Petta is a romantic, mind-boggling, and a rollicking ride that is ‘only’ for Rajini fans
It’s a dark corridor of a college hostel and masked men are attacking students with billhooks. Kaali a.k.a Pettavelan (Superstar Rajinikanth) comes from the dark saying “ulle poda” (Go inside) in Baasha-ish style that sort of reverberates through the corridor. This scene comes just before the intermission which sent shivers down my spine. Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta is a masala action film where you get ‘rajnified’ by the truest ‘mass moments’ (as the heroic moments are called in Tamil cinema). Petta is not exactly about a transformation of the protagonist from an innocuous guy to a powerful man like we see in Baasha. It is more of a showing-his-real-identity thing where he is already known for being courageous and influential.
Karthik Subbaraj’s storytelling has been his greatest asset and it was no different in Petta. It takes us back and forth to different times and keeps springing surprises thereby keeping us engrossed. The story begins with a riveting present-day scene and goes back in the past that eventually leads us to that present day. It again digs further down in the past to uncover more secrets and comes back to the present day for a grand finale. Petta is about Pettavelan, the college hostel warden, who is not only responsible for looking after the students but has a history with present-day powerful politician Singaar Singh a.k.a Singaaram (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). We learn about Pettavelan’s real motive of joining the college as warden and revel in the intriguing duel between him and Singaaram.
Petta is replete with references to Rajinikanth’s previous movies and the aura that he has created over the years. Anyone who is a true fan of Rajini (like Director Karthik Subbaraj himself) and has been hankering for reliving those ‘Rajini moments’ would definitely relish every reference that has been made in this film. Rajini’s famous “paambu..paambu” dialogue still makes us laugh and Pettavelan does say that to frighten the college mess supervisor (Munishkanth Ramdoss). When Singaaram’s son Jithu (Vijay Sethupathy) asks for a cigarette, he throws one in his own mouth, lights it and exhales smoke (but also advises not to smoke). In another scene, he even twirls his gun around the trigger finger. Anu (Megha Akash), the daughter of Rajini’s love-interest Mangalam (Simran) in the present day, tells Pettavelan that he looks stylish like a young boy to which he says, “naturally”. When he throws open the gate outside Mangalam’s home, it reminds us of that iconic gate scene from his first film Apoorva Raagangal. One can’t help but rejoice in the reminiscence of his film Mullum Malarum when he dances to the song called ‘Raman Aandaalum’. Maalik (M. Sasikumar), the close friend of Pettavelan and Anwar (Sananth Reddy), the son of Maalik, reminds us of that beautiful friendship from the movie Baashha.
Huge credit goes to Karthik Subbaraj for showing us the playful side of Rajinikanth to an extent that was perhaps last seen in Sivaji The Boss. When being interviewed for warden post by the College Principal (Y.G. Mahendran), Pettavelan bangs hard on the table, gets hold onto a toy and says “bommai” (toy) referring to the Principal. He is also not just walking around in the college. Instead, we see him in a rollicking mode all the time. He does a cricket bowling action while walking along with college mess supervisor. While Michael (Bobby Simha) and his men are ragging the junior guys, Pettavelan comes in the midst of them and shakes a leg. At a funeral, we see Pettavelan jovially dancing to the beats of drums. It is chucklesome to see his reaction when Maalik, who has impregnated Poongodi, says that he has done nothing. In another scene, lost in the beauty of Mangalam, who is a pranic healer in this film, Pettavelan winds up asking if she is a “biryani dealer”.
I never wanted the romantic phase between Pettavelan and Mangalam to end at all. Rajinikanth and Simran’s pair was reinvigorating and pleasant to watch which made this a dreamy phase and one for the ages. Pettavelan knocks on her door and looks at the mirror to see if he is looking alright. Mangalam does the same on the inside before opening the door. Anu and her boyfriend Anwar are mesmerised by the blossoming romance between Pettavelan and Mangalam as she smilingly watches him cooking food (And so are we enthralled by this lovely relationship!). It is a beautiful scene when they go out and buy flowers and ‘Ilamai Thirumbuthe’ song in the background exemplifies the beauty even more (Anirudh Ravichander’s commendable music is one of the quintessential elements of this film).
As the first half of the movie covers the romance and college scenes, one may start thinking if this is what the movie is all about. In one of the scenes in the second half, Pettavelan gets a phone call from Mangalam and does not answer reaffirming that there is no time for love and more important issues are at stake. So, as we approach towards the intermission, Pettavelan and his fight with the goons gets triggered. It is almost like Pettavelan is giving a signal to the audience to sit-back-and-enjoy when he is sitting on an easy-chair near the college gate with his hands behind the head literally waiting for the goons to attack him. All the drama surrounding ragging in the college, the enmity between Michael and Anwar, and the romance comes to a halt as the movie unveils the core issues of the movie. It was thrilling to see Rajinikanth using nunchaku (chain sticks), a martial arts weapon popularised by Bruce Lee, to fight against goons with such agility. The scene where he shoots at the chairs which are piled up behind Jithu is a visual treat.
In a film like this, where everyone has performed so well, it is hard to pinpoint one or two. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Singaaram looks threatening when a bomb goes off at a place and he crawls over dead bodies frantically in search of Pettavellan. Vijay Sethupathy as Jithu looks villainous when he removes the shawl from one hand and starts shooting at the goons. Simran as Mangalam is not just beautiful but performs with aplomb when she had to persuade another patient (Chinni Jayanth) to wait outside while she is treating Pettavelan. The evil look of Bobby Simha as Michael works wonder as he does all the talking in absence of Pettavelan but could not say a word while he is present. M. Sasikumar as Maalik looks perfect for this innocent character. Although, I felt that Saro’s character could have been given some importance as her death did not evoke any emotion. Also, Maalik’s friendship with Pettavelan seemed to have been cut short and did not fully develop into a strong bond that it aspired to. But the lack of focus on these characters did not really affect much as the story had a lot of complications and was gradually revealing everything in an immersing way.
Whether it was intentionally done or the movie really required it, I have no idea. Petta has some political touch to it (Rajini’s political entry in the real-life has definitely worked in the film’s favour). There is a politician who calls himself “Kingmaker” while in the background someone is speaking on the phone asking how much thermocol is needed (a clear reference to a Tamil Nadu minister who floated thermocol sheets to curb water loss due to evaporation). Pettavelan even asks the students to ‘speak up’ for their problems related to hostel food. During the ragging scene, he also reiterates that ‘newcomers are never welcomed properly’. We also see Pettavelan reading a book about politics during the interview with the College Principal. While convincing Rajapandi for the marriage of Maalik and Poongodi, Pettavelan says that he does not differentiate between Hindus and Muslims. There is also a reference to some of the recent incidents related to killings in the name of cow protection when some people start attacking Jithu for the same reason.
I am afraid that Petta is not for the ones who are not true fans of Rajinikanth. Fans of Karthik Subbaraj (like myself) may not be enjoying as much for there are compromises made to accommodate Rajini moments. But Petta will be remembered for the Rajini mania that it has created. As the acknowledgements in the beginning clearly mention that it is dedicated to Superstar Rajinikanth, one would expect a lot of fan moments. The inception itself had an answer to that as Karthik Subbaraj drops us to a fight scene right away and a blurred vision of Rajinikanth can be seen which is followed by his angry eyes and then the full picture. Petta will also be remembered for new dialogues of Rajinikanth (like dancing to a song for 30 seconds to forget our problems or cooking the food with love or my favourite, “Nallavana iru, romba nallavana irukathey”). This is the sort of movie where I won’t mind Prime Minister of the country calling a college principal to recommend Pettavelan for a warden post. Petta is a romantic, mind-boggling, entertaining and a rollicking ride that makes us say “yes, we want more” when Rajinikanth turns towards the camera and asks, “intha aattam pothuma?”.