Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom

After tracking down a subtitled copy of Balaji Tharaneetharan’s début film, it took a little while to get around to watching the film. The synopsis wasn’t terribly inspiring; ‘a young man experiences retrograde amnesia after a cricket incident two days before his wedding’ and so, despite the presence of Vijay Sethupathi, I didn’t put it straight to the top of the pile. But I really should have known better. While not quite as good as Balaji Tharaneetharan’s later film Seethakaathi, NKPK has plenty of quirky humour and the story is much better than the one-line summary suggests. It’s funny, well told and best of all, the film is actually based on a true story that actually happened to one of Balaji Tharaneetharan’s friends. In fact the real-life Prem is the film cinematographer C Prem Kumar, while Bagavathi Perumal plays his real-life role as Prem’s desperate friend.

The plotline of the story really is as simple as the synopsis suggests, and yet there is so much more happening as Prem’s friends hide his amnesia from his bride-to-be and her family. And yet, the funniest part of the film isn’t the absurd lengths his friends go to in ensuring that no-one knows Prem has lost his memory. Rather it’s the baffled expressions on Prem’s face as he struggles to understand what is going on, and his repeated dialogue of the last few moments he can remember before he hit his head that raise the biggest laughs. Medulla oblongata has never sounded so funny!

The film starts with Prem discussing his problems with his friends, Bugs (Bagavathi Perumal), Saras (Vigneshwaran Palanisamy) and Balaji (Rajkumar). It’s a couple of days before Prem’s wedding and he’s worried because his fiancée’s family don’t like the match, his bike’s been stolen and he’s having problems with his boss. To take his mind off his woes, the friends decide to go and play a game of cricket, which Bugs takes far too seriously, while everyone else struggle to even hit the ball. But then, when running back to take a catch, Prem falls and hits his head. He seems fine, but as the friends are heading back home, Saras realises that something might be wrong. Prem keeps repeating the same thing, over and over again, with exactly the same phrasing and timing. He can’t remember that his bike has been stolen, and worst of all, he has no idea who his fiancée Dhanalakshmi (Gayathrie) is.

Because it’s a love marriage and the parents don’t approve, Bugs, Saras and Balaji spend the next few days doing absolutely everything they can to make sure no-one finds out and stops the wedding. They take Prem to a doctor who tells them that Prem could regain his memory at any time, or could potentially never remember, which means that they are continually on tenderhooks, waiting for that moment when Prem finally regains his memory. But instead, he just keeps going back to the moment when he falls and hits his head.

The friends are absolutely sure that Prem will be devastated if the wedding doesn’t take place, which seems a strange motivation for the extremes they go to, which even includes Saras jeopardising his own potential romance. But at the very end, there are stills of the actual wedding that the story is based upon, and by that stage it really does all make sense.

Vijay Sethupathi is simply amazing here, and brilliantly shows his internal confusion as he tries to work out what is going on, before losing the struggle and going back to the moment when he fell. His facial expressions are perfect, and I don’t know how he managed to keep repeating the same dialogue over and over again without cracking up laughing. The moment when he sees his bride and thinks she looks dreadful in all her makeup is sad and funny all at the same time. The writing is so well done that it’s possible to really feel for Dhanalaksmi and understand her hurt at Prem’s reaction, while still finding Prem’s comments hilariously funny.

Gayathrie doesn’t have very much to do, except stand beside Prem during the wedding, but she is such a talented actress, that even with little dialogue she gets across Dhanalaksmi’s love for Prem and also her despair at his attitude on her wedding day. The friends all have their own personalities, but it’s Vigneshwaran Palanisamy as Sara who really stands out as being the driving force behind the various schemes to shield Prem.

This is simply inspired and a very funny story which has been put together very well. The entire film only covers three days, a cricket match and a wedding, but despite being a little slow to start, once Prem loses his memory, there is a lot to enjoy. There are so many jokes, both visual and in the dialogue, but through it all, it’s Vijay Sethupathi who really stands out as a terrific performer. There is some real tension because the outcome of the wedding, Prem’s future and even his relationship with his friends is always in doubt, right p to the end. This is just a fun film and I recommend it to anyone who needs something to make them smile. 4 stars.

K.D. Engira Karuppudurai

Madhumita’s K.D. Engira Karuppudurai (aka KD) is a delightfully charming film that blends moments of laughter and tears in a simple story that tugs at the heart strings. Mu Ramaswamy is charismatic as an elderly man escaping from his family while his young co-star Naga Vishal is completely captivating as the other half of the unlikely partnership. The story captures their joy in life as the duo wend their way across rural Tamil Nadu, ticking off the items on Karuppu Durai’s bucket list. 

