Sathru review: A not-bad cat-and-mouse thriller
An average police procedural that never realises its true potential
Long before he became the face of the Singam franchise, Suriya kickstarted Gautham Menon's police trilogy with Kaakha Kaakha. The film also saw another person, actor Jeevan, gain overnight fame for playing the villain, Pandiya. It seems Sathru director Naveen Nanjundan was so enamoured by this character that he recreates him in this film, and actor Laguparan plays him with aplomb.
Here, the character’s name is Prabha (Prabhakaran as he introduces himself each time). The leader of a child kidnapping gang, he is the one who gets the entry usually reserved for heroes. The film opens with a blurred shot as a voiceover establishes that it is inspired by a therukoothu based on Soorasamharam. Unlike the more complex and introspective Soorapadman played by Ashokan in Kandan Karunai (1967), this one is fairly straightforward with more black than grey. It is with Ashokan’s roaring laugh blended into Laguparan's that we get the introduction of this villain.
Cast: Kadhir, Laguparan
Director: Naveen Nanjundan
Prabhakaran is meticulous, and does his groundwork fully before kidnapping. He foresees complications, but is as emotional as he is calculative. When a ‘colleague’ dies, his expression of grief in a public place is well-conceived. He is as afraid of the police as the common man, and thankfully, avoids shouting duels. Threats are more potent in the way he delivers them.
The target of these threats is Kathiresan, played by Kathir. He’s a new cop but has already been suspended twice for disobedience. He is a cop relentless in his pursuit of justice, and isn’t above killing. His ‘kill first, question later’ approach in a film that is dedicated to the Tamil Nadu police department is concerning. At least Kaakha Kaakha had a human rights violation committee questioning the cops. Here, it seems a foregone conclusion that what Kathiresan does is always justifiable.
This is a problem because for the large part of the film, the director, who also doubles up as the writer, has done a fine job at creating interesting shifts that move the story forward. There are some really smart decisions he takes. For example, there is a MacGuffin that transforms into a Chekhov's Gun. A ticking timer, a strong undercurrent of Surasamharam (Kathiresan is one of Lord Muruga's names) that acts as a reminder that this is a film about evil getting vanquished, and most of all, the complete absence of songs works in the favour of this film.
But there are things that don't work, like abrupt character decisions, convenient role changes, and inefficient throwaway 'humour'. The hero and the villain aside, other characters are mostly props and I put this down to just lazy writing.
Sathru has enough to stand out from the pile of contemporary films. Kathir's ability to pick out smart films has only gained more credence with this film which also acts as a definite breakout role for Laguparan. The question though is, will Sathru inspire filmmakers as Kaakha Kaakha has done?