What Sivakarthikeyan did in Doctor is what Santhanam attempts in Sabapathy… only, the writing ought to have been stronger
R Srinivasa Rao’s Sabapathy reminded me of Mr. Denton on Doomsday, an episode from Rod Serling’s cult classic TV series, The Twilight Zone. In the latter, fate, personified as a strange salesman, saves a former gunslinger’s life from chronic alcoholism and a fatally dangerous duel by giving him a gun and a tiny bottle of magical potion. Fate, which is usually blamed by humans for their misfortunes, lends a helping hand to a fallen man.
In Sabapathy, too, fate is personified. Fate in this film is a VFX creation — a guy with a longish beard and a baritone voice who sits in a dimly lit room and does strange things like reversing the collapse of a card castle. He, like the salesman in The Twilight Zone episode, intervenes in the life of the struggling and stammering Sabapathy (Santhanam) to make it better.
However, unlike The Twilight Zone episode, which readily evokes philosophical contemplation (as most The Twilight Zone episodes do), Sabapathy, due to its ineffectual screenplay, leaves you with that feeling of showering in lukewarm water on a wet, cold morning. If only the water had been warmer. Because the plot of Sabapathy, although not entirely novel, is solid: a naive nice guy, struggling in life, gets a suitcase full of cash belonging to a corrupt politician. This is the point where Fate decides to intervene in his life. But the build-up to this point and its aftermath are tiresome.
The writing is to be blamed. The build up to the intermission, where Sabapathy finds the suitcase, is tiresome. Some of the scenes between Santhanam and MS Bhaskar work to an extent due to their performances. And, Cooku With Comali-fame Pugazh, who plays Santhanam’s ‘quarter’-loving friend of Santhanam on his big-screen debut, delivers a few one-liners. But barring a few such moments, no lines stick.
The tone of the movie fluctuates wildly in the second half. For a while, it wants to be a madhouse caper with many people chasing after the same object, resulting in comical accidents. But a few moments later, it gets all motivational.
But it was refreshing to see Santhanam not coming up with a one-liner or a retort every two minutes he is on screen. What Sivakarthikeyan did in Doctor, Santhanam does in Sabapathy. Playing an awkward, small-town guy with a stammer, Santhanam, for the most part, does not remind you of Santhanam. Also refreshing to see was the film not veering away from the plot, apart from an unnecessary fight sequence and songs. All this results in a Sabapathy that isn’t long…but had the writing been stronger, it could have been more than just watchable.