Fight Club review: This debut film is all style & swagger, but struggles to tell story

Fight Club review: This debut film is all style & swagger, but struggles to tell story

‘Fight Club’ quickly becomes too much of an ‘excellent thing’ and in the absence of a consistently-paced story, is exhausting to keep track of.
Fight Club (Tamil)(2.5 / 5)

Fight Club mimics the sprawling drama and ever expanding host of characters we’ve already seen in Vetrimaaran’s Vada Chennai (2018). Directed by debutant Abbas A Rakmath, the film tells a similar tale of decades-old revenge, criminal networks enmeshed with local politics, manipulation, and sports set in North Madras. Abbas displays a stunning ability for style, particularly for a first-time director, that hooks you immediately. Unfortunately, the story struggles to keep up with the smooth edits, swagger of the characters and perfectly executed fight sequences. Fight Club quickly becomes too much of an ‘excellent thing’ and in the absence of a consistently-paced story, it is exhausting trying to remain emotionally invested amid all the sound and fury.

The film opens some years back to set up the hero Selva’s (Vijay Kumar) backstory, before coming back to the present. Selva, we’re told, is a talented footballer even as a child. He’s encouraged by a faded boxer and community leader Benji (Kaarthekeyen Santhanam). When Selva gets a chance to play for a big league club, he’s both delighted and crushed. The club demands Rs 50,000 to let him join. Just as Benji tries to arrange for the money, he’s murdered by his younger brother Joseph (Avinash Raghudevan) and his criminal partner Kiruba (Shankar Thas). However, while Joseph spends decades in jail, Kiruba lies and gets off with a light sentence, going on to rapidly become powerful by working with the local ward councillor. Cut to the present: Joseph, finally out of prison, is gunning for vengeance against Kiruba. For this, Selva who is now in college, still grieving Benji’s death, is manipulated into believing Joseph is innocent. And here begins a tumultuous revenge plot.

Fight Club is an ambitious attempt. Kripakaran’s gripping edits fit seamlessly with Govind Vasanthan’s background score that includes a cheeky rock version of the piano classic ‘Für Elise’. It’s pleasantly hard to believe that this is the director’s first film. Fight Club also boasts an incredible line up of lesser-known actors who give their all. Avinash and Shankar play well off each other. Kiruba grows from the slinking petty criminal-turned-murderer to a man cloaking his brutality in local politics. While he moves in the limelight attempting to salvage his career with pretences of moderation, Joseph hides in the shadows creating wave after wave of destruction in the neighbourhood. Both actors stun in their respective roles. 

Matching their simmering rivalry, are Vijay Kumar and Saravana Vel. The latter was seen in a small, but crucial role in Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai (2021), also set in North Chennai. As a matter of fact, his performance carried a raw energy that quite outmatched the film’s lead Arya in all of the scenes they shared. In Fight Club, he has a meatier screen time as Kiruba’s nephew Karthi — a role he delivers flawlessly. Vijay Kumar’s layered performance brings out both the angry child with lost dreams still hurting inside him and his current struggle with his identity while on the cusp of adulthood.

Despite all this, the film doesn’t quite manage to pull together a coherent narrative, relying mainly on its stylish execution. Fight Club also runs amok with Kollywoods’s high-time-it’s-retired representation of North Chennai, as a Wild West of criminality, drug lords, violence, and corruption. Why does a pulp fiction type of narrative have to always be set in the most socially and economically vulnerable part of the city? Why show fishermen from these areas as ruthless drug peddlers, when in reality, it is they who come to the city’s rescue every time a flood hits? 

Directors like Ranjith and Athiyan Athirai have tried to tell more wholesome stories set in North Chennai, but even as a first time director, Abbas needs to think what kind of narrative his film helps set. Yes, the film makes a fleeting attempt to speak on beef politics and gaana (a musical tradition born in North Chennai), but ultimately, middle and upper class audiences may be walking away with their stereotypes of this part of the city further entrenched. 

Fight Club, it may be noted, is an A-rated film and audience discretion is advised.

Watch the film's trailer here:

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 producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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