The idea of a new age politician blossoming from the masses and challenging the jaded yesteryear white veshtis has fascinated Tamil filmmakers for years now. A bit ironical that, considering it's the film industry which has time and again given the state its biggest leaders. Sarkar joins this long list of fantasy films - but of course, that's stating the obvious. Enough and more has been said on the subject, fanning speculation that this is perhaps Vijay's loudest statement yet that he plans to enter politics someday.
Sarkar has the AR Murugadoss stamp all over it if you make a checklist. A tomato thrown at our hero becomes an opportunity to explain capitalism (just like idlis became a tool to explain communism in Kaththi). A cameo by the director as a common man expressing his anger. Farmer sentiment. Public apathy. The 'I'm waiting' punch dialogue. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. But the film somehow doesn't get your pulse racing like Kaththi or Thuppaki, his previous outings with Vijay.
The good first - Vijay, as Sundar Ramasamy, a "corporate monster" from the US, looks stylish with his salt and pepper beard, carrying off expensive suits with élan. But he isn't simply a spoilt rich boy who decides to throw a tantrum when someone illegally casts a vote in his name. There's a story to explain his obstinate behaviour, which turns the mood of the public in his favour. Without giving away too much, it's commendable that Murugadoss chose such a sociocultural location for his hero (though the emphasis on the detail that he rose by "merit" grates on the nerves), instead of making him an upper caste "saviour" of the masses.
Vijay is dependably entertaining although Murugadoss doesn't give him much scope to perform. The actor is left alternating between looking cocky and cockier throughout the film. He's first introduced to us as a playboy like Ghengis Khan (??! Did Murugadoss perhaps mean Casanova?) and his character is defined in the broadest of strokes. Sundar of Sarkar was supposedly inspired by Google CEO Sundar Pichai but beyond the first name, it's difficult to say how exactly the two are similar. Oh wait, reel Sundar's company is called GL. Since the similarities end there, Murugadoss makes multiple characters refer to Sundar as a "corporate monster", lest we wonder why the man is always in a suit despite the Chennai heat.
The film tries to interrogate voter cynicism and inject ownership in democracy. But here's the thing - none of this is new. Berating the public for selling their votes is getting pretty old (maybe Kamal Haasan should be blamed for that for going on about it like a broken record) and Sarkar doesn't really offer any new insights into corruption in politics. Maybe it can take credit for popularising 49P (a voter can demand to vote again if someone has cast his/her vote) in the Conduct of Election Rules like previous films have for 49-O (NOTA) but it goes about doing this in the most predictable way - interrupted by unnecessary songs and easy victories for the hero. And after Murugadoss made middle-aged ladies climb walls to fight the villains in Spyder, he seems to have temporarily lost interest in conjuring innovative action sequences. Sarkar doesn't have memorable scenes like the coin fight in Kaththi or the Thuppaki sleeper cell hunt, and this is quite disappointing because it's one part of the formula that Murugadoss does really well.
Pala Karuppiah, Radha Ravi and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar represent the corrupt political class. Radha Ravi is amusing whenever he opens his mouth while Varalaxmi wears a "strict oppiser" expression throughout. It's encouraging though that after Kodi and NOTA, here's another film that has a woman as the hero's political adversary. And in the list of real life public figures who are deemed suitable to contest in elections is trans woman Kalki Subramaniam - the inclusiveness is heartening to see in a medium that has mostly denigrated the trans community.
Poor Keerthy Suresh is ostensibly the heroine of the film but her role reminded me of the "woman in the crowd" in Baahubali 2. You know, the one who always gives reaction shots to everything done by Amarendra? Keerthy is adequate in this limited role of bystander and one wishes that she'd either been given more to do than looking pretty and matching Vijay's dance steps or that she'd not been in the film at all.
Yogi Babu, who gets an introduction scene all for himself, also doesn't have much to do. It's like Murugadoss decided to go "subtle" with the fights, comedy, and romance that usually work in his films for some reason. Even the fiery speeches that usually touch a chord in Murugadoss films feel forced. Sarkar, therefore, feels like a muted effort, with much of the narrative hitting a flatline. The kaththi feels too blunt and the thuppaki doesn't quite fire as it should have.
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.