Sarkar review: Love affair with the ballot box

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If a film makes you google section 49-P of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, it should be worth the watch. (49-P, incidentally, is the power granted an Indian to demand the right to vote when she finds that her vote had already been cast.)

'Sarkar', in a sense, is a retelling of 'Ghilli', a Vijay blockbuster now 15 years old. 'Ghilli' was the story of a carefree youth who had no choice but to turn a superhero to protect a girl from the murderous yearning of a crazed lover. 'Sarkar', too, is about a young man who suddenly finds himself taking charge of something without actually wanting to.

But this time the something for which he will fight till the last inch of his life is infinitely more vulnerable than a village girl with slain brothers. An abstract beauty named Democracy. The villain? An entity more destructive and morally corrupt than a million murderous local dons put together: the entrenched political party. And the tool: Not a gun, or a sword, not even his fists though he uses them to good effect at times. The young man has stumbled upon something far more powerful: Section 49-P.

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It is easy to visualise a man running for life, fighting off henchmen and jumping cliffs, holding the girl. Now, try imagining a man doing all this, holding democracy safe in his hands. It can almost seem ludicrous. Of course, there are moments when the theme assumes such gigantic proportions that Murugadoss simply could not match up. For instance, he wants the whole of Tamil Nadu to root for the hero in just about 15 days. Some of the scenes that he stages to achieve this fails to convince.

He is also constrained by history. Shankar's 'Muthalvan', the end of the millennium rage, can now look medieval. Democratic experiments, far bolder than what Shankar had conceived in 1999, are taking place in the country. 'Sarkar' has shades of 'Muthalvan' but Murugadoss would have looked too dated had he limited the 'Sarkar' narrartive to a David vs Goliath side show. Only the bigger, all-encompassing, war would do.

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Arvind Kejiriwal has already given glimpses of what is possible, and what is not. Even within Tamil Nadu, Rajinikant and Kamal Hassan are desperately trying to forge alternatives to the two mainstream political parties. For 'Sarkar' to work, the movement that Murugadoss hopes to inspire has to be rousing than the combined persuasive powers of Arvind Kejiriwal, Rajinikant and Kamal Hassan. It is near certain someone might have asked Murugadoss: "Are you joking?" Murugadoss but could not have made this film without ramping up his ambition to unsustainable levels.

And if the film still works, it is largely because of the leading man. Vijay is a strange phenomenon among superstars. If he sits quiet, he can come across as perhaps the dullest of beings. When he gives that sad harmless smile normally seen on a 'neither studious nor troublesome' school boy seated on the middle bench of the class, it would seem as if he would be the last man to raise his voice, leave alone the fists. On the face of it, it looks as if this boyish looking man can never be provoked.

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And when he does raise his voice, one might for a moment even doubt whether the sound had come from his side. His anger feels unbelievable, and is therefore shocking. He is the most harmless being. And if this man rages, it is only because there is no other choice. If he is angry, then the rest of us should also be. This is why when this guy shouted something as simple as 'I'm waiting' over phone in Murugadoss's earlier film 'Kaththi', it became such a mass roar. Murugadoss has exploited this peculiarity in Vijay to the hilt in the film. He gets angry with us, shouts at us, and when nothing seems to work, he mocks us. This time, he is romancing us.

And as a counter balance to Vijay's warmth is the forbidding coldness of Varalaxmi Sarathkumar. Her demonic assurance gives the hero's rage some serious depth. Radha Ravi's almost clownish impersonation of Marlon Brando also seems fitting, as he embodies the most reviled of beings: the political stooge.

Surprisingly, for a film that banks so much on stirring the emotions of people, A R Rahman has delivered a merely functional background score. It is nowhere as rousing as the one Anirudh dished out for the earlier Murugadoss-Vijay flick 'Kaththi'. Even more strange is Vijay's dance. Like his beard, his legs too seems to have greyed. The bouncy energy that so enlivened his dance numbers was missing.

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Keerthy Suresh is supposed to be the heroine but she seemed more like one of the innumerable extras in the film. She is almost everywhere but not in the least relevant to the proceedings. But this is as it should be. The hero's love affair is with Democracy, and not with some rich lass too eager to dance around in strobe-lit dance floors. Therefore, after watching the film, we will in all probability speak about 49-P than hum Rahman's 'OMG pennu...'

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