Singaravelan is to the ballot born. His mother pops him out while attending a rally being addressed by the politician Rayappan (Parthiban). Singaravelan yearns to follow in Rayappan’s footsteps and finally gets his shot when Rayappan is arrested in a corruption case. A public stunt and a display of ear-shattering lungpower ensure Singaravelan a place in Rayappan’s party and a position on the ladder to power.

But Singaravelan (Vijay Sethupathi) isn’t to be trusted, a song early on in the Tamil comedy Tughlaq Durbar warns us. Chicanery and hypocrisy run beneath his thick hide, which annoys his party rival Mangalam (Bagavathi Perumal), worries his loyal friend Vasu (Karunakaran) and alienates his sister Manimegalai (Raashi Khanna).

It’s all going swimmingly until an accident forces Singaravelan to confront the goodness inside that has managed to survive the scheming. Will the honest Singaravelan succeed over the venal Singaravelan? The question turns out to rhetorical in Tughlaq Durbar, which has been directed by Delhiprasad Deenadayalan and written by him and Balaji Kesavan.

The Netflix release riotously sends up a political culture in which stooping is the path to conquest, lies to lucre. Deenadayalan leaves the door open for hope and transformation. But it’s the cheerful cynicism of Singaravelan’s inventive hustle and Rayappan’s complete surrender to compromise and corruption that linger over the 145-minute runtime.

Manimegalai and Singaravelan’s token love interest, Kamakshi (Manjima Mohan), are largely ornamental, with the best roles and performances coming from the male leads. Vijay Sethupathi’s sly and twinkly-eyed turn is suitably complemented by Parthiban’s sincerity – here is a politician who is so far gone in his game that we begin to feel sorry for him when Singaravelan catches up.

Karunakaran is equally good as Singaravelan’s conscience and partner in crime, while Bagavathi Perumal suffers hilariously from Singaravelan’s cuts. Sathayaraj has a standout cameo as the man at the top of the ladder, where Singaravelan will surely reach some day.

Tughlaq Durbar (2021).