Sethupathi: A good thriller, a better family drama

Published - February 19, 2016 10:12 pm IST

Two weeks after Visaranai (a tough film to wash away) comes Sethupathi, a cop film that does its fair bit to reclaim the police force its glory—in other words, the opposite of Visaranai. Sethupathi begins with a nice little montage showing the force in all its nobility. We have a tired cop standing under the beating sun, waiting for a minister’s cavalcade to pass. Next, you’re shown another cop who looks at a little girl bursting crackers, and gets reminded that he isn’t with his daughter, celebrating Diwali. We’re even shown a third policeman giving a little boy a bag of guavas after he sees him steal one. You know very early on in Sethupathi that you’re going to be rooting for the man in khaki.

Vijay Sethupathi plays a cop for the first time in this film; a natural progression for any actor, because a cop film is to an actor what getting a driving licence is to a teenager. It’s a coming of age of sorts, and with Sethupathi, we seem to be seeing the birth of a star, and thankfully, it hasn’t come at the cost of an actor.

Genre: Drama

Director: S.U. Arun Kumar

Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Remya Nambeesan, Vela Ramamoorthy

Storyline: A police inspector needs to redeem himself after he shoots a youngster

Duration: 121 minutes

We first see him in the movie, roaring like a lion, as droplets of sweat pour down his face. It sends the audience into a tizzy. Immediately, the camera zooms back to a middle-class home. It’s no burly goon he’s roaring at… it’s his son, who is trying to pin him to the floor as they play a game of cops and robbers at home. Sethupathi isn’t your average crowd-pleaser. The hero, of this ‘mass’ film, is very real.

And so are the people he’s close to. It’s so delightful to finally see a cop film where the police officer’s spouse isn’t merely there so she can be kidnapped at a later point. For once, the heroine (Remya Nambeesan) gets as much importance as the hero’s moustache; the cop’s house is as much a place of interest as the police station.

That’s what sets Sethupathi apart. It understands the importance of showing us who the hero is at home, so we can value the man he is at work. It humanises him for us and his pain becomes ours. It also works that the central investigation of the film is as much an introspection of the protagonist as it is about the crime. A bullet has been fired at a youngster, and Sethupathi seems to have fired it. It isn’t merely an investigation to prove himself as a good police officer; it’s also one to prove he is a good human being… to himself. These aren’t scenes we would have cared for, had we not seen his relationship with his son.

It is this crafty writing that makes this film different. Why spend so much time in establishing the perfect family? You learn in the second half when you see how beautifully it’s all tied together. The seemingly insignificant lines in the first half—like when Sethupathi tells his son that he too is a man of the house—echo in the second half.

But… Sethupathi also has its share of problems. I didn’t care for the antagonist at all. His words speak louder than his actions, and even scenes that show him at his brutal best seem ineffective due to his one-dimensional acting. The narrative seems fractured in scenes that don’t feature Sethupathi, and the great moments seem to be simply strewn around drab content. For instance, an interrogation sequence that has an enquiry committee questioning Sethupathi just didn’t work for me. These scenes really slow down what could have been a tighter film.

But all that remains long forgotten by the time the film enters its terrific final stretch. Sethupathi is one of those films with a second half so good that you are willing to forgive it its first-half flaws. Vijay Sethupathi, who we last saw playing a rowdy in Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, shows that he can be just as good playing a character on the other side of the law.

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