The films heavy mood and its length 165 minutes, especially in the first half (95 minutes) is bit of a dampener. The entire feel of the film and its narration basically the romantic thread could well be Kollywood’s answer to James Cameron’s classic epic Titanic. The heroism and the crucial crux of the film where the white man (villain) challenges the local (hero) into a wrestling bout with price money being the land where the locals work, seems to be inspired from Ashutosh Gowarikar’s all time great Lagaan.
However having said that, Madrasapattinam is something different from the normal run of the mill Tamil movies. Vijay and his team of art director V Selva Kumar, cinematographer Nirav Shah and music director GV Prakash have done a brilliant job of recreating Madras of the 1940’s and his lead actors Arya and Amy Jackson are extraordinary.
The film continuously shifts from the present to the pre-independence Madras, as the whole story is recollection of an 84 year old Amy Wilkinson (Amy Jackson) now living in England and waiting for a brain surgery. Just before the operation she flies into Chennai with her grand daughter to search for one Ilamparithi.
In a flashback we are told that Amy was the daughter of the last Governor of Madras Presidency Wilkinson. Amy falls in love with Parithi (Arya), a local wrestler and dhobi who lives on the banks of the river Coovum in Guindy village, which was then the ‘dhobhi ghat’ (Washermans village) area in Madras.
The British wants to built a golf course at the place where the dhobi’s reside, which is strongly objected by the villagers led by Parithi. Amy has a British suitor, a soldier whom her step mom and dad approves, but her heart goes out to the “brave man” Parithi who stood up for the villagers against the might of her father’s men.
Amy falls madly in love with Parithi and for his sake learns Tamil, which impresses our hero who calls her affectionately ‘Durai Amma’ In the last days of the British Raj, the Governor of Madras finds his daughter hopelessly in love with the local dhobi. The Governor on the eve of the Indian Independence packs her off to London via the Grand Trunk Express to Delhi, to catch the flight to England. The governor is clear – “I would like to have you dead rather than consort with an Indian.”
Cut to present day Chennai- On the last day of her stay in Chennai a very sick Amy in search of Parithi discovers the startling truth.
It is an out and out Amy Jackson show. She is simply amazing to deliver lines in Tamil, and is one good reason to see the film. It is an awe-inspiring portrayal by Arya as the brave heart Parithi, while the supporting cast of Nasser, Balasingh, MS Bhaskar and Omar are excellent.
A special word, about the late Cochin Haneefa who as Iyer the British stooge and translator brings the house down. His pose when the box camera in the film is focused on him is hilarious; the comedy and soft romance has been well worked out.
GV Prakash music and back ground score and the theme music gives it a soothing touch. The pick of the songs are the romantic Pookal Pookkum.. and Vaama Duraiyamma…, beautifully picturised against Madras landmarks of that era. The de-saturated look given by Nirav Shah and costumes are major plus points of this period film.
Lavishly mounted and recreating the era with precision, Madrasapattinam gets you transported to the last days of the British rule in India. To sum up, the film is a brave attempt on the part of its makers.
Verdict- Above Average