The first few minutes of Sethupathi, directed by SU Arun Kumar, could be called Kollywood’s atonement for Visaranai. A lone cop swelters under the sun. He ducks into a tea stall for some water, a banana. But he hears a ministerial cavalcade approach and races out, the fruit hastily discarded so that the hand can be freed up for a salute. Another cop escorts a single woman home. Another cop gazes wistfully at the image in his rear-view mirror, that of a little girl bursting crackers. He, of course, is on duty. It gets worse. Soon, a cop is ambushed, set on fire. And this is when we discover how clever Sethupathi is, and how wrong we are to accept anything that’s dished out in the name of “masala,” muttering “you shouldn’t expect anything from these films” under our breath.
Every self-respecting masala movie centred on a cop has a rousing hero-introduction scene, and the ante is upped here with the admonition that Sethupathi (Vijay Sethupathi) is a “sariyaana psycho.” As if to affirm this, we cut Sethupathi in mid-snarl. We brace ourselves for the inevitable action scene, and… I’ll leave you to find out, but it was the sweetest surprise I’ve had at the movies this year. Sethupathi has genuine masala moments capable of making those of us who cannot wolf-whistle feel impotent (when you’re pent up with excitement, there’s no release quite like the wolf-whistle release) – the way Sethupathi, from a distance, dispatches the villains, or the way he wears a handkerchief mask, rides up to the man who’s making his life hell, and… I’ll leave you to find out. But in the midst of the expected hero-versus-villain showdowns, the film is as much a chronicle of a householder who can never forget that his is a very dangerous job.
Thus, the family. The wife (Remya Nambeesan) with the love handles he so loves. The little girl who scribbles on the walls with crayons. The son who hero-worships his father to a disturbing degree. Scenes involving laundry, homework, (my favourite moment) switching the stove to ‘sim’ before picking up a call, FaceTime chats (the names saved as “pondatti” and “purushan”) – we get a fully functional family, perhaps too much so. There are two indistinguishable songs strewn with awww moments, two instances of making up after a quarrel. I was mildly annoyed by the wife’s line when her mother asks her to pack her bags and leave. “Andha aalu ippa enna adichaan-na thirumbi vandhu enna konjuvaan. Adhukku naan inga irukkanum.” Sounded to me an awful lot like adikkira kai dhaan anaikkum – though we do get the scene where the man apologises by touching the woman’s feet. Anyway, it’s all a blur of cuteness, like stumbling upon a panda village. I wish these stretches had been sharper, more distinct. Maybe a scene or two where he yelled at his mother-in-law, showed her his “sariyaana psycho” face. We are told, after all, that there’s some trouble in that relationship.
But Sethupathi’s affection for his family isn’t just a relief from the action scenes. It informs him as an individual, and when he shoots a school-going kid, you can see what it means to him – that could have been his son. He hauls up a man who, in the presence of a daughter, claims his wife has run away – that little girl could be his daughter. His eyes fill with tears when he thinks of that burnt cop – that could have been him. Sethupathi brings his home to his office, his office to his home, and in scenes like these, we wish for a better actor, a more charismatic star. Vijay Sethupathi is good with the swagger and he rocks that moustache, but his default performance level still says “I am stoned.” He’s best in the comic scenes. A fight in a vegetable market is very funny, as is the exasperated chairman of an enquiry commission.
The film gets serious with the arrival of Vaathiyar (Vela Ramamurthy). He’s one of those villains we find in the Madurai movies. He runs the city, and he’s got an inexhaustible supply of henchmen whose bones the hero can break. I found Vaathiyar’s headstrong daughter more interesting. She’s Sornakka-lite, and she gets the film’s most chilling moment when she’s told her husband is dead – she casually wipes her forehead clean, as if wiping off sweat. The film’s last half-hour is enormous fun, driven by the irresistible Naan yaaru (composed by Nivas K Prasanna, sung by Anirudh). I kept wishing I was the kind of person who’d have this as his ringtone. The song appears twice, first as background to the villain’s ascendancy, and then to underline the hero’s return to the top. When the right dose of masala combines with the right kind of music, it’s something else.
- Visaranai = see here
- sariyaana psycho = Grade-A psycho
- “pondatti” and “purushan” = wifey / hubby.
- Andha aalu ippa enna adichaan-na thirumbi vandhu enna konjuvaan. Adhukku naan inga irukkanum = My husband may beat me now, but he’ll also make up with me later. And I need to be around for that.
- adikkira kai dhaan anaikkum = the hand that strikes is the hand that embraces; a really crappy proverb
- Sornakka = see here
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.