Petta is the best Rajinikanth film in years

By Subhash K. Jha
Petta; Starring Rajinikanth, Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui,Simran and Trisha; Written & Directed by Karthik Subbaraj; Rating: ***½
In what seems like an unwanted political intrusion in an out-and-out formulistic entertainer, Vijay Sethupathi—who has a pivotal role to play in propelling the plot forward—is attacked in a cowshed by goons who accuse him of being a beef carrier.
Well, to be honest, Sethupathi does have quite a beefy role. In fact it’s the most powerfully written secondary part I’ve seen in any recent Rajinikanth starrer. Seethupathi plays Jeetu, a sleazy hitman in Uttar Pradesh who ends up being horribly confused about his parentage. In fact the script turns his parentage into a bit of a savage joke.
But director Karthik Subbaraj knows when to pull back the punches. He lets the 3-hour marathon masala fare roll on like a steamroller that knows exactly how to run its course without plundering any of the tropes in a Rajinikanth starrer. Petta is a film that satiates both the Rajini devotees and the non-devotees. While it harks back to his most famous screen avatars it gives a fresh fecund flavourful twist to every manoeuvre that brings the plot closer to its nemesis.
To begin with Rajini is a boisterous hostel warden who plays Uncle Cupid to a young couple. While aiding the courtship Rajini falls in love with a spiritual hero(Simran, looking lovely).This part of the film is light to the touch, frothy and tantalizing in a cute kind of way.
In the second half the plot simply takes off, creating a badland of bloodshed and retribution where bullets and bombs pelt down in a devastating tale of caste and communal wars. The clannish violence is cannily constructed to highlight Rajinikanth’s stage-capturing image. He has never looked so young in the past decade. He performs the action sequences and the dances with a disarming relish and his character doesn’t shy away from killing the enemies.
It all adds up to a visually rich drama replete with twists and turns that are not only unforeseen but also deftly written to accentuate Rajinikanth’s image. And yes, Nawazuddin Siddiqui makes a formidable adversary . The confrontations between the two leading to a bloodied finale leaves no room for the audiences to exhale.
When was the last time I had so much fun watching a Rajinikanth film? The last few years topped by the appalling 2:0 last month have been pretty abysmal . Pehaps the Thalaiva, as he’s called by his devotees, had begun to take himself too seriously in his recent films.
In Petta Rajini doesn’t allow his swagger to be weighed down by responsibilities. A genuine sense of fun runs through the taut plot. Except for a few stretches where the director seems to lose grip(for instance the early scenes in the hostel are way too flighty ) this tale of a father-figure fighting to save a young boy (Sananth Sethi) from murderous enemies is just what the Rajinikanth image needed at this juncture.

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