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Review | 'Sarpatta Parambarai': Pa Ranjith’s clash of the clans is about passion, loyalty, the underdog and, yes, boxing

This film has many ‘paisa vasool’ moments.

July 22, 2021 / 09:35 AM IST
Arya in 'Sarpatta Parambarai', streaming on Amazon Prime Video. (Image: screen grab)

Arya in 'Sarpatta Parambarai', streaming on Amazon Prime Video. (Image: screen grab)

It’s Emergency for the rest of the country, but there’s a clash of the clans that will not back down. Thanks to a leader who won’t let the men cower before anyone. This is not just a boxing film, it is about rising up from the dockyards where opportunities don’t come by easily. This is not just a film with long hair and big moustaches, it is a film about grit and hearts that beat for loyalty and pride. Is the Sarpatta clan seriously superior to the others? Will the power fighter Vembuli and Dancing Rose beat Coach Rangan in a battle of survival?

Pa Ranjith’s best yet is how I saw this film. It’s like what they say about the movies of the seventies: Isme Action hai! Emotion Hai! Story hai! Hero aur Villain powerful hain! Aur romance, that is for the sport that is life for the people. And yes, the boxer and his woman romance too!

‘Mother Mary, please let my son lose!’ prays Bhagyam (Anupama Kumar is fabulous as a mother who hates the sport) who does not want her son Kabilan to lose his way like his father.

‘How could I stand for these nobodies to disrespect Coach? That’s why I fought!’ says Kabilan who has refrained from boxing because his mother gets upset. Arya plays Kabilan superbly, a role that’s more challenging than his double role in Mahamuni.

‘You have found your path, boy! March ahead!’ says Kevin who plays Daddy to Kabilan.

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‘Boxing is like penance. You rely on your skill, not aggression.’ Coach Rangan has been a champion himself and a coach to all winners of the Sarpatta clan. Pasupathy is a wonderful actor, and he is incredible as Coach Rangan. Ready to spring into action when angry, just as hard a taskmaster for his boxers, and at the same time loving and caring in his own gruff way.

Coach Rangan has issued and accepted a challenge that his boxer will beat Vembuli’s Idiyappa clan. The rivalry between the two clans is scripted so well, you involuntarily take sides. You want the dockworkers to seize the opportunity and win. Prove that they are North Chennai’s champions. That they are someone.

This burning desire to prove their legitimacy, their existence is more than winning a boxing match. It’s a metaphor for their lives. And this comes across very powerfully in the film.

‘He will spin you like a top and beat your lights out!’ Now that’s a song for Kabilan’s homecoming. He has won his first match, and Shabeer Kalarakkal is a fabulous opponent nicknamed Dancing Rose. That’s a fight I would pay to watch in real life even though I am squeamish to see punches and fisticuffs and blood.

Kabilan’s mum is mad at all this dancing in the streets, but she cannot stop the celebrations because the whole village is dancing. If it weren’t the middle of the night, I would be playing the music loud and would be up and dancing too! But noise cancelling headphones will have to do.

And how I laughed at Kabilan’s expression when the bride reveals a fun side to her. I am sure the neighbours were awakened by my huge whoops of approval. This film has many ‘paisa vasool’ moments and this one tops the charts!

But no new bride is as feisty as his Mariamma. She tells Meeran to go away and scolds Kabilan to stay with her. ‘I know about abstinence,’ she says, but dammit, acknowledge my presence. There’s romance in this boxing movie, too, and I am left holding my cup of tea, the warmth of this relationship seeping through my being. What a wonderful scene this is.

The final fight is not about trading punches and beating the big bad bully, it is tinged with politics and Coach Rangan asks the police to wait until the fight is over. Will the undefeated Vembuli resort to dirty tactics? Will Kabilan win the fight fair and square? I felt (and you will too) the magic of the film permeate into my bloodstream and I actually watched with bated breath as the movie unfolded on the screen. I was part of that wild eyed, big haired crowd, ready to spring into action by folding my imaginary lungi to half mast…

I recall watching a boxing film just last week, and not feeling anything at all. But here, my heart was thudding loudly in my ears and I knew that I wanted Kabilan and Coach Rangan to win for all the underdogs who have not tasted the fruits of passion and have had to pay a price for politics that has never favoured the weak.

But the movie takes the hero and drags him through mud because Coach is arrested. Now we have to see if Kabilan, who was once Rocky, and has now become Freddy Heflin of Copland, can beat his old nemesis Vembuli who is still in shape, still fighting. Of course, as all great boxing movies have, his dad’s coach shows up to save Kabilan. And no matter what you say, the sea and the crabs make a great training video.

The argument and mistrust between Coach Rangan and Kabilan is necessary but we know where the movie is going. The end is eminently satisfying. The grit and honour of the clan is preserved. There is justice for the little man.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.

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