Between Reviews: A Cockamamie Tale

Posted on September 6, 2009


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An alter ego with the same name and the same powers as the superhero? Is it surprising that “Kandasamy” is such a maddening misfire?

SEP 6, 2009 – A THOUSAND FRUSTRATING QUESTIONS swam around my throbbing head as I sat through the bewildering mess that is Kandasamy. Is there anything as baldly hypocritical as a film that lavishes untold (and unneeded) crores on exotic location shooting in Mexico, and subsequently summons up the gall to lecture us about the impoverished in India? Is there anything as ridiculous as a film that wants to have it every possible way, impressing on us images of the undulating bottom of the leading lady as well as the arched backbone of the sack-toting labourer? Is there anything as depressing as the sight of a once-promising actor mistaking puerility for populism, so drunk in his quest for acceptance as almighty mass-hero that he willingly trashes the very aspects of the charmingly low-key persona that made us embrace him in the first place?

But more to the point, wasn’t anyone associated with Kandasamy alert to the apparent paradox of making a “superhero” movie in a cinema culture where the mass-hero is already a superhero? Not that Krrish was much good, but for all the problems with that superhero fantasy, you at least saw why it seemed like a good idea, at least on paper. After Sunny Deol paled into insignificance, the mythic do-gooder played by Hrithik Roshan could have been a resurrection of sorts for the he-man hero who has all but vanished from Bollywood. But the all-in-one masala movie, as well as the archetypal all-in-one hero, is still very much a part of Tamil cinema – the hero still manages to single-handedly dispatch dozens of opponents in fights, and he is still revered as a demigod, both onscreen and off.

Close to interval point in Kandasamy, a devotee raises his arms and clasps his palms in prayer, and at the centre of the flesh-and-blood frame thus formed, the director Susi Ganesan positions his star, Vikram. Not only is this eponymous hero named after the god Murugan, not only is he shown fulfilling the wishes of devotees as if he’s god’s proxy on earth, he’s himself venerated as a god. (And towards the end, in a temple in the northern parts of the country, he appears ready to fulfill the wishes of the devotees there – he’s truly omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient.) And yet, there’s a baffling attempt to demystify the workings of this superhero. We don’t question, for an instant, how Rajinikanth lifts up a leg and twirls it so fast that he whips up a tornado that flattens his opponents – that is, after all, the prerogative of the mass-hero – but here, we’re asked to buy into the deconstruction of the mass-hero.

We’re shown that Kandasamy can never be who he is without the assistance of a dozen others who operate mechanical contraptions that allow him to fly and fight. (This is literally what the Greeks called a deux ex machina – a god lowered onto the stage through machinery in order to solve the crises at hand.) This tiresome wannabe action-epic wants it both ways – on the one hand, it wants to scale its superhero down to the all-too-human size of a Batman (when we first set eyes on Kandasamy, he’s dangling behind the villain, a caped crusader attired in black), and yet, on the other hand, it cannot resist the mythologies of the superhuman mass-hero. So we get an alter ego – a CBI officer named, oddly enough, Kandasamy – who can sniff out hidden stashes of illegal money with the sixth sense of a superhuman, and who can beat up a dozen thugs even while blindfolded.

Where’s the sense if Clark Kent turned out as super-heroic as Superman? As a result, we never miss the superhero Kandasamy as he vanishes for large stretches in the second half, because the regular-hero Kandasamy takes over without breaking into a sweat. (The inevitable question, therefore, is: Why bother with the superhero at all?) And you have to wonder why, after having decided to derive from the patented Shankar formula of a “Robin Hood” do-gooder crusading against social evil, did they not emulate the template of, say, Mudhalvan (which, to my mind, is the finest film Shankar ever made). There too, we had a mild-mannered man slip into the superhero avatar of a Chief Minister in order to do good – and the story was resonant with entertainment as well as wish-fulfillment. All you wish in Kandasamy is for the interminable film to draw to a close – you don’t care about who this man is, why he’s doing the things he’s doing, how he’s going to escape the long arm of the law, and what’s going to happen to him by the end.

So many choices in the film are so jaw-droppingly ludicrous that, with a little more coherence (and, I admit, a lot more credit to auteurist ambition), the goings-on could have been read as a deliberately deconstructionist meditation on the superhero saga. We might have wondered if, with the feathered headdress and the bobbing neck, the rooster-hero was an attempt to show us how equally laughable it is to see a superhero attired as a bat or a superheroine slinking about like a cat. But we’re not meant to laugh at this Kandasamy – the comedy is entirely unintentional. The headaches, however, are intended, thanks to the ceaseless slo-mo hyper-editing and the thundering whooshes on the soundtrack. If this is masala, give me the unpretentious Silambattam any day. It wears its disreputability like a proud badge of honour, it doesn’t take itself half as seriously, and unsurprisingly, it ends up twice as much fun.

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