We first saw it in 2012 in Pizza. We saw it again a couple of weeks later in Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom. A few months later, in 2013, we saw it yet again in Soodhu Kavvum. And now, after a rather long break, we see it again in the latest Tamil release, Tughlaq Durbar. I’m talking about the Confused Vijay Sethupathi (CVS) face. It’s the face he makes when he doesn’t understand what’s going on around him; each of the films that has had him do this has struck box office gold. But of course, back then, he wasn’t the star he is today. Perhaps that is why, in Tughlaq Durbar, in addition to the CVS face, he also brings his now-familiar ‘Unfazed Vijay Sethupathi’ (UVS) face.
As long as CVS is around in this film, even the tried-and-tested political satire formula of Tamil cinema feels refreshing. The humour lands at all the right spots. The setups work, and the payoffs are enjoyable, even if in parts. It’s when UVS comes in that this same formula feels stale. This dichotomy is perhaps the biggest drawback of Delhi Prasad Dheenadayalan’s otherwise highly entertaining debut film.
Tughlaq Durbar does have many things going for it. Although Parthiban plays a straightforward role of ex-MLA, Rayappan, he sells the film like you wouldn’t believe. Although Manjima Mohan and Raashi Khanna play thankless roles, the writing of their characters has some redeeming factors. Raashi’s Kamakshika, Singam’s ‘love interest’ of sorts, brings in a bit of humour here and a dash of romance there, and also serves as an outlet for a couple of songs as well.
However, Manjima just has a line or two in the entire film, and can be seen just giving reaction shots, when her brother, Singam, does despicable things to fuel his political career. However, I did like what Manjima does with her character—her silence is more telling than what many others in this film manage with reams of dialogues. The reliable Karunakaran and Bagavathi Perumal play template characters, but their earnestness makes up for the repetition of their roles.
Tughlaq Durbar will be compared with Amaidhi Padai (1994), the gold standard of political satires in Tamil cinema. And Deenadayalan and team know this too and pull off a smart heist with a climactic cameo. With this high, Tughlaq Durbar tries to make us forget the preceding stretches of dullness in which there’s a generic triumph of good over evil. Curiously, if there is anything good satires have taught us, it is that the good-evil dichotomy has no place in the world of politics. Deenadayalan’s satire, though efficient, is also brought down by how generic it is. There’s the dichotomy I was talking about.
My favourite stretch in Tughlaq Durbar is how the makers have conceptualised the scene when Singaravelan aka Singam (Vijay Sethupathi) makes the Hyde to Jekyll transformation. The visuals, the music by Govind Vasantha, the performance of Vijay Sethupathi, all come together to give us an exciting setup. It is interesting how the other standout moment in the film is also a scene which has just Vijay Sethupathi on screen. It is a scene where Singam comes to terms with the duality of his life, and that mirror scene is a reflection of what Vijay Sethupathi is capable of doing.
There is a thin line between nonchalance and lethargy, and Vijay Sethupathi is walking the tightrope, albeit rather shakily now. Some scenes in Tughlaq Durbar might make you feel he has stepped on the wrong side of the rope, while some others point towards him still firmly in hold of his balance. But one thing is for sure, Tamil cinema is yet to see a star like Vijay Sethupathi who embraces his ordinariness as much as his stardom. It is the dichotomy again, but of the likeable sort.
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Parthiban, Raashi Khanna, Karunakaran, Manjima Mohan
Director: Delhi Prasad Deenadayalan
Streaming on: Netflix