Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Soodhu Kavvum - just watch it. Watch it now.

We can only make farcical cinema, as far as politics is considered because politics is farce in our country. Either we can make farce or we can make (it) very dark because there is no middle road.  - Vishal Bhardwaj, TBIP interview
Dark comedies as a genre rely on the audience's ability to laugh at the very things in society that shouldn't make us laugh in the first place, be it death or the immorality of man, or the failure of societal institutions to do what they're supposed to. At times, the label seems to get applied to films that aren't quite as funny as they're perhaps meant to be, but where they fail in comedy, they succeed in some semblance of social commentary, and so the label "dark comedy" gets stamped on them, almost as a cop-out. At its best, though, the genre is genuinely funny, and the comedy emerges from the commentary itself.

Soodhu Kavvum ("Evil engulfs", though according to my DVD, "deceit is addictive") is such a film, a 2013 Tamil comedy that is as side-splittingly funny as it is perceptive about society and morals in society. The film came with high recommendations, but I luckily hadn't heard much about the plot itself, so I could discover every aspect of the movie at its own pace. And it is so good.

The story follows three young losers (Ashok Selvan, Bobby Simha and Ramesh Thilak, pictured above) who live and fail to work in Chennai, until the day they accidentally come upon Das (Vijay Sethupathi), a middle-aged guy with a flourishing career in mid-level kidnapping and extortion and an imaginary girlfriend named Shalu (Sanchita Shetty), who only he himself can see or hear. Two and eventually all three of the guys join this budding entrepreneurial venture, and things are going well, until they decide to chase a bigger payday by kidnapping the wastrel son (Karunakaran) of a morally upright minister.

The script is amazingly funny, and the type of comedy that magically carries over to the decent English subtitle translations in a way that made me laugh out loud constantly. There is an interesting central idea to the film that makes everything fall together in a splendid way - everybody in this film is a crook, apart from the villain, and it is weirdly liberating to laugh at the weird ways in which the world favours the morally loose, corrupt or just plain lazy. The first scene in which we meet Arumai, the minister's son, is one such scene. This guy is an absolute waste of space, so naturally, in this world, he triumphs.

I mean, just look at him. Ugh, go away. (Seriously, though, great performance by Karunakaran.)

Shalu, the sole female character, is of course imaginary, in an (I hope) intentional bit of meta-commentary for Tamil films, where women tend to be eye candy, rather than important characters. Das doesn't treat her particularly well, and while I could find this disturbing in a misogynist manner (you imagined yourself a girlfriend you don't even like? what?), I mostly just find it incredibly hilarious. And the chemistry between them is about what you could hope for, between a weird, semi-drunkard man and his imaginary girlfriend.

"Can we keep him?" she asks, about the child they've just kidnapped. I'm weak with laughter, I love it.

The kidnapping scenes each have so much potential to be genuinely dark and unfunny, and yet they all turn out so comical that they're a delight. Das' rules for humanitarian kidnappings, not extorting big sums but just enough that the one being extorted can afford to pay rent next month, lends the whole thing such an oddball comedic vibe, that it's hard to find them off-putting.

The film was also a constant source of discoveries when it came to the cast, as well. Bobby Simha, who I may have seen before, was incredibly effective, particularly in a scene where he is being appraised as a future film hero by a rowdy who's turned to movie making.

Witness, the next Suriya.

Then there's Vijay Sethupathi, who plays Das.


I mean, uhh, he's okay I guess.

That aside, it's just really great to see a Tamil movie that gets it right in every way. It's been a while since that has happened, and as I don't get to see all that many Tamil films, due to scarce availability and lack of subtitles on a lot of DVDs, it's always a joy to find a great film I immediately fall in love with, that introduces me to a whole bunch of new talent, that has a joyous soundtrack, and a fantastic script that is definitely rooted in Indian/Tamil society but also translates to a foreigner such as myself in an effortless manner. Props to the subtitle staff at AP/Ayngaran Anak, who produced the DVD.

And if this sounded at all like your thing, the dark comedy, the farce and the morally ambiguous protagonists, the imaginary heroine and all the rest of it, do give it a go. I mean the film, not kidnapping.

Sorry, "kednaping", of course. 

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