Once upon a time, there lived an agent wearing a mask (of a theatre actor) who goes by many names. Any Mission Impossible is a mission possible for the agent. He is, of course, the ‘best’ agent to have operated in the Indian Army. Until his mask falls and the face is exposed. He is not an agent but a “terrorist” who betrayed the nation. The story of the Great Betrayal therefore becomes a popular folktale among other active agents. Thus, the former agent now becomes a myth. A ghost.
Decades later, his name resurfaces when an officer in-charge of a case digs out classified files while investigating another case. Turns out that the agent had been dropping hints for the officer to find and resurrect his spirit.
“Once upon a time there lived a ghost…he is not a myth anymore”. Err, I know what you guys must be thinking. This ain’t a logline for Lokesh Kangaraj’s Vikrammm, but PS Mithran’s Sardarrr.
Jokes aside, it is going to be a monumental task for filmmakers to come up with fresher ideas for movies involving agents and double agents, in the post- Vikram era. Such has been the influence of Lokesh Kanagaraj’s pulpy ode to the 1986 film of the same name. The light of Vikram does shine brightly on Sardar but isn’t eclipsed by it, letting the PS Mithran film breathe and have its own share of enjoyable portions. Although the plot here is a nod to another Kamal film: Oru Kaidhiyin Diary, in which Kamal played a dual role as father, who is a convicted criminal, and son who joins the Police Department to correct the wrongs of his father. Or rather, to clean the ‘stain’ that he has been carrying all his life because of his criminal dad.
Cast: Karthi, Raashi Khanna, Rajisha Vijayan, Munishkanth and Chunky Panday
Director: PS Mithran
Storyline: Inspector Vijaya Prakash leads life thinking that his father, Bose, has betrayed the Indian Army until he digs out uncomfortable truths about his father.
Karthi’s Vijaya Prakash does something similar here. An inspector who is like a celebrity figure given the popularity he has on social media, Vijaya Prakash wants to establish his own identity. He does that by indulging in marketing and promotions ( “Naalu perukku nallathu seiyanum na nappadhu aayiram perukku theriyanum,” he says) to create this grand illusion. You could say that he too, wears a mask. He wants to rub off the ‘stain’ left by his father Bose, who murders the National Security Advisor on the grounds of personal vendetta and is slapped with the label ‘traitor’. But what if there was a reason? What if someone provoked Bose to kill him? What if…Bose, an agent with RAW, was failed by his own establishment? These thoughts, which are actual plot points in the espionage genre, aren’t exactly new and revelatory ideas.
But how the film turns this genre’s limitations on its head is where the challenge lies for the filmmaker. Lokesh’s approach towards Vikram was based on a superhero formula that heavily borrowed the structure of The Dark Knight trilogy. Siddharth Anand brought in a breath of fresh air to masala sensibilities in his delightful War, also about an agent going rogue against the system. In Sardar, PS Mithran seems to struggle quite a bit. He knows he has a delicious formula in hand: the reunion of father-son and the film is very much in the masala zone. Yet, the masala flavour that Sardar teems with feels too familiar for us.
For example, one of the things that truly worked in Oru Kaidhiyin Diary was that it was strongly anchored in primal, human emotions. Kamal’s wife is sexually assaulted and raped, and she commits suicide and therefore, Kamal kills the perpetrators. When the son character comes to know about the truth from his father, we see him wanting to remove his uniform and join the father character to get justice. When the protagonist is directly affected, it affects us. When I say ‘direct’, I mean it has to hit us in the gut. When it affects us, we teem with rage. When we feel the emotion, we buy what the character does in the movie.
Sardar’s problem is this: Bose’s betrayal should have been so brutal that it ideally should have translated on us. Instead, when we are presented with what actually happened to Bose, it comes across as too convenient. We feel betrayed in the other sense. Even though we get that Vijaya Prakash is publicity-hungry because he wants people and the department to ‘forget’ who his father was, we don’t take him or his actions seriously. Therefore, he becomes a plain figure for the most part.
There are quite a few moments where Mithran comes alive as a filmmaker. For instance, when a boy (who talks too much, knows too much for his age) is taken by the cops for being an accomplice of his traitor mother, we see Vijaya Prakash drawing a parallel to his own life. This mirrors beautifully with him as a boy being photographed by journalists and being taken in by a caretaker (played by Munishkanth who is a great find for the Janagaraj’s character from Oru Kaidhiyin Diary). Vijay takes the boy into his arms and walks away, a beautiful throwback to what Karthi does in Aayirathil Oruvan. Deliberate? Or am I reading too much into the film? There is another instance when someone’s real identity is revealed and it mirrors too in the end. These echo moments make up when Sardar dumbs down the message-heavy portions that simply come across as spoon feeding the audience at a time they are watching international content.
Movies featuring a star in dual roles suffer from a common plague. We are almost always invested in the character who is either the evil twin brother or the one who gets a makeover. And filmmakers continue to repeat the same mistake of saving the more interesting character for the second half. We saw that in Selvaraghavan’s Naane Varuvaen. We see that happening in Sardar. For, it becomes slightly engaging only after Bose appears. Till about that time, our patience is tested. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Chunky Pandey is the villain and he seems to get his lines right in Hindi, at least going by what his lips don’t tell. Every time Pandey speaks, the camera cuts to focus on the person listening, in a bid to perhaps avoid the terrible lip-sync. Pandey is not an exception. This happens to Laila too, when she speaks Tamil. Alright. When she tries to speak Tamil.
To put in the film’s lingo, calling Sardar a fulfilling movie would be a “convenient lie”. But calling it an interesting film that needed more clarity would be an “uncomfortable truth”.
Sardar is currently running in theatres.