There has certainly been no dearth of masala directors over the past decade, most of whom have come and gone for the most part. For a while it looked like Dharani was going to be the best of the lot but that hope quickly fizzled out after just three great masala movies. Hari has always made his presence felt but he also has been growing staler by the day with movies straight out of the masala cookbook in the last couple of years. In contrast, I’ve always considered Lingusamy to be one of my favorite masala directors. The only black marks on his quite impressive resume have been Ji and Bheema and you could forgive him those hero-centric films trying to get its stars back on the right lane. He has given my two favorite masala films in Run and Sandakozhi while Paiyaa was also a pretty decent flick if not right up there with the first two. Vettai is more akin to the latter than the former blockbusters. It doesn’t find Lingusamy at his finest and the dialogues don’t have the same sparkle, but it is definitely a watchable entertainer with comedy, action, and sentiments in the right amount. That is not something that can be said of a lot of the masala films over the past year or so.

After the loss of his police father, Thirumurthy (Madhavan) is forced to take up the mantle of keeping up the name of having a cop in the family by his younger brother Gurumurthy (Arya), especially since the former is the nicer guy of the two and the latter is a loafer of the sort we are all accustomed to. After training, Thiru is assigned as sub-inspector of the Thoothukudi police station, a city where Annachi (Ashutosh Rana) and Maari (Muthukumar) run the roost. Thiru is a scaredy-cat and isn’t able to handle the lawlessness in the town and calls on his brother for help. Meanwhile sisters Vasanthi (Sameera Reddy) and Jayanthi (Amala Paul) are looking for the perfect groom for the former. After a few vocal scuffles on the street with Guru, Vasanthi is married to Thiru while Guru and Jayanthi also develop feelings for each other.

If the story reminds you of a number of similar movies from the past, don’t be surprised. While the film that came to my mind first and foremost was the Bhagyaraj starrer Avasara Police 100 where he played dual roles of a scaredy-cat cop and his fearless brother who takes his place, Vettai draws its inspiration from the Masala Cookbook 101. Guru takes Thiru’s place in all the missions while the latter returns with the kidnapped girl, the smuggled goods and so on to grab the glory. Despite their familiarity, these scenes are fun to watch and Lingusamy plays his hand perfectly by offering both comedy and action in the right amount. Sequences like the one where the bad guys kidnap Guru in order to hold Thiru for ransom are filled with laughs that are enough to bring the roof down.

The main reason why the aforementioned portions prove to be as effective is because of the perfect chemistry shared between Madhavan and Arya. Madhavan is at his best by underplaying the part of the scared brother. He has a naturally innocent face and such a role suits him to a T. He should also be congratulated for taking on such a role which has him playing the foil to Arya who gets to go to town on all the bad guys. Arya himself plays a role not too different from the one in Boss Engira Bhaskaran with the only difference being he is given a chance to flex his muscles a lot. He has been growing stronger with each film and is at a point in his career where he has a real screen presence about him and the audience can take him seriously as an action star. Both heroes – though Madhavan isn’t a Tamil “star” anymore with his trysts in Bollywood – need to be appreciated for agreeing for such a multi-starrer and Tamil cinema fans can take heart from the fact that Pongal has two genuine multi-starrers with hope for more in the future.

Sameera Reddy plays the role of a fiery town girl which doesn’t suit her as much as the educated girl in Vaaranam Aayiram did. With a face decked up with lots of make-up, she isn’t able to pull off a sari as well as Amala Paul does. She isn’t helped by Chinmayee’s voice-over which sounds like someone is on steroids. Amala Paul is gorgeous to look at but doesn’t really have much else to do. However, the scenes within the family with Sameera scolding at Arya and the latter flirting with Amala do make way for a lot of laughs with special marks going to the manner in which Arya and Amala Paul end up getting married.

Naturally with a strong first half full of comedy and action, the film loses a lot of steam in the second half. The truth behind Thiru’s handy work becomes known to the bad guys and it has some serious consequences. One segment in particular right in the early part of the second half is a bit too over-the-top for its own good. It is intended for sentiments but actually finds the audience laughing at the screen. However, barring that one misstep, the rest of the second half is satisfying even if hurtling towards a completely predictable conclusion.

Vettai is arguably Yuvan’s weakest soundtrack for a Lingusamy film and that is doubly disappointing considering that songs played a huge part in Paiyaa’s success. Despite the manufactured hype for Pappappa… through the Kolaveriesque music video, the actual song, though hum worthy, isn’t anything to write home about. It also doesn’t help that the rest of the soundtrack is pretty pedestrian and the picturization is equally underwhelming. Nirav Shah is his usual dependable self behind the camera with his work in the action sequences indoors being particularly noteworthy; it has to be noted that the first action sequence is a direct lift from the one in the shipping yard in Batman Begins.

Vettai is definitely a massive improvement considering the quality of the masala films we’ve been getting recently. The film’s biggest letdown is that, barring a Maddy dialogue regarding his famous closing the shutters stunt in Run and a few punchy ones towards the end, the writing isn’t of the quality you usually expect from Lingusamy; that and the fact that the villains’ shouting does get tiresome as we proceed through the film. It also doesn’t help that the good guys join in the screaming match too. While these negatives do detract from the viewing experience, Lingusamy has managed to mix the necessary masala ingredients in the right amounts to deliver a package that is certainly worth a watch for the festive season.