With the Arya-starrer, director Pa. Ranjith brings to life the vibrant boxing culture in ‘70s North Madras
There’s an inherent problem with the arc of sports-based films: its predictable nature. The protagonist shows a keen interest in a sport, but the road to success is filled with thorns. He/she overcomes all that with difficulty, and emerges victorious. This very staple formula is what most sporting dramas are constructed with.
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Pa. Ranjith’s latest Tamil offering, Sarpatta Parambarai, is not too different. It has a protagonist (Kabilan, played by Arya) wanting to do well in boxing, but has several roadblocks. It’s Ranjith’s trademark flourishes that make this otherwise lengthy film worthwhile.
Unlike Farhan Akthar’s recent Hindi boxing drama Toofan, which lay emphasis primarily on the challenges in front of the protagonist, Ranjith designs Sarpatta… about the lifestyle of the people. It focusses on North Madras, the epicentre of boxing in the city that was home to two warring boxing clans: Sarpatta and Idiyappa. This cultural history comes alive in the film, with the set design and clothing patterns taking you back to the ‘70s. Even the political landscape of the country plays a role; the way it has been incorporated into the script makes for interesting viewing.
- Director: Pa. Ranjith
- Cast: Arya, Kalaiyarasan, Pasupathi, Dushara, John Kokken
- Duration: 2 hours 53 mins
- Plot: A young man from 1970’s segregated Madras finds himself with the opportunity to redeem his boxing clan and himself from years of defeat. Can he do it? Will he be allowed to?
The first half packs a punch, but the film withers in the second when the protagonist undergoes a transformation. Suddenly, the editing and sequences look all over the place. A supposedly important character is introduced quite late, before Ranjith designs a last-ball finish style to end proceedings.
The film might open and end with Arya’s Kabilan, but there are several memorable characters that you meet along the way: John Vijay as Daddy (watch out for the scene with Arya in which he says, “You’ve found your path, bugger”) and Shabeer Kallarakkal as Dancing Rose (his fight with Kabilan is the best of all the bouts in the film) are two that stand out. There are other neat performances by Pasupathy and Kalaiarasan, but one wishes that John Kokken’s Vembuli character had as much meat as his muscles.
Arya and Pasupathy in a still from the film
You do get reminded of Vetri Maaran’s earlier works and a bit of Ranjith’s work in Madras as well here, but Sarpatta Parambarai incorporates elements like caste conflict and the question of pride into the sporting milieu to make it an engaging watch. It is also an ode to Madras of the past; watch out for the commentary team remarking how, “people from faraway villages like Guindy and Adyar have gathered here!” during one of the matches.
Ranjith’s unique path in Tamil cinema, in which he has thrown light on several aspects that other mainstream filmmakers don’t, continues with Sarpatta… With dialogues like ‘Idhu namba kaalam’ (This is our time) and an entire sequence about the need to fight, the director’s stamp is unmissable. He’s helped in this task by cinematographer Murali G and composer Santhosh Narayanan’s background score.
The men in the film might be rough and tough in the ring, but back home, the women prove they are the boss. While Arya’s mother Bakkiyam gets written a one-dimensional character, his love interest Mariyamma (Dushara Vijayan) gets better treatment. After one particularly heated confrontation, she instructs Kabilan, “I’m starving. Come and feed me,” and the two proceed to make small talk. It’s a quiet little moment in an otherwise loud film. It reminded me a little of the Rajinikanth-Huma Qureshi moment in Kaala, and is the reason I look forward to Ranjith’s next, which is reportedly a full-fledged love story.
Sarpatta Parambarai is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video