Petta is a tribute lovingly and cleverly crafted by director Karthik Subbaraj for the die-hard ‘Rajinified’ fan as it references some of the stars iconic screen moments while telling us a tale that takes us back to the Rajinikanth of the 1990s, the decade he went on to become larger and larger than life. In fact, the ‘plot’, too, is not very dissimilar from one of the superstar’s most memorable hits of the same decade, Baasha (1995).
It’s pointless to review Petta as a film as you know the plot and storytelling is but an excuse for Rajinikanth to do his thing. This is obvious right from the first title card dedicating the film itself to the superstar. But it has to be said he more than delivers. It’s all there – the style, the swagger, the punch dialogues and even dancing to an old hit of his, Raman Aandaalum, from Mullum Malarum (1978). And no doubt, he seems to be enjoying himself on screen. However but expectedly so, it is at the cost of the film and the other characters, most of whom have little to do other than just be around and extol the superstar when needed. Not that Rajinikanth admirers would complain about this. This is the Rajini they want, not the one who is toned down or driven by politics of a director ala Pa. Ranjith’s Kabali (2016) and Kaala (2018). A coherent well-scripted film with well fleshed out characters and an engaging narrative is clearly not the priority here. Rajini is.
Anyway, for what it’s worth – as hostel warden Kaali, the superstar sets things straight at the Saint Woods College Hostel by battling the rowdy students led by Michael (Bobby Simha, reduced to a jaalra in the film) and putting them in their place, cooking up a storm to improve the quality of the hostel food, helping young lovers Anwar (Sananth Reddy) and Anu (Megha Akash) with their love story, romancing Anu’s single parent mother, Mangalam (Simran), and, of course, battling the baddies as a one man army. Sure enough, he has a past that catches up with him, one where as Petta Velan, he battled Singaaram (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who in retaliation for Petta killing his brother, finishes Petta’s family, wife Saro (Trisha), son Chinna and best friend Maalik (M Sasikumar) in a bomb blast. The action then shifts to UP where Kaali goes to finish Singaaram, now Singaar Singh, once and for all, finally using his the latter’s son, Jithu (Vijay Sethupathi, fine enough), as a tool.
With Rajinikanth expectedly dominating the screen, it’s not surprising that none of the other actors except maybe Vijay Sethupathi and Malavika Mohanan even get their odd moment or two. Still, the two do try and make the most of what they’ve got. It’s sad to see Simran and Trisha, both pairing up with the superstar for the first time, while looking ravishing, being treated as little more than glorified extras. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is characterised ineffectually as a weak adversary for the superstar which makes a mockery of Rajini finally defeating him. After all, a strong villain means the hero having to be that much stronger in order to defeat him.
The technicalities too are all there to support the superstar and little more. Cinematographer Thirru ensures Rajini Saar is forever bathed in warm light and given the customary halo to reenforce his God-like stature wherever possible. The length of the film (170 plus minutes) does tell especially when proceedings do get a little dull in the second half, while a not so catchy musical score and a loud, loud background score doesn’t help. And what I didn’t quite get were the numerous references to Sivaji Ganesan songs in the film.
All in all, Petta is the perfect Pongal celebration for the superstar’s existing ardent admirers but I have to say, it is unlikely to ‘Rajinify’ any new ones. And as a film it’s unratable and I suppose, review proof. For a Rajini fan, of course, it’s huge. For the rest, well…
Tamil, Action, Drama, Color