'Petta' review: Rebirth of the mass

Karthik brings back the good old rules of creating superstar films

A 'Petta' movie poster.

Film: Petta
Director: Karthik Subbaraj
Cast: Rajinikanth, Simran, Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Trisha, Bobby Simha
Stars: 3.5

The water had run through the fingers. KS Ravikumar, the man who gave us Padaiyappa, failed to recreate the magic with Lingaa five years ago. The twin products (Kabali & Kaala) from talented Pa. Ranjit promised more but delivered less.

Hopes of a wholesome 'Rajini' movie all but evaporated but veteran Shankar, somewhat, offered relief to Superstar fans with his 2.0. But they waited. For the night to pass and the sun to shine brightly.

Next in line was Karthik Subbaraj. Not since Gautam Menon burst into the scene with Minnale in 2001 has a director fired the imagination of the Tamil film lovers like Karthik has.

He is one of the few young auteurs in the country who has finely mixed urban coolness with a retro touch in his films (Pizza, Jigarthanda, Iraivi and Mercury). And the style of film-making, marked with creativity and great quality, makes Karthik an important director of our times.

Karthik is a self-confessed huge Rajinikanth fan. It's easier to lose oneself in one's own fandom. Often directors lose sight of the bigger picture while working with their favourite stars. So with Petta, does Karthik survive the big Test? Largely, yes.

In Petta, the veteran actor plays Kaali, a charming college hostel warden. Kaali is the students' go-to-man. But life takes a deadly turn for the loveable warden when he becomes a target of a corrupt politician and his gangster son.

Very early into the film, Karthik brings back the good old rules of creating Superstar films. With the hero-introduction scene, the first song, the dialogues and the staging of set pieces, memories of the Rajinikanth of the 90s come flooding back. Petta's first-half is a tribute to the period when Rajinikanth further climbed the steps of stardom with his impeccable style.

The absorbing experience hits you mainly because it was as if we had forgotten how organic mass-entertainer were churned out with the biggest Superstar of the Indian film industry. Petta, for reasons like these, is the rebirth of the mass!

Petta treatments feel fresh and cinematographer Thirunavukarasu is the main reason behind it. For the action scenes in the dark, for the engaging songs (from Anirudh) and for Rajinikanth's famous mannerism, Thiru offers something new with his angles and lighting.

But Petta has problems and you find them as soon as you realise that you aren't just watching a Superstar film but this is also a Karthik Subbaraj film. Petta is the most predictable film in this director's oeuvre. For someone who made us invest in dense stories, Karthik offers a wafer-thin tale in Petta.

The core of the film reminds you of Baasha, one of Rajinikanth's biggest hits. Like in previous Karthik films, the film takes a beating in the second half. The sudden loss of grip in the narrative is what stops Karthik's films from being complete. And Vijay Sethupathi's character lacks depth. For an actor of such calibre, he deserved better writing. Trisha too has very less to do. Simran is charming as ever. But the main antagonist, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is pure delight.

That leaves us with Rajinikanth. By now, fans must come to terms that Superstar looks old. However, the energy in dialogue delivery and mannerism remain strong as ever. And if there is an iota of doubt about his style, go watch him effortlessly ease into the romantic scenes.

Karthik continues to grow as an interesting film-maker. Despite the slip ups, he still makes Petta his own with his trademark high tension scenes. He remains loyal to Superstar fans as much as he remains loyal to the idea of commercial cinema.

By the way, loyal in Tamil, is Viswasam!

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'Petta' review: Rebirth of the mass

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