There’s something to be said about the excitement in the air, as one walks into the theatre for a Rajinikanth movie. The old cliché about a Rajinikanth movie being an event didn’t ring true for a while, what with the critically reviled Kochadaiyaan and Lingaa and mixed feelings with regard to Kabali, but with Kaala, it seemed like the star for a change made way for the actor, and 2.0 was for the fans and fans alone.
Therefore, when Sun Pictures announced the collaboration of the Superstar with the extremely talented Karthik Subbaraj, known for his rather off beat story sense, it did raise some anticipation, and at the same time one wondered if this first time collaboration would create a work of art or a cinematic Trishanku, one that would neither please the fans nor the intelligentsia who form the director’s core audience?
In a college based in an idyllic hill station, when a mysterious stranger, Kaali (Rajinikanth) shows up for the post of the hostel warden, little does young Anwar (Sananth Reddy) know, that just Kaali showing up will not only put him in direct conflict with Michael (Bobby Simha), the spoilt young brat of a local contractor (Aadukalam Naren), but also put a vicious gangster Singaar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and his thuggish son (Vijay Sethupathi) on his trail. But before that, the question remains, who is Kaali, and what is his connection to Anwar?
Karthik Subbaraj has often proclaimed that he’s a massive fan of Rajinikanth, and right from the moment the words “Super Star Rajinikanth” flash on screen, his tribute to the star begins, right with the trademark “Entry” scene interspersed with the opening credits, much to the delight of the crowd in the audience.
For the most, Petta is smooth sailing, even though the plot barely moves in the first half, and the focus is completely on Rajini saar pulling off all the fan pleasing gestures, that kept sending the audience into raptures, but once the second half begins, and the backstory comes into play, movie watchers are in for a wild ride, the only flaw here being the lack of solid female characters, that always form a part of Karthik Subbaraj’s movies.
Technically, the movie is brilliantly shot, with Tirru’s camerawork exquisitely capturing the swagger that is Rajini. Add to that the well choreographed action sequences, and you have a visual treat in store.
Petta from the first frame is a Rajinikanth show, and he doesn’t let you forget it for a minute. This is the Rajini of the 90s, walking on water, literally owning every frame on screen. Simran looks stunning and makes a lovely foil to the Superstar and you wish there’d been a little more of her. Trisha however is wasted in a cameo where she has almost nothing to do.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is as good as ever, playing a weasel like politician whose diminutive nature works beautifully to camouflage the vicious beast that hides within. Vijay Sethupathi as the thuggish Jithu is brilliant, and it is to his credit that in some of his sequences, he manages to steal Rajinikanth’s thunder, especially in the climax. Sasikumar, Sananth Reddy and Bobby Simha all show up, do their bit, and disappear from the scene without making much impact.
To sum it up then, Petta is a rollicking showreel for a Superstar, one that bridges the gap between his fans who are content with just watching him on screen, and a more discerning audience who would like to see all his fun antics backed up with a solid story.