Bullet-point Report: Man Madan Ambu

Posted on December 23, 2010


  • Note to self before walking in: “Yes, yes, we all know you want Kamal Hassan to direct more and write more (even if he doesn’t necessarily act more) — and not necessarily the kind of films he makes with KS Ravi Kumar. But can you just shut up and shove aside those petulant resentments and watch this film for what it is? Please? Thank you very much.”
  • After all these years, why does it still bring a smile to the lips when the theatre erupts in whistles and claps and screams upon the first sighting of our foremost actor? I think it’s part of our DNA – regardless of the quality of the final product, we are programmed to respond affectionately to Kamal and Rajini. After they are swallowed up by the black hole of time, there won’t be any more eye-blinding superstars – only momentary meteors, over and done with in the blink of an eye.
  • Oh, but did he have to make his entry with a one-against-many fight? But the sequence does have a worthwhile payoff, proof – if it were at all needed – that Kamal worships the ground beneath Peter Sellers’s feet: The throwaway sight gag at the end where he, with exquisite ease, sets upright a fallen dustbin. Part slapstick, part ballet, all Kamal.
  • Looking at Suriya here, I’m trying to remember if there has been another film where a guest star, a huge hero in his own right, has been allowed to walk away with whistles before the actual hero makes his appearance.
  • At some point, I feared this was going to be another holy-fool outing for Kamal, after Mumbai XPress, Virumandi and the destiny-driven Anbe Sivam. Very happy, very relieved to be proved wrong on this count, even there are reminders of all those earlier films, especially the latter.
  • A teensy-weensy pat on the back for Milind and me for a line of conflict in K2K that unfolds here as well, in practically the same form. What greater compliment can we give ourselves than the fact that Kamal himself has thought along those lines? Okay, okay, shameless plug, I know, but this is my blog and if you don’t like it, go read someone else’s bullet-point review (though, hopefully, that’s not called Bullet-point Review, or I’ll sue – or not).
  • The best shot of this film has to be that of Kamal experiencing an unknown emotion while looking up at birds in the sky, flying over his car, soaring above his earthbound existence in the most carefree fashion. We don’t yet know his backstory, and this moment remains a private moment. Beautiful – just beautiful.
  • But just what is this genre that, Mumbai XPress onwards, Kamal has bred in that locked-up laboratory inside his head? Farce and slapstick and verbal gymnastics camouflaging a conscience-in-crisis drama – maybe we need to invent a name for it, something like “existential comedy.”
  • I love this idea in theory – and to be honest, I’d rather watch a so-called failure of Kamal’s while he’s still attempting to perfect this genre-hybrid than many of the so-called successful Tamil films around and about – but this refusal to tilt fully towards either comedy or drama does leave these films with a lot of unevenly paced dull spots.
  • As a corollary, should they stop marketing these movies as “comedies?” It took me a while to readjust to this film’s rhythms, and the shuffling around me indicated that there were others not as patient.
  • But, yes, there are a lot of laughs, especially towards the end.
  • And tears – though I’m never convinced when a character on screen becomes watery-eyed while recounting a long-ago tragedy. Even if he does offer the reason that “Sogam mattum paambu maadhiri vayathukkulleye irukku.” Time heals wounds, and the grief inside isn’t always expressed by tears outside.
  • Imagine, just imagine, how much better these films would be with actors around who could actually do comedy, who could actually deliver lines in a funny fashion without winking at us that they’re delivering these lines in a funny fashion.
  • Let’s enumerate the Kamalisms:
    — TamBrahm characters speaking a far more tolerable version of Brahm-Tamil than you get to see typically in Tamil cinema.
    — Borderline-provocative dialogues like the one that says pant zippers and blouse buttons are for expediency and not exhibition. (And no, I haven’t forgotten the reference to “mating rituals.”)
    — Borderline-existential dialogues like “Nadutheru-la ukkaandhirukken” – two words summoning up (and summing up) a universe of desperation.
    — Borderline-philosophical dialogues like “Indha ulagathula nermayaa irukkaravangalukkellaam thimiru dhaan veli.” This is how you casually work in heavy thoughts into a light-mainstream format. Karu. Pazhaniappan, I hope you’re taking notes.
    — The brilliant stretch of Madhavan’s casual cruelty while seated in his golf cart, lording it over Kamal on the phone, tells more about the callousness of big-city, big-money individuals than the entire duration of Easan does. M Sasikumar, I hope you’re taking notes.
    — Technology – web-conferencing, tablets, walkie-talkies, smart-phones – being a fully functioning part of the picture.
    — Those names, those look-at-me names – Madanagopal, Ambujakshi, Rajamannar, Bhagirati (nicknamed Bags)!
    — Lashkar-e-Taiba as a matchmaker between man and woman.
    — Characters from across the country and, newly, from across the world. (The glut of languages includes Telugu, Malayalam, Sinhalese-Tamil and French.)
    — The layers – a real-life actress playing an actress on screen and encountering several “actors,” or one set of characters (on a cruise ship) being on thanni and another character constantly imbibing thanni. (Even the flushing system of a urinal plays its watery part.)
    — The Gandhi-isms: Satyamev Jayate and Ahimsa the Pakistani brothers who once were from this same land of ours.
  • Now, let’s enumerate the Crazy-isms (even though he’s not credited):
    — Deepa versus deep-aa.
    Onnum theriyaadha paiyan versus Onnukku pora paiyan.
    — “Telungu… Adhula code language verayaa?”
  • It’s an interesting touch that a grown-up (in every sense of the word) Madhavan is shown as mama’s little boy, but his mama does nothing for the film and neither does the insta-fix replacement-fiancée, dolled up in western clothes and yet the epitome of eastern servility.
  • The song-in-reverse seemed, at first, a terrible idea, a gimmicky and show-offy conceit best left to the likes of Shankar. But by the end – and to my surprise, and despite my irritation with the execution – it did take on shades of genuine emotion. A life in rewind.
  • And as the song began, there was a power cut. Imagine! In this day and age! At Escape!
  • Too many threads are brought together too conveniently by the end. The dramatic overtones crumble into a Crazy Mohan-style comedy of confusion. While some of this is no doubt enjoyable, what about the investment we’ve made in the emotional lives of these characters? Are we just supposed to laugh it all away?

Copyright ©2010 Baradwaj Rangan, The New Sunday Express. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.