When the trailer and the chartbusting number ’Marana Mass’ were released, it was evident that this was going to be a Rajini show all the way. A director with an interesting filmography like Karthik Subbaraj helming this project, Petta could have been yet another movie in the recent list of experimental flops starring Rajini. But, as Karthik Subbaraj rightly words it in the beginning, this is an ode to the cult of Thalaivar and he succeeds in revering this demigod we know as Superstar Rajinikanth.
In a lackluster decade, Rajinikanth gave us glimpses of his much-loved style and mass appeal in Kabali and Kaala. But the former failed and the latter only managed to sail through decently. But Petta brings back the trademark Rajinikanth that his ardent fans have been craving for. The sheer amount of frenzy, the gooseflesh inducing entry, his slick and stylish gait – it all finally fell in place in Petta.
Kaali (played by Rajinikanth) joins a residential college set in a picturesque hill station as the hostel warden. He flexes his muscles against the domineering seniors as well as wields a ladle to stir up delicious food in the hostel. His charm and style make him an instant hit among the students, especially Anwar (played by Sanath Reddy) who request Kaali to convince his girlfriend’s pretty mother (played by Simran) about their relationship. The movie then takes a violent turn when Kaali’s past as Petta is revealed, where he is embroiled in a long-standing enmity with Singaaram AKA Singaar Singh (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The rest of the plot is the high-voltage action drama between Petta, Singaar Singh and his son-cum-henchman, Jitu (played by Vijay Sethupathi).
The plot summary may seem like a usual Rajini fare – one man fighting a bunch of baddies. But it is the treatment that makes Petta more watchable. Karthik Subbaraj uses a breezy and light color scheme to develop the story in the first half, which essentially is worshipping Rajinikanth. He ticks all the points off a Rajini revering checklist– a massy opening song, a well styled lead character, suave and power that make a warden more powerful than the Principal, a high-octane fight sequence and generous loads of punchlines. It is everything a hardcore Rajinikanth fan wants and I thoroughly enjoyed this collective experience in a theatre filled with hoots and whistles.
Post interval, the movie shifts gears to a more action-filled environment, with Petta’s past in Madurai. Rural feuds escalated by an inter-caste marriage cause Petta to change his identity to Kaali. Years later, he is confronted by his past in the form of Singaaram and Jithu. This change in tonality from the first half to the second is not transitioned well. The movie changes from a light-hearted Rajini flick to a Rajini action drama rather swiftly. Though the transition was not smooth, Karthik Subbaraj and his DoP Tirru deserve the applause for creating frames in the hues of orange, red and yellow during the fight sequences. This adds a raw appeal to the suave Kaali and further enhanced the well-choreographed (though overdrawn) fight sequences. Having said that, the second half had a lot of unnecessary or stretched sequences which made this movie quite long (almost three hours). Not many, other than fans, can spare attention for such a long time.
Moving over the bumpy ride in the second half, the movie works for its great music by Anirudh as well. Much like the camerawork, the music adds to the cult of Rajinikanth. While the actors are decent in their parts, all of them are overshadowed by the mighty Thalaivar, who owns the screens. I did not quite understand the need to have Nawazuddin Siddiqui, since this was a role any Tamil actor could have played. Vijay Sethupathi, gets to display wry humor as the staunch Hindutva supporter and is a good match to Rajini. Simran and Bobby Simha get smaller roles and are limited to only serving their purpose. The eminence of Trisha in the movie is as much as it has been in this review. An interesting observation was the subtle political references of a Hindutva party, goons acting as Gau Rakshaks and forcefully getting people married on Valentine’s Day. Since they were shown as antagonists, it seemed like a veiled jibe by the actor-turned-politician at a leading political party.
Petta could have been much more nuanced and refined. It deserved better writing in the second half. But when it comes to celebrating the cult of Rajinikanth, I guess all that matters is to get the audience ‘Rajinified’! The bottom line is Petta is old wine in a new bottle. But hey, wine tastes better with age!
My Rating – 3/5