Cast: Kathir, Srushti Dange, Laguparan
Director: Naveeen Nanjundan
Dedicated to The Tamil Nadu Police Department’, reads one of the title cards of Sathru. It sets the ball rolling, for you know where the film is going to stand when topics like capital punishment and encounter killings are up for debate. The film even begins like the usual cop glorification drama. Sub-inspector Kathiresan (earnest-as-usual Kathir, who gets one of Tamil cinema’s most low-key hero introductions ever) has been summoned by his senior for a talking down. Kathiresan is what you’d call the trigger-happy Tamil film cop and instead of letting the law take its own course, he has beaten up a local smuggler into confessing his crimes. As he leaves the room, a subordinate explains how Kathiresan has already been suspended twice. It’s a credit Kathiresan wears like a badge.
So when he’s trusted to deliver a bag of ransom money to retrieve a kidnapped boy, Kathiresan does one extra. He cleverly traces the whereabouts of the moving bag, kills the kidnapper and returns the boy to his relieved parents. In the typical cop film, this sequence would have served its purpose. The hero saves the day so he can move onto solving bigger cases. But there’s a twist. Kathiresan gets suspended for three months for the encounter. And it only gets worse. His victim is a part of a gang of young criminals who are extremely loyal to one another. As Prabha (an excellent Lagubaran), the baby-faced leader of the gang tells Kathiresan, “Just like your family, these guys are my family.” And suddenly, the title Sathru doesn’t remain incidental anymore. It’s not a film that’s just about the hero…it’s as much about his enemy and his family.
This sets off a game of cat and mouse with the gang members threatening to kill each of Kathir’s family members. It begins with Kathir’s niece getting attacked, forcing the family to take her to hospital. As the niece’s operation begins, the clock is set for another kind of operation as well. The suspended police officer must track down each of the gang members (just the number of people as his family) before all is lost.
But instead of focusing on Kathir’s side alone, just as much time is spent establishing Prabha’s modus operandi. Prabha gets a great breakdown moment on seeing his friend’s corpse. He also gets exciting stretches where he plans his every move. And when Prabha’s car is stopped at a police checking, the scene is not rushed. It’s given its due time and the payoff is some incredible amount of tension.
It’s the same when these scenes are intercut with what’s happening at Kathir’s side. Though he has a ‘love angle’, very little time is spent elaborating on developing that or for any songs. That screentime is what the writers have used to really milk the chases and the exchanges between the two of them for added excitement.
Even the issues I had with the film had to do with what must have been budgetary limitations. The film would have worked a lot better with a better bunch of supporting actors and extras. Even the chases and action scenes, would have looked more convincing with a bit more money. I also didn’t care too much for the film’s repeated use of skewed camera angles, which gets a bit too much after some time.
But these are passable in a surprisingly taut cop thriller with moments where you’re rooting for the bad guy just as much as you’re rooting for the hero. It is usually “From The Makers Of” that gets written on a film’s promotional material. The trailer of Sathru said “From the Actor of” with the list of Kathir’s films like Pariyerum Perumal and Kirumi. It worked. He knows how to pick his scripts.