Rating: 2 1/2 stars

Padaiyappa is a glycerin, guts and blood soaked, spineless story that takes almost three hours to crawl through. Watching any movie that stretches 2 1/2 hours after it is over is like watching paint dry unless there is Rajinikanth in it. It's hard to ruin a movie that sports the lures of an irrepressible Rajinikanth battle a shrewish Ramya Krishnan wrecking apocalyptic havoc, but director K.S.Ravikumar has managed to do just that. While the premise promises exhilarating drama, almost immediately, the promise melts. In a film that far outlives its capacity to interest us, even the landscape falls flat. By all rights, it should have been as incredibly heinous as Rajini's other recent juvenile jaunts like Arunachalam, but it actually rises above the source, thanks to the Super Star. The story is as cliched as it can get and too concerned with cozying up to its audience's sensibilities. Padaiyappa at least could have been a blueprint for how to make such material a bit more appealing, but under Ravikumar's direction, it meanders aimlessly. Personally, I think that Suresh Krishna (Baasha, Annamalai) is the best director Rajini has ever had. Ravikumar only manages to make it look slightly better than a Natpukkaga or Nattamai.

Rajini in PadaiyappaRajini is back with his favorite on-screen past time, taking pot shots at 'Amma'. Talk about flogging a dead horse. Why? Can't a Rajini movie stand on its own merit? I guess no one's taking chances after Arunachalam, so Mr. Poes Garden has a field day trashing Ms. Poes Garden. I'll omit the story details here, as I'm sure everyone and his uncle knows the story line, has already seen Padaiyappa many times over, or will do so before the next millennium. In case you've been under a stone all these days or really want to know think of it as Baga Pirivinai Meets Taming of the Shrew meets Annamalai meets Rajinikanth. Rajini hath no fury like a Ramya Krishnan spurned, and she hath no fury like a Rajini scorned. Rajini is of course in imperious form, which is always bad for the hapless villains, but so much fun for the audience.

In a Rajinikanth movie, everyone is exonerated from doing anything sensible, it seems, because the movies will run, no matter what. How Sad! Also sad is the fact that its also the time of the year when our beloved Superstar brushes up his minuscule vocabulary, pulls back his hair with swagger and charges on the screen tersely articulating what will soon become a memorable catchphrase in Tamil Nadu. Rest assured, Padiyappa has its share of memorable Rajini quotes that his sishyans will no doubt live to regale their grandchildren with. K.S. Ravikumar of course, assumes as he always does, that the audience can't get enough of his silly melodrama, and provides us with a more than generous overdose. Luckily for the audience, Rajini's presence serves up style over substance, which is why people go to his movies in the first place. He might look older than he ever did, but he is still a master of his domain be it strutting with minimal effort for maximum fuss or dismissing the baddies before you can say Padaiyappa.

To add to our woes, A.R.Rahman is at his cacophonic best. No semblance of originality in a score that sounds like Deva rejects or a rehash of his earlier efforts. A couple of tunes are hummable, but that involves the ritual of listening to the CD over and over again till its ingrained in you, like a bad ad jingle. There is the mandatory title song by S.P.B that extols the virtues of Rajinikanth, like you didn't know already. Undecided as always on what to do, it reeks of political overtones that it tries to attack. The song of course swears allegiance to the Tamil Makkal as if they needed any more re-assurance from Rajini. Rahman probably wasted no time composing, and if the death threats are to be believed, he'll waste no time de-composing, if he's not careful.

The rest of the stellar cast doesn't shine as brightly as the Super Star. Sivaji Ganesan plays Rajini's father. The thespian is a shadow of his former self in a minuscule role. Manivannan who apparently has no time to shave between his prolific movie appearances, Nasser who in a Rajini movie is a rarity, and Radha Ravi who mainly acts from memory vie for the acting honors. Mansur Ali Khan and Prakash Raj cut sorry cameos. Lakshmi is adequate as Rajini's mother. Soundarya just occupies the screen and valuable screen time. Ramya Krishnan marks her re-entry into Tamil cinema with a villainous role that she absolutely relishes with a hellcat delight. Unfortunately her voice over has been badly dubbed by someone (herself?) and it does not suit her character. Abbas and Preetha are as expressive as they can get, which isn't saying much. All this is of course, one man's opinion, which probably doesn't count. As you can see, I don't know whether to like the movie for the guilty pleasures that only a Rajinikanth movie can offer, or criticize it for exactly the same reasons. The millions around the world can't be wrong about Rajini, so I must be. I will paraphrase the ad-line for the recent Hollywood Hit Matrix - "No one can be told what Padaiyappa is. You have to see it for yourself". So, if you can see just one movie this year, go see Star Wars- the Phantom Menace, but if you can see two, also see Padaiyappa - Else the Fandom's Menaced. Or maybe in the other order if you're a die-hard Rajini fan. And I'm sure you will.

Balaji Thirumalai

Original Photograph (Padaiyappa): Thanks to Tamil Selvan
Photograph scanned & reworked by: Balaji