Sarkar: Vijay propaganda hinders this film from realising its potential

It’s almost as though Sanjay Ramasamy from Ghajini has been forced into a different world, a world in which his girlfriend’s head won’t get clubbed by a Murugadoss-certified weapon. This is a world in which he’s forced by circumstances to tread the blood-curdling world of politicians. Can his corporate skills help him? Murugadoss retains the last name for Vijay’s character, Sundar Ramasamy, the CEO of world-renowned organisation, GL. He also adds liberal doses of heroism, which come through in mostly uninventive ways. Like, for instance, having a few people build the character up under the pretext of conversation, so the hero entry can happen in the following scene. A slo-mo shot has him stepping out of a limousine, as he lights up a cigarette. It has only been done a few hundred times before.

Sarkar
Director: AR Murugadoss
Cast: Vijay, Keerthy Suresh, Radharavi, Pala Karuppiah

In looking to set the stage for Sundar Ramasamy, a company head addresses his team and compares him to Genghis Khan — this is a comparison mentioned at least once more in the film. It’s not the most complimentary comparison, given Genghis was known to have perpetrated quite a few genocides. Sundar himself is often referred to as a “monster”, and a “corporate criminal”, even though you don’t ever truly understand what his crimes are. He’s been banned from entering at least three countries in the world, it is said, and it’s also established that he destroys rival organisations in every country he steps in, causing thousands of people to be laid off. You have every reason to believe he’s a cool, apathetic destroyer. But then, this is the same person who gets quickly heartbroken upon hearing a story about a father who immolated himself and his family; this also causes him to do everything he can to help the survivor. He’s cold, and yet, warm?

Sundar Ramasamy is a Chennai boy who’s gone abroad to make his living, and gone on to become the CEO of the world-leading GL. A person, whom India has claimed as its own, after learning about his success. It’s hard not to begin thinking of Sundar Pichchai, the CEO of Google, whose looks seem to have inspired Vijay’s in this film — the beard styling, the greying at the edges…  Vijay’s character in the film even borrows his first name, and GL, his company, is perhaps short for Google Limited? You have to wonder though what Mr. Pichchai makes of Sundar Ramasamy being called a corporate criminal. Murugadoss has a love-hate relationship with capitalism, it seems. He romanticises it in Ghajini, goes all out against it in Kaththi, and now seems to have taken a liking to it again in Sarkar. He’s also taken to referencing his own films including using lines like “Enakke avara paakanum pola irukke” from Ramanaa, and of course, the famous “I am waiting” line used in films like Thupaaki and Kaththi.

Sundar incidentally isn’t the only character seemingly modelled after a real person. Among the villains are two seasoned politicians (Pala Karuppiah and Radha Ravi) who belong to a party called AIMDMK, which has you thinking about at least two prominent political duos. The green background at the swearing in ceremony is a dead give-away. A prominent lawyer is named Jethmalani, and later, when Paappa (Varalaxmi, who’s convincing as always) stresses on the importance of encouraging servile behaviour from partymen, it has you thinking of a prominent leader. There’s also a Narayanan of Infoware in this film. There’s a lot of such cute referencing.

Given that the protagonist is a corporate mastermind, it’s not a lot to expect some believable depiction of corporate life. But save for a small reference to branding, you are otherwise shown pretend-corporate people — like in the opening scene, when a head asks all the employees to stop their work and instead find out more about Sundar Ramasamy because he’s come to Chennai. They then begin googling him and unearth observations like, “He’s a playboy!” and “He’s a monster!”.

