May 16 2013
Aside from being instrumental in Satyaraj’s ascent from minor actor to memorable villain(Nooraavadhu Naal, 24 Mani Neram), successful anti-hero(Vidinja Kalyanam) and popular hero(Chinna Thambi Periya Thambi), director Manivannan gave the actor one of his most memorable roles as an idiot-turned-scheming politician in Amaidhi Padai. The director and actor revisit the iconic character Nagaraja Cholan in this ’sorta sequel’ Nagaraja Cholan MA, MLA. But even if we try to look beyond the film’s confusing timeline, it lacks both the solid storyline and the engaging drama of its predecessor, replacing them with generic political jokes.
Nagaraja Cholan(Satyaraj), with assistant Mani(Manivannan), has schemed his way in to become the Deputy Chief Minister of the state. His son Gangaikondan(Raghu Manivannan) proves himself to be following in dad’s footsteps when he weds a poor girl just for the political mileage it gives him. When a Swedish company wants to build a factory in the forests, Nagaraja Cholan orders the trees to be cut down. But the tribals, led by a lorry driver(Seeman), stand in his way.
Amaidhi Padai traced Nagaraja Cholan’s complete character arc from being the local idiot to becoming a wily politician to being killed by his own son. His wife(Sujatha) never bore him a son and he had only one illegitimate son(Satyaraj again) as a result of cheating a girl(Kasthuri). While Manivannan in Nagaraja Cholan MA, MLA explicitly references Satyaraj’s earlier name and profession to let us know that it is the same character from Amaidhi Padai, the other character aspects don’t match since the politician has a legitimate son here and his wife is nowhere to be seen. This places the film in a bizarre place as far as timelines go and creates a disconnect right at the beginning. It also makes it clear that the film was advertised as Amaidhi Padai’s sequel just for the publicity since a stand-alone Manivannan-Satyaraj film wouldn’t have made any news considering the way their careers are doing.
Satyaraj’s bad nature is stressed to such an extent that he ceases to be a real character. As he, the Deputy CM, openly fights with the CM, asks for bribes, flirts with his assistants, insults high-ranking officers and orders hits, his character becomes cartoonish and the film loses all semblance of reality. On the personal side, the dynamics of his relationship with his daughter-in-law is built up to culminate in a situation that mirrors one of the most effective segments in the previous film. But the weak drama leading up to it and the other aspects surrounding it, like the about-turn of one of the characters, ensure that it doesn’t come close to having the same impact.
Its very clear that the story is just a thinly-veiled excuse for Manivannan and Satyaraj to satirize politics as they take shots at politicians’ greed for money and power, corruption, political party names and their flags, free-food schemes and scams. Some of these jokes surprise us with their directness and others make us smile. Still, the targets are easy and we’ve seen both of them, particularly Satyaraj, do this a lot. So their effectiveness is diluted. In fact, amidst all the sarcasm and nakkal of the duo, some of Seeman’s measured warnings, like the question-and-answer session he has with his friend about the ill-effects of deforestation, have a bigger impact.
With all the politics, the main story of the tribals fighting for their land is stretched out without much happening. The tribals are portrayed in familiar fashion when it comes to the characters, their costumes and their dancing and though the focus is on a select few, the romance and other emotions don’t really stick. It is only towards the end, when they decide to fight back, that the track shows some signs of life but things move to the other extreme with cinematic actions and loud melodrama.
Satyaraj slips easily into the character he previously inhabited many years ago. The get-up suits him and as always, the sarcasm gets an extra edge because of his trademark dialog delivery. He has another role but it is an unnecessary character that does nothing of note and he looks too old. Seeman gets another role where he gets to lament the state of affairs but goes overboard at only 1 place(a piece of dialog that talks about an Olympic gold in Archery). Manivannan does his job in front of the camera well enough with enough sly jokes, many of which are aimed at Satyaraj. His son Raghu Manivannan acquits himself creditably as Satyaraj’s son. Without any real romance, James Vasanthan delivers melody only in the tribal song Mala Mela…. The other 2 songs, Kannaadi Paappa… and Viraivil Vidiyum…, follow the usual templates for the kinds of songs they are – an item number and an motivational song respectively.