Three decades after its release, Sridhar’s ill-fated Ninaivellam Nithya is suddenly the flavour of the season. If Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Neethane En Ponvasantham invokes a megahit song from the film – from Ilayaraja at his godliest phase – Prabu Solomon’s Kumki is a throwback to that kind of tragedy-tainted story, of an outsider falling for a girl from a closed-off, tradition-bound tribal community. A roustabout named Bommaa (Vikram Prabhu, making a promising debut) and his beloved elephant Manickam slip into a village under false pretences. There, he sees Alli (Lakshmi Menon) and is hit by the proverbial thunderbolt. Adding to the dangers the discovery of this relationship poses, there’s a marauding wild elephant that the villagers believe Manickam will be able to drive away — the sad joke is that Manickam is no kumki, the kind of creature that does that kind of job. But once these specifics are established, the film goes nowhere very quickly.
It takes far too long for Alli to even realise Bommaa’s feelings for her – leave alone reciprocate them – and the parallel track of training Manickam into the pachydermal equivalent of border patrol isn’t brought out very thrillingly either. For the film to really work, Manickam needed to come across as a creature as alive as the tiger in Life of Pi. But a bigger problem arises from the long-running, mood-killing comedy track by the ubiquitous Thambi Ramaiah, who plays Bommaa’s uncle. (Seeing this actor, these days, I never fail to be reminded of that immortal line from Saattai: “This is the buttocks.”) And worse, towards the end, this character turns deadly earnest – it’s hard not to wince at the crude manipulation. The only surprise in this CineMadurai venture is that it references not only the expected Ilayaraja hits (Dheiveega raagam, Indraikku yen indha aanandhame, Poongathu thirumbuma) but also Harris Jayaraj’s Ennamo edho. And the only highlight is Imman’s stunning score. That’s another way Kumki resembles Ninaivellam Nithya. Three decades from now, the music is all we’ll remember.
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