Tughlaq Durbar Review: A Fun, Laidback Political Satire

'Tughlaq Durbar,' starring Vijay Sethupathi is now streaming on Netflix.

Movie Reviews
3 min read

Tughlaq Durbar

Tughlaq Durbar Review: A Fun, Laidback Political Satire

There’s a strange connection between Balaji Tharaneetharan’s Seethakaathi and Delhi Prasad Deenadayalan’s debut Tughlaq Durbar. Balaji has penned the lines, but both the films share a freak accident as the central plot device.

In Seethaakathi, Vijay Sethupathi’s Ayya, a legendary theatre actor dies only for his soul to manifest inside the physical forms of several non-actors. The film turned out be a satire on cinema and the business of cinema. In Tughlaq Durbar, Vijay Sethupathi’s Singaravelan develops an eyebrow tick after a head injury, that signals his transformation from the big bad political wolf that he is to a more good-natured lamb – he doesn’t need the full moon, the transformations come unannounced. The eyebrow tick is inspired, like someone removing the blindfolds off an honest citizen and suddenly getting a new worldview. Much of the film, as you might have guessed already, is now in the political satire territory.


The original Singaravelen – the ambitious, manipulative one – develops a sycophantic relationship with Parthiban’s Rayappan, a leader in the ruling party. Tughlaq Durbar is a self-aware film, it begins with a short narration introducing the birth of our hero in the middle of Rayappan’s political rally and the baby’s shadow held up like Baahubali.

It takes nothing seriously. It is the reinvention of the yin and yang trope – Anniyan being the cruder example – that propels the film even during the not so engaging moments – like the lazy, ridiculous conclusion to a workplace sexual harassment subplot.

The criminal side of his brain conspires even as the honest side is taking notes on how to mess up his own criminal conspiracy. Singaravelan is your quintessential low level party worker, up for anything and everything to grab that seat of power but by taking three steps at a time. His leader is so important to him that he even shuns his sister Manimegalai (Manjima Mohan), they haven’t spoken for close to twenty years while living under the same roof. As if to highlight this further, Manimegalai almost gets no lines throughout the film, the sister as one note and unnecessary as the role of the not-really-a-girlfriend, played by Raashi Khanna.

But those are meagre checklists for a Tamil entertainer. Tughlaq Durbar reserves its best sequences for the interplay between Rayappan and Singaravelan and Singaravelan and Vasu (Karunakaran), Singaravelan’s conscience keeper and the only one aware of his two-face.

The reformist Singaravelan hides a breaking news-worthy amount of Rayappan’s cash and leaves breadcrumbs for the original to either follow or resist. He resists till he is pushed to a corner, and this brings some comedy gold – like when a bunch of goons arrive to beat the cash out of Singaravelan and he calmly takes them on a ride on the highway waiting for his Tyler Durden to show up and rise to the occasion. When we expect a boring fight sequence, Deenadayalan instead takes us on a ride.

One great differentiator between recent political satires like LKG or NOTA and Tughlaq Durbar is how the latter doesn’t go for easy jokes or memes and Whatsapp forwards. It draws its parallels from real life and from the many film references it makes.

The bests of the lot come in quick exchanges like a great one involving Rayappan trying to mouth Bharathi’s soodhu kavvum lines and in the most relatable fashion, waiting for someone else to complete the verse. Everybody knows the first line! There is also a quip on lottery tickets from Rayappan, as if to point out that Tamil Nadu politics is singular in its form, and they cannot simply move their trade to another state. Or this great shot in a song sequence where Singaravelan’s photograph in a flex banner gradually moves from the bottom corner to second only to Rayappan – the most Tamil Nadu thing.

Even the expected thunderbolt in the end unexpectedly works – Sathyaraj playing Ammavasai from Amaidhi Padai (1994), as the Chief Minister who can make Vikram Vedha references in 2021. The message-y parts too are stitched into the screenplay seamlessly – like how Singaravelan himself is just a tool, someone who cannot speak for himself and is being wielded by the political will of others. After all he is a citizen too.

Tughlaq Durbar is not a well-made film (also there is random vilification of NGOs), it rarely takes its detours to their logical conclusions and things are resolved rather easily. But easy triumphs over lazy. Everyone in this film – Deenadayalan, Vijay Sethupathi, Karunakaran, Parthiban and Sathyaraj – has that lightness about them. They are simply having fun. A laidback, fun film for a change.

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