Director: Baba Bhaskar
Cast: GV Prakash, R Parthieban, Palak Lalwani, Poonam Bajwa, MS Bhaskar, Yogi Babu
Can we discuss a ‘subaltern’ starter pack because it seems many filmmakers have been issued this. Item #1 in the pack is narrow, crowded streets and small tenement flats. Item #2 is women with plastic pots. Item #3 is lungi-clad hero. Item #4 is a sufficiently “mass” song. These things will ensure your film is North Madras and subaltern.
Of course, how a director uses these items in the starter pack is the real test of skill. In the hands of a Vetrimaaran, these items feel natural and aids in the film telling, as we see in the song “Ennadi Maayavi Nee” from Vada Chennai. We see these same elements in the “Sodakku Mela Sodakku” song from Thaana Serndha Koottam, and in the “Oru Viral Puratchi” song from Sarkar. And there too, the elements feel better handled (but beginning to border on the cliche). These are especially cliched in “Thara Local” song from the first Maari, but then, that was set up as a fun, comic film and perhaps for the star and for the director, it was a “let steam off” project. In Kuppathu Raja, these elements have made the journey into full-blown cliches. It doesn’t help that the lyrics of the song “Enga Area Engaludhu” from Kuppathu Raja feel like a watered down version of the Pudhupettai “Enga Area Ulla Varaadhe” – which is somewhat of a classic now.
And this feeling of employing all the cliches to make a film never left me while watching Baba Bhaskar’s Kuppathu Raja. It felt empty, there were all the elements but they felt like a parody. Like someone said you had to fill a quota of films set in North Madras or you’d not be taken seriously as a Tamil cinema director, and so newcomers rush in where angels fear to tread.
This is not to say that North Madras stories or subaltern stories do not deserve to be told. They have to be. If any, those are the stories we need to hear more often if only to shake us – and by that I mean me – from the privileged cocoon we live in. But that requires a story teller who has skill, experience, empathy and craft. And perhaps a more-than-passing connection to the place in which these stories are set.
Kuppathu Raja is written and directed by Baba Bhaskar in his first film as a director. The film is produced by M Saravanan, Padur Ramesh, and others, and features GV Prakash, R Parthieban, Palak Lalwani, Poonam Bajwa, MS Bhaskar, Yogi Babu and others. The film has music by GV Prakash, and was shot by Mahesh Muthuswamy, and edited by Praveen.
The film was under production for a while and has released nearly 3 years after it was first announced. This perhaps leads to some of the film feeling out of touch with the North Madras it tries to show.
Kuppathu Raja is Rocket (GV Prakash), a ne’er do well in a slum in North Madras. Kuppathu Raja is also MG Rajendran – a.k.a – Raja (R Partheiban), an MGR fan who always wants to do well by the people of his slum. The local Ward Councillor also wants to be Kuppathu Raja and will perhaps do murder to get there, as will the “heart of gold” Settuji – Bhandari, the local Marwari businessman and friend of MGR.
The film begins with the conflict between Rocket’s “gang” and MGR’s gang, although MGR’s close friend Oorgnayanam (MS Bhaskar) is Rocket’s father. And so there is a lot of build up to this. Many conflicts are set up only to fizzle out completely. Rocket is also in love with Kamala (Palak Lalwani), the daughter of a money lender who watches with eagle eyes who gets near enough to her daughter. In her world, there are people worthy enough to consider falling in love with her daughter, Rocket isn’t. For her part, Kamala likes Rocket, enough to feel jealous when some other woman as much as talks to him. And in to this mix arrives Mary (Poonam Bajwa) and her Anglo-Indian mother. Because, and this must be one of the terms of the subaltern starter pack, every such North Madras locality must have a woman who clearly does not belong in the milieu but is there to push the plot forward. We saw that with Kajal Aggarwal’s Sridevi in Maari, and we have that here in Poonam Bajwa’s Mary.
After a fair bit of hemming and hawing around the idea of a Rocket-MGR conflict, and a Rocket-Kamala-Mary triangle, and some flat attempts at jokes, there is an actual conflict between Rocket and MGR, at the end of which Oorgnayanam dies. And so Rocket must avenge his father while rebuilding his relationship with the slum and with Kamala. And figure out a way to ensure connectivity between scenes, because that facial hair of his exists in many stages and many positions, although time seems to be linear.
Kuppathu Raja has a fairly decent murder mystery underlying all this, but the padding on top takes too much time to unravel. And what could have been a tale of murder and revenge is instead left to simmer and burn out slowly in unnecessary sub plots, at least two of which have misleading clues and inconsistencies.
However, there was MS Bhaskar doing another one of his too easy performances as the loving, but drunk, single father of Rocket, a father who despite his limited means and resources wants to see his son happy even if that means buying him a bike he would never be able to afford.
The Kuppathu Raja review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.