Cast: Arya, Santhosh Prathap, John Kokken, Kalaiyarasan, Muthukumar
Director: PA. Ranjith
Genre: Drama Action Sport
Duration: 2 hrs 53 mins
Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai revolves around a community of boxers in the Madras of the 70s of which the titular Sarpatta Parambarai is one of the clans. The primary plot is centred on the rivalry between Sarpatta Parambarai, coached by Rangan (Pasupathy, a fabulously controlled performance), a former champion, and the Idiyappam Parambarai, whose trainer Duraikannu (GM Kumar), was Rangan’s bunny during their playing days. Until its halfway mark, the film’s entirely focussed on this rivalry, giving us pressure-cooker situations that ultimately result in Kabilan (Arya, whose sheer physicality helps us buy the character), a boxing enthusiast forced to give up the sport by his concerned mother Bakkiyam (Anupama Kumar), challenging Durai’s protégé and the so-far invincible champion Vembuli (John Kokken, effective) to a fight.
The narrative beats that lead us to this moment are generic, but what gives Sarpatta Parambarai its distinct flavour is its setting and the filmmaking flair. When the film opens, we are in the early days of the Emergency, and we see it celebrating the Dravidian leadership standing up to it (and subtly acknowledging the present-day parallels). Cinematographer Murali G captures the action inside the ring in a thrilling manner and Ranjith keeps amping up the drama, helped by Santhosh Narayanan’s electric score, with charged scenes that clearly define the innumerable characters and their motivations. From Rangan’s aggressive son Vetriselan (Kalaiyarasan, solid), who has to constantly face the humiliation of being undermined by his own father, to Daddy aka Kevin (a terrific John Vijay), the Anglo-Indian who is a friend/father figure to Kabilan, every character is memorable.
Even as the drama around boxing keeps us hooked, as in this director’s films, the social and political undertones give us another story in parallel — of another community, which has to fight both inside and outside the ring to reclaim its rights. In fact, in the latter half of the film, this angle becomes the dominant story. From a film about a boxing, it becomes the story of an individual — Kabilan —battling his way to redemption after losing his way because the system wants to stereotype people of his social status. Even here, the beats feel familiar, but the dynamics between the characters help avoid the scenes from feeling clichéd. Take the relationship between Kabilan and his wife Mariyamma (Dushara Vijayan). As much as we see her complain about her husband choosing a life of violence, she also remains his emotional fulcrum, forcing him to mend his ways. In fact, in one scene, it is she who saves Kabilan, literally!
The film’s major success lies in transporting us to the era and ensuring that not a character or a prop feels out of place. The casting and the production design (Ramalingam) deserve all the accolades. And the film’s highpoint — a gloriously staged fight (Anbariv are the stunt choreographers) between Kabilan and Dancing Rose (Shabeer Kallarakkal), a quirky and experienced fighter from the Idiyappam Parambarai — is hard to forget.