Demigod deified

Here’s a question you would never find at a pub quiz: what’s common between Tamil filmmakers like S Shankar, P Vasu, Pa Ranjith and Karthik Subbaraj? In the past 14 years or so, they have all tried to capture in a sleek bottle that human epitome of on-screen lightning: Rajinikanth. After Shankar’s Petta, provided me the most joyous experience of watching Rajinikanth in pristine form.


Rajinikanth needs to be commended for letting millennials like Subbaraj and music director Anirudh Ravichander give him the demigod treatment his fans have always needed. Subbaraj, a purveyor of brain-testing cinema, like Iraivi, is a self-professed Rajini fanatic and this onscreen deification of the true blue demi-god of Indian cinema becomes an absolute joy, at least for a while. Every twitch of his ageing muscle hasn’t been celebrated this nicely in the longest time.


The film starts with mayhem in a college hostel in Darjeeling where Rajinikanth is the warden, and goons are being bashed to protect a student, Anwar (a strictly functional Sananth Reddy) from the henchmen of Singaaram (a genially venal Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The first half trots along entertainingly, thanks to Rajinikanth’s charming antics, Anirudh's chartbusting tracks like “Marana Mass” and “Ilamai Thirumbudhe” and Tirru’s exuberant cinematography. For once, there’s even a semblance of age-appropriate romance where Rajinikanth and Simran fall for each other at her pranic healing centre.


Bobby Simha as the rogue senior at the college proves to be the catalyst for quite a few hero-elevating scenes. Subbaraj never shies away from taking a liberal squeeze out of that much beloved lemon called “Rajini Sir”. All his trademark expressions, be it lightning quick reflexes or swagger-laden dialogue delivery, are available in abundance here. He dances and fights with unbridled elan. Props to Subbaraj for making Rajinikanth beat up a bunch of baddies with a nunchuck like a South Indian Bruce Lee.


Rajinikanth in Petta
It’s all hunky dory until the second half unfolds in a flashback that reveals the protagonist’s past in Madurai where he lost his best friend Malik (M Sasikumar), his wife (Trisha Krishnan) and his son in a covert attack by Singaaram. All of this gore because Malik married Singaaram’s younger sister Poongodi (Malavika Mohanan). Cut to the present times where Singaaram is still baying for the blood of his nephew, Anwar, but the protagonist would have none of it and goes to Uttar Pradesh to hunt Singaaram down. There’s Vijay Sethupathi as Jithu, one of the two sons of Singaaram and an absolute brute, as one of the few saving graces of the sleep-inducing second half. His screen presence gives the torpid proceedings some momentum, but even he could barely salvage an overlong movie.


With a supporting cast to die for — Sethupathi, Simran, Trisha, Sasikumar, Siddiqui, Simha, Megha Akash — one would have expected Subbaraj to rise above triteness but in his quest to give a wholesome Rajinikanth to the fans, he falters on the writing front. He’s one of the most exciting Indian filmmakers at the moment.


Petta discloses to Jithu that he was never his son and that the goon's gullibility was the only way he could leave Singaaram’s body bullet riddled. Overall, Subbaraj plundered the bottomless coffers of Kalanithi Maran to come up with a tepid vehicle for his hero’s larger-than-life persona.


However, truth be said, with his acting days hitting their ritardando, I would rather watch Rajinikanth in Petta is as good as it gets as the last hurrah for Rajinikanth.

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