[Clearly, this is an intellectual film... heh.]
As much as I complained about Ra.One, you should know that I had been fully planning on seeing Don 2 this weekend until I had not one or two but three people tell me in no uncertain terms that I was going to hate it. I believed them and, luckily, my local theater has begun screening South Indian films and Vikram’s Rajapattai was playing, too. Do I subject myself to something I’ll probably find unpleasant or watch a film from one of my favorite actors? The answer was obvious - Rajapattai it was for me this weekend!
Unlike the hype for the last Tamil film I saw - Osthi - I had found very little promotional material for Rajapattai in English and youtube yielded little in the way of song trailers or even official trailers. I knew nothing about the film going in except that it starred Vikram and was a massy masala film. I was also about 75% certain that there would be no subtitles. All three things turned out to be very, very correct.
Here is the bottom line when it comes to Rajapattai: I neither speak nor understand Tamil beyond words like santosh and terima and I had absolutely no trouble following the plot and I’m pretty confident I got at least 50% of the jokes. In other words, Rajapattai isn’t a masterpiece of plotting and character development. It relies heavily on the appeal of Vikram in various disguises, slapstick humor, and jokes about masala film conventions. And judging by the reaction of my fellow audience the dialogues were packed full of laugh lines.
The story, such as it is, goes something like this - Vikram is a stunt double/rowdy who for some reason ends up taking in this old guy (veteran director and professional filmi grandfather K. Viswanath) who runs an orphanage on some primo land that his son (the always welcome Avinash) is trying to sell off to the formidable politician-boss Akka (Sana) in order to advance his career. While gramps is on the run from his son and hiding out with Vikram, there is a delightful interlude where he teaches Vikram and his gang of buddies (who were EXTREMELY excellent - more on them later) how to pick up chicks. Obviously Akka isn’t just going to let her potential profits moulder while Gramps teaches some 40 year old men how to score with chicks, so the rest of the film a series of fights between Akka’s goons and Vikram’s buddies with some songs and comedy interludes thrown in.
Here is the second to the bottom line on Rajapattai: Even though I couldn’t understand more than a handful of words, I had a great time watching it and was never bored for a second. Rajapattai is a shaggy mess of a film but it’s a fun mess if you enjoy quality character actors hamming it up for the back benches.
Let’s start with the hero. Vikram’s main persona for the film is “cool” with bright T-shirts and denims and creatively style facial hair. And, charmingly, instead of torturing himself into fashion model slimness, he just surrounds himself with a hulking pack of friends who are all at least 6 inches taller and 150 pounds heavier than Vikram himself is. Slim by comparison! He twinkles, jokes, romances, hams, smoulders, wears more disguises than Kamal Hassan, and swings his big knife around for the cameras. It’s a classic late-career hero performance and enjoyable on that level.
Heroine Deeksha Seth (a finalist for Miss India in 2009 and young enough to be Vikram’s daughter) is extremely pretty but is given absolutely nothing to do in the film except pose nicely in the songs. I liked her, though, and would certainly be willing to see her something else.
And now, the real fun - the character actors!
Sana was a pure joy as Akka. No weakness at all in this iron lady. There is one scene were a mere waggle of her eyebrows is all it takes to silence a pesky journalist... permanently. One of the few interesting plot twists is just how Vikram will be able to battle Sana to end the film. He can’t hit a lady but then she can’t be unpunished... I’ll leave the surprise a surprise, although quite a few reviews spoil it for you.
K. Viswanath was also fun to watch. Unlike most grandparent roles, he had a lot of material to work with and made the most of it. A sequence where he shows Vikram the “correct” way to walk to impress young ladies was really very funny.
And then there was one comedian I don’t know who just killed it as the “stupid” rowdy in Akka’s group. His deadpan delivery was too, too funny.
The songs were all uptempo and nicely picturized even if I don’t feel the need to own the soundtrack. My favorite was “Villathi Villan,” in which Vikram appears in a variety of guises like The Joker and Captain Jack Sparrow while extreme hottie Saloni Aswani cavorts around him in a retro item girl ensemble.
I don’t know what else to say about Rajapattai. It’s certainly nowhere near as direly world-ending as some of the reviews I read made it out to be but then I had no expectations going in other than entertainment, Vikram-style. Rajapattai is a fun one-time watch and judging by the reactions of the crowd I saw it with, the gags worked equally well with kids, packs of young men, ladies with their families, and white women who understand no Tamil.
So, while I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to see Rajapattai again, I certainly feel like I got my $12 of entertainment worth. And sometimes that is enough.