Karthik Subbaraj is looked at as one of Tamil cinema's most promising young directors when it comes to mixing arthouse and commercial cinema, in the films he has done so far. Getting his big break with Superstar Rajinikanth's Petta, the writer-director has opted for a safe drama that pays full heed to it's star and little to other aspects.
Right from the start, the film celebrates Superstar Rajinikanth in full force. Be it the little smirks, action sequences, dance/montage song portions or the overall swag, the man is just too good in his part. This is the Rajinikanth that we wanted to see for a really long time, though the opportunities were missed out in some earlier outings. A special mention to the intro and interval portions which totally make the wolf-whistles hit the roof. Karthik Subbaraj takes his own sweet time to bring us the storyline and makes us loom in the smiles at the start. It is only through little teases that he brings us to the core, unveiling the trump card at the interval block. Come the second half, and the film begins to take the tried-and-tested path, something that's a little too ordinary for a new-gen commercial entertainer. The flashback portion does have some worthy moments in it, but the film becomes a tedious affair once it returns to the main timeline. Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and others are characters which come into the play with equal weightage but the film's final hour is a dull and predictable fare but for the climax twist which comes in from thin air.
Karthik Subbaraj's narrative pattern makes use of interesting little ideas such as the constant nostalgic factor, a fresh backdrop and the use of just visuals to define parts of the story. But it would be fair to say that his writing here is not as audacious or special as his previous works, as he takes the usual route of a revenge drama and hands it classy treatment.
Apart from Rajinikanth, two pillars of Petta are DOP Tirru and composer Anirudh. Tirru's cinematography scales never-seen-before framing in the hilly locales, with his night shots and shadow techniques adding to the merry. On the other hand, Anirudh's fantastic work with the songs and the background score are a huge plus to the film. His re-recording is right there among his very best and takes every scene a step higher than what it is in real.
Petta could have been a fantastic film if Karthik Subbaraj had toned down the overall length and made the Vijay Sethupathi arc more fruitful - you might be disappointed if you're going in searching for his brilliance. However, this is the best Rajinikanth we've seen in the recent past and that's the best reason to see the film.