Vettai: Madhavan is Just a Big Old Teddy Bear, Isn’t He?

This was such a cute movie!  Everyone was just so nice to each other and supportive and not mean.  Even all the family dynamics that in another movie would be the source of much drama and trauma were just kind of laughed off.  By the movie, but also by the characters.  No lingering resentments or quest for vengeance, just a sort of “well, that’s how they are and that’s fine.” kind of attitude.

First, it is so odd to me that this was a Tamil movie and not a Telugu one!  There’s a noble cop, an evil bad guy, lots of awesome fight scenes and sexy women, clearly it is supposed to be Telugu!  Although, I did find the characters slightly deeper and there was a little more time spent on relationships, both romantic and familial, than in the Telugu movies I have seen.  So maybe that was the Tamil touch?

My favorite part about this movie is the sibling relationships, both the sisters and the brothers.  My big sister and I are super super close, so one of my favorite things about Indian movies is that they actually privilege the sibling relationship, instead of just ignoring it like most American films.  And even the most basic social roles version of siblings still has a kernel of truth to it, yes the older one is always more responsible and protective and giving, and the younger one is always more respectful and subservient.  That’s not just “how it’s supposed to be”, that’s how it usually is with big and little siblings!

(Greatest big-little sibling scene in film history.  Unless I am forgetting something.  But no, pretty sure this is it!)

But what I really love is movies like this that take the basic “big brother-little brother” dynamic and question it a little.  What if the little brother always fights to defend the big brother?  Does that mean he is in charge?  Does that mean he is disrespectful?  Does it mean the big brother doesn’t care and try to protect him?  No!  Of course not!  It just means it happens in a different way.

The same with the sister pair in this (although to a lesser degree, because we don’t see as much of them).  If the big sister is less loving and motherly and warm, and more fierce and spicy, does that mean she has any less responsibility for her little sister?  And if the little sister is the softer, gentler, more “feminine” one, does that mean she can’t also be a little wild and naughty and teasing?

That’s the deep relationship stuff, but purely in terms of the “action movie” stuff, it’s got a great hook!  What if the honest cop had a goon to do all his dirty work just like the mob chief does?  What if the role of “hero cop” was split between two brothers, one of whom is honest and decent and law-abiding, while the other is really really good in a fight?  And there’s even the sort of situational humor to it, that everyone looks down on Arya for being such a lazy coward, unlike his hero brother, little knowing that he is the real hero!  It’s just a really clever idea all around.

There’s a bit of the same joke with the romantic relationships.  With the aggressive older sister being completely respectful and subservient to her husband, and the “sweet” young sister being the aggressor in her romantic relationship.  While the outside world assumes the opposite would be the case.

I also like how the alliances between the main 4 leads were constantly changing depending on the circumstances, that felt very real to an actual family.  Sometimes Madhavan sides with his wife, sometimes with his brother.  Sometimes Amala Paul sides with her big sister, sometimes with her boyfriend Arya.  Sometimes the two brothers side together against the two sisters.  There was no straight line of “and now they all have to trick this one person!”, it would change scene by scene as to who was being tricked.

Okay, now I have reached the point where I need to go into spoilers to talk about the rest.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

 

We establish right from the beginning that Madhavan, the big brother, is a coward and Arya, the little brother, is the fighter.  Not only do we see little Arya defend little Madhavan in a neighborhood fight, we also see that Madhavan sobs and sobs because he can’t stand to watch Arya be punished, that’s how much a coward he is.  And the same is true when they are grown, Arya is constantly getting into fights while Madhavan stands back and watches in fear.

But, I still like Madhavan!  Partly because, you know, it’s Madhavan!  How can you not!  But also because the film manages to show a few flaws in Arya too.  He has no job, he is ALWAYS getting into fights, he seems to have little ability to think things through or be responsible.  I mean, he is mostly perfect, but the tiny little areas where he is lacking are exactly the areas where Madhavan shines.

What I really like is that, through out the film, both brothers are so honest and open with each other.  They discuss every decision and just assume their lives are forever entwined.  It is always a question of “what are we going to do?” not “what are you going to do?”

And so, when their father dies, it just makes sense that they would immediately leap on the idea of “we” becoming a police officer.  Madhavan can provide the clean record and proper demeanor, Arya will provide the muscle.  And they can both live off the salary.

Later, they act the same way about Madhavan’s marriage, having an open discussion about what Madhavan should do next in his life.  Arya argues that Sameera Reddy is the perfect girl for him, because she will be forthright and outspoken and balance his natural timidity.  Madhavan agrees, and so the marriage is set.  It’s a little odd, because Arya and Sameera are the ones who get the meet cute, not Sameera and Madhavan, but that kind of makes sense.  Because Madhavan and Arya are so much one person, a meet cute for Arya is almost the same as a meet cute for Madhavan, since he will experience it through Arya.

(Also, their wedding song is awesome)

I like the argument that Sameera will balance Madhavan, because what I don’t think is directly said, is that she will balance Madhavan because she is so much like Arya.  And, in contrast, Amala Paul will balance Arya because she is like Madhavan!  Both couples are made up of one fearless outspoken type, and when more retiring and accommodating follower.

