Friday, 19 October 2018

Everyone isn't rowdy in Vada Chennai

"Is this how we speak, work or live?", is the unanimous question people of north Madras raise against the makers of Vada Chennai, especially its director Vetri Maaran. Questioning the integrity and credibility of the ace director, there have been a lot of charges about the biased portrayal of the demography of the film’s plot.

Say, in a scene, one of the pivotal characters, Rajan (Ameer), takes his wife Chandra (Andrea) for their honeymoon to the middle of the ocean in a fishing boat. Likewise, the usage of a fishing boat is shown in various contexts like smuggling, hiding, fleeing after a murder and for drug-peddling. Nowhere in the movie, a fishing vessel is actually used for its purpose, fishing.

Like any other movie, except Madras and Vetri Maaran’s own Polladhavan, this first instalment of the Vada Chennai trilogy, too, has depicted the geography to be rugged, uncivilised, rustic and violent.

For instance, the protagonists of Madras and Polladhavan have a white-collar job – one works at an MNC, while the other is in the banking sector. In the case of Vada Chennai, none of the lead characters has a job, except for Anbu (Dhanush), who follows his passion to become a carrom player.

Even his love interest Padma (Aishwarya Rajesh), who is a tuition teacher by profession, is portrayed as a wholesale dealer of cuss words. The first word she has to say in her opening scene shows the perception of the writer about the women in the area.

I recently watched a  video released on Twitter in which a few people from the neighbourhood of north Chennai shared their thoughts on the movie. One of the youngsters in the video said, "If Vetri Maaran wants to make money, he can do that by making any kind of a film. But, not by degrading the people of an entire region."

Everyone in the video raised charges about the depiction of their locality. "As if all of us have weapons loaded in our bikes and are longing for bloodshed and violence," said another guy.

Similarly, founder-president of Tamilnadu Milk Dealers and Workers Association, Ponnusamy, in a statement has pointed out that, ‘Youth of the area have been shown in such a way that they do not respect their parents, they hang out with anti-social elements, fall in love even in school and kill anyone they hate. This is not the right way of film-making.’

In the note, he also has added that such films should not be released and theatre-owners and distributors should not cooperate with them.

However, there are also some aspects with which I can speak in favour of Vetri Maaran and crew. Seen in a wider perception, the movie was not about violence, but the struggles and obstacles people of the soil go through.

As of now, Vada Chennai is the first film of its kind that spoke about the right to life of north Chennai people. The Sagarmaala scheme, ideated by the Central Government has been in various forms of existence since the 1980's, and is a threat to coastal livelihood. And, Vada Chennai clearly speaks about that. Just for the sake of a very small group of corporate companies and capitalists, the government is widening roads to connect harbours across the country by encroaching upon and clearing a huge section of the fishing community. Personally, I cannot point out one Tamil movie that touched upon this issue in such detail.

Also, Vada Chennai is not that ‘everyone in north Madras is a rowdy’ but why they are made so. The character Rajan wants his area youth to be educated or become sportsmen. But, due to political interference, they are again and again roped into goondaism. Is this not the purpose of an art – to show what, why and how?

There are also claims that the area was actually like that before. “The movie is set in the late 1980s and 1990s. At the time it was not unusual for a major section of our area’s population to be rugged as shown in the film,” says a friend of mine who is a resident of Old Washermanpet.

He also says that the slang and usage of words will be like that and they do not see it as being filthy, but natural. “But now, we have changed a lot. There are many who take up white-collar jobs and people who are well-educated. For its time, Vada Chennai has been honest in terms of making,” Ponraj adds.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, October 19, 2018.

A part or complete version of this article by Santhosh Mathevan has appeared in This note is completely based on the perceptions of Santhosh Mathevan alone. This does not reflect the views of two or more people or a community. Queries and criticism shall be addressed to the writer only.