I’ve grown to become more cynical of sports movies centring around women. Like the criticism around the ‘white saviour’ template in Hollywood, women’s sports in Indian cinema has traditionally been the achievement of men, whether it is Chak De! India or Dangal . The fact that these are extremely effective tales about the triumph of the underdog is a different issue. But I was rather surprised when the opening credits of Kennedy Club mentioned its all-women star cast before the names of Bharathiraja and Sasikumar.
Early on, I even blinked twice when the girls of Kennedy Club get their individual mass moment during a low-key village tournament. The raiders from Kennedy Club charge into the opponent’s arena, while a group of village ruffians pass lewd comments. Their coach Savarimuthu (Bharathiraja) walks up to them, questioning their ‘masculinity’ and proposes a game of kabaddi against the girls. It’s a scene straight out of Dangal , but here; Suseenthiran gives a masala treatment, with the girls even breaking some of their bones.
Kennedy Club is less about machismo and more about women kabaddi players rising against odds (read: patriarchy), I thought. And yes, I was wrong. A few scenes later, Suseenthiran probably realised that the movie also stars Sasikumar and hence invents absurd situations, just to service his protagonist.
- Cast: Sasikumar, Bharathiraja, Meenakshi Govindarajan, Neethu, Sowmya and Soori
- Director: Suseenthiran
- Storyline: Players of Kennedy Club have to win a National-level kabaddi tournament in a do-or-die situation
The films begins with a two-minute footage introducing seven key players of Kennedy Club (why is it called Kennedy?) and their economic status; one’s a daughter of a priest, one’s a daily-wager and so on. Kabaddi , for them, is not a sport but an excuse to get a better livelihood. If they make it to the State-level tournaments, they are promised Government jobs. Of course, these girls have to be trained by a male coach, who, at some point will say, “ kabaddi namba parambariyum ”. We get Savarimuthu, who seems to be written after Kabir Khan ( Chak De! India ) and Mahavir Phogat Singh ( Dangal ), doing justice to neither. He takes women kabaddi players into his club and grooms them. We are told that he’s an ex-Army man (this comes as a pay off in a laugh-out-loud moment later), but we know nothing about him or his student Muruganantham (Sasikumar). The duo shares a dynamic, reminding us of Karuppu and Pettaikaran from Aadukalam . But, Kennedy Club is a movie where all the actions take place outside the aadukalam (arena). Unlike other sports films, we don’t get to see the customary training montages, for the director subscribes to this ideology: Battle can be won with words.
Suseenthiran takes up a familiar premise (his directorial debut was Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu ) to make a supposed social commentary. Is it about uplifting village girls who are caged by society? Or is it about the politics involved in kabaddi ? Maybe it’s yet another message-inducing revenge drama? It’s hard to tell. Kennedy Club is the kind of movie that bats for empowering women, and at the same time expects them to wear saris . It’s the kind that asks girls to grow wings, but also says, “Do not cut your hair.” Because… Tamizh kalacharam . It’s also the kind that stereotypes other states. For instance, the Kerala team’s coach wears sandalwood paste on his forehead, to show he’s from...Kerala. Without that, will he look European?
Soori makes a cameo appearance, playing a coach from Baroda. Sasikumar looks at him and says, “He looks like a parotta master.” I’m not done yet. There’s also a self-referential joke about Soori’s remarkable ‘parotta comedy’ from Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu . Somehow, the task to gobble 50 parottas seems more nail-biting than the final match between Dindigul and Eastern Railways in Kennedy Club .