Tirru’s camerawork and Anirudh Ravichander’s music help him along, but Karthik Subbaraj has given back to Rajinikanth the swag that was missing in his last few films, writes Deepa Gahlot
The fan following of Rajinikanth cannot be defined or understood outside of Tamil Nadu and the extended Southern belt. It is made up of the kind of people who would get up at the crack of dawn to catch the first show of his new films, go dancing to the theatre, garland his posters and anoint his giant-sized cut-outs with milk. After all this, if the film turns out to be disappointing… something has to be done to appease them.
The problem with this level of superstardom – when the world Superstar is appended to the name in the credits—is that fans want the same thing over and over again. After a series of films that did not live up to the hype, and the fan love, Karthik Subbaraj cuts the crap, so to say, and returns “Thalaivaa” to the adoring masses. Rajnikanth as the ageless and invincible demi-god.
Petta is a fan’s tribute to Rajinikanth, full of references to his past hits, and still managing to add some freshness to the too-familiar image. “Get Rajinified”, says the film’s apt tagline.
A college in a North Indian hill station has students who run wild; the teachers are afraid, and it’s clear a savior is needed to straighten up the place. Enter Kaali (Rajinikanth), making a full ‘seeti’ entry, as the new hostel warden. It is evident that the singing-dancing-romancing (for change, not a too-young woman, but, Simran, playing the mother of a teen), dealing with the college rowdies led by Michael (Bobby Simha) and helping young sweethearts along, Kaali is not what he appears to be.
A flashback reveals a villain, Singaar Singh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and his rabid son Jithu (Vijay Sethupathi), impinge on the present, and Kaali has to deal with them in his own style.
There are twists and turns in the plot, which has all the tropes of a nineties actioner, but done with much more panache, and displaying Rajinikanth’s charisma to its fullest. His universe is all-male—the actresses, Simran, Trisha, Malavika Mohanan, Megha Sarath have little to do—and after the frippery is out of the way, there’s a lot of action to fill up the considerable running time of the film. Tamil-speaking viewers would not fail to receive the political messages hidden in the dialogue.
Petta is vintage Rajinikanth and he looks amazingly youthful and stylish (“but naturally” he replies to a compliment), delivering just what those adoring fans wanted from him. Tirru’s camerawork and Anirudh Ravichander’s music help him along, but Karthik Subbaraj has given back to Rajinikanth the swag that was missing in his last few films. Petta has blockbuster stamped all over it.
Directed by Karthik Subbaraj
Cast: Rajinikanth, Trisha, Vijay Sethupathi and Nawazuddin Siddiqui and others
Rating: Three stars
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best known entertainment journalists. A National Awardwinning film critic, Deepa has watched more movies and theatre than most people in the country. An author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions. For Xyngr, Deepa Gahlot reviews theatre and cinema.