Cast: Rajinikanth, Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bobby Simha, J. Mahendran, Yogi Babu, Trisha, Simran
Director: Karthik Subbaraj
Writer-director Karthik Subbaraj (with works like Pizza, Jigarthanda and Iraivi) is much too in awe of his hero, Rajnikanth, to cull out anything remotely meaningful from him in his latest Tamil crime caper, Petta (Hood) – certainly not a family entertainer suitable for the coming Pongal or Sankranthi Festival.
The story meanders aimlessly, beginning at a college ragging session and zeroing in on corruption in the hostel canteen (where idlis are hard as rock), but wandering off into the misty environs of the hill-station, where the campus lies. And emerging from the haze is Rajinikanth's Kaali – looking listless and jaded, his age (knocking 70) written all over him. He walks in as the college's hostel warden.
If he can play with pots and pans in the kitchen turning out mouth-watering goodies, he can also pull the trigger of a gun in the wink of an eye and fill the floor with bloody bodies. Sadly, Rajinikanth – whom the title card describes as “The One and Only SuperStar” -- unlike his Bollywood contemporaries like Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor – refuses to let go his superhuman heroism. He is nimbler than the Spiderman and mightier than the Superman, taking on, often with his bare fists, dozens of heavy, mean looking thugs, who fall like the proverbial nine pins!
A little into the torturously long movie – 176 minutes – in which the beat of drums and gongs among other sources of sheer sound intrusively drown some of the dialogues, the first scenes merely mask a revenge story, whose kingpin is Singaar Singh (essayed by an otherwise brilliant performer like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, but who seems terribly uncomfortable in a milieu like Tamil cinema and among Tamil hoodlums). Angry with his father for bequeathing the family wealth to his darling daughter, who marries a man of her choice, Maalik (Sasikumar as Kaali's brother), Singh kills a whole lot of people. Maalik is victim too, but his wife escapes and so too the child in her womb.
Petta is littered with characters – like Michael (Bobby Simha, who portrays the college toughie), Jithu (a brilliant Vijay Sethupathi, who is Singh's son), Simran (who plays Rajnikanth's love) and Trisha (Kaali's wife who dies in the bomb blast that Singh orchestrates). But most of them, including Bobby Simha, have little to do, and they appear more like embellishments.
Honestly, Petta comes as yet another disappointment from a thirty-something director, who like a few others in recent times, have been promising to draw the kind of role that Rajnikanth was celebrated for in his early days on the screen. In the end, Petta turns out be yet another outing for the star who relies on gimmicks (the cigarette flick and playing with dark glasses) rather than solid emoting to endear himself to his fans. Does this work? I have my serious reservations.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)
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