Vetrimaran's basic inspiration is the 1948 Italian classic The Bicycle Thief, directed by the master director, the late Vittorio De Sica, and is considered by critics' world over to be an all time masterpiece. Vetri has taken the thread of the film, of a working class guy, who has been unemployed for a long time and lives in poverty and is given a job on the condition that he must have a bicycle. He pawns the family linen and buys the bicycle, which unfortunately gets stolen on his first day of work. He goes all round Rome trying to trace the stolen cycle, as the police are unwilling to help. It is a brilliant film of the ruined post-war Italy, and pulls at your heartstrings and tells the story of a nice man who feels the pangs of guilt that he cannot support his family.
Similarly Polladhavan is about a happy, straightforward, unemployed young man Prabhu (Dhanush), living a lower middle class life in a slum in Vadapalani- Saligramam area of Chennai whose dream is to own the ultimate status symbol of the youth- a Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle! His family consisting of a disciplinarian and strict father (Malayalam actor Murali), loving mother (Bhanupriya) and sister blame his friends (Karnas and Santhanam) for their son's wayward life. One day Prabhu is found stealing money from his father who in a fit of rage throws Rs 70,000 at him, his life savings when he is accused by his son that he has not done anything for him!
Prabhu, buys a black Bajaj Pulsar with the money and shows off in front of his girlfriend Hema (Divya). He is able to get a job in a bank as collection agent, only because he owns a two-wheeler. Suddenly he realizes the job and the bike has given him respectability in the society he lives in. His father now looks on him with certain amount of respect, his girl friend starts adoring him and takes him home, introduces him to her parents and they talk of marriage, all this was unthinkable a few weeks back!
Then the story takes a twist as Prabhu's life gets intervened with that of the dreaded don Selva (Kannada actor Kishore) and his psychotic younger brother Ravi (Daniel Balaji), who runs the local drug mafia. One thing leads to another and Prabhu is shattered as his life's most priced procession, the pulsar bike gets stolen and he loses his job and mental peace, as he starts a hunt to trace the stolen bike! All this leads to a stunning climax inside a freezing ice factory.
Obviously, Vetrimaran has been influenced by the classic, which he has Tamilised and set in a lower middle class Chennai milieu, added Kollywood masala, stylistically shot with video footage, moodily lit interiors, authentic locations, top line performances from the entire cast including the junior artists, music video style songs and picturisation, and knockout action scenes are some of the high-points of this racy entertainer. G.V Prakash's music and background score makes the film peppy. The soft romantic number Minnalgal Koothadum is the pick of the album while Engayum… the remix is peppy.
On the downside in the second half there is relentless killing, and the cat and mouse game between Dhanush and Daniel becomes repetitive after a point. The censors have butchered the film and due to the cuts, abrupt ending of scenes and muting of dialogues makes it jarring. Happily on the acting front, Vetri has been able to extract life like performances from his actors.
Dhanush is first-rate, opting for a restrained mode. As Prabhu, he is so- hot-'n'-cool, that you can feel the fire-'n'-ice within. His six-pack abs and the way he fights like Bruce Lee in the climax, is riveting! Kishore the guy who comes as the level headed don Selva is expressive and has a great future in Tamil cinema. Daniel Balaji is impressive as Ravi, the envy-ridden brother of Selva. And the glamorous Divya is super, so completely immersed in her character that she takes your breath away with her expressive eyes. Murali and Bhanupriya are adequate, while Karnas, Santhanam and Anju ( as Selva’s wife) shine in their well-etched out characters.
Evidently the director is influenced by the Quentin Tarantino type violent gangster movies, with raw human emotions. But where he has succeeded is his characterization of his protagonist, the typical middle class cravings for good things in life and his research of Chennai's mean streets, especially the scenes showing how bikes are stolen and transported out of the country! On the whole, with all its ups and downs, Polladhavan is racy and worth a look.