Petta Movie Review

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The last few years have been unkind to a Rajini fan. After Endhiran, at the turn of the decade, the Superstar did Kochadaiiyaan, a motion capture animation film, Lingaa, a commercial film that turned formula into a parody, and of course, Pa Ranjith’s Kabali and Kaala, which brought back the actor in him, but couldn’t decide if they wanted to be a Superstar film or a director’s film. True, Rajinikanth is a fabulous actor in a certain kind of roles, like the ones he played in Mullum Malarum or Aarilirunthu Arupathu Varai, but come one, let’s be honest, they are not what made him THE Superstar. It was the films like Murattu Kaalai, Moondru Mugam, Dharmathin Thalaivan, Annamalai, Baashha, and Padayappa… where he was an entertainer first that put in a league of his own.

Karthik Subbaraj, a self-confessed, die-hard fan, understands this. And that is why Petta works. The basic plot is a reinvention of the Superstar’s biggest hit – Baashha. But Karthik Subbaraj introduces minor variations into this template and keeps the film from turning predictable. Kaali (Rajinikanth) joins a college as a hostel warden and sets things in order on his own playful way, playing Cupid to a young couple (Megha Akash and Sanath), romancing the girl’s mother (Simran) and putting the rowdy boys, headed by Michael (Bobby Simha) in their place. But there is more to him than meets the eye. And soon, Kaali has to take on Singhar Singh (Nawazuddin Siddique), a politician in Uttar Pradesh, and his son, Jithu (Vijay Sethupathi).

Petta is less of a Karthik Subbaraj film, but it gives Rajini fans their Thalaivar in a way that they have been dying to see him, celebrating the Rajinisms. At times, this gives a feeling of a director checking the wish list of fans – seeing the comic side of the Superstar, punch dialogues, action, and most importantly, style… Even the casting of Simran and Trisha, two actresses whom everyone felt had missed doing a film with Rajinikanth, feels this way.

This approach does make the film feel like a greatest hits collection of Rajinikanth, but that can never be a complaint. The film does have its issues, mostly narrative. It is overlong, and takes a while to get going (after a point, the college scenes become an overkill); the songs aren’t really necessary; you also wish the antagonists were written better (Nawazuddin is no Mark Antony, while Jithu seems to exist mainly for the mandatory Karthik Subbaraj twist)… But, it gives us the Thalaivar we all love – in loads. And Rajinikanth has fun playing the role, and shows us why he is the Superstar – as he remarked in the recent 2.0, the only one. Petta succeeds where Lingaa failed – it sticks to the formula, but it also makes it feel fresh.

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