#TheLateReview: Sarpatta Parambarai

I have more freedom now. But the very freedom that I thought would make me happy is something that I'm slowly starting to grow dreadful about! Thinking about the concept of "true freedom" I, along with the dutiful good morning WhatsApp messages have been duly reminded, like any of you that we stepped into the 75th year of Independence.

From looking forward to sweets to taking part in the cultural programs ourselves, I saw a kind of growth and liberation in myself. From gasping in exasperation at the yearly wilful ignorance of the various shackles that we have around ourselves to thinking that this clarion call of progress being important I saw my growth in ideologies. Finally, the walk down the memory lane invariably brought to mind the various patriotic songs which would find themselves in the playlist of the schools only twice a year and got me thinking about the various kinds of films that we are shown or have watched by our own volition.

Very often, these films at their hearts had a neighbouring country attacking us and a hero along with a mighty armed force thwarting their plans. To sell the films there was invariably a mother who lost her son in the war, the wife who's widowed, a friend who sacrificed his life and a lover who magically survives the scare. Looking back, most of these films appear cliched and ridden with commercial elements that the story is lacklustre, the screenplay shoddy and the acting just above average at best. I'm not against these films at all. Many of these films made up for what lacked in the writing with their over-the-top clarion calls of songs that stoked the patriotic fire alive in our hearts. But after a while, these songs do become repetitive and worse, a sad reminder of all that the film was.

As I was thinking of all of this, my mind naturally wandered off to the films that were made about freedom, but for some reason are never celebrated as such. Thus, this post about the film Sarpatta Parambarai. The film is about a lot of things - about finding yourself through a sport, the division that is formed among the same people over a period of time, the love of a mother that can seem suffocating no matter how well-intended, and so on. But it is also about deliverance. It is also about freedom and that is why I think that films like this should replace the staple Jai Hinds and Mera Bharat Mahaans that we see on the television during the independence day.

Sarpatta Paramabarai is about the redemption of a clan through boxing. Set in the 1970s, at the time of emergency, the film chronicles the rise, fall and redemption of Kabilan (played by Arya) and his clan, the Sarpatta Parambarai, his father's life, his teacher's legacy and so on. The genius of the film is that this film is all of the above and probably more if you watch it again. In my opinion, this is the hallmark of a great film. A masterpiece, if you will.

Now here is a caveat: I am not a know-it-all when it comes to films. Heck, I don't even know the different aspects of filmmaking. But of one thing, I am pretty sure. I know something about film appreciation. It's not a great deal. I have just grazed the surface, but yes, I can watch and appreciate films objectively. This largely comes from the knowledge gained from watching Mr Baradwaj Rangan talk about writing, editing with the many directors and other technicians in the cinema industry. His reviews, of course, are largely his opinions on the various aspects of a film. But they shed a lot of light on how to approach a film objectively, and look beyond the surface.

Now, let's get back to the film in hand. This masterpiece has politics in the background (the obvious references to the Emergency and the DMK's resistance to the centre) and also at its heart (the various politics of class between the two different clans of Sarpatta and Idiyappa. Add to it the politics within the Sarpatta clan itself. Directors like Pa. Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj (who was Ranjith's assistant for a while) have been pretty focussed on telling the stories of the oppressed and the hapless. Pa. Ranjith takes it a notch higher by adding the layers of politics that influence, if not control, in some way or the other the protagonist's life. In Sarpatta Parambarai, even as Kabilan tries to enter the boxing premises to watch a match, he is confronted for using the name of the clan to freeload. Then he is snubbed off by the disciples when he confronts them for talking about the teacher Ranga Vadhyar disrespectfully. These are not just scenes where the underdog status is established for us to root for. These scenes also establish the politics within and outside of both the clans. Such is the brilliance of Pa. Ranjith.

The murky politics between the clans and in the state grows along with the rise of Kabilan in the first half. In what is one of the best interval blocks Tamil cinema has seen in a long time we are left hanging. The victory is not official, the teacher vanishes, Kabilan is left disappointed and so are we. I didn't really think the film could go anywhere after this. Pa. Ranjith surprises us with the murky politics that Rangan's son involves Kabilan in - his own version of avenging his father. Here onwards, there is a whole new angle to the sports aspect of the film. It is more to do with proving Kabilan to himself than it was about the sport itself. In fact, in the scene where Kabilan loses against Raman, we, along with Kabilan feel sorry for him. This whole stretch where we see the downfall of Kabilan has the risk of being a bit of a drag. But not a moment was dull for me in the whole film. In fact, there is a montage kind of a shot where we see the rise of Kabilan as a goon under Vetri (Rangan's son). In one sequence we see Vetri dragging a man out of his house. The man loses balance and kicks a white can full of booze. The next cut is when we see Kabilan doing the same thing, but in this sequence, the can is black - thus the transformation of an innocent Kabilan into a goon. These small touches along with a lot many others make this film a wonderful watch.

The character arcs of every character in the film are complete. Even a character that fixes up the matches between these boxers is given a shade which makes it multi-dimensional. The characters of Kabilan's wife Mariyamma, his mother Bakkiyam, his mentor/well-wisher Daddy are all wonderfully written characters. It is only the character of Duraikannu Vathiyar that is uni-dimensional. But, this is a very minor flaw that I wouldn't mind in a film of such an epic scale. The acting by the respective actors is just amazing in bringing out the strong writing of the characters. Arya (Kabilan), Pasupathy (Ranga Vadhyar), Anupama Kumar (Kabilan's mother), Dushara Vijayan (Kabilan's wife), Kalaiyarasan (Vetri, Rangan's son), Sanchana Natarajan (Vetri's wife), Shabeer Kallarakkal (Dancing Rose) and Santhosh Pratap (Raman) all act their parts perfectly well not going overboard with their performances.

Santhosh Narayanan's music perfectly compliments the screenplay. This is something that I wish is found in all the music directors where they don't try to prove their mettle - saving it for the songs and keep the background score as just that, in the background - to enhance the screenplay and not to drag the audience into a particular emotion. Probably this understanding is why Pa. Ranjith hasn't really collaborated with anyone else. The sound design by Anthony Reuben is just fantastic, especially in the duel scenes. The sounds that we hear are not the general "dishooms" and "pows" but very effective punches with those gloves as would happen in real matches.

It is by far one of the best films in Tamil cinema that convey the range of emotions in the most effective of ways. Taking the help of the technical crew and a fine cast this film conveys the ideas without losing sight or control of the political undercurrent at any point in the run-time. A well planned, well constructed and finely executed film that, I wouldn't be surprised if attains cult status.

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