Sarpatta Parambarai: Pa Ranjith's Magic of Simply Portraying Complex Truths
Pa Ranjith's Sarpatta Parambarai is also the story of Eklavya with an alternate ending.
Ever since the release of Pa Ranjith's Sarpatta Parambarai, a huge number of viewers have complained about having lost the opportunity of seeing the film on the big screen. People have called Sarpatta Parambarai Pa Ranith's comeback film. After his hit Madras(2014) with actor Karthi, the director revisits North Madras but at a different period in history. North Madras in popular Tamil cinema culture has always been reduced to portray violent men, drug peddlers, and goons. Pa Ranjith has consistently tried to bring forth the vibrant culture of North Madras while writing characters that instigate huge discussions after the release of his film.
One of the things that's most impressive about Pa Ranjith is his untiring attempt to portray simple life stories, simpler truths, and the politics of the common man. This is embedded in all aspects of the filmmaking process which is why he has been able to commercialise such powerful political scripts consistently. There is always a worm view or a bottom-to-top approach of politics and how it affects people from the poorest and oppressed parts of the society in Pa Ranjith's films that make them impactful, relatable and memorable.
This can be seen in his films like Madras where he shows how the greater politics of "the wall" affect the daily lives of the characters like Kaali or Anbu. In Sarpatta Parambarai, Pa Ranjith shows the impact of the greater politics from the emergency period and class struggles that existed in a post-independent Chennai. Even when Pa Ranjith directs mass hero movies like Kaala or Kabali he is always mindful of how the politics of the protagonist and his actions affect the last person in the story. The script of Sarpatta Parambarai brings to notice how powerful men from oppressed communities are used to do the dirty work of the society that rich and privileged men benefit from, in terms of both political power and wealth. It also shows how the system abandons and brands them as thugs, goons just so they can dispose of them with zero repercussions.
The story of Kabilan is not the story of the underdog but the fight to qualify as the underdog. According to the plot, only Raman or Vetri qualify for the role of the underdog, especially being trained boxers from a clan that has seen nothing but defeat. Kabilan was nothing but a bystander, a fatherless porter who works at the docks. His training comes from passively watching his master Rangan teaching his students.
This is also the story of Ekalavya but with an alternate ending where the teacher doesn't ask for the thumb in return but encourages Ekalavya to hone his craft. Ekalavya in return wins wars for his master. Pa Ranjith also talks about his inspiration for the different fighters in the movie, focusing not just on Muhammad Ali but a variety of other great boxing legends like Mike Tyson, and Naseem Hameed. Such intense writing has given rise to characters like Dancing Rose, who despite having lesser screen time is being celebrated by everyone online. Even the Gods in films of Pa Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj exist at a ground level, there is no fancy temple, no stage, or idols adorned with jewellery. There are a couple of shots of an unkempt statue of Buddha in Sarpatta Parambarai, where kids seem to be sitting on the lap of the statue. Even Gods are shown as accessible elements to people and not kept behind walls and gates.
The characters built around Kabilan are crucial in shaping his story arc. There isn't a single character written just for the need for glamour or humour. The women characters have been written to remind oppressed communities of the kind of dominance and power they had in the family. It is refreshing to see women in such roles where they are not in need to be saved, or vindicated, neither glamourised, they do not exist as a source for the hero's inspiration. But all of this is not forced, this is how women in oppressed communities have built their rage, power and retaliated at every opportunity they found.
In one of his interviews, film critic Baradwaj Rangan asks Pa Ranjith about the depth of the scene in Kaala where Puyal picks up the stick and not her clothes to fight back the cops who stripped her. Pa Ranjith explains how this was not special but something that women in his life and women from oppressed communities are used to. That picking up themselves to fight off their abusive partner, violent men around them was more important than clothes or the supposed dignity that society wants to corner them with.
There is a world of difference in the way Pa Rajith portrays his activism when compared to other filmmakers in the Indian entertainment industry. Pa Ranjith constantly tries to show the ill effects of alcoholism, violence, and the consequences of it. In the movie Kaala, Rajinikanth's character loses his wife and child because of alcohol. In Sarpatta Parambarai Kabilan loses his life's purpose as he gets addicted to alcohol, becomes a bad husband, a horrible son, and a boxer who loses himself to violence. Yet, Pa Ranjith shows how dominant people humiliate an oppressed man for his smallest victory. He also shows how there is this constant trauma that pushes oppressed men into alcoholism as a way of coping up. Pa Ranjith strikes this balance of empathy and not glorifying this abusive behaviour. All of this is shown through the story rather than a lengthy inspirational speech from the hero at the film's end.
The simplicity of Sarpatta Parambarai also lies in the flaws of the characters and their journey to redemption. In a world where people want to show characters as good vs evil Pa Ranjith shows moments of good and evil in all the characters. It can be the mother who never supports Kabilan's boxing dreams but then goes to fight for his right to do the same. It can be Dancing Rose, who reminds the need for honesty towards the sport or even the main antagonist, Vembuli, who refuses to cheat even when there is an option available for him. It can be the character Vetri, who initially wants to kill Kabilan for taking away his rightful place but yet comes to the aid of Kabilan when he is in grave danger and cheers him to victory. It can be Vetri's wife, who stands up for her husband in her in-law's family. It can be Coach Rangan, who can assert his political identity and go to prison for the same. So it's not just the protagonist, all these characters are larger than life.
The portrayal of simplicity is one of the hardest jobs to accomplish as a filmmaker and Pa Ranjith hits the mark all the time. In all aspects of being a sports film, Sarpatta Parambarai exceeds expectations but it cannot be reduced to just that. This is a film about a culture of sports, a story of celebration, pride, and unapologetic assertion from the most oppressed communities that have existed since post-independence.
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