As a story, Karuppan has nothing new to offer. The core storyline, at least the starting point, easily belongs to the 80-90s. The eponymous hero Karuppan (Vijay Sethupathi) is a Jallikattu enthusiast. In one of the Jallikattu contests, Maayi (Pasupathy) agrees to marry his sister Anbu (Tanya Ravichandran) to Karuppan if he manages to tame his ferocious bull. But director Panneer Selvam’s characters are well-etched and with some good performances, it makes Karuppan a good watch. Anbu and Karuppan end up married, to the annoyance of Kathir (Bobby Simhaa). The family drama that ensues forms the crux of Karuppan.
Vijay Sethupathi is easily one of the best actors around and he is making some really smart choices. He has been successful in not being typecast, thanks to his choice of characters. Mainstream or off-beat, his characters are fleshed out sensibly and that increases their appeal on screen. Vijay Sethupathi’s natural flair and charm add more quirk to each character. The accented English, his casual demeanour — one can see shades of his previous characters (Vedha, Sethupathi) in Karuppan, though in a rustic avatar. But Karuppan has more scope emotionally where Vijay Sethupathi scores easily. On the downside, despite his flamboyance and swagger on screen the fight sequences look tad weak (though well-aided by Imman’s nagasvarams).
Bobby Simhaa is back with a brilliant performance as Kathir, the perfect antithesis to Vijay Sethupathi’s exuberance. If Karuppan is not the regular hero, Kathir isn’t the regular villain as well. There are no lengthy monologues, no ear-blaring screams for Kathir. As a grounded, tactful villain Bobby Simhaa shines, switching easily and efficiently between the trustworthy aide and the vengeful unrequited lover. After Jigarthanda and Iraivi, this might as well be his comeback vehicle.Most important of all, how refreshing it is to see a fleshed-out role for a heroine! Like Karuppan and Kathir, Anbu’s character is treated differently. She is more than the object of their affections; she has a mind of her own and holds her space. In fact you can call her man of the house (even Karuppan calls her Mr.Anbu). When offered with a marriage proposal she isn’t fond of, she is not the obeisant sister who just nods her head. She makes her displeasure heard. And when she agrees, it is out of choice and not by force. She slaps Karuppan, rides a bike and drives a car — details of who she is. And Tanya comes up with a good performance, though her expressions feel contrived at times.
What doesn’t work for Karuppan is the screenplay which lingers at places more than necessary. Some nifty editing and fewer songs could have fastened the movie’s pace. To sum up, Karuppan is a smart commercial film, hopefully the start of an evolution of an alternative ‘mass hero’ in Tamil cinema.