Actor Arya and seasoned boxing coach Thiru sparred through Pa Ranjith’s ‘Sarpatta Parambarai’ to recreate the glory days of North Madras
Whenever Arya is not on camera, you are likely to find him in action on a football ground.
So, when he caught up with 2014 Tamil film Madras starring Karthi, he watched the football sequences with glee. “I was hoping its director, Pa Ranjith, would write a football-based story and cast me in it,” says Arya, speaking from his Chennai residence over Zoom.
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Ranjith did eventually come to him, but with another sport in mind: boxing. For Arya, the timing could not have been better; he was working out at Chennai MMA’s Training Academy under Santhosh Master, who routinely does sports-based training for boxing and kickboxing aspirants.
Cut to 2021, and the Arya-Ranjith collaboration culminates in a period sports drama, Sarpatta Parambarai, set to release on Amazon Prime Video. Centered around the clash between two boxing clans — Sarpatta and Idiyappa — the film captures the glory days of the sport in North Madras, which has been the boxing epicentre, with many players and audience showing a keen interest.
“If you visit North Madras, you will realise that boxing is a religion. People respect and love the sport,” states Arya. That is what Sarpatta seeks to highlight, along with the multiple challenges aspirants face, both inside the ring and out, on the path to glory.
The film is set in North Madras of the 1970s, with the makers re-creating the location on an expansive set in EVP Film City, Chembarambakkam. For Arya, who earlier did Madraspattinam (2010), which brought to life the city as it was in the pre-Independence era, this was another trip to the past. “We re-created how North Madras looked in the 1970s, including its streets and shops. The minute I entered the set, it felt like time travel because I would see people wearing retro costumes and conversing in North Madras slang. Only when I came back to the caravan would this feeling snap off,” he says.
He quickly realised that getting a hang of the slang and clothes of the 70s was easier than getting into the character of a boxer. The physical requirements proved to be a challenge for the actor, even though Arya already had an active fitness regimen, that included weights and cycling. “I had to split my workout schedule to look the character; my morning schedule involved cardio-related activity like running and cycling, while evenings would be devoted to just boxing,” he says, adding, “It was intense. I trained exactly the way someone would train to participate in a State-level boxing tournament.”
Helping him in this process was G Thiyagarajan alias Thiru, former National-level boxer and currently a coach. “Bend-u eduthutaaru… (he made me work so hard),” grins Arya.
Arya and Thiru during a training session | Photo Credit: Selva RK
Thiru, who hails from a family of boxers in North Madras, has been involved with the sport since 1997. “My uncle, Kiruba, introduced me to boxing. My role model was another uncle called Jilla, who was once a National Champion. Watching all these people in the household made me take a keen interest in it,” says Thiru, who trained under renowned coach, Devanand, and actively took part in boxing tournaments across India from 1999 to 2010, before multiple injuries cut short his dreams.
But his connection with the sport continued in a coaching capacity, which is how he found himself sparring with Arya on the sets of Sarpatta Parambarai. Thiru is excited about the film, stating that it will introduce viewers to the vibrant history of boxing in the city. “In the Madras of the past, we indulged in a lot of kuthu sandai (hand fights), then the British brought along boxing. Wherever the British officers had a presence, in areas like Royapuram, Perambur and the Harbour, they introduced boxing,” says Thiru.
For the film, he says he researched the various styles of boxing that he could design the characters around. Arya, for instance, got a Mohammad Ali-style makeover for his moves inside the ring while actor John Kokken, was modelled on the lines of Mike Tyson.
Arya and Thiru hope that this recent interest among filmmakers in boxing — Toofan in Hindi released last week, while Sarpatta is due this week — will translate into more patronage to the sport. Adds Thiru, who runs Lakshmanan Boxing Club in Perambur, “Sarpatta will give a lot of recognition to the boxing community, which is eagerly awaiting it. Since the release of the trailer, I have received more than 500 calls from people who are interested in the sport, and students who have started coming back to classes post the second wave. Every boxer in North Madras has its poster as their WhatsApp status!”
Says Arya, “Tamil Nadu has talented boxers. These cinematic portrayals will also encourage other boxing aspirants. I took it up because it kept my fitness levels on a high. Unlike other sports, you cannot get tired while boxing. If you do, you get knocked out.”
Sarpatta Parambarai releases on Amazon Prime Video on July 22
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