around the unique underground sport of cock-fighting.

The film won six National awards, including Best Film, Best Actor (Dhanush) and Best Director (Vetrimaaran). It captured the director-actor’s affinity to characters that were set on the fringes of society, who were constantly fighting the tide to survive and emerge as winners.

Whether it is the young middle class protagonist of Polladhavan or the rowdy, cock-fighter from North Chennai in Aadukalam (2011), the hero is often a man taken for granted. It is his ideals, loyalty and courage that define his eventual rise. These traits are often common in a Tamil film hero, but the rawness with which Dhanush and Vetrimaaran portray them is what sets them apart. The realism, affection for the grimy nature of human behaviour, and the simmering anger beneath the surface are all characteristics to watch out for.

As an actor, Dhanush has grown since his early days as a lanky, thin Rajinikanth imitator. The actor has carved his own space in both, the commercial and independent cinema world. His collaborations with brother K Selvaraghavan, and Vetrimaaran, have proved influential in his career as producer as well.

By 2010, Dhanush had also turned producer with Wunderbar Films. Vetrimaaran followed soon with his Grasroot Films in 2013. Since then, the two have teamed up as producers with Kaaka Muttai (2016) and Visaranai (2016). Both films proved to be National award winners, the latter even went to the Oscars as India’s official entry.

With Vada Chennai, the director-actor duo have pushed their ambitions further. The film is a trilogy that traverses through 35 years in the life of their characters. It is set in the northern part of Chennai, also the location for several shoots of Aadukalam.

Although historically the region was a key business centre, it has since come to be known for violent gang wars and rising crime — perfect fodder for the duo.

On his 35th birthday, Dhanush might get few gifts as creative as an entire project with a filmmaker who has proved a key and effective partner.