Santhanam’s long transition to building his brand as a hero continues, and that seems to be our problem too. This is an actor who has been on the job training for much of the last decade, while his largely unconvincing films teach us not to expect his presence to make us laugh.
In his latest film, Sabhaapathy, the actor applies a proven idea from books about character transitions to win the audience’s empathy and love. He plays a poster of innocence, a man who is incapable of violence, and as I unfortunately discovered for two hours without end, no humour.
Of course, he neither drinks nor smokes, although he can be seen in some scenes with alcohol;
And he often smiles with that happy smile. Especially when he thinks of his neighbour Saavi (Savitri, played by Preeti Verma). He’s a fool who can’t find a job, a boy whose father (MS Bhaskar) keeps threatening suicide. The film’s title and theme of simplicity are taught to adults.
This suggest that the film is influenced by the Tamil classic Sabapathy (1941). Which is also about a fool finding his place in the world. But where the film is filled with harmless laughter, it is neither funny nor harmless.
Sabhaapathy is a stutterer – perhaps a manipulative tool to assert his innocence. By preventing Santanam from getting involved in his kind of slanderous comedy. In this film, he relied on jokes (which remained largely ineffective, aside from the fun part in the second half. Even if it was still an attractive choice for the actor). The film finds an enthusiastic replacement for the comedy insult routine in actor Pugaj. Who plays an alcoholic friend and refers to “aunt”.
The film claims – or may believe it – is sensitive to Sabhaapathy’s speech defects, but we have to examine her treatment of other types of vulnerabilities to see if she cares. Take, for example, the bald head of MS Bhaskar, who plays Ganapathy Sabhaapathy’s father.
In the film, Sabhaapathy offers to buy her a wig in the name of humour. Believe it or not, Sabhaapathy then vomits Ganapathy’s head as the film enjoys its focus on the incident. Ganapati, meanwhile, is not an angel either, remembering how he ordered and beat his wife. After all, his character-building only serves to ground the idea that retirees – another vulnerable group – create a downright uncomfortable personality.
Further down in the film, there is an image of an overweight man:
He laughed so hard his stomach bulged, and the buttons of his shirt loosened and flew off. However, we have to believe that this film takes care of a stutterer – because of the final scene designed to manipulate you to make you feel warm and fuzzy? We will do it if we are naive, like sabhaapathy.
In this utterly forgotten and largely exhausting film, perhaps the only conclusion Santanam makes is to play the rather bold decision to play a character who fails to play his tried and tested strengths in dialogue. It’s a bit like Sivakartikeyan doing Doctor (even if it’s a much better film). Maybe the actor still understands his sweet spot as a character. Maybe he’s still slowly creating his transformation. I would only be grateful if this public experiment were more helpful.
The last one, Sabhaapathy, begins in the deep voice of a narrator who identifies himself as “vidhi” and claims to “play” with “innocent” people like Sabhaapathy. I can imagine that Mr Vidhi had chosen me to play his game the day I saw Sabhaapathy.
Director R Srinivasa Rao coined the famous line:
Outsiders whose virtues are tested and ultimately rewarded – and provided us with a somewhat comical, if not entirely fresh, scenario. He uses the friction between Sabhaapathy and Ganapathy as a springboard for some broad and even dirty humour (when a child vomits on his father’s head and a father orders his son to undress at the neighbour, your cup of comedy is you can dig this better!).
Then we have parts (like the scene at the police station where the police also act as fortune tellers) that make you smile when they appear on the screen but don’t look funny when you see them later. That goes for the entire film as well, which is a cruel thing. Like a dream that escapes you when you wake up, you forget it as soon as you leave the theatre.