Sarpatta Parambarai Tamil Movie Review
Most boxing dramas are generic, but Pa. Ranjith's Sarpatta Parambarai seldom seems like one. It is as much a film about cast and rivalries between boxing clans in old Madras as it is about the game of boxing. In a scene that comes an hour into the film, Pasupathy's Rangan Vaathiyar tells his disciple that the boxing clan of Madras once split into multiple clans, and that the Idiyappa clan now dominates his Sarpatta Parambarai. The coach also says that winning against Idiyappa Parambarai is a matter of pride for his Sarpatta clan.
Arya's character Kabilan is a blue-collar worker in Madras. At the start of the film, we see him being treated like a slave, as he awaits the end of his shift so that he could watch a boxing match involving his Sarpatta clan. As Kabilan hurries off to the match venue, we get the impression that he is going there to fight in the ring. But he is going to the ringside as a spectator; even there, he is treated as a minority group member, an outsider. It is a lovely stretch that sets the underdog arc of this character beautifully.
When Sarpatta's boxer loses the first bout, the Idiyappa Clan challenges coach Rangan to accept an ultimate match that would set off a bigger clan rivalry with many personal battles within it. For Rangan, his team of boxers, and the rest of the clan members, it would seem winning the ultimate fight is also a matter of life and death.
Pa. Ranjith shows immaculate crowd control and other skills to make it work as a boxing movie. It is that rare boxing film that uses ringside commentary as a part of the environment rather than a narrative tool. Hence, the boxing sequences here seem more authentic than the same kinds of scenes in a generic film, such as the recent Farhan Akhtar-starrer Toofan. Whenever the punches land on someone's face here, we get to hear sound effects that capture the moment authentically. Murali G's cinematography not only makes the ringside views of the boxing sequences utterly cinematic, but it also makes the bouts in the ring work as a dive into the headspace of these characters.
The film is also about the political scenario of the emergency era India, and how this affects the boxing clans. Writers Ranjith and Tamizh Prabha use real footage from the period to organically add the political elements to the larger milieu of the film.
Now, purely as a piece of drama, I have some issues with the film. There is a scene late in the movie involving Arya's character and his mother that did not quite work for me. Therefore, for me, the relationship between the two characters did not work in its entirety. Besides, the transitional phases of Arya's character seem a tad hurried. If you nitpick, you might also find one of the main boxers here to be just a caricature.
But the movie on the whole works, as it transcends the sports drama genre with quality performances too. Arya's effort shows in some portions, but he makes the character work through his sheer physicality and earnestness. Pasupathy plays Rangan Vaathiyar effortlessly, whereas John Vijay is hilarious and poignant as Kabilan's stepfather cum sidekick. Dushara Vijayan is also excellent as Kabilan's spouse - initially, we view her as just a bold heroine type, but she shines in some of the film's most intelligent sequences later. Then there is Shabeer Kallarakkal's Dancing Rose, one of the most authentic boxers in the history of cinema. Almost every boxer character in such dramas is just a pugilist, but this guy is beyond it.