Verdict - Vanakkam Chennai felt a little too familiar. Predictable, but sort of works because of the leads. Hard to dislike. Santhanam unnecessary.
The one big issue with "Vanakkam Chennai" is how familiar it feels. It lets off that distinctive template rom-com vibe and it is never not predictable. Director Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi makes a confident debut that is brimming with visual finesse, but the writer in her isn't very assured. Most of the film's problems are rooted in the script. The lead characters in this Rom-com are basically like a pair of strong magnets who are placed close enough but held apart for 2 hours. We know that they will eventually come together and we will walk out of the theater with a hope that they will stick happily ever after. The trick is to keep us invested till the end. "Vanakkam Chennai" is largely watchable but gets a tad tiring towards the end as it keeps finding ways to delay the obvious.
After getting duped by a real estate broker, two people find themselves with keys to the same house. Shiva's Ajay is the first to reach the house and wants Priya Anand's Anjali to vacate. Since Anjali, who has come to Chennai leaving behind her Father in London to find material for a photography competition, cannot afford a new house, she decides to stay there as well. A classic rom-com premise. If you put two genial people together under one roof, no matter what their differences are, they soon start being nice to each other. That's human nature. If they fight like immature babies, like they do in this little film called "Raja Rani", then they are jerks who do not deserve our sympathies.
The film has a light tone and lead actors are immensely likable. The first half goes without any major hiccups, before the film commits its first big mistake. If there is one movie that could have done without Santhanam - and in case you are wondering, I could name a few off the top of my head - it is "Vanakkam Chennai". At the beginning, the film created a rather not-so-typical character in Ajay and wasn't just a banal movie itself. But then the second half happened and Ajay became just another guy who hung out with Santhanam at a TASMAC bar, seeking ideas to 'usaar' the girl he liked. I believed Shiva was funny enough to carry the film on his own, but the director felt otherwise. Thankfully, Santhanam makes an entry only at the very end of first half, but even that's not late enough.
The character of Anjali is written as a self-reliant woman who is intent on spending her own money, despite having a rich father (we are reminded of this fact on more than one occasion). She is a smart girl who knows what to say when trouble in the form of a creepy taxi driver is brewing. She seeks legal advice to find a solution to her problem in an unfamiliar city. But then, all of a sudden, she is seen kicking the lights out of four scary-looking, grown up men who try to misbehave with her. This unnecessary scene is a) not funny and b) very uncharacteristic of Anjali. I only hope at least female directors understand that a woman doesn't have to wear pants and indulge in violence to pass off as a strong character.
Shiva has been so deeply associated with spoofs that it becomes hard to tell if he is being serious during an emotional scene. There's a shot in "Vanakkam Chennai: where Anjali and Ajay are standing on either sides of a door and emoting their heartbreak. I honestly couldn't tell if Shiva was doing the best he could or was intentionally parodying other actors.
In spite of having every reason on earth to use an airport climax, "Vanakkam Chennai" is kind enough to save us that cliche. But it makes up for this benevolent act by adding a few more instead. There's a foreign mapillai character who is as useless as you would expect. Singer Chinmayi's fiance Rahul Ravindran plays Anjali's London fiance Deepak. I am guessing he landed the role after Evam Karthik turned down the offer. A general word of advice to young actors from yours truly: even getting out of friend zone is easy when compared to landing lead roles after getting typecast as an educated, foreign mapillai in Tamil cinema. Then there's that annoying visual cliche where characters clean up a dirty house in a time-lapse shot. Anjali even goes ahead and wins the photography competition. I am a hundred percent certain nobody in the audience remembered the contest, let alone cared about the outcome. Then why did the film go ahead and add one more cliche to its repertoire, when letting Anjali lose would have earned it brownie points from me? Did we learn nothing from "Silver Linings Playbook"?
Anirudh's music is a huge positive and I can't seem to get a few of the background tunes out of my head. Priya Anand looks utterly gorgeous in every frame. But "Vanakkam Chennai" is still just an okay-ish Rom-com that is hard to hate. It is does very little to reinvigorate a stagnant genre. Also, it should have avoided using Santhanam.