When I heard that the impressively named Tha. Prabhu Raja Cholan was a former associate of Shankar’s, I thought we’d get – in his first film – painted trucks and vigilante justice. Karuppampatti, instead, is a family drama that harks back to Fazil and Aditya Chopra; it’s what you’d get if you tossed Varusham 16 and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge into a mixer. Lots of family throwing themselves cheerfully into a lot of colourful customs and traditions – that’s exactly what the doctor might have ordered in these climes of incessant bloodletting, and for a while, the film looks promising. Ajmal plays a Parisian with an equally impressive name, Kothai Cocopardo, and after a tragedy, he returns to the titular village, his hometown, to reunite the members of his extended family, who now lie scattered, barely in touch. That’s a solid emotional hook. A solid narrative hook too. By the end, we should be blubbering into our handkerchieves.
Karuppampatti is a rarity in the current Tamil-cinema milieu – it tells us that villagers can be self-centered and intolerant. (In other words, they don’t have to migrate to a big, bad city and then become self-centered and intolerant, their innocence squelched under the callous city-dwellers’ feet.) Rarer still is the (mild) feminist uprising during the climactic stretch. At times, the director reminds us of his mentor – and not just because of the broad comedy (woven around a smutty story titled Anand-um Madisaar Mamiyum) or the special effects (involving a flying gob of spittle). He has a similar approach to filmmaking, where it’s not about how plausible something is but how punchy it is on screen. No less a personage than Bill Gates is instrumental in bringing Kothai’s plan to fruition. And there’s noticeable ambition, at least in the early portions – black-and-white frames, and people in France who actually speak French (unsubtitled, but we get the idea) instead of lapsing conveniently into Tamil.
But the film too often reaches for easy effects. We should probably overlook the contrivance through which Kothai, born and raised in France, assimilates so effortlessly into the ways of an Indian village, to the extent that he roughs up half-a-dozen thugs after winning the jallikattu. (It’s in his blood, we’re told. Um, okay.) But when someone who’s ashamed of his parents calls them his servants in front of a posh gathering, that’s just lazy writing – like the part where Kothai discovers that the old man standing in front of him is really his… grandfather. Tears can’t be summoned up like that; they have to be earned. And the story loses traction in the latter half, filled with wan happy-family scenarios. There’s also a romance – with Kaveri, played by Aparna Bajpai; she plays another role, and that character just vanishes after a point. Shankar would never do that. At least, he’d have the decency to morph her out of the story.
An edited version of this piece can be found here.
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