“Settai”… Belling the scat

Posted on April 6, 2013


Seeing a “family friendly” version of Delhi Belly feels like watching a plot-only adaptation of an opera, after someone threw out all the music on the assumption that our audiences don’t understand Italian and don’t care for full-throated melodic lines that are suspended in air for far too long. The reason the Hindi film worked wasn’t just the business about gangsters who invade the lives of three young men while on the trail of missing diamonds, but the cheerfully rude environment this business was transacted in. It felt like stepping into a college hostel after years under your parents’ roof. Suddenly, there were no rules, no one to tell you what was appropriate and what wasn’t. Steeped in expletives and scatological humour, Delhi Belly wore its “A” certificate like an Indian warrior brandishing a freshly harvested scalp – the war-whoop we heard was the cry of victory over mousy middle-class mores. And now, the director R Kannan attempts to make this movie safe for the middle classes. You have to wonder why.

Hosted by imgur.com

That’s a question that pops up frequently during Settai. Why, for instance, was this remake set in Mumbai, when the hub of early activity is the office of a Tamil newspaper? Why the selective blue colouring, sometimes in scenes that were more family-friendly in Delhi Belly? In that film, when the protagonist visits his girlfriend’s house to meet his prospective in-laws, he’s told that they’ve bought the young couple a flat nearby, so they can keep popping in and out of each other’s lives. Here, JK’s (Arya) future mother-in-law announces that she’s bought the couple – the girlfriend is played by Hansika Motwani – a three-bedroom flat so that they can have “variety,” doing it in different bedrooms. Why is this more suitable for Tamil audiences? Why the hint at a love triangle, occasioning an Alpine duet? Why, for that matter, these needless songs, cutting into the already slack pacing? After all, comedy isn’t just about funny lines – it’s also about staging and momentum.

Some creative decisions are interesting, though, giving us an insight into the perceived cultural differences between Hindi and Tamil audiences. In Delhi Belly, the tabloid journalist (here named Shakti, and played by Anjali) speaks of an ex-husband, while Shakti merely alludes to an ex-fiancé. Given that she’s going to develop feelings for JK, I suppose she has to remain, um, “pure” and all that, but you have to appreciate the way Shakti’s background as a scoop-seeking journalist has been worked into this scenario. And in the original film, when the cartoonist is dumped by his girlfriend and explodes with rage in a fantasy song sequence during her marriage to another man, he reveals that she performed an unprintable – though consensual – sexual act on him. Here, Cheenu (a strangely subdued Premgi Amaren) accuses her of raping him. He’s now a victim. How do filmmakers decide what’s culturally acceptable and what’s not? By flipping a coin in the air?

Kannan doesn’t so much remake the earlier film as replicate it. The Saigal Blues number there is mirrored in a bluesy version of Ponaal pogattum poda, the gag about eating a banana with a fork and knife is padded out with some unnecessary explanation, and even the casting is along expected lines – no one is surprised when the slightly effeminate dance instructor who lives on the floor above JK and his roommates is played by Manobala. Those who haven’t seen Delhi Belly will probably find all this fresh, while for the rest of us the sole saving grace is Santhanam’s brand of comedy. (He plays a photographer named Nagaraj.) The rhyming gags aren’t exactly new, but the zingers keep coming at such a pace that even with a fifty per cent success rate, we’re still left with some amusement. He’s labeled “Comedy Super Star,” and for once the hype seems justified.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2013 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Tamil