Sudha Kongara’s Irudhi Suttru is a boxing drama which doesn’t confine itself to the boxing ring. It explores the complex nature of human emotions. An underdog with a rare talent is discovered. A man takes her under his wings. A man who is dealing with a tragic past. A sibling, hurt and jealous, goes all out to defeat the younger one. In between, the film talks about sexual harassment, unbridled corruption, and everything wrong with India’s sports (non-cricket) field.
A black sheep and a dark horse. An Indian boxing coach with a bad reputation. A talented youngster from Chennai’s fishermen colony. The two embark on a mission to win the international boxing championship. It isn’t easy. One, because the student is a woman. Second, because it’s India.
Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak De India began similarly. A disgraced Indian coach takes up the challenge to lead the Indian women’s hockey team to victory. But Irudhi Suttru, unlike the former, doesn’t shy away from exploring the relationship between the coach and the student. The film unabashedly speaks of sexual abuse in India’s reputed sports organisations. And it doesn’t end with a patriotism-screaming scene. This film is as much about human emotions as it is about sport.
Prabhu (R Madhavan), the coach in Irudhi Suttru, isn’t a gentleman. The opening scene validates the general opinion about him being a ‘pombala porukki‘ – a philanderer. He is seen having sex with a woman, who is apparently married to someone else. He is rude and arrogant. He freely uses expletives in conversations. Later in the film, when Prabhu tells Murali (Radha Ravi) that Madhi (Ritika Singh) reminds him of his younger self, it isn’t hard to believe. Both are wild horses. He is a little old and tired. She is young, untamed and unstoppable.
Madhi’s first solution to every crisis in life is violence. When a selection committee wrongly disqualifies her older sister, Lakshmi (Mumtaz Sorcar), from a match, she hits the men involved. She beats up cat-callers, potential abusers, and anyone who irks her. When Prabhu (R Madhavan) approaches her, she threatens to punch him. He is impressed. This is what he wants her to do for him – punch. Madhi is different from other women in her family and community. While Lakshmi, who wants to become a police officer, is always seen in colourful half-sarees (except when she is in the ring), Madhi always wears oversized shirts and pants. Unlike Lakshmi, who often bursts into tears, Madhi snarls when she is angry. She worships Mohammad Ali and Dhanush. She is unburdened by her gender.
When Madhi confesses her love (without a coy introduction) to him, Prabhu brushes it off. Almost as if he is intimidated by her forthrightness. This is a film that doesn’t profess the old morals. After a very predictable final round of boxing tournament, the two go into a tearful embrace. The game is over. The film leaves the future open-ended. Let the heart choose.
The highlight of this film is Ritika Singh’s portrayal of Madhi. She comes across as a natural, with no sign of beginner’s uneasiness in her body language. It’s sheer delight to watch her sing “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” and break into a dance on the street. She is a powerhouse on screen. Her acting appears effortless even in complex scenes, as when Madhi discovers she has fallen for the coach. This real-life MMA fighter nails every scene, on and off the boxing ring, like a seasoned actress.
R Madhavan’s performance is both powerful and restrained. When he’s angry, there’s fire in his eyes. He raises his voices sparingly, making it all the more effective. Above all, his character seems to be on a leash, as R Madhavan gracefully lets Ritika take the lead, and steps aside to watch her with a proud smile. Nasser’s portrayal of the old and simple coach from Chennai adds to the film’s warmth. And while Zakir Hussain’s Dev Khatri is a predictable character, the actor’s restrained expressions raises the role above the ordinary.
Santhosh Narayanan’s background music doesn’t overpower the scenes. It plays perfect rhythm to Madhi’s energetic strides. The rustic tunes of Ey Sandakkara and Vaa Machaane are outstanding.
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