Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai, unlike his recent movies, doesn’t openly discuss things like oppression and caste discrimination which had branded him as an anti-caste filmmaker. Breaking away from the image trap, Ranjith’s film is a straightforward, highly absorbing boxing drama about the clash between two popular clans – Sarpatta and Idiyappan – that ruled the North Madras in the 1970s. At the same time, it’s also an important story about one man’s fight for equality and glory. Arya plays the man Kabilan, who comes from a community that has been denied their basic opportunities and due recognition, and he must fight for all that to change.
Sarpatta Parambarai is predominantly about the clash between two warring boxing clans and how their rivalry has taken different forms over generations. As much as it’s a sports drama that takes a familiar route of storytelling, Ranjith makes some very interesting observations about the oppressed community that has been fighting for its place for many years. Arya’s character of Kabilan grows up watching boxing matches and idolizing the local boxing legend, Rangan (Pasupathy). As much as Kabilan craves for an opportunity to prove himself, he’s robbed off his dreams just because he hails from a community that has been sidelined. What makes Sarpatta Parambarai interesting, apart from being a highly entertaining boxing flick, is that it doesn’t endorse itself as a film that openly questions the caste system and the politics associated with it. It discusses a lot of these issues on the surface which never feels forced.
Sarpatta Parambarai is that rare film that doesn’t quite rely on its hero alone to make it accessible to the masses. It’s not until the 50th minute that Arya gets a proper hero-elevation scene. Till that moment, the film keeps him sidelined and has all the focus on the other key characters – from Rangan to Vembuli (John Kokken) and Dancing Rose (Shabeer Kallarakkal). The women also get pivotal parts to play, and they make such a strong impact. Anupama Kumar as Arya’s mother, Dushara Vijayan as Kabilan’s wife and Sanchana Natarajan are the film’s biggest catalysts. It was so refreshing to see John Vijay, who is mostly wasted in silly roles, play an important character who’s both a father figure and a sidekick to Kabilan, and scenes between them are some of the best moments of the film. Shabeer as Dancing Rose is another interesting negative character with some ethics. Even though he fights on behalf of the Idiyappan clan for glory, he’s someone who believes in a fair fight.
Arya shines as Kabilan and this character will go down as one of his best works. For having spent over two years on the project, watching Sarpatta Parambarai on the big screen would’ve been a cracker of an experience. The period setting of 1970s Madras and the detailing that has gone into the recreation of the bygone era would’ve made for a terrific theatrical experience. The boxing sequences also deserve special mention. The fights don’t match up to the professional standards, but they’ve been choreographed in such a way that they leave you engrossed till the very end.
Sarpatta Parambarai is already the contender for the best film of the year. But it’ll be more importantly remembered as the film that marked Ranjith’s return to form. This rousing story of an underdog’s triumph set against the boxing culture of North Madras is unmissable, simply because it’s more than a sports drama.
Director: Pa Ranjith
Cast: Arya, Pasupathy, Dushara Vijayan, Kalaiarasan, Sanchana Natarajan, Anupama Kumar and John Vijay