Opening shots can be deceptive. Raja Mandhiri begins with a glimpse of a temple, and the camera glides over trees and fields and finally lights on a house. This is the only part of the film that soars. Outside the house, a child’s parents begin to argue about his first word. The mother says he will say “amma.” The father says “appa.” After a while, the child speaks. “Anna.” His older brother is touched. He picks the child up fondly, only to receive a kick in the nether regions. The film, I think, is making its intentions clear. This is a comedy. We’re meant to have a… ball. Let me lay out another comic setup. The child grows up to be Karthi (Kalaiyarasan). His college roommate Sathish (Bala Saravanan) takes to wearing his clothes. He complains that Karthi’s pants are too tight, that he should go for a bigger size. Karthi says, sarcastically, that he’ll reconsider his underwear too. Sathish replies, “Naan jatti podaradhu illa.”
In an interview to this paper, the director Usha Krishnan spoke of the skits and plays she wrote and performed in, as a young girl, in her village. On the evidence of Raja Mandhiri, she’s still thinking skits, not cinema. The story revolves around Karthi and his brother Surya (Kaali Venkat) – get it? siblings named Karthi and Surya! – and their intersecting love lives. Karthi falls for Subha (an expressive newcomer named Shalin). But Surya is having trouble finding a girl. (Something always seems to work against him. When he’s about to enter a house to take a look at a girl, her father chases him away, saying that India lost a match! It’s a bad omen!) Finally, Surya begins to pursue Mahalakshmi (Vaishali), the girl next door. A dream duet goes, “Edhitha veettu cauliflower-ey…” At one point, women strove to be compared to the rose and the jasmine. Like scripts these days, they’ve apparently begun to settle for far less.
Raja Mandhiri follows the formula where practically nothing happens in the first half, and the big blow-up at interval point is where the story really gets going. But some bits work. I liked it that a potentially weepy love triangle was treated like a comedy. Set aside the protracted emotional moments (some major annan-thambi sentiment!), and the film does deliver on its promise of skit-like comedy, thanks largely to Bala Saravanan. (His attempts to stop Surya’s wedding are a hoot.) A running gag involving Karthi-Surya’s over-emotional father made me laugh each time. As with all our comedies, I walked out of Raja Mandhiri wondering why someone who could think up fairly decent jokes for 30 or 40 per cent of the film wouldn’t wait to think up jokes for the entire duration. But that’s cinema today, content with YouTube-length sketches rather than feature-length filmmaking.
- Raja Mandhiri= King, Minister
- amma = mother
- appa = father
- Anna = older brother
- “Naan jatti podaradhu illa” = I don’t bother with underwear!
- an interview to this paper = see here
- “Edhitha veettu cauliflower-ey…” = O cauliflower, from the house opposite mine…
- annan-thambi = male siblings
An edited version of this piece can be found here. Copyright ©2016 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.