It’s interesting how Toofaan, Malik, and Sarpatta Parambarai got released on the same platform over a week’s time. I am saying this because while I was watching Pa Ranjith’s new movie Sarpatta Parambarai on Amazon Prime video, I was reminded of the other two movies. Toofaan for the obvious reason of being another movie based on boxing. But the comparison with Malik is in terms of the world-building that happens around the central character Kabilan. Pa Ranjith knows for a fact that nobody is watching this movie expecting a twist or shock. So he makes sure that the journey of his hero has to be layered and deep. And unlike his last two outings, he managed to convey his Dalit politics in the most subtle way without being overly wordy about it.
The movie is set during the emergency, and it is about the clash between the boxing clans of Madras. Sarpatta is one such clan, and the film shows us them struggling to find a boxer who can beat the hotshot Vembuli. Kabilan, who always wanted to be a boxer but kept himself away from it as his mother was against the whole idea of boxing, one day decided to show his skills, and it eventually leads to his rise as a boxing star. But the road wasn’t easy. What we see in Sarpatta Parambarai is Kabilan’s roller-coaster journey.
The major issue I had with Toofaan was that it felt like any other underdog story, and in a way, we appreciated Farhan’s hard work rather than the craft involved in making that movie. Sarpatta Parambarai works because Kabilan is only a tool for the director to narrate a story about a period. By the time Sarpatta Parambarai ends, you are not thinking only about Kabilan. There are so many characters here who are passionate about this sport. One prominent example is Dancing Rose, the boxer with whom Kabilan had to fight to prove his metal. Rose might be standing against your conventional hero, but the movie is crafted in such a way that you would personally become a fan of this boxer, and in some ways, that adds certain respectability to Kabilan’s victory.
Pa Ranjith weaves a grand story here around the boxing championship. He smartly gives us some historical information to let us know how boxing became a thing in Madras in the late ’70s. There is a reason why Kabilan’s mother is strictly against boxing. Kabilan’s wife isn’t your clichéd supporting wife. Political affiliations are there for characters. And one thing that is particularly impressive and I hope will remain like this in Pa Ranjith’s films is the way he places the history of oppression faced by the Dalit. It was more on that “let the movie do the talking” side, rather than “let’s talk about it through the movies.” The movie is roughly 3 hours long, and the editing is so smooth that you won’t find a dull phase in this movie. The cinematography and production design have enhanced the believability of the film. The way the fight between Kabilan and Rose is conceived deserves appreciation as it broke a pattern we have seen in movies. Santhosh Narayanan’s tracks are peppy and original, and it just ramps up the mood.
The only thing that sort of dissatisfied me or the part I would say Toofaan got it right is the physical transformation. I am not saying Arya should have gone for a body transformation. But that fake belly covered under his cloth kind of stood out. They could have done a better job with that belly, and Sarpatta Parambarai would have been exceedingly flawless. Arya’s performance is a bit shaky in some vulnerable moments, but he scores in the areas where he has to showcase the vigor of a fighter. Pasupathy, as Rangan, becomes the coach with such command that you can only see the character in him. Kalaiyarasan as Vetriselvan, Santhosh Prathap as Raman, and John Kokken as Vembuli are all impressive. I found four characters and performances fascinating: Dancing Rose by Shabeer Kallarakkal, Mariyamma by Dushara Vijayan, Anupama Kumar as Kabilan’s Mother, and John Vijay as Daddy. These characters get sporadic screen time, but because of the terrific performance of the people who did these roles, Pa Ranjith’s world-building gets so much ground support.
Sarpatta Parambarai shows you how lengthy films can be completely engaging, deep, and political without necessarily breaking any clichés. Just like how Mahesh Narayanan built a world within a running time of 160+ minutes in Malik, Pa Ranjith also creates a world full of characters with flesh and blood. Sarpatta Parambarai celebrates a journey, and I am also joining the bandwagon – It would have been a terrific theater experience.
Sarpatta Parambarai shows you how lengthy films can be completely engaging, deep, and political without necessarily breaking any clichés.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended