It’s not your regular Kollywood interrogation scene. There’s no solitary light bulb hanging languidly from the ceiling of a dusty room. There’s no long table with the menacing cop at one end, and the battered and bloody accused at the other. In Sethupathi, Vijay Sethupathi interrogates the accused in the middle of a crowded village carnival, in the middle of blaring noise. The accused, in turn, casually admits to the crime. Like it was a part of his daily routine. That would be the cue for a normal Kollywood cop to rise up with his veins bulging angrily, scream punchy dialogues, and beat the crap out of the guy. Then handcuff him.
Not so in Sethupathi. Sethupathi looks at the villain with a look best reserved for gazing the at the love of your life. He serenely listens with a faint smile. Then insults him in the subtlest way possible. That’s Sethupathi for you – a sarcastic, no-nonsense cop who uses his wit and humour ahead of physical strength to get the better of his foes.
Other policemen call Sethupathi ‘Crazy, Psycho, Violent’. In his opening scene, he’s engaged in a friendly wrestling match with his two children and his wife. One moment he’s raining punches on criminals. The next moment, he’s on the phone, saying cheesy things to his wife.
A gang, led by a powerful man in Madurai, murders a police officer. How Sethupathi becomes entangled in the problem after taking up the case forms the plot of the film.
In Naanum Rowdy Dhan, the wannabe rowdy Vijay Sethupathi admits in the climax, ‘Police dhan gethu’. In Sethupathi, he goes out of his way to prove this point. Before the film’s release, some fans had tweeted that Sethupathi would be Vijay Sethupathi’s Singam. But Sethupathi is nothing like Singam. There are no punchy dialogues, no excessive build-up scenes, and no flashy duets that contribute little to the story. Sethupathi talks when he needs to. There isn’t a single unnecessary word.
In one scene, the action builds up like any other mass-action sequence. Sethupathi rides his Royal Enfield into Vaathiyar, the villain’s factory (not an abandoned one!). There’s swagger. There’s slow-motion. We expect him to pound Vaathiyaar. But no. He twists the handlebar a notch, and moves an inch closer. Close enough that Vaathiyar sees him and recoils from his chair in fear. Sethupathi sniggers. Nods his head with satisfaction. And leaves.
The audience can’t stop applauding.
With marvellous screen presence, Vijay Sethupathi owns every frame he is in. As a policeman, he’s the ultimate macho man. He twirls his moustache and commands respect from his juniors. As a family man, he’s a man-child. He needs his wife to mix the ‘molaga-podi’ with oil, to go with his dosai. His body language is perfect. He speaks so well with his eyes, that close-ups of eyes are enough to project machismo.
Vela Ramamoorthy as Vaathiyaar is a revelation. Like Vijay Sethupathi, he dominates his scenes. Remya Nambeesan is one of the most underrated actresses in the industry. Thankfully, her talents aren’t wasted on cliché romantic scenes here. Director Arun Kumar creditably gives her a role where, despite being a housewife, she isn’t just another piece of property in the house. Their romantic scenes show the everyday interactions between a husband and a wife. These beautifully executed scenes feel integral to the storyline.
The supporting cast includes a debutante playing Moorthy, Sethupathi’s inept yet loyal subordinate. Moorthy’s interactions with his subordinates at the police station provide great comedy at regular intervals.
For any movie that revolves around heroism, the background music is key. Composer Nivas K Prasanna’s work on Sethupathi’s BGM score is outstanding. His music definitively amps up the ‘gethu’ of the scene. The ‘Hey Mama’ track, in particular, sung by Anirudh, deserves a special mention. Perhaps never before in cinema has a song done such justice to both the hero and the villain’s scenes.
For a director whose first film was the underrated Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, a subtle story with beautiful characters, Sethupathi is a surprise package. The biggest plus of the film is the precision with which Arunkumar has written his characters. Be it Sethupathi’s zany traits or Vaathiyaar’s weaker moments and his ego, Arunkumar has given his audience believable characters.
Of course, there are a few scenes that feel a tad unrealistic. It is a feature film after all (not a documentary!). But nowhere has the director succumbed to the formulaic template of most cop movies. If nothing else, for not compromising the story, for not adding over-the-top elements to make the look superhuman, Arun Kumar deserves a double thumbs up.
Sethupathi is one of the coolest cops ever to have graced the big screen. Hopefully, he won’t be the last.
The Sethupathi 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.