Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu is a police story that places emphasis on brain rather than brawn. It is an involving police procedural that handles a different subject(for Tamil cinema) in a different way(again, for Tamil cinema) and is a worthy follow-up to Kaakka Kaakka for Gautham.
Raghavan(Kamalhassan), a DCP (Crime Branch) in Chennai, is brought in by his friend Arokiaraj (Prakashraj), whose daughter has been brutally raped and killed. With almost no clues to what seems like a random killing, Raghavan is forced to bid a sad goodbye to Arokiaraj and his wife, who leave for New York to try and forget the past. But another tragic news takes Raghavan to New York, where he works with NYPD to apprehend some killers. Meanwhile, he meets Aradhana(Jyothika), who stays in the same hotel, and becomes good friends with her.
VV is probably the closest Tamil cinema has come to a real police procedural. Kamal finds his targets with real, painstaking police work rather than easy-to-find clues or obvious witnesses. We are with him every step of the way as he questions witnesses, uncovers clues and puts the pieces of the puzzle together. We understand his dedication and the scene where he listens to his own notes on the Dictaphone is an insightful glimpse into how he works. But Gautham cheats when its time to put the final pieces together. He connects the initial dots patiently but as he nears the final dots, he relies on the cop’s instinct or coincidence or the bad guys’ bravado to finish the picture.
VV has a protagonist and a villain who are equally matched and nowhere is this more evident that in the tense one-on-one encounter they share in an apartment. Balaji’s psychotic desperation and Kamal’s never-say-die attitude make their meeting fascinating and it is never clear meeting who the hunter and the hunted are. It is a tense, thrilling scene whose rawness and intensity is not in evidence at any other point in the film.
The film is essentially one long chase as Kamal tries to first uncover and then nab, one or more serial killers. Initially, his pursuit seems real as he grasps at straws in his chase of the men, who are little more than ghosts to him. His MO is interesting and the excitement is palpable when he gets closer to them. But as the chase nears the end, the proceedings become more cinematic with the killers indulging in very cinematic activities like moving in and out of disguises and taunting Kamal. It is definitely good movie making with the proceedings being tense and intense. It just doesn’t deliver on the cerebral promise the movie made when it started.
Almost the opposite happens in the relationship between Kamal and Jyothika While we’ve met characters who grow on us in other movies, here’s a relationship that grows on us. The initial meeting between Kamal and Jyothika is straight out of romance novels with a damsel in distress and her knight in shining armor. Their relationship from then on is built almost completely on coincidences (they even manage to get out of their hotel rooms at the same moment!). But it is developed in a way that pushes even the serial killer to the background. Their tentativeness beautifully reflects the heavy baggage each of them is carrying. The two share some wonderful conversations and even more wonderful silences.
One feels that even Gautham understood this shift in importance of the two relationships as the movie proceeds. So, what was a serial killer story with a romance thrown in, becomes a romance with a serial killer sidetrack! While stories about serial killers always throw in a twist or two, it is the Kamal-Jyothika track that gives us a bigger surprise here. The time afforded to Kamal and Jyothika increases as the movie proceeds and in the end, the relationship between Kamal and Balaji is terminated quite abruptly while the closure to Kamal’s relationship with Jyothika takes a lot longer.
It is almost a pleasure to see Kamal looking like Kamal instead of being hidden under layers of makeup or having a different hairstyle or getup for the sake of being different. I’m not sure if the bags under his eyes in the close-ups and the noticeable paunch under his tucked-in shirt are intentional but they do help make him look the part of a middle-aged cop. He plays the part with the dignity it deserves and underplays his emotions. Jyothika once again proves that Gautham brings out the best in her, with probably her best role since Kaakka Kaakka. She displays a quietness that one never knew was a part of her. Kamalini Mukherjee makes a mark in the criminally short time she is onscreen. But it is Balaji who is the scene stealer as the killer. Going against the recent trend of quietly chilling villains, he rants and raves and brings to life, a detestable character. Prakashraj is quietly impressive in a cameo.
The cinematography plays a big part in giving a classy, slick sheen to the proceedings. The Karkka Karkka… number scares us about camera tricks being overused but such opulent visual flourishes are limited to the song sequences. While Paartha Mudhal Naale… is the most romantic number, Manjal Veiyil… is the most attractive visually, with the camera taking us on a tour of New York at night (Gautham shows up in the latter, dancing to the Vennilave… bit). Uyirile… occurs at a rather unexpected but emotional moment and so the picturization is not what I expected at all. Neruppe… is an unnecessary item number that Gautham could well have avoided.