Director: S. R. Prabhakaran
Cast: Manjima Mohan, Aishwarya Dutta, Vikram Prabhu, Soundararaja, Sharath Lohitashwa
At the beginning of Sathriyan (Warrior), a voiceover gives us the lay of the land, that this story takes place in Trichy, that it's about two warring rowdy gangs, and that's there's a love story too. In short, it's the one-line synopsis of 5000 earlier films, and the first scene does little to dispel the smell of cobwebs. It's a conversation between a father, son (Soundararaja) and daughter (Niranjana, played by Manjima Mohan). The son and daughter exclaim that there's a rowdy named Samuthiram that everyone's talking about in college, and no one's laid eyes on him. They don't seem to see what the audience instantly cottons on to, given that the father is played by Sharath Lohitashwa, villain of 5000 earlier films. He is Samuthiram.
The director, SR Prabhakaran, doesn't even give us time to roll our eyes, because the father gets a call right then, from a minister who calls him Samuthiram and says he has a job for him. This must be the worst-kept secret in the history of screenwriting: you create intrigue, and squelch it two seconds later. And I thought the film was just going to be business as usual from the man who gave us Sundarapandian and Idhu Kathirvelan Kadhal.
But then, something interesting happens. A rowdy named Guna (Vikram Prabhu) is summoned to save a man whose life is in danger, and he doesn't make it on time. It's an unexpected opening stretch for the leading man. Unheroic too. Sathriyan is about Guna's transformation under the power of love — and yes, you can rattle off 5000 earlier films that come under this sub-genre. But the characters are strong and the interactions are written well. That makes the difference.
Take Ravi (RK Vijay Murugan), a gangster who likes to dress in white, unmindful of how murderous it must be to wash away bloodstains. He objects to Guna's love for Niranjana because he considers Samuthiram his brother, and has loftier dreams for the girl. He doesn't say as much, but it's wonderful to watch him struggle between his love for Guna and his belief that Guna is not worthy of Niranjana. The scene where Guna tells Ravi he loves Niranjana is terrific. The quivering threat Ravi issues Guna is almost emotional: "Don't do something that might make me pull a knife on you."
Sathriyan is about Guna's transformation under the power of love — and yes, you can rattle off 5000 earlier films that come under this sub-genre. But the characters are strong and the interactions are written well. That makes the difference.
Or take Niranjana's mother (Thara). She depends on help from her husband's colleagues, and yet, she doesn't want her daughter to marry a rowdy, even one who says he's no longer the man she thinks he is. Then we have Niranjana's brother, a weakling who weeps that he doesn't have the macho gene present in all the men around him. In a hilarious scene, he brandishes a knife in front of Guna, and then cowers in fear when Guna returns the favour.
The love scenes aren't bad because, again, Guna and Niranjana are treated like characters. She's not a basket case. She falls for him because he becomes her bodyguard for a while and she feels safe around him. It's not the most plausible of scenarios, but Manjima Mohan makes us buy this simple, dignified girl who rarely raises her voice. (It's the kind of role Lakshmi Menon would have played a couple of years ago.) The director takes his time with the romance, and we get a sense that Guna's transformation isn't sudden. He continues to kill. His signature move is a series of quick slashes with the knife, the stainless steel version of the Five Point Palm Heart Exploding Technique. A bigger hero wouldn't be able to get away with this.
The biggest problem is the running time, over two-and-a-half hours. A painful Yogi Babu comedy track ends as abruptly as it begins. Even worse is the budding romance between a medical college student (Kavin) and a girl who goes around slapping men who bump into her. She slaps him. He slaps her back, saying that sometimes men can bump into you accidentally too. That's enough. She falls for him. Apparently, we're still looking at women who just need one tight slap to be put in place. This track, too, is abandoned abruptly. But the Kavin character, who becomes Guna's friend, shows how innocents become collateral damage in this kind of movie.
Vikram Prabhu has loosened up considerably, but he still makes us wonder what a better actor would have done with the part. His lectures are annoying. It's almost as if the director (who makes good use of screen space) realised he was making a character-oriented drama that's going to make some people shift in their seats, and so let's give them the things they're used to: speeches, women being slapped, bad comedy. But Guna isn't like the 5000 earlier rowdies in Tamil cinema. He gets to repeat a line that Samuthiram used. He says he doesn't want to tell Niranjana he's leaving on an assignment, because she'll stop him. For a change, we get to scratch the surface, and we see the fear, the insecurities beneath the bluster. I was pleasantly surprised.
Watch the trailer here: