Tughlaq Durbar has a great premise that reminded me of one of my favorite Jim Carrey comedies, Liar Liar. Carrey‘s Fletcher Reede is a shit-talking lawyer who does anything to win a case. One day, he’s reduced to a state where he cannot say anything but the truth. The test of the film is how he manages a situation in which his fundamental nature has changed. That’s what happens to Singaravelan aka Singam (Vijay Sethupathi) and the film is about how he copes with a fundamental change in his personality.
Singam is a blind follower of a politician, Rayappan (Parthiban). In fact, Singam was born at Rayappan’s political rally and gets named by him. How does Singam express his fundamental nature, which is loyalty to Rayappan? He lives with his sister, Manimegalai (Manjima Mohan) as they’ve lost their parents, and Singam pawns their mother’s nose stud to put up posters of Rayappan. When Manimegalai gets molested by her employer at work, Singam merely says that such things are bound to happen — she just has to go out to work and work for the family.
I was shocked because no other Tamil hero would agree to play such a character on screen. Actors are image-conscious and they don’t want to play such characters. We may complain that Vijay Sethupathi over-stretches himself and dilutes his brand value, but there is the fact that he’s one of the bravest actors around. In even a scene like this, he puts his heart and soul into it without being image-conscious.
That’s how the young Singam grows up. There’s a beautiful twist — and it’s also a great shot — where we see how the two natures in Singam split up: the blind follower of Rayappan and a new Singam. But the problem with Tughlaq Durbar is also the problem with many Tamil films — it has a great concept, a twist, a one-liner, but after that they don’t know what to do with it. Rather, they don’t know how to make the best screenplay from the one-line. This twist is seen in a lot of films about bad politicians who only want to make money.
The reason why I think that not enough is made out of the twist is because several of the scenes would have happened even without the big accident. Even if Singam merely pretended to be a good guy and a bad guy at different times, many of the scenes would still have played out in the film. Of course, there are scenes where Singam makes cell phone calls to himself where the twist is used in a very integral way. But overall, there’s the generic feeling of watching yet another political drama unfold.
What makes the film even more generic is that it uses traits of Parthiban and Sathyaraj that we’ve seen in many other films for comedy. I did laugh at quite a few places but a film with this unique a premise needed far more unique screenwriting. There’s a crucial twist involving a man in a mask but after a point the mask is nowhere in the picture. It’s as if it left this film and walked into another Jim Carrey movie. But the one character that really worked for me is the best friend, Vasu (Karunakaran). He holds the film together emotionally.
Two other characters that are introduced for emotional effect are Manimegalai and Kamatchi (Raashi Khanna) who is kind of Singam’s girlfriend. They are absolutely undeveloped and contribute absolutely nothing. The second half seems all over the place, like little scenes stitched together instead of one integral, organic screenplay. The ending is funny in a certain way but it also doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film. It might work as a standalone scene, but like the rest of the film, it needed far better writing and conceptualization.