To nobody’s surprise, filmmaker Vetrimaaran’s latest movie with Dhanush, Asuran opened to thunderous response from both critics and audiences alike. The film also entered the 100-crore club at the box office within 10 days of its release (October 4), becoming the first Dhanush film to achieve this feat.
Over the last decade, Vetrimaaran has cemented his reputation in the film industry as one of the most interesting filmmakers Kollywood has to offer. The director is only five films old and all of them have managed to attain the cult status in their own light.
This certainly is not an easy thing to achieve. But the success of early Vetrimaaran films could be attributed to Dhanush. Both National Award winners, it is no secret that the duo share a very close working relationship. Apart from Visaranai (which was produced by Dhanush’s banner, Wunderbar films), the actor was the lead in all the other Vetrimaaran films, namely Polladhavan, Aadu Kaalam, Vada Chennai and Asuran.
The filmmaker and actor have complimented each other’s growth in the industry over the course of 12 years. Let’s trace their journey and try to see why their combination never fails to work.
Vetrimaaran first met Dhanush on the sets of the late director Balu Mahendran’s Adhu Oru Kana Kaalam in 2005 where Vetrimaaran worked as an assistant. Two years later, Vetrimaaran wrote Polladhavan for Dhanush. The actor immediately agreed and the film became a huge hit.
Following the success of Polladhavan, Vetrimaaran waited another four years before his next release, Aadukalam in 2011. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that this film was going to win accolades. Dhanush was phenomenal in a role which required him to play an underling to a cockfighting legend in Madurai. Aadukalam went on to win six awards at the 58th National Film Awards, including Best Director and Best Actor for Vetrimaaran and Dhanush, respectively.
Keeping Visaranai aside for the moment, Vada Chennai and even, Asuran, are commercial movies. They stand out as “quality films” despite its massy approach. In Vada Chennai, we are taken straight to the seedy, underbelly of the slums of north Chennai. Asuran, on the other hand, is about the struggle and loss of a poor family against the exploitative rich. Both the films are violent, but there is no glorification. They are blunt, forthright and all elements of the film, be it the background music, cinematography or editing, work in harmony to push the story forward. Vetrimaaran’s genius shines in moments like this.
Visaranai was released in 2015 without making any noise and lacked any sort of commercial aspect. Once you watch the film, you understand why. Visaranai is a difficult watch. It chronicles the journey of three immigrants who are falsely accused of a robbery and then tortured by the police. They are stuck in an unforgiving space and every punch from the cops resounds in the theatre. The film’s appeal lies in its brute reality. When Vetrimaaran went to Dhanush with this script, he told the actor that the film will only run for three days. Dhanush backed the project anyway and the film went on to become India’s official entry to the Oscars that year. This is the amount of confidence the actor and director have on each other and this camaraderie reflects on screen, with every film.
Even though Dhanush was evolving and growing as an actor while working on different kinds of movies, Vetrimaaran’s successes set him up as a formidable director. But he is not someone who likes to capitalise on his fame immediately. On many occasions, the filmmaker has gone on record to talk about how he likes making films at his own pace, hence the gaps between each film, except for Asuran, which he had to make on a deadline. Vetrimaaran has said that it was a taxing, emotional experience for him and he doesn’t intend to do it again.
The director has been vocal about wanting to make films that highlight the lives of the marginalised and the forgotten classes of society. In fact, the name of his banner, Grass Roots Productions, is an extension of that ideology. The fact that he handles the story and the characters with great care is evident in all his films. There are no“heroes” in Vetrimaaran movies, only characters.
Vetrimaaran’s approach to cinema is different because it is unapologetic. In Asuran, there is a scene where a school girl is being humiliated and beaten for wearing slippers. It is an uncompromising and honest scene, sure to make you uncomfortable but that’s exactly how Vetrimaaran wants you to feel. The execution of such scenes are a Testament to his writing skills. After all, he calls himself a writer, and not a director.
After 12 years and five quality films, there seems to be two things you can expect from a Vetrimaaran film – excellent writing and equally excellent performances to boot. Very few director/actor tandem in Kollywood works as well as Vetrimaaran and Dhanush. It’s very reminiscent of the combination of Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro. One can only hope the duo continues to enrich us with brilliant cinema for years to come.