Saturday, July 26, 2003

Bheem boy Bheem boy!

Bheem boy Bheem boy, andha locker lendhu aaru latchathai eduthu indha Avinashi naayin moonjiyil vitteri…”! “I mean what I mean, but they can’t be so mean” - Words that will leave me in clutching my stomach in splits for a long time to come. Credit goes to a dialogue writer whose dialogues (not to mention his stage plays and TV series) are as “Crazy” as his name (or I should I say, title). Crazy Mohan has long been a source of clean entertainers in the stage scene in Chennai and the rest of the Tamil speaking world and his efforts in the big stage have not been off the mark. His dialogues right away strike the mark in Michael Madana Kamarajan where the opening lines of this post play quite a role in the proceedings. An ensemble cast of seasoned actors, all of which have excelled in comic roles both before and after this movie, play stellar roles in this comic classic, which released in 1991.

Kamal Hasan plays a set of identical quadruplets who are separated right after their birth and find their way into completely different strata of society. Fortunately Singeetham Srinivasa Rao is not from the "Manmohan Desai school of filmmaking" and hence the whole “different religion” bit is not a part of this rib tickling offering which seems to ooze comic sense in every frame. But if you had seen his immediately preceding offering – Apoorva Sagodharargal (a.k.a Appu Raja, for the Bollywood audience), you would have had a sense of deja vu in the opening frames of the movie. Like most other movies starring Kamal Hasan, this movie packs quite a bit of the story into the credit sequences. The quadruplets separate during the credit sequence during which the director makes a guest appearance as a street performer with a “bioscope” (which a small movie camera like apparatus through which you can view small pictures which are on slides). In fact the whole of this movie is seen through the eyes of a small kid who comes to see through the bioscope. The boys.. Wait. Did I mention all of them are boys? In fact with Kamal around and with his other movies both before and after this one, this fact needs to be mentioned. Well, the boys each grow up to be a counterfeiter, a fireman (who grows up in a orphanage which is only hinted), a rich kid and a cook.

The last mentioned character, named Kameshwaran, would be remembered by Tamil movie fans for eons to come. He grows up at the home of a Tamil Iyer from Palakkad (which, for your information, is a district in Kerala, bordering Tamil Nadu) who ekes out a living as the head cook at weddings and other events. “Delhi” Ganesh who has been a staple in almost every Kamal movie plays the foster father’s role to perfection. The exchanges between foster father, Mani Iyer and son, Kameshwaran, at a Brahmin wedding where a fish finds its way into the saambhar (from Kamal’s shirt pocket) is classic comedy, which sets alight the audience. Both Kamal and “Delhi” Ganesh use the nuances of the Tamil language as it is spoken by “Palakkad Iyers” to make the audience laugh at exactly the right places. Kameshwaran’s character is similar to a multitude of others played by Mehmood in Hindi movies like Padosan and more recently Mithun Chakroborty in Agneepath. I use the word “similar” here, because of the possibility of the character dissolving into a caricature of a Tamil Brahmin (who oozes out stupidity) as seen in the previously mentioned Bollywood movies. But Kamal adroitly goes around this fault and gives the audience something to identify with. There is nothing “out of the world” in this character and still he brings out the simpleton in Kameshwaran. The dialect spoken by Kameshwaran is the best part. I think that being an Iyer from Palakkad myself, probably made the lines hit the bulls eye with me, because I could identify with the language as it is spoken by my own family (and me, of course, when I am around relatives). But judging by the reactions of others sitting around me whenever I watch this movie, the lines hit bull’s eye with them too. There is nothing derogatory about this character and that is what makes the director and Kamal's treatment stand out.

One of the aspects of this movie which has me still shaking my head in surprise, is the apparent link in every scene of the movie, even between different threads. Imagine, 4 brothers who don’t really meet each other at all till half way through the movie. Even in a movie like Amar Akbar Anthony (read a review here), which incidentally was aired on TCM in June, the brothers lead separate lives and each one’s actions do not really play a role in the other’s life. But not in this movie. In fact barring just a couple of breaks, the whole movie can be really considered one long sequence of events each of which affect the next one in line. For example, at the start of the movie, Michael (one of the brothers who is a counterfeiter) and his foster father (who seems to be drunk, throughout the movie, la Keshto Mukerjee) run from the police who land up at their door. At the end of this chase, Michael who is driving the car, inexplicably rams against electricity supply main which short circuits causing a fire, which threatens to destroy Shalini’s (played by Khusbhu) paintings.

