Madras Review – Class Act

After wearily trudging through the endless Sahara of trashy Tamil movies, I serendipitously discovered a welcome oasis in Madras (Karthi, Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan, Catherine Tresa, Rama, Ritwika et al).

Pa Ranjith directed the film based on his script (a claim that so far has not been disproved).

Like so many good films, Madras defies easy categorization and is impossible to pigeonhole.

Sure, Madras is a romance. Doubtless, it’s violent. Yes, it’s set within the political context of a sliver of Madras (the northern part of the city).

But this remarkable film is also so much more than the sum of its many pleasing parts.

Above all, Madras is a class act in realism seldom seen in a Kollywood populated mostly by thieves, butchers, pimps, sluts and halfwits.

Theft to Glory

Madras director Pa Ranjith started his climb to cinematic glory as a scatophagous Lavadai Kabal (asshole), who pocketed a good bit of money by acting as an accomplice to theft.

Ranjith was Associate Director of the Tamil hit Saroja, an outrageous ripoff of the Hollywood film Judgment Night that a rabid mutt named Venkat Prabhu purloined and, in a Brobdingnagian lie, claimed as his own creation.

In fairness to Pa Ranjit, stealing mongrels are not rare in the Tamil film business. Kamal Haasan, Venkat Prabhu, Murugadoss and Surya Sivakumar (Karthi’s older brother) are just a handful of Kollywood swines who handsomely profited from theft and rode the gravy train to wealth and fame.

Look beyond the facade of most Tamil success stories in tinseltown, and you’ll quickly spot a shadowy trail of grand theft. 🙁

Beauty of Madras

Madras, the city, is a sprawling cesspool whose claim to fame is its gut-stirring emetic graveolent odor.

The South Indian metropolis is also a Darwinian hellhole habited by countless varlets who have made the rough and tumble the regular idiom of the place.

In one hellish nook of North Madras (a place I once called home) marked by a distinct lingo, live Kaali (Karthi), Anbu (Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan) and their friends. Their lives are marked by the usual antics of youths – work, fun, frolic on the playground, dreaming of love and girls and strong alignment with a local political group.

The area is also home to a decades-old rivalry between two politicians (and after they shuffle off between their descendants) over control of a tall wall.

The wall stands as a proxy for control of the area.

Who controls the wall turns this pig sty of North Madras into his political fiefdom.

Fight for the wall by rival groups and the actions of the local youngsters form the backdrop for the engaging narrative Pa Ranjith weaves in the script that he penned.

A narrative punctuated in turns by tender love, insane bursts of fury, touching friendship, gory violence and tragic betrayal yields a ton of joy to the patient viewer.

The violence never seems gratuitous, the love story never sappy. And the betrayal is inevitable in a foul culture that publicly preaches service to society while privately embracing hedonism.

Karthi and Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan are superb in their respective roles as is Cathering Tresa, who in her first Tamil film demonstrates the easy confidence of a veteran.

Pleasing background music and fine camera work are the icing on Madras.

I was delighted with the unpredictable course of the film. Just when I was certain of what’s coming next, the story went off in a completely different, albeit still plausible, direction.

Actors are only as good as the director who elicits spontaneous, natural performances from his cast.

It’s a testament to Ranjith’s talent that he draws out superb performances from Karthi, Catharine Tresa, Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan, Rama, Ritwika and the rest of the cast. Their performances ought to be the benchmark by which other Tamil actors are measured in future.

Must Watch

Madras is one of the finest Tamil movies to emerge out of the Augean stables of Kollywood in recent years. One of the best these ol’ eyes have seen in a long time.

In a rara avis for a Tamil film, every single person associated with Madras has thrown his/her heart and soul into the film making for an utterly delightful end product. is thrilled to recommend Madras to all those who have a passion for classy Tamil movies.

Not to encourage fine movies like Madras is an unpardonable act of dereliction for Kollywood fans.

Madras is the exceptional Tamil film whose director Pa Ranjith has sloughed off his thiruttu lavadai kabal skin for a classy reboot.

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