'Sardar' movie review: Karthi shines in a massy spy thriller with a compelling message

Sardar is a true blue action thriller with the spy angle amply explored to justify the hint of a sequel.
Poster of 'Sardar'.(Photo | Twitter)
Poster of 'Sardar'.(Photo | Twitter)

PS Mithran is a committed filmmaker. In his three films so far, the heroes have changed, the heroines have changed, the setting has changed, the look and feel of the films have changed, and the producer has changed, but one thing remains unchanged — the villain. Be it in Irumbuthirai or Hero, or his latest, Sardar, the villain might seem like one person, but it is actually the concept of commercialisation. What’s fascinating about this constant commentary on commercialisation is how the focus, more often than not, is always on people’s choices. Of course, Mithran’s films always have an overarching conflict and an underlying message. However, the resolution of it all isn’t just the responsibility of the protagonist, but is thrown open for the audience to engage and take home a message. More importantly, it makes the audience think of their next move with respect to the theme dealt with in his films. Sardar does that with consummate flair and strikes a balance between being a mass masala entertainer, and a message film with its heart in the right place.

Sardar has a fascinating cold open. It is the 80s. A renegade spy kills a high-ranking Intelligence official. Now, this spy is branded a traitor, but since it is played by Karthi, we definitely know who is on the right side. Nevertheless, the film soon shifts to the present where we see his son Vijayaprakash (Karthi again), a social media-savvy cop, who wants to remove the tag of being a 'traitor's son.' It is an interesting character arc that is milked for entertainment just long enough to ensure the gimmick doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, this tact of knowing when to stop a trope is the strength of Sardar's writing. While the sudden detours to a couple of songs feel like a deterrent to the otherwise on-point narration, the way Mithran uses these songs as montage sequences to further the plot is a welcome sight. While it is clear that we might have to wait longer for espionage thrillers to do away with songs altogether, this is a good middle ground.

Such is the shadow of Vikram that even the usual line of calling a spy a ghost reminds us of the Lokesh Kanagaraj film. Anyway, Sardar might actually remind us of the criminally underrated Bhavesh Joshi, and Velaikkaran. The central conceit is also a hat-tip to the real-life story of a famous Imperial Japanese soldier stationed on an island in the Philippines for three decades. But, make no mistake, Sardar is its own beast, and that is very much due to some smart writing and a brilliant Karthi at the centre of it all. In fact, it is one of the best performances from Karthi in what can be considered one of his massiest films to date. While it is Sardar who gets the maximum applause, his Vijayaprakash wonderfully holds fort on the other end. Considering it is a spy thriller, most of the big buildup moments work best in Sardar's story, and it is fascinating how Karthi, with his shaggy beard and gruff voice, almost makes us forget that he is also the uber-cool clean-shaven cop who is on a similar investigation trail, albeit from another direction. Also, full points to the team for relegating the father-son relationship to the background, and not having any grand sequences that might have distracted us from the plot.

Another highlight of Sardar is definitely the ensemble cast, which comes together to deliver a compelling film. Be it Chunky Panday as the primary antagonist or Yugi Sethu and Avinash as ex-RAW agents, the functioning of the clandestine agency is neither overtly glorified nor dumbed down. In Sardar, we don't see spies cracking cases and pulling down global conspiracies in just one day. We see how it is a prolonged process, and this attention to showcase the agency with authenticity is appreciable. Even with the women in the film — Laila, Raashii Khanna, Rajisha Vijayan — each of them have a distinct purpose in the film and aid in the progression of the plot. While their limited screen time does act as a downer, the pressing nature of the overarching theme comes in handy for the writers to do away with certain plot points. A surprise highlight of Sardar is the presence of child actor Rithvik, who plays a precocious kid with a decent arc. It is comforting that this kid manages to say the right things at the right time without sounding unnecessarily older than his age.

Sardar is a technically sound film, especially in the conception and execution of the stunt sequences, which stand testament to the superior talent of stunt choreographer Dhilip Subbarayan, DoP George C Williams, and editor Ruben. Even if the songs don't really leave an impact, especially because we are more invested in the montage sequences rather than the song itself, GV Prakash's strength comes to the fore in the background score, especially in the Sardar portions. These technicians, in tandem with the art department lead by Kathir, give us a fantastic look into the world of Sardar.

Generally, with films like Sardar, there is the problem of overwriting or spoon-feeding the audience. However, kudos to the writers for managing to walk the thin line without taking a patronising tone for most of its 165-minute runtime. The narrative takes a dip whenever we have a bit of forced humour here, and unnecessary romantic detours there, but it manages to recover just in time thanks to the focus shifting to a pressing issue that definitely warrants introspection even if the route taken to its predictable end is utopian.

Sardar is a true blue action thriller with the spy angle amply explored to justify the hint of a sequel. While we are still not sure if Karthi and Mithran will reunite for a Sardar 2, they have convincingly set up the world of cross-border espionage that doubles up as a well-constructed masala entertainer. With both Irumbuthirai and Hero having open endings, Mithran's propensity for promising us a franchise of sorts is known, and with Sardar, he has definitely delivered a film with the potential to finally fulfill that promise.

Director: PS Mithran

Cast: Karthi, Raashii Khanna, Rajisha Vijayan, Chunky Panday

Rating: 3.5/5

(This review originally appeared on Cinema Express.com)

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