The charming and fun Suja of Music to My Ears has been in Melbourne and very kindly invited us over to watch a film. It was so nice to meet her and natter about films we love. Suja was generous in sharing her knowledge of Tamil language and culture as well as music so we got to appreciate a bit more of the subtlety than is possible just from subtitles. And to top it off – she is an excellent cook!
We chose Dumm Dumm Dumm on the basis of the cast, lead by Madhavan and Jyothika, the music by Karthik Raja and the beautiful rural settings. I have seen the film before and it’s one I enjoy because of the charm of the actors rather than the plot, although some intelligent writing makes the rom-com a bit more interesting and believable. The production values are high, as to be expected from a Madras Talkies production (Mani Ratnam also gets a writing credit), and the film looks beautiful.
Suja will be writing in more detail about the music of Dumm Dumm Dumm, so you must go read her blog post. You should read her work anyway if you have an interest in Carnatic music as well as some filmi music.
In a nutshell, Adityan (Madhavan) and Ganga (Jyothika) have their marriage arranged by family but neither is ready to settle down. He has women to chase and true love to find, and she has a seat at an engineering college. In order to avoid family disgrace, they try many ridiculous tactics to have the engagement dissolved. But all the time they spend on plotting brings them close together and when they are separated, they realise they have made a mistake. How this on/off relationship is resolved is the story.
Jyothika portrays Ganga as strong, not a squeaky voiced air head, and she has presence. Ganga is a good girl who doesn’t want to upset her family but she is also determined to make a life for herself and to support her sisters in their education. Her father Veluthambi (Murali) is so proud of his daughter’s academic achievements that it surprises Ganga to find her imminent marriage arranged without her knowledge. Jyothika is a curvaceous but athletic looking woman and this was much commented upon in the film with characters referring to her as a pumpkin girl amongst other interesting epithets. Having Suja on hand certainly gave us more insight! Ganga pushes Adi to take more responsibility in his life and to stand up for what he wants – and to make it clear if what he wants includes her. It was nice to see a female character be fairly low key, nice, intelligent, and handle her life and relationships in a thoughtful way.
Maddy plays that familiar character – the good middle class boy that every mother wants as a son-in-law. Adityan is self centred but not unpleasant – just a bit privileged and aware he is a catch. He does take to manipulation like a duck to water (he is a lawyer after all) but he lacks the necessary commitment to letting people believe the worst of him so most of his plans fall through. Adi is all talk for most of the story, and what action he takes seems to go awry. Maddy does very well at showing the change in Adi’s feelings for Ganga over time, and their relationship grows as they get to understand each other. Ganga sees a less confident and polished side of Adi emerge, and begins to appreciate him. While this is a typical nice guy role, it did give him the opportunity to show many moods of Madhavan. Here is a little sample for you – feel free to ‘name that mood’ via the comments section.
The schemes and obstacles to the relationship fall into filmi cliché but the story keeps things moving along even when the limits of coincidence were straining. Vivek as Adi’s friend Jim is annoying, goes slightly evil and is rarely (intentionally) amusing. Manivannan as criminal lawyer Sivaji is very good, playing it for laughs but also providing some quiet common sense at times. His performance is well modulated and he seems to have fun tormenting Adi. The various family members are all quite good, and the dynamic between the two fathers is interesting. Ganga’s father has moved up in village social ranks and was treated courteously by his senior, Adi’s dad (Delhi Kumar). They were friendly until an incident, and following that Veluthambi was seen as getting above his station. There were layers of resentment that were exacerbated by the engagement. This back story made things feel vaguely credible. The theme of arranged versus love marriage was woven in, but the film doesn’t belt you round the ears with one viewpoint. Director Azhugam Perumal takes a more discursive approach to some social questions and it is all the more engaging for that.
The minor supporting characters are all good, and many of them are familiar as That Uncle, That Friend, That Guy from other films. Pattamma, played by Kalpana is a standout.
She is a comedy aunty and the butt of many jokes which is par for the course. But she features in one of the prettiest song picturisations (which also blends farce and drama), and her character gets a sweetly romantic moment too.
And that’s what makes this film such a pleasure. The detail and respect in the characterisations and writing extends to the minor players as well. There are people bustling around, having side conversations and going about their lives and chores. Suja recognised so much of the activity around the wedding preparations, confirming the realism of those domestic scenes, and it really does feel like you’re a fly on the wall at times.
The cinematography by Ramji is a highlight. The lush green countryside and rich earthy tones in the village are beautiful. The rural settings have a luminosity that is lost once characters relocate to Chennai and the lighting becomes sharper with more contrast. The wardrobe for the ladies is quite nice, and the colour palette is intense but muted so there is a lovely harmony in group scenes. Ganga switches from a half saree to a salwar kameez when she is in the city, and the characters’ appearance reflect their background whether they are townies like Adi or from the country. Ganga was slightly scandalous in the village as we noted her lack of upper cloth on more than one occasion – that would never have got past Suja’s grandmother!
The songs are fun, and the country folks get the best melodies. Desingu Raja has stunning locations (at Thanjavur) and costumes, and Maddy doing excellent drama hands – plus that moustache!
The subtitles on my Ayngaran DVD are very special indeed. They range from the literal to the completely mystifying. No nipping out for a cuppa on this subtitle team’s watch! Suja confirmed some of them are very literal translations and quite correct but others were less helpful.
Dumm Dumm Dumm is a fun film to revisit, and seeing it with someone who knows the language and culture was an added bonus. I’ll never understand the nuances of dialect or accent so those subtleties usually escape me. The performances help the film stand up over repeated viewing and the cast work very well as an ensemble. The comedy is easily ignored when it is not integral to the scene and Vikek as Jim was slapped and beaten repeatedly so I had some vicarious revenge. It has nice scenery, good music and likeable actors in a not-too-stupid romance. 3 ½ stars!
Heather says: It was lovely to meet up with Suja and watch a film together. We had a fantastic time chatting about Indian cinema and music, and as Temple says got a very useful insight into what we miss because of inaccurate subtitling of Tamil DVD’s and not getting the regional variations.
Dumm Dumm Dumm has excellent music, a fun romantic storyline and very beautiful cinematography particularly in the first half. I really like the characters of Ganga and Aditya as they are realistically drawn and their initial dislike of each other which slowly develops into attraction is well portrayed. Jyothika is excellent as the feisty girl who is determined to make it to college. I love the way she rolls her eyes as Aditya ineptly tries to follow along with her various plots to derail their proposed marriage. I also like that she doesn’t just have a hissy fit and refuse to get married but instead has a plan and tries to stop the marriage without actually hurting her parents’ feelings. She is a more successful schemer as well, so her frequent frustration with her co-conspirator is understandable. Madhavan has a flair for comedy and he puts it to excellent use here. His committed bachelor is a character with plenty of charm and his dramatic changes in expression were excellent. Jyothika’s Ganga is more serious and more committed to her studies and I liked that her chosen profession was engineering rather than something more fluffy. I do like Jyothika as an actress and she really does seem suited for these roles where she has something to get her teeth into and isn’t merely a passive heroine.
The first half of the film is a different take on romance with the depiction of two people trying to get out of an arranged marriage, but it is back to more usual territory for the second half of the film. What started off so promisingly does become a little more of a routine love story with an irritating comedy track once the characters move to the city. However both Madhavan and Jyothika keep their characters entertaining and the love story is sweet enough to want them to finally succeed in reconciling their families. 3 ½ stars from me.