On one side, Madras has a lot going for it - a gritty, realistic setting of a lower middle class housing colony in North Chennai, some great attention to detail in its production design, interesting and well-fleshed out characters and above all the wonderful use of the main wall and the location, making them equally important characters in the film. On the other end, however, the film disappointingly falls up short, as on the story level, in spite of a few fine moments, it is ultimately little more than a fairly routine revenge tale.
While the narrative flow does have some edge of the seat moments, most of its larger plot points play out predictably. They fail therefore to have the kind of impact they should have had when they are revealed as big plot twists. While the first half of the film moves briskly enough to establish slices of life in the housing colony (well-done it has to be said), the film moves very little on the plot side and in the second half, when the plot does take over, the film goes downhill as a lot of it is typical. All the early realism goes for a toss, as finally the hero has to bash up the gang of baddies single-handedly. The so-called novel inter-cutting between the fight scene and a football match looks plain silly and gimmicky. Incidentally, the film tells us Kaali is a techie but barring one small scene of him having lunch with a colleague, and one shot of him walking in front of a glass building which we assume is his office, he is conveniently forever in the colony no matter what time of day or night. All the film needed was to stage a couple of scenes around his work place to integrate it coherently into the narrative and then judiciously use it in a key plot point or two but...
The other issue with the film is the performance of its leads. Karthi does carry the film to a certain extent and it is one of his better performances, no doubt, after his recent duds. That said, he is obviously acting and is as usual OTT for most portions of the film. He also doesn't jell in with the rest of his group or family, very clearly the sophisticated star in the middle of others. Though characterized well with a smart head on her shoulders, Catherine Resa fails to make much of an impression. She is pretty but not strong enough as an actor and her romantic track with the hero, though integral to the plot, is one of the weaker segments of the film, bringing about a big lull in its narrative flow.
Of the supporting cast, Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan scores extremely well as the politician wannabe, Anbu, as does Rithwika in the role of his wife, who has to bear the brunt of his political aspirations. Hari as Johnny has a crowd pleasing, playing-to-the-gallery character, which he makes the most of, even if on the louder side.
The technicalities help the film lift a notch or two be it the evocative camerawork with some fantastic on-location filming, the rousing background score or the sharp editing that by and large keeps things moving at a brisk pace. The romantic songs in the second half though, tend to slow down the narrative and are not particularly special in their picturisation either. The only song that deserves a mention is the one following Anbu's death.
Fortunately for Madras (and most of our other mainstream films), our audiences (and many of our critics) are actually fairly easy to please. The novelties of the positives are taken as great filmmaking and the odd innovative moment or 'different' treatment of a scene is enough for the film to appear fresh to them. The film has got rave reviews in this regard and was looking to have a good, solid run at the box office. How much the bigger plot twist outside the film - that of the Chief Minister's arrest - affects normal life and the cinema halls, which shut down yesterday evening in Tamil Nadu now remains to be seen.