For a while, Bakkiyaraj Kannan’s Remo looks like Tootsie. A small-time actor (SK, played by Sivakarthikeyan) discovers that he has a shot at a part in a KS Ravikumar film, but only if he transforms himself into a female nurse. We await the scene where SK frantically hunts for help in the makeup department. What we get is a foreign crew that materialises out of nowhere, gives SK his makeover, and leaves. Who are these people? How did they know SK needed their services? Why am I asking these questions in a Sivakarthikeyan movie? Remo is less about convincing us that a man can become a woman than reminding us Sivakarthikeyan has become a star. He doesn’t just put himself up there with Rajinikanth, Ajith and Vijay. He puts himself up there with himself. He references Maan Karate, Edhir Neechal, Varuthapadatha Vaalibar Sangam. He’s both deity and priest. This isn’t movie-making. It’s masturbation.
Remo isn’t the product of a screenplay so much as a four-quadrant marketing exercise. There are many scenes with children. They love him. Some years back, I was doing a story about a school for tribals in the Coimbatore area. When word got out that I was a film writer, the first thing the kids asked was whether I knew Sivakarthikeyan anna. Then we have his core audience of young men. The lines targeted at their whistles keep coming. (“Ponnungaloda full time velaiye pasangala azha vekkaradhu dhaan.”) For family audiences, we get the scene where SK, as the nurse named Remo, is overcome by emotion when he witnesses childbirth. He then touches his mother’s feet. (Saranya Ponvannan, by now, can probably play these mothers without even being told what her lines are.) There are scenes that target multiple audiences at once, like the one where SK gets drunk (cue, young males) and his mother (cue, women) quotes the on-screen warning, “Liquor drinking is injurious to health.” We’ve heard of scripts ending up in the Oscar library. Remo’s might end up in an IIM class.
The star has his cake, eats it, and keeps dipping into the assembly line that runs from the bakery to the studio. A scene set in a posh café (The Brew Room) is counterbalanced with a song in which SK dances with beggars and road-maintenance crews. A scene featuring an acid-attack victim, depicting the horrors that women face from stalkers, is offset by the assurance that not all lovelorn men are bad, that there’s someone willing to marry this woman. A scene in which the heroine, a doctor named Kavya (Keerthi Suresh), calls SK “cheap,” for fooling her with his disguise, is instantly remedied by SK’s shrug that boys like him have to resort to such means to get girls like her to like them. Remo is what you’d have if Vikram’s multiple personalities in Anniyan became a movie.
If only a fraction of these calculations had found their way into the script. The film goes on and on, and for something that’s being billed a rom-com, there’s very little rom or com. (The biggest laugh, for me, came when Yogi Babu turned into a Gautham Menon leading man.) At one point, Remo and Kavya are driving home in a scooter. The vehicle stalls. Remo says it’s run out of petrol. Kavya isn’t bothered. “Night-u. Light-u. Road-u. Enakku romba pidikkum,” she chirps. I began to fear for her patients. Now, I don’t expect a “mass” entertainer to make much of the irony that what Remo is called at work (“sister”) is similar to what young men fear the objects of their one-sided affection will call them (“anna”), or that a man speaks to Remo’s “breasts” the way many of our heroes objectify their heroines. But with such an immensely likeable actor at its centre, how can a film be so charmless?
It’s not impossible to make a movie targeting a young-male audience, and with Anirudh’s chartbusting songs, and still come off like some effort has gone into it. We have Velai Illa Pattadhari as proof. Remo, on the other hand, is what happens when you put effort into every aspect of the film but the writing. PC Sreeram handling the camera. Resul Pookutty doing sound design. It’s like hiring a hedge-fund manager to look after your piggy bank. And what to make of the dreadfully miscalculated scene where SK, having decided he no longer needs to be Remo, attempts to burn an effigy of the nurse? The “leave your brains at home” injunction while watching these movies is one thing. Utter thoughtlessness, quite another.
- Ponnungaloda full time velaiye pasangala azha vekkaradhu dhaan = The full-time job of girls is to make guys cry.
- Maan Karate = see here
- Edhir Neechal = see here
- Varuthapadatha Vaalibar Sangam = see here
- anna = older brother
- Enakku romba pidikkum = I like it very much.
- Velai Illa Pattadhari = see here
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