Kennedy Club Movie Review: Some great kabaddi sequences in a generic story of upliftment
A well-meaning film with predictable beats, Kennedy Club's strength is its kabaddi choreography
It’s beautiful to behold female athletes be consumed by a sport. On the playground, during those frenetic minutes of sporting activity—kabaddi in the case of Susienthiran’s Kennedy Club—it feels like they are free in a way they are not otherwise. Some of the most enjoyable stretches of this film have the female players roughing it out on the kabaddi field (which is 10 metres x 13 metres apparently, as Sasikumar’s voiceover helpfully indicates in the beginning). I liked the effort that seems to have gone into casting these female players, who play members of a kabaddi group called Kennedy Club, led by Savadamuthu (Bharathiraja). These are not demure women who care about looking conventionally attractive for cinema audiences. They aren’t pretending to play kabaddi, and hoping the editor will save their blushes. The actors—Jeeva, Arul Mozhi, Swetha, Hema Latha, Asha, and othes—seem handpicked for their ability to play the sport, and the work really shows in this film that is propelled by kabaddi sequences.
Cast: Sasikumar, Bharathiraja, Meenakshi Govind Raj
For these women from Oddamchathram, a town in Dindigul, kabaddi isn’t just a hobby. They are, as coach Muruganandam (Sasikumar) points out, “playing the sport when they could so easily be hanging out at parks and theatres with boyfriends”. For them, kabaddi is a ladder out of poverty. The idea is for these women to go on to represent the State, and eventually the country, and hopefully, land a good job through sports quota. That’s the dream of these women—and their parents, who sometimes get jaded with the system and would much rather that their daughters got married/supported the family by working menial jobs. It would have been easy to paint these parents as obstacles, but Susienthiran humanises them. Muruganandham even believes these parents should be worshipped, for, they are able to accept their daughters wearing shorts in full view of the public. In the world of Kennedy Club, even this is a sign of courage. I quite enjoyed these bits in the film.
Typically, such films about sportswomen trying to beat patriarchy (like Dear Comrade) somehow manage to sneak in a sexual assault angle, but Kennedy Club resists the temptation. This film’s villain too, a character called Mukesh Rathore, is a corrupt administrator. He is all about the money—which, of course, isn’t the most novel angle out there. For a brief while, Kennedy Club hints at a tasty rivalry between Muruganandham and Savadamuthu. Just as you wonder if this film could be about something as deep as the old guard making way for the new, this angle fizzles out. You are left only with the corrupt administrator conflict, and a pretty fairy-tale-ish finish, which doesn’t quite leave you feeling the sort of cathartic rush you should at the end of such sports films. Perhaps because it’s hard to make a simple sports film when your enemy is something as amorphous as an entire system, Kennedy Club takes the easy solution of taking on one individual.
It is another film that makes a case for Bharathiraja, the actor. Watch him rise above his age, as he jumps in joy when his all-girl team of kabaddi players humiliate a bunch of eve-teasers. Watch him do the opposite in another scene, as he loses his temper in a conversation with Mukesh and begins abusing him in Tamil. Murali Sharma, who plays Mukesh, oversells the character from time to time, and doesn’t quite seem to elegantly fit into the rather realistic universe of this film. The film itself, on occasion, becomes an exercise in theatricality. Notice the sequence that shows the kabaddi players get injured in the tournament. Multiple women get the same shot—closeup of physical impact, followed by a shriek. This feels less like filmmaking meant to disturb you and more like the beginning of a pain balm advertisement.
Kennedy Club is about a bunch of women overcoming odds, and so, naturally, it’s hard not to see that the messiah figures in this film are both men. There’s another male character—a super-accommodative husband of one of the kabaddi players—and I found his willingness to put his wife before him, extremely likeable. However, I could not shake off the feeling that his lack of alphaness was milked for humour. It didn’t help that in the theatre I watched this film in, the audience seemed to be laughing at him.
The players themselves are easily controlled by the two coaches, Muruganandham and Savadamuthu. I can’t remember a single scene that shows these women taking either of them on, or making their voice heard. Savadamuthu also slaps a woman who has just attempted to commit suicide, and while the slap, no doubt, is born out of love, I think it’s important to desist from showing violence as an expression of love—unless of course, we establish the character as a flawed individual.
If you don’t really subject Kennedy Club to rigorous investigation, it comes through as a fairly innocent film that makes simplistic, well-meaning advice. Let women play sport. Be supportive of their passion. Unity shows strength. If you truly set your mind to a task, you can accomplish it. Couple such messaging with some great kabaddi choreography, and you have a straightforward film that manages to entertain without ever surprising you.