Vijay Sethupathi and Parthiban Almost Make Tughlaq Durbar Worth Your Time
Last weekend we saw five major releases, three on OTT platforms and two in theaters. Nani-starrer Tuck Jagadish took viewers back to the insanely boring days of the ’90s TV series. Bhoot the police, starring Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor, was an unintentional comedic dud horribly masquerading as a horror comedy and drinking game to spot the cultural references of Modi’s India. by Gopichand Seetimaarr ends up being a wet firecracker for most South Indian sports films that allow the protagonist to address the masses.
The other two films have Tamil politics at heart, one imaginary and the other too real for life. Kangana Ranaut shines brightly Thalaïvie where she plays the role of Jayalalithaa, “the Amma” of Indian politics. However, this biopic of the former AIADMK supremo, supposed to be released just before Tamil Nadu’s recent assembly elections, barely does his larger-than-life story justice.
That leaves us with Tughlaq Durbar, available on Netflix, which is biting satire and more than a decent watch. Vijay Sethupathi is a revelation as a Singaravelan aka Singam who goes into politics by dint of being born while his mother attended a political rally. He aspires to become an influential politician like Rayappan (Parthiban), to meet whom he was born.
After several desperate attempts, Singam manages to get closer to Rayappan while sidelining his sidekick Mangalam (Bagavathi Perumal). Soon, however, things take a schizophrenic turn where the ruthless Singam begins to develop consciousness through his alter ego. Delhiprasad Deenadayalan’s scenario has a lot of potential to generate some genuine laughs, which he manages to do, at least until the first half.
The two strong pillars of the film are Sethupathi and Parthiban who light up the screen whenever they share a scene together. Parthiban’s impassive demeanor and Sethupathi’s awkwardness keep the film rolling. The staging of a lower class locality in Chennai gives the film its gritty lightness. Imagine the Madras of Pa.Ranjith and the 24-year-old Vikram Kumar having a loving child, Tughlaq Durbar.
Shankar Anniyan showed us 15 years ago what a protagonist could look like with the characteristics of Jekyll and Hyde. Tughlaq Durbar, which aims for something similar, does not try to animate the debates. Yes, it’s downright hilarious to see Sethupathi speak badly of his mentor at a rally before realizing his insanity after coming to his senses. It’s also worth a laugh to see Singam come out of his funk and confide in his best friend (Karunakaran). Sethupathi’s tic where he keeps blinking one eye before transforming into a Good Samaritan is obviously funny. That said, the second half of the film is chock-full of clichés and wastes the talented Manjima Mohan and Rashi Khanna on boring characters.
Despite having big-name actors, the film’s production values are quite lackluster, which becomes more glaring when the second half bares the awkward script. It’s always refreshing to see Sethupathi return to familiar territory after his recent outings in Master and Uppena where he was able to show his acting chops amply but not his funny side. The director must be appreciated for coming up with the idea of making Parthiban the scheming politician with comedic verve. However, the film stretches its gullibility when it claims to be set in 2021 and no one is to be seen wearing a mask and no mention of Covid is found in the 146 minute run. Yes, these are the first days we start watching post-2020 cinema, but filmmakers need to be made aware that they are demanding a leap of faith from an audience that associates everything post-2020 with masks. , social distancing and hand sanitizers.
However, Deenadayalan can be forgiven for this seemingly minor infraction given that he hasn’t given much thought to his script himself.