On the other hand, both couples do break down evenly into the two who are more mental and the two who are more physical.  While Madhavan and Sameera do get their wedding night scene and clearly like each other “that way”, their romance is more about making a reasoned decision based on what they know of the other person’s personality.  Where as Arya and Amala Paul are all about the physical.  He first notices her when he accidentally sees her naked, she first notices him even before that, just seeing him from a distance and thinking him handsome.  Their flirtation continues with many stolen touches and glances and culminates in a kiss, and an awesome song sequence that is all about wanting to touch each other.

 

Actually, they get more song sequences in general than the other couple.  I think because they are the “filmi” couple.  She is sexy and willing, he is violent and aggressive, it’s the typical action hero and heroine.  So of course, they get the song numbers and flirty scenes and all that as well.

But on the other hand, there’s Madhavan.  Who goes out and gets a job and supports the household.  And is a little afraid of his wife.  And has an arranged marriage.  And Sameera Reddy, who also has an arranged marriage.  And a sharp tongue.  And is more likely to show affection through cooking an elaborate breakfast than wearing a sexy outfit.  They have a great relationship, don’t get me wrong (I love how post-marriage all of Sameera’s aggression funnels into defending her husband, just like Arya said it would), but it isn’t exactly the usual “filmi” relationship.

I know the relationship part is what fascinated me, but it isn’t really the point of the film.  The point of the film is more about the fight scenes, which are EXCELLENT!  Many many great set-pieces, Arya being kidnapped since he is the “weak” brother, and proceding to beat up all his kidnappers.  Madhavan finally learning to stand up for himself when he is trapped inside an enclosed tennis court and crawling over the top.  And, of course, massive fight at the end when their home (and two wives) are threatened.

And the fights do kind of have a point to them.  Through out the film, Madhavan’s cowardice is treated not so much as a weakness as simply a character trait.  Arya is never scared, he doesn’t have it in him.  And Madhavan always has been, that’s just how he is.  So in the end, when Madhavan finally does learn to fight, it’s because he learns to get past his fear, to overcome it.  He learns there is something he cares about more than being afraid.  While Arya has always fought just to fight, Madhavan is only inspired to the fight when he has a purpose for it.  They aren’t just “awesome fight scenes”, they are also character moments.  Heck, even the whole cool set up of the cowardly brother being the face of the police force and the other brother being the muscle is a character beat.  Waaaaaaaaaay at the end, Arya claims he only suggested this plan thinking it would eventually force Madhavan to be brave.

And even Arya gets his purpose in the end.  Sameera keeps nagging him to get a job and stop living off his brother.  And she does kind of have a point.  Not the one she thinks he is making, that he is being lazy and worthless, because of course in reality he is working with his brother.  But that he does need his own goal, separate from his brother, that he has been hiding behind Madhavan in some ways, using Madhavan’s achievements as an excuse for himself to achieve nothing.  Only when Madhavan is finally able achieve on his own, does Arya feel driven (in the ending tag) to get his own official position as well.

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15 thoughts on “Vettai: Madhavan is Just a Big Old Teddy Bear, Isn’t He?

  1. So glad you enjoyed it! This one is one of my favorite surprises that my neighbor bought me in Chennai. I’m so glad she gave it to me, because I had never even heard about it before. And it’s so fun to see Madhavan act in his native Tamil. He just seems freer and more natural. AND he has great brotherly chemistry with Arya.

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    • I saw the Hindi version in theaters (my review/summary should be somewhere in the archives) but not the Tamil. I know they are supposed to be identical except for the language, but I wonder if just speaking in a language they are more comfortable in changed the performances at all?

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      • I have the Ambe Sivan Tamil but haven’t watched it yet. I hear it’s really good. On Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 7:43 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

        > mredlich21 commented: “I saw the Hindi version in theaters (my > review/summary should be somewhere in the archives) but not the Tamil. I > know they are supposed to be identical except for the language, but I > wonder if just speaking in a language they are more comfortable in chan” >

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      • Madhavan is comfortable in Tamil and Hindi, since he grew up speaking both. The girl who played the boxer speaks only Hindi, so she was dubbed by someone else in Tamil. Of the supporting cast, some were dubbed, some were not. I don’t think it really makes a difference to the performance of seasoned professionals.

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  5. I have this problem with Madhavan movies, that I’m not able to focus when he is on screen. And in Vettai he is just too cute to handle. I love how he changed from shy, coward guy to super confident and sexy policeman. I really liked Arya too, and the relationship both brother have. But I wish story would be more about relationships, about how they felt in love with the sisters etc and less about fights and thugs (I would keep all Ashutosh Rana scenes because he is so good. What a pity he doesn’t get more roles in good movies, He deserves it).
    Now I’m even more excited about Vikram Vedha. Hope it will dedicate more time to connections beetween characters.

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    • I feel the same way! The relationship with the sisters was so perfect, and then it felt a little rushed at the end because they had to switch to dealing with the criminal part of it.

      If it were any actor but Madhavan, I would have gotten frustrated with his cowardly character, but he is so cute and cuddly, I just wanted good things for him, even if it was unfair.

      On Tue, Jul 18, 2017 at 8:40 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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