Synopsis: A grumpy boxing coach takes on a young, rebellious woman under his wings and starts training her for the world championship. But their biggest battle has to be fought outside the ring.
Review: It is inevitable that a sports film will hew to a certain formula — the discovery of an extraordinary talent, the practice montage, the challenges on and off the field, the grand finale with an outcome that could either be rousing or downbeat. So, it is not surprising that the outlines of Irudhi Suttru, a boxing drama, are familiar. We have a grumpy coach, a rebellious student, politics from the sport's administrators, jealousy from rivals and a tense climactic bout. But what makes the film stand out is how superbly the director, Sudha Kongara uses these plot points to paint her canvas.
The film begins with Prabhu (Madhavan), a once-promising boxer failed by the system and now a no-nonsense coach, being forced to move to Chennai due to internal politics in the boxing association. In Chennai, Prabhu comes across Madhi (Ritika Singh), a rowdy fisherwoman who has a natural flair for boxing, and whose sister, Lakshmi (Mumtaz Sorcar) is training for the boxing championship. Prabhu offers to teach the hot-headed Madhi, who is enthusiastic about the sport but is put off by the coach's stern attitude. The two warm up to each other and Madhi even develops a crush on Prabhu. But there are forces that threaten to derail both their dreams.
The writing is strong for the most parts of Irudhi Suttru and the excellent cast effortlessly conveys the various shades of their characters. The beefed-up Madhavan might be the film's anchor but it is the pocket-sized dynamo Ritika's performance that gives it its punch. The supporting cast is superb. We know what Nasser and Radha Ravi are capable of, but Kaali Venkat, as the girls' drunkard father who converts to Christianity just to make a few bucks, manages to overtake these veterans with his finely-calibrated performance. If there is a chink in the armour, it is the characterisation of the antagonist, Dev, who is one-note and cliched. And the (type)casting of Zakir Hussain for this role doesn't help either.
The little touches, like the observation on Chennai's poster culture (one of the posters welcoming Prabhu calls him 'Boxing Loin'!), the fact that Madhi's mother is a north Indian, that Madhi is a fan of Dhanush, the relationship between Radha Ravi and Madhavan, the explanation Lakshmi gets for why Prabhu prefers Madhi, add a bit of quirkiness to the tale. The fight scenes are also tensely choreographed and are plausible unlike the over-the-top boxing scenes that we saw recently in Bhooloham. But it is the relationship between Prabhu and Madhi is what drives the film and the director makes it amply clear that she needs him as much as he needs her. Their scenes have a charge that keeps us hooked and it is only when Prabhu disappears for a brief while in the second half that we understand how crucial their scenes together are for the film. On the whole, it might not deliver a knockout punch, but Irudhi Suttru manages to land punches that constantly surprise us (the rousing climax ensures that we walk out with a smile) and in a good way.