By Subhash K. Jha
Director: A.R. Murugadoss
Cast: Vijay, Keerthy Suresh, and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar
"Sarkar" has no relevance to Ram Gopal Varma's Hindi film of the same title where Amitabh Bachchan played a wily politician modelled on Maharashtra's iconic Balasaheb Thackeray.
The wannabe, nattily attired 'neta' that Vijay plays in the new "Sarkar" seems modelled on no Indian politician, living or dead, that I've come across. Although the opening credits have shots of Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose, I am pretty sure they would be as baffled by Vijay's brand of brain-dead politics as I was.
The film is ostensibly a comment on the Indian citizen's right to vote. But the democratic right to freedom is denied by "Sarkar", which smothers us in hero-worship of the most fawning variety.
Let's just say this is the superstar Vijay's brand of politicking where Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister and his brother (nepotism reloaded) are shown as glorified goons. Or maybe not even glorified. The first time the political brothers are shown on-screen, they have three large suitcases in front of them. One of them contains the writhing half-dead head of an enemy. At this point, the head is presumably attached to the torso although we see only the bloodied head peeping out of the suitcase.
That's the typical brand of brutality director Murugadoss specialises in. Remember Asin's bludgeoned head in "Ghajini"? Rest assured, the rest of the lengthy rambling film is not a gore fest at all. Why antagonise Vijay's younger fans? Why give them ache when they ask for bread? The film offends no one except politicians in Tamil Nadu who are shown as snarling and smirking morons smarting for a fight.
And boy, does our hero give it to them! Every 15 minutes, there is a fight break where Vijay smashes the opposition with his hands, feet, head, planks, bricks and any object he can lay his hands on. The action is performed in the spirit of a carnivalesque carnage. The brawls are shot with swings of mischief and swigs of humour where Vijay, playing NRI 'corporate monster' Sundar, all but winks at us to remind us that under all the braggadocio, amplified heroism, machismo, deification and mythologicisation, Vijay is just one of the masses.
"Sarkar" stresses, emphasizes and punctuates the hero's mass appeal to an excruciating level of obsequiousness. It is never a good idea for a director to be in awe of his leading man. Murugadoss seems to love Vijay's every slo-mo gesture, every shift of the wrist and blink of the eye. The camera caresses the contours of the superstar's star-power with religious fervour.
Little wonder, then, if chunks of the uneven, jerky and bumpy film feels like prolonged religious 'satsangs' where the Godman holds thousands in a thrall.
By the time Vijay makes his last political speech, we know the film's not-so-hidden agenda is to build the star as a formidable political figure. Would "Sarkar" catapult Vijay to political stardom? I seriously doubt even the star's staunchest fans can take the pulpit propaganda seriously.
There are emotionally manipulative episodes showing women wailing, men shrieking and one particularly distasteful episode of a badly-burnt child being mollycoddled by Vijay like Salman Khan's well-publicised visits to orphanages and hospitals.
Minus Vijay, "Sarkar" has nothing to offer his fans. The supporting cast is unabashedly peripheral. Varalaxmi Sarathkumar's character of the Chief Minister's contumacious daughter has potential. But all she does is snarl into her cellphone pretending she is abroad (4-5 blondes in the background to prove it).
It's a pity to see the pretty Keerthy Suresh reduced to a mere hanger-on to her leading man. Patriarchy is okay as long as the hero behaves himself.
As for A.R. Rahman's music and songs, time for a break, perhaps?
The songs and the carefully choreographed dances have no relevance to the plot. One sincerely hopes the same to be true apropos Vijay's relevance to politics. He should do himself a favour. Just concentrate on being a matinee idol.