The film is also guilty of some of the mistakes it self-righteously attacks. A scene in a car has Sundar in conversation with the driver who talks about how people simply forward disturbing content to each other, but are simply waiting for the next big problem to emerge. Some ideas in Sarkar feel like WhatsApp forwards themselves. Like when Sundar, to run home his point on the importance of voting, lists the various historical events that were supposedly decided by the difference of a single vote. He talks of America’s language becoming English instead of German, France becoming a republic from a monarchy, Hitler acquiring dictatorial control over the party… It’s the sort of list you’d expect to see on WhatsApp a week before elections, sent by well-meaning friends. And much like many such noble lists, all the examples cited in this one are entirely wrong. Hitler’s dictatorial powers, in fact, are known to come after 553 people voted for it, and a single person against it. Not a particularly significant vote, as it turned out. In one scene, while talking about the importance of Section 49P, Sundar dryly comments that the legal advisors in the room could know it by simply googling it. I dare say that the same could be said of the writer of this film too.

The film really picks up only after Paappa flies down to Chennai. Finally, it seems Sundar has a competent rival. But it takes a long while coming. Till then, you have the politicians sending dozens of henchmen his way, as he dispatches them with boring ease. It’s so easy that in one scene where he’s facing an assassination attempt, he makes jokes and air-kisses children, while swatting away his attackers. All the stunt sequences in this film are devoid of the smart staging we saw, say, in Kaththi, and even the iron rods aren’t the shocking weapons that they once were in Ghajini. It’s the same with the songs too, despite Vijay’s relentless energy for dance. These songs sometimes kick in without warning. OMG Ponnu, for instance, comes out of nowhere after the interval. Even Simtaangaran feels planted.

Sarkar is Murugadoss trying really hard to project Vijay as a political force. The actor stretches out his arms as he walks into new spaces, conveying the instant sense of ownership he feels. That hand crossing over the head gesture from Mersal is repeated too. And in one momentous scene, he walks into a gathering of politicians on stage, and amid thousands of onlookers, takes his seat among them. He’s among them, and yet, he’s different. In a sea of white, he’s the only one wearing black. Amid dhotis, he’s the only one wearing a suit. Other times, it’s more overt. Like when he screams for the reformation of Tamil Nadu: “Idhaan namma sarkar!” The language may be a bit hypocritical though, given how Sundar expresses his disappointment to Nila (Keerthy Suresh) that children don’t understand literary Tamil anymore.

Keerthy Suresh’s biggest contribution is trying to be a sprightly presence in the song and dance portions. Like Paappa, Keerthy’s Nila too is the daughter of a politician, but you’d never know, given how she’s not particularly useful to his growth. She’s tagging along with him, forcing herself into his space, and he doesn’t seem to mind it. In one scene, he explains his reason for having a woman as his personal assistant: “Pakkathula ponnu irundhaale oru energy.” He lets out a smile of mischief to add flavour to this statement.

Among the few lines Nila does get is one that doesn’t exactly show her in the best light. Yogi Babu’s character is checking himself out on a car’s window, when she comments, “Oi, anga enna Jurassic Park madhri?” In an earlier scene, Sundar himself hesitates to drink out of a coconut until he’s assured that Yogi Babu didn’t put his mouth to it. These are needless, tasteless digs of a person’s looks in a film that’s often so highhanded in its advice.

The biggest problem in the film for me was Vijay’s affected dialogue delivery. Be it when he says, “I am… waiting!” or when he screams, “Edraa voter ID-a!”, which funnily enough reminded me of a dialogue from Naatamai, you barely get a hint of the suave corporate person he’s supposed to be. While on unintendedly funny lines, surely, “Nee corporate criminal, naan karuvilaye criminal!” must qualify. For lack of cathartic stunt setpieces and memorable songs (save for Oru viral puratchi), the many monologues — delivered in the guise of making social media videos, in the guise of press interactions — feel more like a self-promotional campaign and less like necessary indulgences in an entertaining action film. If Sarkar were a better film, it would have been tempting to think of that half-burnt face of a little girl as a metaphor for the damaged state Sarkar portrays Tamil Nadu to be. In a better film, you’d wonder if that’s why she keeps asking if he’s ready to mend her.

In a better film.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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