Madras is a 2014 Tamil drama film written and directed by Pa. Ranjith. It stars Karthi, Catherine Tresa, and Kalaiyarasan. The film follows the journey of two rival political gangs as they attempt to take control of a wall in the heart of their community. No need to check what you just saw, you read that right.
I am a huge believer in the fact that great stories can come out of the most forgotten of settings. Tamil cinema, in general, works in stories of the downtrodden more often than not. I for one am not a huge fan of most of those films. They somehow seem reductive and have an insular point of view when it comes to their themes and message. A handful of movies break this stereotypical portrayal of the poor/lower middle class and Madras is one of those films. For me, it joins an illustrious company that includes the extremely excellent Aadukalam, Subramaniapuram, and a few others.
Why does Madras rise above its peers?
For one, it takes its time building its characters. I know Karthi is the big name lead man of the film but the film itself rarely moves into hero-worshipping territory as it offers ample screentime to Kalaiyarasan’s character. The dynamic shared between the duo and the equal importance of both characters to the story at large is fantastically realized. The film is so well narrated and sucked me into its world so well that for the first time in a long time, a film made me gasp at the screen when a certain pivotal moment was set in motion.
Pa. Ranjith stages tense scenes and fuels love stories like few others can. I am a huge believer in the quality of Kabali because of it. The chemistry Radhika Apte and Rajnikanth shared in that movie served as the highlight and emotional crux of the film. A person who understands that a little moment of chemistry forms the basis of romance is rare in the cinematic world. The instances of Kabali’s wife addressing him like a friend would, advising him about his clothing choices as he moves up in the world and treating him as an equal formed a formidable pairing.
Madras boasts of such eloquently executed moments of chemistry between the lead pair. The small joys of fighting with your significant other, showing weakness around them, involving one’s significant other in one’s decision making process etc show much more chemistry than any duet ever will. Kudos to the writer/director for his nous.
What stands head and shoulders above all the other brilliant parts of the film is the narrative on a whole. It’s films like these that have made me believe in any premise humanly conceivable. I remember the day I watched Aadukalam and joking to myself “A movie about rooster fighting. This’ll be rich” and now it’s one of my favorite films of all time. This film is about taking control of a wall. The narrative takes over from the premise and offers up a wholly three-dimensional view of the world that lower-middle class citizens occupy whilst not pandering to the demographic itself. It’s a risky high-wire act and the film pulls it off admirably. Lest I forget, the commentary made about politics, which is seemingly broad stroked, is scathing and though provoking.
The narrative is laced with a smart score, the characters are given consistent motivations to keep their behaviour up while never dropping off with logical outcomes, the shot selection, and sequencing is exquisite, the film never sacrifices on style even though the subject matter could carry the film on its able shoulders, there is just so much to like from the opening shot of the film. Yes, the film does suffer from a singular wholly unrealistic fight scene but that is a small price to pay to watch a film that could not be described by no adequate metaphor.