Raju (again Kamal), a fireman arrives with a team and saves Shalini. A dream song sequence follows this incident and ends with Raju and a Pathani money lender locked in embrace. Raju owes the Pathan money and as a result wants to get out of this sticky situation. A plate with fish gets knocked off Raju’s hands (in the door of his room) and one of the fish finds its way into Kameshwaran’s shirt pocket when he’s shopping in the market right outside Raju’s room (which is on the first floor of the house). He does not realize this and after a hurried threat to the Pathani who’s still standing shell-shocked looking at him (because he looks just like Raju, minus a moustache), leaves for the wedding where he and his father are cooking. This fish finally falls into the saambhar and causes some really funny exchanges between Kameshwaran and Mani Iyer, Kameshwaran’s apparent ignorance of the English language also adding to the humor.

This is where the film starts showing some faults. Once the baton is passed from one thread to another (like the end of the Michael’s chase to Raju’s fire), nothing is mentioned of the previous thread until much later. For example after the accident that causes the short circuit, nothing ever is mentioned of Michael or whether he successfully escaped from the police who were in his heels, well sorry, his tires. It is that abrupt. But Kamal’s genius and Crazy Mohan’s dialogues actually make us forget what transpired earlier and keep us occupied with the present. The fact that Kamal plays all the major roles in each of the threads plays no small part in this successful effort. But its disconcerting none the less, if u are realist who can’t stomach illogical movies, to see the truant fish in the saambhar, which could cause a huge loss of revenue for a Brahmin cook, ignored for the rest of the movie. But I am not that realist and so I was not complaining.

The fourth brother, Madan, grows up in the household of his biological father (who in true Indian movie fashion, does not know this fact) and comes back to India from London (with a MBA degree) after his father’s supposed death to reclaim the family business from his cousin and uncle who are on the verge of usurping it. He throws them out and they are out soon plotting his downfall with the help of the secretary, Avinashi (played by another veteran, Nagesh), who himself has misappropriated Rs.50 lakh from his father. Praveen Kumar (a.k.a Bheema from B.R.Chopra’s Mahabharath) plays Madan’s bodyguard, Bheem, a kid in every sense else other than his huge physique. The guy watches cartoons all the time and jumps out of windows whenever Madan tells him to (??) and even climbs up to the same room through a pipe when Madan asks him to come up after he had jumped down.

Urvashi, who’s another comic genius in her own right plays Tirupurasundari (fondly called Tiruppu) who, when not drawing Rangoli at weddings for a living, spends her time trying to replace the stuff that her grandmother (played by veteran actress S.N.Lakshmi), a compulsive kleptomaniac, steals from people attending the same weddings. After the above mentioned “fish sequence”, she meets Kameshwaran and after some comical (unintended) courting due to the kleptomanical S.N. Lakshmi, gets married to him.

Madan and Raju meet and Madan pays Raju to impersonate him. The villains recruit Michael through a middleman to kill Madan and when Michael sees Raju and Madan talking, he decides to impersonate Madan too, to get some easy money. Meanwhile Avinashi chances upon Kameshwaran and recruits him through Urvashi’s crooked grandmother (played by veteran Tamil actress, S.N. Lakshmi) to impersonate Madan. All that Kameshwaran has to do is mouth the line – “Bheem boy, Bheem boy, andha locker lendhu aaru latchatha eduthu Avinashi naayin moonjila vittu eri” (Bheem boy, take six lakhs out of that locker and throw it on the face of this dog, Avinashi). Kameshwaran’s heavily accented English is the highlight of this movie and he keeps repeating his "line" to everyone in sight much to Avinashi’s consternation, as is Raju’s attempts to ape Madan’s mannerisms and language, particularly the Madan’s use of the phrase “Catch my point?”.

Hence 3 brothers set out to impersonate the fourth leading to hilarious sequences that end at a hill top bungalow which seems be nothing more than a rickety single room apartment waiting to fall down anytime from the top of the hill. The movie finally ends with the “alls well that ends well” formula, after some hilarious sequences like a madisaar clad S.N.Lakshmi showing some karate moves and finally getting her haunches on fire.. It is a highly illogical affair, but we have seen so many like these from the likes of Charles Chaplin and others, where the only intention is to generate some laughs and nothing else.

This movie probably was the second successive attempt by Kamal (the first being Apoorva Saghdharargal) to play multiple roles. A string of serious attempts at parallel roles followed, like Guna etc., which has continued till the present day to Hey Ram and Abhay, barring a handful of ordinary attempts in between. Still his losses from his attempts to kick-start his dream venture (Marudhanayagam) have to be recouped and hence he has started to play to the front benchers again after a long time. Well, these attempts have not been successful. Will someone tell him that he just needs to look at what he did in movies like Michael Madana Kamarajan to strike the right chord? Clean humor always works, and his recent attempts have not really been clean.

I have always preferred Thalaivar Rajinikant to Kamal. But Michael Madana Kamarajan shall remain one of my favorite movies, more so for the humor in the movie than for the actor in Kamal.

QOTD: "Nyanum Rowdy-aakum.. keattela!" (I am a rowdy too!) - Kameshwaran's riposte to "Thiruttu Paati" (Michael Madan Kamarajan, 1991)

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