Kaala and Kabali opened debates as to whether they were Rajinikanth or Pa Ranjith films. Many found the films neither there nor here. Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu suffers from a similar problem. However, this isn’t about the debate of whether it’s director Gautham Menon’s film or Star Silambarasan’s film. The confusion is whether it belongs to Gautham or the film’s writer, Jeyamohan. It’s a much better problem because here at last is a mainstream Tamil film with a star who trusts his writer. If the trust had lasted until the end of the film, Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu would have become an incredible gangster story. Unfortunately, what begins as a slice-of-life drama about a directionless “protagonist” ends in a generic and hasty gangster drama about a “hero”.
There’s a lot about Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu that sets it apart from typical gangster movies, like its story, or should I say its lack. That doesn’t mean it’s as headstrong as Gautham’s earlier ventures like Enai Noki Paayum Thota and Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada. There is a well known story here about a guy named Muthu from a small village in southern Tamil Nadu who later becomes a gangster in Mumbai, but it is not told in a familiar structure that the Tamil mainstream is used to. The hero takes a back seat here, while the screenplay and writer take the helm.
When we meet Muthu (Silmabarasan at his best), he’s shirtless and toiling away on his firewood farm under the scorching sun. The village postman is talking to Muthu. Before leaving, he lights his beedi and assures Muthu that his dead father will show him “a way” from above. Minutes later the whole farm is on fire. With his only livelihood destroyed, Muthu and his mother decide to seek the help of a relative who works in a Mumbai hotel. A “path” is born. You see, like many mainstream movies, fire is involved in the hero’s introductory scene, but it’s not what we’re used to.
The best thing about Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu is the characterization of Muthu. There is something heroic about Muthu’s journey, but not heroism. It’s realistic, but there’s something mystical about it. His mother wants him out of the village because a fortune teller said that he will draw blood if he stays in the village. The dialogues are also biblical. When Muthu decides to start his journey to Mumbai, his mother says, “Thikathavangalukku saami thunai irukum (For the directionless person, God will help). Muthu replies: “Saami illana pei (it is God or the devil). That one line sounded more heroic than the numerous roaring background scores. Maybe that’s why we have a reserved AR Rahman here, who allows silence and dialogue to work in many places.
Unfortunately, all the great things about Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu lose their charm as the film nears the end. It feels like the film was written by two minds. The film feels different when it’s all about Muthu, and the moment Siddhi Idnani steps in as his love interest Paavai, we find ourselves in a very different film. In fact, it’s the “GVM-Simbu” zone that is at odds with the realistic and grounded tone of the rest of the film. It’s garish and undermines the lifelike nature of the film. Even if one is willing to overlook such tonal contradictions, the ending of Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu is shockingly incoherent. The film had a great ending to be honest, but someone seems to have changed their mind and want to get more out of the film to keep up with the current trend of “universe” building and sequels. This has only led to a confusing climax that undoes all the great achievements of Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu. A shame.