Mundasupatti, directed by Ram, is filled with wry little gags. It’s set in the 1980s, so it’s inevitable that we are treated to Ilayaraja’s hits. One of them, Mudhal mudhalaaga kaadhal duet paada vandhene, plays on the radio next to Gopi (Vishnu Vishal, in an endearingly dopey shag) after he falls for Kalaivaani (Nandita). He’s woozy-eyed. He has that foolish grin that people often have when they’re in love and they begin to dream. And so we slip into a reverie where he’s transported from his two-bit photo studio – grandly named Hollywood Studio – to her house, where she accepts his marriage proposal and sits shyly beside him. Then, when a villager barges in, she panics. She looks at Gopi and, wishing to distance herself from their recent arrangement, utters that shocking swear word that no lover wants to hear. She calls him… anna. The spell is broken. We’re back at Hollywood Studio, where the radio now plays Malargalai pol thangai urangugiraal.
It’s a slight, silly joke, and it fits in with this slight, silly film that’s set in a village where photography is banned. The locals think that exposure to the camera will pull down the shutter on their very existence – hence the only pictures on the walls are those of the dead. As for the reason, we have a backstory about an Englishman, an asteroid, an ill-timed plague – and we arrive at the root of Mundasupatti’s problems. The film is drawn from a sharp short made by the director, and it groans with excess baggage, the way Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum, another short that became a feature, did. Why did Kaadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Eppadi, also expanded from a short, make a fairly smooth transition to screen? Probably because of its generic rom-com roots. That is as elastic a genre as can be found, and the travails of a couple in love present infinite possibilities to the imaginative filmmaker. But when the short is based on a quirky conceit – a village that has banned photography; a man who treats his car like a loved one – the strain shows over two-and-a-half hours.
The story is no longer just about a photographer who’s summoned to a village to take a picture of the chieftain who’s about to depart to that great darkroom in the sky. It’s also about Gopi’s romance, which has nothing new to offer. We get scenes with Kalaivaani in school and, when she’s pulled out and asked to marry someone, there are redundant scenes with a third wheel. Seeing the short, we see how narrative economy can get compromised when there’s more time to fill. There, the struggling actor named Muniskanth (Ramdoss, pulling off just the right amount of swagger) came to Hollywood Studio only when he was needed, and his presence planted a crazy idea in the heads of Gopi and his assistant Azhagu (the winning Kaali Venkat). But here, we also have a long scene, earlier, where Muniskanth arrives and introduces himself. It’s a great shot – he comes in a rickshaw and the camera practically circumnavigates his (imagined) awesomeness, like a devotee orbiting his deity. But it’s just flab.
I wish more had been done with the central conceit. There’s a terrific running gag about a slutty housewife whose husband wants her dead – naturally, he asks Gopi to “shoot” her – and the visual joke about Gopi’s bike, surely the world’s slowest, being used as a clothesline is priceless. But the bits about the vampire haunting the village seem forced, as does the stretch about a director named Steven Spiel Kumar who’s even better than T Rajendar – he handles all 64 departments of filmmaking, and also plays the hero and heroine. (Sean Roldan’s rollicking score makes us feel we’re watching a film that’s funnier than it actually is.) And the subplot involving the local deity seems endless. This is not a lazy film by any stretch. There’s a surprising detour involving cats that veers into surrealism. But a comedy should be light on its feet. Linger too much, and it can begin to seem out of focus.
* Mundasupatti = Turbantown
* Mudhal mudhalaaga… = see here; in this film’s context, a love song
* anna = brother
* Malargalai pol… = see here; in this film’s context, a song about sibling love
* a sharp short = see here
* Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum = see here
* Kaadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Eppadi = see here
* great darkroom in the sky = see here
* T Rajendar = see here
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