by Mani Prabhu
You know what I love about Tamil cinema? Every single time it kicks you in the butt with a string of savage let-downs, it compensates well enough with a honest-little-delight of a movie that hugs you tight, cheers you up with all its might and asks in that irresistible voice “You okay, baby?” You can’t help but nod, forgetting every single worry in the world, and instantly breaking into that huge smile. That ugly fight. That urgent file. That pending assignment. That almost cruel deadline. All these pale out before the self-assured brilliance on display. You start living the film, truly caring for the characters on-screen. And somewhere down the lane, all the bleakness slowly evaporates. Everything about the industry seems promising again. You laugh like crazy, till your stomach aches. You feel warm and pampered one moment, and totally moved the next moment. You marvel at the way the film handles its tropes, light-hearted but with a purpose. You know that magic? That’s the magic of a simple yet super-engaging script, executed by a film-maker in his element.
The kind that would unfold, when Manikandan handling both the departments, decides to make Aandavan Kattalai – the cinematic equivalent of that warm hug. But wait till you realize that it’s also a smartly disguised nudge! This man… What an incredible run he is having! His third film, which turns out to be the funniest of his lot, shares its sensibilities more with the heart-warmingly layered Kaaka Muttai than the solemnly existential Kuttrame Thandanai. But then, AK’s ambitions are less modest. It doesn’t strive for the KM kind of guilt-inciting undertones that almost put a lump in your throat. Tasteful sarcasm (starting from the vintage styling of the titles till the tongue-in-cheek ‘Subham‘) runs all along in this film too, deftly woven into the narrative, but the focus is more on having fun this time. And so, what we get here is a ‘social-commentary’ meets ‘comedy-of-errors’ movie, which gives the impression of telling a message, but in reality, concentrates on narrating a compelling story. Yes, it’s deceit. And believe me, that’s no mean feat. It takes a keen eye for details and an exceptional flair for comic writing.
Both of which come naturally for Manikandan. He takes his dramatic conflicts from the everyday happenings around him and puts them under the microscope, not at any point attempting to ‘cinematize‘ them. And as a result, the humour (and the interlaced drama) in his films come across as entertainingly organic, stemming from unique character traits and relatable situations. And most importantly, they work like a charm, every single time. Here, we get a beauty of a protagonist, Gandhi – someone who is caught between his ideals and an omnipresent clan that doesn’t hesitate to capitalize on the general public’s temptation to bypass the system. Landlords, divorce-lawyers, brokers… not even a single character in this fraternity is left ill-defined. Everyone have their own idiosyncrasies, and they are presented with loads of layers. One misstep for the protagonist leads to another, and soon he finds himself enmeshed in a legal quagmire, which brilliantly escalates into a personal crisis. What follows (in particular, a later sequence set in the divorce-court) is the kind of stuff, the Haasan-Crazy Mohan duo would be proud of.
This is not to say that the initial episodes are any less engaging. The stage is beautifully set up for the film to explode, and these are the parts where the writing (by Mani, Arun Chezhiyan and Anucharan) keeps us in splits. Mundane incidents are cleverly staged to define the characters and their subsequent roles in contributing to the snow-ball effect. Trivial specifics like aversion to a particular way of sipping coffee are used to construct chemistry. But, how the team manages to rake up so much humour and purpose in seemingly inconsequential episodes still remains a mystery. Nevertheless, you aren’t allowed to rack your brains around this conceit. The laughs keep you busy. But even in these apparently simple scenes, an insane amount of detailing spills out of each passing frame, and if you are in the mood for some sleuthing, there is no dearth for ‘aaaw’ moments. None of this sticks out like a sore thumb. The team makes sure that everything (including the political undercurrents) flows almost like a well-orchestrated concert.
And the actors add up to the brilliance, like well-versed musicians. (Which brings us to the real musician first. The background score by K probably matches up to the sensibilities of the film-maker for the first time in his three films). Nasser as the majestic acting-guru proves a point on why Manikandan keeps going back to him. Yogi Babu is terrific in the first half, literally bringing the roof down with his ultra-cool demeanour. If I have to put my money on a low-budget Chaplinesque mute-comedy set in Kollywood, this guy would be my first choice. As for Vijay Sethupathi, he continues to be the face of this exciting counterculture – the sort of ‘embracing’ movies – I was earlier talking about. Scene after scene, he keeps us glued to the screen, even as we struggle to take our minds off the fate of such films, if he hadn’t seen stardom. And Rithika Singh! The girl makes us buy into one of the most downplayed romances of our times just with her restrained emotions. Enough said.
If there is a complaint, it’s that some of the happenings come across as way too convenient, given the general tone of the film. But why bother, when there is so much elsewhere to cheer about!