Last weekend we saw five major releases, three on OTT platforms and two in the cinemas. Nani-starrer Tuck Jagadish took the viewers back to the stupendousy boring times of TV serials of the 90s. Bhoot Police, starring Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor, was an unintentionally comedic misfire masquerading horribly as a horror comedy and a drinking game to spot the cultural references from Modi’s India. Gopichand’s Seetimaarr ends up being a damp squib for most sports movies from South India that are a vehicle for the protagonist to cater to the masses.
The other two movies have Tamil politics at their heart, one imaginary and another too real to life. Kangana Ranaut shines bright in Thalaivii where she plays the role of Jayalalithaa, the ‘Amma’ of Indian politics. However, this biopic of the former AIADMK supremo, supposed to release right before the recent Tamil Nadu assembly elections, barely does justice to its larger-than-life subject matter.
That leaves us with Tughlaq Durbar, available on Netflix, which is a biting satire and more than a decent watch. Vijay Sethupathi is a revelation as Singaravelan alias Singam who takes to politics by dint of being born while his mother was attending a political rally. He aspires to become an influential politician like Rayappan (Parthiban), in whose meeting he was born.
After several desperate attempts, Singam manages to get closer to Rayappan while sidelining his sidekick Mangalam (Bagavathi Perumal). Soon, however, things take a schizophrenic turn where the ruthless Singam starts developing a conscience owing to his alter ego. Delhiprasad Deenadayalan’s script has a lot of potential to generate genuine laughs, which he manages to, at least till the first half.
The movie’s two strong pillars are Sethupathi and Parthiban who light up the screen whenever they share a scene together. Parthiban’s deadpan demeanour and Sethupathi’s goofiness keep the movie ticking along. The mise-en-scène of a lower class Chennai locality gives the movie its gritty levity. Imagine Pa.Ranjith’s Madras and Vikram Kumar’s 24 having a love child, Tughlaq Durbar.
Shankar’s Anniyan showed us 15 years ago what a protagonist with Jekyll and Hyde characteristics can look like. Tughlaq Durbar, which aims for something similar, doesn’t try hard to enliven the proceedings. Yes, it’s downright hilarious to see Sethupathi bad mouthing his mentor at a rally before realising his folly after coming to senses. It’s also chuckle worthy to see Singam getting out of his funk and confiding with his best friend (Karunakaran). The tic of Sethupathi where he keeps winking with one eye before turning into a Good Samaritan is patently funny. Having said that, the movie’s latter half is riddled with cliches and wastes the talented Manjima Mohan and Rashi Khanna in boring stock characters.
Despite having marquee actors, the movie’s production values are pretty lacklustre, which get more glaring when the second half lays bare the clunky script. It’s always refreshing to see Sethupathi returning to familiar territory after his recent outings in Master and Uppena where he got to amply display his acting chops but not his funny side. The director needs to be appreciated for getting the brainwave to cast Parthiban as the scheming politician with a comic verve. However, the movie stretches one’s credulity when it claims to be set in 2021 and no one is to be seen wearing a mask and not one mention of Covid is to be found in the 146-minute duration. Yes, these are early days when we are getting to watch post-2020 cinema but film-makers need to get sensitised that they are demanding a leap of faith from an audience that associates anything happening after 2020 with masks, social distancing and hand sanitisers.
However, Deenadayalan can be forgiven for this seemingly minor infraction considering he didn’t put much thought into his script itself.