“Sathru”… A solid, focused ‘cat and mouse’ thriller that works despite shortcomings

Posted on March 8, 2019

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Spoilers ahead…

Looking at the trailer, Sathru seemed to be the case of yet another young actor trying to give his career a jump start by playing a cop. And indeed, the first time we see Kathir, he’s a bad-boy rock star in khaki attire. He’s hauled up by his superior (Marimuthu, wasted) for not following the rule book, but the instant he steps out of the station, his pace eases into slo-mo. The sunglasses are slipped on. The cap is positioned. Two constables talk of him in glowing terms, alerting us to the fact that in just two years, he’s been suspended twice. It’s the cop-world equivalent of snorting coke all night and still managing to hit every song out of the park in a sold-out concert.

But thankfully, these scenes apart, Kathiresan isn’t a “mass” character, and Kathir doesn’t play him as one. (This actor is much more at ease playing a normal man.) Rarely has a mainstream-movie cop seemed so vulnerable, so helpless over events that spin out of control around him, so equally matched with the villain. The latter is Prabhakaran (Laguparan, (who looks like a young Vijay), and the film is helped immeasurably by having these two young (and solid) actors clash. Kathir and Laguparan have no star baggage, no major fan clubs that will burn down theatres if their on-screen characters die. You know Kathiresan will triumph, especially after the koothu at the film’s beginning that’s about the mythical Kathiresan’s victory over Soorapadman. But this victory doesn’t come easy. “Oru policekaaran mele kai vekkardhellam cinema la dhaan nadakkkum,” he tells a colleague. But Prabhakaran is ruthless. He heads a child-kidnapping ring, and early on, he kidnaps a rich kid. He also nabs a kid whose parents will not be able to pay a ransom, and the reason is chilling. This man has ice in his veins.

When one of his efforts is foiled by Kathiresan, he swears revenge. He doesn’t just mean a bullet through the cop’s head. He means he’s going to kill every member of Kathiresan’s family and make him suffer and then put a bullet through his head. And the cat-and-mouse game begins. Writer-director Naveen Nanjundan uses location beautifully. The film could have been shot and staged better, but we see how Kathiresan and Prabhakaran race from one end of the city to another, and we get a sense of how much more difficult it must be to track someone down in this urban sprawl. (This aspect isn’t usually addressed in the movies, where the locations remain generic, unnamed.) And the twist is that Kathiresan has managed to get suspended again. He’s not even a cop anymore.

Some of the coincidences are far-fetched. The characters aren’t fleshed out well enough to make us truly care when they die. And the film could have used more sustained tension. But none of this really mattered while I was watching. I admit I cut the film some slack — not because the filmmaker is a first-timer, but because he does so much and because he fills his frames with so much energy. Technique can be learnt. Feel cannot — and Naveen Nanjundan has a feel for the medium. This film has focus. The heroine (Srushti Dange) is barely a presence and so we never quite see Kathiresan’s softer side. My favourite scene of Sathru is the one where Kathiresan hits a thug on the head with an iron rod, and keeps hitting him even after the man passes out. Kathiresan doesn’t just want the man out of action. He wants him dead. You can’t put this rage through if you’re taking breaks to sing duets.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil