“Chennai 600028 II”… The bloated drama is a pain, but the cricket portions are magic

Posted on December 17, 2016

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Spoilers ahead…

The glass-half-full review of Chennai 600028 – II would state that Venkat Prabhu is back. He didn’t go anywhere, exactly – he’s been making a film every couple of years. But there was, increasingly, this sense that the cast and crew were having more fun on the sets than we were at the movie hall. Chennai 600028 – II lets us in on the jokes too. Venkat Prabhu may be peerless in his ability to dream up random comic bits, random stretches of random conversation or incident that shouldn’t be funny at all but absolutely are. My favourite bit came when the gang from the first film – now in Theni, for the Jai character’s wedding – stumbles on an arrack shop. The Shiva character asks, “Kallu saapta kidney stone varaadha?” I died. Later, the Premji character wonders aloud that betel leaf is an herb. (“Vethalapaakku mooligaiyanda.”) I died some more.

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The bits keep coming. Santhanabharathi plays a drunk who can be understood only by two – exactly two – people. Jai’s in laws – a really large family – are identified through captions like “Periyasamy Thatha”. Shiva is a YouTube reviewer who not only specialises in identifying instances of plagiarism but has also reviewed Marudhanayagam and Robot 5.0. Vijay Vasanth is now married to a girl from Sowcarpet. He says things like “Ulla jaao.” I wished these bits had been more than bits. I wished they had been shaped into running gags – they are gifts that can keep on giving. The background music is its own comedy track. Every time Vijay Vasanth pleads with a former Sharks player – the team has split because many of its members are now married – to join him in a game, we hear a sad violin. But it’s not just a sad violin. It’s a hilariously sad violin. It quavers like the musical equivalent of a loose tooth.

And thus we come to the glass-half-empty review of Chennai 600028 – II. There just aren’t enough of these bits to sustain a two-and-a-half hour movie, and this time, it isn’t even fully about cricket. The charming aimlessness of the first film is a distant memory. We have a ten-ton plot around Jai’s wedding, and this is played as straight melodrama – with snarling lines like “vaarthaya alandhu pesunga,” we feel like we’re in a P Vasu film. Venkat Prabhu’s filmmaking no longer has the simplicity we saw in Chennai 600028. There is now bloat. Bloated songs. Bloated fights. Bloated emotions. A bloated villain (played by Vaibhav, who is a hoot as Maruthupandi, the captain of a cricket team where everyone sports a luxuriant “B/C-centre” moustache).

Chennai 600028 remains the most focused of Venkat Prabhu’s films, and the sequel, too, is best when its focus is on cricket. The matches are wonderfully silly, and every time a character from the original returns – Badava Gopi as a colourful commentator; Shanmugasundaram as a senior cricketing “expert”; the team known as Usilampatti Bad Boys – we smile as though reuniting with long-lost friends. (The film is aptly being called “A Venkat Prabhu Reunion”.) In the years since Chennai 600028, Venkat Prabhu has moved on to big stars, bigger scales of production, but he seems most inspired when around this low-fi lot. And that’s fine, really. Not everyone has to wear a blue jersey and play for Team India. As the first film so memorably told us, sometimes the corporation playground can give us as good a time, if not better. Half-welcome back, Venkat Prabhu.

KEY:

  • Chennai 600028 = see here
  • Kallu saapta kidney stone varadha? = Apparently, consuming arrack prevents kidney stones from forming.
  • Ulla jaao = Go inside.
  • vaarthaya alandhu pesunga” = Watch what you say!

Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil