Cast: GV Prakash Kumar, Parthiban, Poonam Bajwa
Director: Baba Bhaskar
Earlier this year, GV Prakash Kumar appeared as a young-adult who fought against the gatekeepers of casteism to enter the world of Carnatic music, in Sarvam Thaala Mayam. Now, as summer begins to drown the people of Tamil Nadu in heat and dust, the composer-cum-actor stars as a slum-dweller in Kuppathu Raja.
Baba Bhaskar, the choreographer-turned-director, seems to have been inspired by every movie set in North Chennai. The North Madras slang, people complaining about the lack of water, queues that start forming outside restrooms in the mornings, and quarrels that don't have a beginning, middle, or an end, are all present in the first twenty minutes itself. Likewise, as the template with these kinds of films goes, there's a song for every situation. And since the entire movie is shot in cramped by-lanes, the properties that are used for romantic and rueful moments too are household items.
The voice-over that introduces the characters in the beginning neatly tells you what you're going to get for the next 120 minutes. While Rajendran's (Parthiban) gang is called the Pandavas, Rocket – a sillily named Prakash–and his associates are called the Kauravas. But that doesn't add up to anything. These Kauravas and Pandavas aren't at loggerheads all the time. Of course, Rajendran and Rocket do exchange steely-eyed glances every now and then, and, there's indeed a full-blown argument that involves a couple of slaps and broken hearts, but that hardly explains the reason for the names that are bestowed upon their gangs.
There's no point in trying to connect unplaced dots in such films, however, the brain would want to settle for some lip-smacking dialogues and foot-tapping numbers at least. In the absence of these little elements, I was left fuming. The battle of insults that the characters of Yogi Babu and Jangiri Madhumitha indulge in might be the film's wackiest scene, but that's also the only place where you're not looking for something more.
Thankfully, Rocket's love-interest, Kamala (Palak Lalwani) isn't from an upper middle class family as that would have shifted the focus of the story. Even here, Kamala's mother doesn't want her to loaf around with Rocket. Her mother doesn't spell it out loudly, but I'm guessing it's because of his employment status – he's a happy-go-lucky guy who doesn't think of getting a full-time job to support himself financially. He depends on his ageing dad (MS Bhaskar as Oor Nyaayam) to lift the weights for him. Oh, by the way, Oor Nyaayam is a cool name for a person who tries to solve everybody's problems.
In the role of a compulsive drinker who showers love upon his son, Bhaskar is brilliant, and, so is Parthiban as the head of the neighborhood where all these characters reside in.
Vignesh Shivn's Naanum Rowdy Dhaan showed us what a fun guy Parthiban could be as a local thug and there are flashes of it in Kuppathu Raja, too. But the narrative doesn't capitalize on his character, or screen presence, and hence it feels as though his wings are clipped. His unfruitful romantic tryst with Poonam Bajwa (as Mary) is also left unexplored as she's used merely as a temptress who crosses swords with Kamala for getting too close to Rocket.
The death of a supporting character that sets the protagonist on a mission to find the killer took me back to Vetri Maaran's directorial debut, Polladhavan – the numerous streets that Prabhu (Dhanush) enters and exits to find out what happened to his beloved bike has a replica in Kuppathu Raja as Rocket snakes through the city's sleepless hubs. For that factor alone, I can't say that Bhaskar will come out with an Aadukalam of his own in his sophomore project as director.
Prakash is experimenting with his roles and movies a lot. His 2019-lineup looks great (he's working with directors like Sasi and Vasanthabalan); nevertheless, that'll do him no good if the output looks the same. His songs, too, have started to sound drab. There's no beat that awakens the inner Prabhu Deva in you. If he doesn't change his game sooner or later, it'll become difficult for him and the audience that pays to watch him on the big screen.