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Film writer Alex Green is left a bit confused after watching Sarkar, but is amazed by the leading actor, Joseph Vijay
For those unfamiliar with Joseph Vijay, or Vijay as he is better known, he certainly is known throughout Chennai, India. The noted actor is one of the highest paid in Tamil cinema based in Chennai, boasting 61 appearances as a lead actor. He certainly is a busy guy, and his latest picture, Sarkar, is sure to rake in the money. Not just because of the star frontman, but with the added controversy of various political protests over the depiction of high-profile individuals of the ruling AIADMK party, and accusations of a plagiarised script. It certainly is a high-profile release.
Vijay plays Sundar Ramasamy, a savvy businessman returning to Chennai to cast his vote in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly election. When he does so, he finds his vote has been illegally cast and sets out on a crusade against the current political state.
What can be said about Sarkar is that it does ask fair questions about democratic systems through it’s characters. It’s this substance that can be praised, as Vijay plays an extremely savvy businessman with confidence, humility and even a strong level of depth. His performance is easily the best in the film, which makes sense given he has the best written character. He’s a man who uses his power to assert change in his country by questioning the issues at the heart of democracy, such as the importance of an individual vote and the need for opposition.
The second half of the film does expand on this with a good ‘political thriller’ sense that does work, as he schemes against his opponents and the film implodes with a smart twist in the finale. There is even a solid ‘look’ to the film, it’s not the prettiest film ever, but certainly is not an ugly film. But how can it with Vijay’s extensive wardrobe of shirts and suits?
However, with those things acknowledged, it’s hard not to notice the damning flaws in Sarkar that make the film feel sadly unsatisfying. The film has several escapist dance sequences which, whilst well-choreographed and well shot, they feel at odds with the tone of drama that grounds the film with tonnes of democratic questioning. With its intermission, Sarkar has a real identity crisis, as the first half plays out almost as a superhero movie, and the second half, a political thriller. As 2 individual halves, both have their appeal. As a collective, not so much, and it’s here where Sarkar feels like a haphazard collection of ideas, as opposed to a cohesive narrative.
From a direction standpoint, the pacing is decent, but action scenes are poorly handled. It has no natural flow and feels totally weightless, as it quickly switches between fast cuts, slow motion and back again - it almost gives the viewer whiplash! It’s hard to take the action seriously, when Sundar decides to flip henchmen onto their backsides in rather impossible ways. Failing to ground the action, and make it actually watchable, adds to this concept of fantasy in the first half, which then fades in the second half in it’s political thriller half.
Speaking of Sundar, he is handled very well, as a character... for the most part. It’s just a shame he feels like the only character who the writers put any effort into. All the other characters, ranging from love interest Nila, to corrupt politician Masilamani and his brother, are all void of the depth and necessary subtleties that make them interesting. Instead, these characters feel merely like just random people for Sundar to deal with. This lack of depth, particularly when it comes to any of the politicians on the side of the AIDAMK party is a serious problem that makes the film feel slightly hollow. This is truly a one-man picture. The main problems really come down to the screenplay and the script, which aren’t deep enough to provide Sarkar with the substance that it needs to work as a film.
What does feel strange, is that when all the elements are put together, the film can feel a bit obnoxious at times. These action sequences combined with a strangely overbearing score and soundtrack create a sense of total unrelatability and dissonance that makes the film feel like it’s trying to be the loudest, biggest voice in the room. It never really takes enough time to breathe, to highlight points that (and when) it should.
So, in the end, Sarkar has neither the intrigue and complexity to be a great thriller, nor the excellent film making or strong characters to be a great blockbuster. It’s just a below average film with one high point, his name being Vijay.
With a strong performance from Vijay, Sarkar had the potential to be great, but with poor action and a screenplay and script that is severely lacking, it wastes what could have been.