Film: "Madras"; Cast: Karthi, Catherine Tresa Alexander, Imman Annachi, Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan, Rama, Jaya Rao, Vinod, Nandakumar, Ritwika; Director: P. Ranjith; Rating: ****
Very few filmmakers can turn an ordinary tale of politics, friendship and revenge into a masterpiece. Ranjith is one such filmmaker and his "Madras" is probably the best audiences can get from Tamil cinema this year.
It might be a statement too early to make with three more months left in the year, but not when you go by the standard the industry has set with its films so far.
"Madras" gives us a realistic peek into the lives of middle-class families in a housing board in Vysarpadi, north Madras. It's so realistic that at one point you feel like getting up from your seat and walking through the screen to join the actors, especially when they are playing football, carrom or trying to help Karthi woo his girlfriend.
It's so realistic that it's impossible to get convinced that most of the actors are facing the camera for the first time, yet you sit straight and take notice of their flawless acting.
As cliched as it is to narrate a story from the perspective of the poor and a common man, which has been done to death, "Madras" still has something refreshingly appealing, thanks to Ranjith, who brings into the perspective all facets of life in north Madras.
The heroine, for instance, is far different than how her counterparts are usually portrayed on screen. She's extremely independent and doesn't easily fall for anyone. She has the courtesy to let people stalk her because she thinks it's their freedom, but also has the courage to slap when someone crosses the line. It's a rare character to find in such a milieu because usually women from these areas are portrayed strangely. She even plays an important role in transforming Kaali (Karthi) when he yearns for revenge.
"Madras" is not just about the people in the locality where it's shot. It's also about how politicians use their egos to leverage on the lives of common people and provoke them to promote the culture of violence, which is prevalent in the state even today. And what happens when an ordinary man named Kaali, a techie, decides to strip these leaders of their powers to avenge the death of his friend by his political opponents.
The wall, which becomes the bone of contention, is the best character you could've seen in Tamil cinema this year. Many would've wondered how Ranjith could possibly use a wall to narrate his story, but boy could he do it any better. He surprises with twists at several important junctures. When you highly anticipate the death of a character, it sure doesn't happen. But it happens when you are least expecting it, leaving you totally dumbstruck.
After a series of duds, Karthi's brave attempt has paid off. His performance is easily his next best after his National award winning debut "Paruthiveeran". Ranjith deserves special mention for unleashing the actor who has been dormant inside Karthi, who rises like a phoenix from the ashes in the film. He is backed by actors like Ilavarasan, Hari and Ritwika, who steal the show with their sincere performances. Ilavarasan as Karthi's friend is a far better actor than most Tamil cinema's heroes.
Santosh's music has by now become an integral part of all his films. It goes without saying how important his contribution has become to elevate the overall cinematic experience. He takes "Madras" to a new level with his background score.
Mostly shot at night, cinematographer Murali's work is commendable, particularly in the action sequences with minimum light. Editor Praveen's cuts are becoming sharper with every film and he too contributes greatly to the film's overall experience.
Can a film be made any more realistic? "Madras" will dare filmmakers to attempt it.