A finely crafted screenplay, deft treatment and some fine performances make Irudhi Suttru an engaging watch. The film tracks the journey of a coach and his protege. Madhavan has given a powerful performance as coach Prabhu, a character totally different from the roles he had essayed earlier.
It’s not just about his new look — unkempt and rugged that is flattering. It’s also in his body language and demeanour. Boorish, (the Hindi version has the apt title Saala Khadoos) short-tempered, plain speaking and frustrated with the system, you don’t see the actor on screen; you can only see the coach.
It’s also a perfect casting and a brilliant debut by Ritika a real-life boxer. She essays the role of Madhi — the feisty fish seller, with instinctive understanding and spontaneity. Prabhu spots her and grooms for the boxing arena. She aptly captures the various nuances of Madhi’s growing-up stages, as she traverses from being defiant and rebellious into gritty and responsible.
Uncomplicated in its narrative, director Sudha’s story-telling is simple, clear and focused. She is more assured here than she was in her earlier venture Drohi (2010). The initial moments set in Haryana depict Prabhu’s frustration as he is taken on by Dev, the chief of the boxing federation (Hussain). False cases are foisted on the ‘number one coach’, the man with the Midas touch, who had won the gold in every tournament he had been associated with. On a punishment transfer to Chennai, Prabhu finds his new workplace inadequately equipped, the junior coach (Nasser) more of a liability, and the boxers not motivated enough — till he sets eyes on Madhi a garrulous, bold fish-seller and spots the potential in her.
Incidentally, dubbing artiste Uma Maheshwari’s voice sits perfectly on Ritika. The narration travels through Delhi and the picturesque Dharmashala, among other places, as Prabhu takes his team to participate in various tournaments. The growing bond between the coach and his protege and their mutual trust is adequately scripted, and so is the disillusionment when the protege lets the coach down.
The issues common to the sports world are touched on — like players taking to sport as a means and not an end. Madhi’s sister takes to boxing as it would get her a job and take care of her family. Sexual harassment players face when they refuse to play up to the powers that be also finds a mention here. The face-off between Madhi and Natalia the Russian champ is a fitting finale. Some of the episodes may seem like deja vu, but there is only so much of variation that can be brought into a sports-centric film.
Seasoned actors like Nasser, Zakir Hussain and Radharavi as Prabhu’s supporter Murali, play their respective roles well. You can see the important role of the technical crew who have translated the vision of the director onto the screen. The background score enhances the feel (Santhosh Narayanan) and the songs well integrated with the narration. The action choreography, particularly the fights in the boxing arena lend a natural feel. Sivakumar Vijayan’s camera sans any embellishments captures the mood and action realistically.
Sports-centric films have adorned screens earlier, but a well-crafted one with the right dose of humour, sentiment and action, is rare, other than Mary Kom (2014) and Chak De (2007) in Hindi. Now, Irudhi Suttru can be added to that list — a film that’s uplifting and inspiring.