When was the last time a leading star played a grumpy, foul-mouthed and ill-mannered womaniser in Indian cinema? In "Irudhi Suttru", director Sudha portrays Madhavan (Prabhu), who plays a boxing coach in the Indian squad, in ways most heroes won't be willing to see themselves on the screen.
In his introduction scene, he wakes up with a woman in bed who cribs about travelling 20 km to spend time with him, only to be humiliated by his actions. He's used to sleeping with random women ever since his wife eloped with another boxer. Cut to next scene, charged with sexual harassment, he's transferred from Hisar to Chennai. As a viewer, one quickly forms an opinion about Madhavan's character and that's what Sudha wants from her audience.
In Chennai, Prabhu finds a potential boxing champion in Madhi, a fish dweller, who is grumpier than him. He wants to train her and is willing to pay her Rs.500 per class. She gives in to the lucrative deal, not because she aspires to be a boxer, but so that she could buy her mother a new sari. Early on, Prabhu pays women to sleep with them. Now, he pays a woman to train her.
Unlike the regular template in sports films where the mentee goes the extra mile to get noticed by the mentor, here the latter identifies the hidden talent in the former.
Sudha beautifully explores the mentor-mentee relationship against the backdrop of boxing and merely uses the sports angle as a metaphor. The story is about a washed-out coach's shot at redemption when he finds a protege with all the qualities of a champion, but the spotlight also stays on the unison of two eccentrically diverse personalities and their common goal.
At one point, you're almost convinced that they might fall in love, but Sudha duly avoids taking that route and stays faithful to the script.
One thing that's not clear is whether Madhi is really interested in boxing or not. While she says she has been training from the age of 3 and idolises Muhammad Ali, there's no sign of anything aspirational from her side.
Initially, she agrees to get trained because she can support her family financially and later on, for her sister, who has been boxing for many years with the hope of earning a police job in sports quota. Towards the end, she fights for her coach. Never do we understand clearly what really motivates her to box.
Though it's tough to shake off the predictable story, what still works in this sports drama is the way it's treated. Extremely well-written, the dialogues will be etched in your memory and so will the performances be.
Madhavan breathes life into the role of a grumpy coach with ease and elan, while the extremely impressive newbie Ritika Singh steals the show with a knockout performance. Both of them complement each other with the kind of raw acting we've rarely seen. There's no way any other actress could've done a better job than Ritika in this role.