At the start of the film, Karuppu Durai (Mu Ramaswamy) is languishing in a coma while his family are beginning preparations for a wedding celebration. The family decides to deal with the potentially inauspicious event of their father dying during the ceremony by euthanising him, with the added benefit of coming into their inheritance early. It seems fairly drastic, but the rest of the village seem to think this is a reasonable way of dealing with unwanted ancestors and the method appears to be widely known. Luckily for Karuppu Durai, he comes round from his coma in time to overhear their plans, deciding in an instant to run away from home, and sets off with nothing but a hefty torch and a few rupees in his pocket. 

After hitching a ride and travelling on a bus, Karuppu Durai makes it to a small town where he takes shelter in the local temple, also home to a young orphan, the street-wise and smart-mouthed Kutty (Naga Vishal). After getting off to a rather acrimonious start, Kutty decides to christen Karuppu Durai as KD, and the two start to develop a tentative friendship. After hearing of that KD has run away from his family, Kutty persuades him to develop a bucket list of the things he wants to do before he dies and the two set out on a series of small adventures in the local area. At the same time, KD’s family enlist the help of local tracker Eason (Yog Japee) to find their father and bring him home to meet his fate.

One reason the film works so well is the contrast between the elderly KD and the more youthful Kutty. KD is at the end of his life while Kutty is just at the start, but both have been rejected by their families which gives them a common source of pain. KD retreats into himself to reflect on the realisation that his family no longer wants him, while Kutty uses his hurt as a shield against the world. That the two come together is no surprise but it’s how Madhumita takes their differences and build it into the story that makes their relationship come alive. For example, KD loves mutton biriyani. And I mean really loves mutton biriyani! The vegetarian Kutty isn’t impressed, but uses KD’s obvious delight in sucking every last bit of flavour out of the bones as a means of gathering money from the local restaurant as they use KD as a drawcard. You can just see Kutty’s active brain thinking though every situation and working out just how to turn it to his advantage. But at the same time, he makes sure that KD gets to fulfil everything on his wishlist – that Kutty also gets something from it is a benefit, but not the only reason he’s helping his friend.

The other things I love about this film is the sheer joy KD and Kutty have in the simplest of things, which again feels very real and genuine. Their shared excitement watching MGR in the movies or dressing up as Rajini for a local fete is infectious and I can’t help but smile along with them as they enjoy wandering around the stalls. Despite the feel-good factor, the story never feels too schmaltzy or overdone, helped in no small meaure by the genuine performances from Mu Ramaswamy and Naga Vishal. The lurking presence of Eason in the background adds a frisson of tension to the second half of the film, which also helps to keep the story moving along, while the news that Kutty has been offered a place in a school in Chennai adds further layers to the tale. 

Mu Ramaswamy is simply perfect as KD. I love the blend of grumpy old man, a child-like appreciation of the world and the mischievousness that he gives the character. But he truly excels and is magnificent in his portrayal of a man who will do anything for mutton biriyani. He makes the character easy to relate to, while the easy rapport with the young Kutty also feels very genuine. In particular he is excellent at showing the hurt and bafflement that KD feels in response to his family’s rejection while also portraying the joy and delight in achieving the items on his bucket list. It’s a perfect performance and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Just as good is Naga Vishal, who takes the role of a smart-mouthed orphan and embues him with street smarts, canniness and an eye for the main chance, but also with compassion, honesty and a genuinely caring heart. He completely convinces with his expressions of wonder when watching Muthu’s (Ganesan Kaliamoorthy) play and wandering around the fete. It’s a really brilliant portrayal and Naga Vishal clearly has a bright future ahead of him – just like his character. 

Yog Japee is suitably menacing as the tracker searching for KD while Badava Gopi has a small role as the temple priest who looks after Kutty and Vijaylakshmi does a good job as KD’s lost sweetheart Valli. Karthikeya Murthy’s music suits the story with plenty of peppy upbeat tunes that perfectly capture the cheer of the film and one sad song that fits just as well. Big thanks to the subtitler (not sure who was responsible) for adding subtitles for the various signs, posters and written words that are important for the plot. The scenery is beautifully shot by Meyyendiran Kempuraj who shows a keen eye for picking up what is important in each scene. I loved each moment in the small villages which are so similar to places I have worked in Tamil Nadu and made me feel rather nostalgic. In fact, there is nothing I didn’t enjoy about this film. It’s a simple story that’s just told exceptionally well. The characters are developed with plenty of depth and real heart and the setting seems perfectly chosen to bring out the most in the story. Add in the warmth and happiness of the relationship between Mu Ramaswamy and Naga Vishal, and you have the ideal mix for a film that leaves you feeling just that little bit better about the world. 5 stars!

Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru

Karthick Naren’s debut film is a police procedural thriller that twists and turns its way through retired cop Deepak’s memories of his final case. The story slowly builds up over time and the pieces all finally start to come together as Deepak relates his murder investigation to a young wannabe cop. The answers are kept well-hidden until the end, adding tension and intrigue to the tale. Although the final reveal isn’t as satisfying as it could have been, overall this is an excellent first film and one well worth revisiting before the release of Karthick Naren’s highly anticipated Naragasooran. 

The film begins with Deepak (Rahman) meeting the son of a friend in the police force. The idea is to try and dissuade him from joining up by relating the events that led up to Deepak’s enforced retirement after a serious injury. Once the scene is set, the film then moves into flashback mode to relate the events from 5 years ago, starting with a traffic accident on a wet night in Coimbatore. Three friends out driving hit and kill a pedestrian, but rather than calling for the police, they pile the body into the boot of the car and head for home. Mano (Praveen) and Melvin (Karthikeyan) are easily led by Fabian (Santhosh Krishna) who makes all the decisions and explains to them why they need to hide the body. Fabian is an arrogant rich kid with delusions of importance in his area, while Mano and Melvin are hangers-on with apparently no minds of their own. However, their reputation in the area is bad enough that the police investigation immediately targets them when a body is found near the park the next day.  

The murder victim has been shot, and although Deepak suspects Fabian is concealing something, he doesn’t believe he was involved with the murder. At the same time, the police are alerted to the disappearance of a young woman from a nearby block of flats where they find the murder victim’s blood on the wall. With the help of Sergeant Rajan (Pradheep) and his young colleague Gautham (Prakash Vijayaraghavan), Deepak starts to unravel the events that led to the car accident, the disappearance of Shruti (Yashika Aannand), the murder of Krish (Vinod Varma) and eventually to his own injuries. 

The case is convoluted, and there are plenty of twists in the story, including the disappearance of the accident victim’s body from Fabian’s car. There is also the puzzle of Shruti’s friend Vaishnavi (Anjana Jayaprakash) who reports her disappearance but seems to have lied about the time of her arrival in Coimbatore, and then vanishes when Deepak tries to find out why she concealed the truth. Throughout it all, what impresses is the matter of fact approach to the investigation while the realistic addition of mistakes and missteps by the investigating officers keeps a level of confusion that adds to the mystery. There is an ongoing issue with Deepak’s mobile phone for example. Firstly, he forgets to take his phone home, which means that no-one can contact him about the murder. Then he has an issue with his phone charging and has to use Rajan’s phone, while various other officers are frequently uncontactable by phone. Other mistakes occur because junior officers either forget to notify Deepak of a new finding, or simply dismiss evidence because they don’t think it sounds relevant. 

Rahman is excellent as Deepak, and his relationship with Prakash Vijayaraghavan as the young Constable Gautham provides a steady grounding for the narrative. Rahman is all businessman cop, there is no wasted emotion, and the case proceeds in a dry, but not dispassionate manner. There is plenty of concern for the missing girl, frustration about the lack of progress, but also some humour and camaraderie between the investigating officers. I love the attention to detail in each scene. The staging is perfect, from the tank of topical fish in Shruti’s apartment to the small vignettes that take place in the background in almost every external scene. As Deepak is talking to colleagues on the phone, Shruti’s neighbour and his wife are having a heated discussion in the background. It makes the following query from Rahman if Vaishnavi can stay with them more meaningful, along with the glance the neighbour gives his wife at the same time. 

My only real quibble with the film is the ending, which doesn’t flow on as well as Karthick Naren likely hoped. The idea behind the final reveal is good, but the relationship between Deepak and his visitor (Ashwin Kumar) has been too passive to make the final scenes feel as realistic as the rest of the film. Too, I have an issue with the explanation resting on ‘emotions’. Each act was supposedly carried out as a result of strong emotional turmoil, but to me that feels too much of a cop out. Normal people may feel angry, or rejected or any one of the other explanations given here, but that isn’t an excuse to just do whatever they want. While most of the actions depicted here are fairly usual for any murder mystery, they are not normally justified in any way except by saying that the perpetrator was a criminal. The end here suggests that a number of heinous acts can be explained, if not quite excused, by pushing some of the blame onto the victim and the way that they reacted to quite inexcusable behaviour. It’s a small point, but I think a dangerous one, to suggest that the victim has some culpability in a case such as the one depicted here.  

Without this final explanation, I think this would have been a much more satisfying film and one that I could whole-heartedly endorse. As it is, I think it’s technically very good, the performances by Rahman and Prakash Vijayaraghavan well worth watching, and the story intriguing and smartly developed. Overall, Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru is a well-constructed and captivating thriller, that was a well-deserved success for Karthick Naren and bodes well for his next venture. With a less socially disturbing message at the end this would have been a 4 star film, but as it is, for me it’s 3 ½ stars.