Kuppathu Raja is dance choreographer Baba Bhaskar’s directorial debut. Starring GV Prakash Kumar, Parthiban, MS Bhaskar and Poonam Bajwa in lead roles, the film begins with a dance sequence (obviously!). We see GV Prakash dancing at the front of a funeral procession on a rainy day while a couple of unseen men slash and stab him. While GV falls down with bloody wounds on his body, we're taken through a flashback to explain why it happened.
There’s a popular phrase that is often referred to by its acronym - SSDD. Same Story Different Day (although a ruder word can be used in place of 'Story). Kuppathu Raja can be easily labelled under this phrase, if you change 'Day' to 'Faces'.
The story is something we’ve seen in almost all films set in North Chennai, except a notable few. All the tropes are there. It revolves around the lives of working-class people. There’s a corrupt person in their midst. A few deaths later, especially after someone close to the hero dies, he figures out who is behind all of it and the film ends with a climax fight. If it a comedy, all is well. If it is a serious movie, all is not well.
Kuppathu Raja is pretty indistinguishable from every other film set in North Chennai. We are introduced to two gangs, in this case a bunch of not-so-serious older men and younger men headed by MG Rajendran aka Raja (Parthiban), a die-hard MGR fan, and Rocket (GV Prakash Kumar) respectively. The two sides are referred to as Pandavas (because Raja’s gang has five members) and Kauravas (duhh).
Although there’s no animosity between the two gangs, Rocket’s father played by MS Bhaskar is one among the Pandavas, a make-believe friction is created between the two; a young vs old sorts. To keep up with the diversity, there’s also a north-Indian Sait-ji and a Muslim bhai to complete the casting of the five.
GV Prakash Kumar is convincing as Rocket, the kite flying, unemployed youth who helps seize vehicles whose owners falter on loan repayment. He regularly gets drunk, a lot like his father, and curses frequently. Surely an unemployed youth should also have a love angle. Enter Kalyani, who is played by Palak Lalwani with dusky make-up and near perfect dubbing. Opposition for their relationship comes in the form of Kalyani’s mother who is a very shrewd money-lender in the area. Yogi Babu plays Rocket’s friend and invites a few body shaming jokes.
The film wanders all around in its first half and we have no clue what’s the conflict. A few children fall sick after eating chocolates, later a child goes missing and all of this is forgotten when Rocket faces a problem in his relationship.
Poonam Bajwa plays Mary (cough anglo Indian cough), who moves into the area, opposite Rocket’s house. The two exchange suggestive looks, there are even unwarranted close-up shots of Mary’s hips, and her role remains quite undecided and even unwanted until the very end.
Mary finds employment in the Sait-ji’s candy making factory and slowly, very slowly, in the second half, the director decides what his story is going to be about.
Although the sequences that involve Rocket going after different gangs in North Chennai add a bit of suspense, they mostly feel out of place in the rest of the film.
The stunt sequences have been done well, especially the one after Rocket seizes the wrong auto. The chasing scenes inside narrow alleys are some of the film’s best sequences. It is also evident that GV Prakash Kumar has evolved to become a better actor, pulling off stunts and dances effortlessly.
Kuppathu Raja comes off as a dated, run-of-the-mill story especially since we’ve seen films like Madras and Vada Chennai spin a much more appealing story from the same neighbourhood.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.