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!