Vattaaram is probably the best example of the shift in the tone of gangster movies in Tamil cinema. When Saran made a movie with a rowdy as hero in 2002, it was Gemini, a complete masala entertainer with the familiar rowdy-with-heart-of-gold as hero, an over-the-top villain, diluted violence and large dollops of comedy, sentiments and romance. But Vattaaram, his return to the genre, is darker, has a larger canvas and features a protagonist painted in broader shades of gray. It is fast-paced and entertaining but also familiar. And Saran's unwillingness to go the whole way makes it less effective.
Ever since he was a boy, Burma(Arya) has nursed the ambition to be like Gurupaadham(Napolean), a rich, powerful dada and the ambition is now tinged with a desire for revenge since Burma's father was unjustly kicked out by Gurupaadham. Burma bides his time until he gets a chance to join Gurupaadham's gang and quickly becomes an important henchman. Gurupaadham's trusts him fully against the warnings of his liteunant Iraa('Kaadhal' Dhandapani) while Gurupaadham's daughter(Kiran Bhattal) falls for Burma too. But Burma hasn't forgotten his goal.
Vattaaram take awhile to get up to speed. With a number of characters, all played by new or relatively unknown actors, things even get a little confusing as we're not sure who loves whom. Contact between Arya and Kiran is also brought about in a rather convoluted way.
Revenge stories, where a son avenges what was done to his father, are a dime a dozen in Tamil cinema. But the path of the revenge is usually overt and straightforward. Even if the villain doesn't know the identity of the hero, he knows that the hero is gunning for him. But things are a little different here. Arya is part of Napolean's inner ring and is trusted by him but inwardly, he is constantly plotting Napolean's downfall and his own rise to that spot. So his actions have to be on the sly and that makes things interesting. The way he executes some of his plans(like the lorry accident) are clever and a couple of them are surprising even to us.
We've been used to Tamil cinema's heroes being good for a long time now and so any hero straying on the dark side automatically captures our interest. Arya here is one such hero. He knows what he wants and is willing to go to any lengths to achieve that. But Saran isn't ready to paint him completely black and so makes a couple of concessions. The story of Arya's dad feels tacked on just to give his actions a moral reason. Its like Saran thought that Arya couldn't be seen doing all he does just to take Napolean's place and so throws revenge into the mix. So though Arya is pretty coldblooded at a couple of places, it isn't as shocking because Arya has a motive. Similarly, Arya's romance with Kiran is not your everyday Tamil cinema romance. But the film's last line feels odd and erases the uniqueness that came before it.
Saran has never had much luck with comedy. The comedy sequences in his movies, usually involving the likes of Charlie, Dhamu and Vaiyapuri, are terrible and serve no purpose other than interrupting the flow of the movies and slowing down their pace. Here he employs Ramesh Khanna and Vaiyapuri but the results are the same. Ramesh Khanna has come funny comments when he tags along with Arya but his segments with Vaiyapuri, brought in on the pretext that they run a store, are plain bad. In fact, since the movie is less lighthearted than usual Saran efforts, the effect of the interruptions on the movie is more than usual.
Arya's weak voice is a real downer the first time we hear it. But he gradually makes us get over it. Thankfully, he isn't made to utter any punch dialogs. Kiran Bhattal appears to be another of those one-film heroines and doesn't make an impression. Napolean is dignified but his dialog delivery at times belies his high-class living. Adhisaya catches our eyes based solely on her dialog delivery. She is refreshingly casual when talking. Idhu Kaadhal Kaadhal... is a nice melodious number while Yaar Tharuvaar... plays as a nice situational song at a few places.