Petta - Vaango - lets enjoy the Rajini festival

Petta =  by Rajini fans for his fans - was the promise Kartik Subbaraj made .

He has overdelivered on that promise by creating a Rajini feast served elegantly with all the favourite mouth watering dishes that we want in a Rajini movie. It feels like a visit to your native village where your grandmother would have prepared the dishes that you relished 20 years ago.

Although movie screenplays can get stale unlike freshly cooked food, Kartik Subbaraj makes sure that we have an enjoyable ride , although the movie has a lot of the 80s style elements like the feudal village flashbacks.  The movie has a simple screenplay , a new college warden cleans up the system by cooking himself in the mess, throws out the goons who harm progress and protects the students who seem oppressed. When one incident leads to a new enemy landing on the campus, we learn about the wardens past and how he seeks revenge forms the second half.

So what are the dishes that we get in the feast ?

    1.  We get multiple intro scenes - First a full fledged standard Super star Rajini tribute in the way we like it as each letter from his name erupts in an unhurried way, second we get a fight scene intro where Rajini first lurks as a silhouette that and then revealing the hero who is crushing a villain. Third we get the build up of an entry scene, where the dean of the college ( a return of YG Mahendran an old Rajini movie fixture) gets a call to give the warden job to a Kaali ( an iconic screen name that Rajini used in one of his biggest hits Mullum Malarum) - then we enjoy the build up where a Kaali in wonderful winter gear comes from the winding roads of Ooty and opens the college gates in a style that goes back to Apurva Ragangal ( his debut movie).  He then does comedy with the mess supervisor - by handing over his peanuts and asking him to make into a snack. after that  he has another build up as he spoils the ragging session of the local goon  ( Bobby Simha) and warns him .  In between Rajini plays songs on his radio - almost showing his evergreen status in the lush greenery of Ooty. Phew this is the beginning ! 
    2. The first half is this kind of a homecoming celebration and we keep getting fed. Rajini give references of his old comedy - the paambu (snake) joke makes a comeback. He makes an oblique political reference about giving chances to newcomers ( the warden and Rajni the politician). 
    3. We wait for the smart tomfoolery that will be reserved for  Rajini trying to woo Simran . Simran plays a divorced mom of a girl who has fallen in love with Anwar a student who comes to Rajini to protect himself when the local goon tries to trouble him. There is a howler of a scene - where he refers to Simran as biryani dealer although she is a pranic healer. We wish we get more of the love track , but before it 'sim'mers it is taken off the menu that we have been salivating. Its almost like the jalebis were kept out of the menu since Kartik Subbaraj did not want us to get a sugar high. 
    4. Things get murky during valentines day in the campus but Rajini stops it- only to invoke further wrath from the local goons who plan an out and out assault. By this time a very talented Bobby Simha is reduced to a weeping wimp. 
    5. Then comes the sequence that shows why Rajini is the best in business and how directors need to design the sequences that make up his indomitable franchise. In an amazing rehash of the Baasha sequence - he locks up the students with an 'ullai po' ( go inside) call, sets up some traps and waits for the villains after a brilliant rendition of his naan chaku skills.  For these 10-15 minutes, you witness the man at the top of his trade at 68, the lion claiming why he is the king of cinematic stylish entertainment and stamping his authority and strutting in full glory . Like he said in 2.0 - there is only one number 1 always the superstar we love. Then we get the well designed fight sequence that also use the stained glass church decor with some deft camerawork by Thirru giving it a mysterious impact. 
    6. During the valentine days moments , we are introduced to a group  where a Tamil guy JitHu( Vijay Sethupathi in splendid form) working for a North Indian party  lead by his father Sarangi Singh ( Nawazuddin ) is stopping a celebration in UP . The connection between Kaali's past life and present is the student Anwar , whose parents were killed by Nawaazudin when Kaali was the Petta lord of Madurai. This super cliched feudal flashback is enlivened only by the stylized get up and swag that Rajni gives with his moustache and the wielding of a gun. In between he imparts a punch dialogue ' nallavan aa irru , aana romba nallavan aa irrukadhe ' ( be nice but not too nice). Maybe that dialogue will determine his political tonality. We get to watch Trisha for a scene and then she dies in the next. This is the only moment you stare at your watch in  a movie that runs for a whole 172 minutes. 
    7. The second half scenes  feel from the real world  whenever Vijay Sethupathi is on screen You also feel we are part of a Kartik Subbaraj movie inspired by Anurag Kashyap especially in the portrayal of UP , its mines and its political infrastructure. However UP's biggest villainous output struggles in the movie and he is almost guileless as a villain. Nawazuddin as the main villain is shown as weak first, then passive- aggressive and then undergoing dialysis  and never makes a real mark. But Vijay Sethupathis bilingual energetic act when the plot moves to UP gives the movie an extended canvas  and also helps Kartik Subbaraj add his favourite touches as a director - well executed gritty chase scenes and lots of intrigue.  Watch out for the Sivarathri chase sequence. 
    8. Without giving the plot away too much, you can also revel in Rajnisms like him dancing to his own superhit  song of the 80s ( Raman Aandalum) in the climax. He also dances well in the song in the campus, so you get Rajni the dancer as well ( not his strongest skillset but the style is unabashed). 
    9. You get Rajni doing a cigarette flick of yore , passing it to Vijay Sethupathi - with the advice of not to smoke. Is it also a passing of the baton to the real Makkal Selvan - a nice meta element in the movie. You also get a nice self deprecatory humour where he forgots his sunglasses and gets edgy. 
    10. Super star Rajnikant is in sublime, charming and athletic form , he is there in every frame of the movie and we still cannot get enough of him -despite 3 hours we want more especially as the movie ends slightly abruptly and you feel you could not savour it. This is probably the first  time I wanted visuals when the end credits were playing without a song. 

Petta protects and nurtures the Rajni franchise for a few more years. There is still a lot left in it and you need directors who can keep the new and the old in right elements and not misappropriate the franchise for their political goals ( PA Ranjith tried to make life's struggle into a caste's struggle in Kaali) . Unadulterated mass market entertainment may look like a Petta (hood/province) to conquer but it is the kingdom that keeps subjects happy .