May 18 2010
After the historical comedy Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi and the socio-fantasy Arai En 305-il Kadavul, cartoonist-turned-director Chimbu Deven is back with another film in a rare and unique genre, the comedy Western. Part-homage and part-spoof, Tamil cinema’s answer to Blazing Saddles is a bit uneven with the homage part working better than the spoof part. But the uniqueness of the genre helps tide over the weaker parts, resulting in an entertaining film overall.
Singaram(Raghava Lawrence), who hails from Sholaypuram, is accused of stealing the famous diamond Texas Mullangi from the bank where he works as a security guard. Just as he is about to be hanged, he is rescued by a gang of cowboys(Mouli, Ilavarasu, Ramesh Khanna, Vaiyapuri), who inform him that he looks like Singam, a famous cowboy from their town, Jaishankarpuram. Singam has been missing for 7 years, as a result of which Kizhattukattai(Nasser), who is from Irumbukkoattai, has brought Jaishankarpuram under his rule. So in return for another Texas Mullangi, Singaram agrees to pose as the long-lost Singam and unite Jaishankarpuram’s residents to fight against Kizhattukattai.
IKMS is similar to Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi in the way it picks a popular genre – here its the Western – and transforms it into something quite different by adding comedy to the mix. Its just that the two don’t come together quite as well as history and comedy came together in Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi.
The film does justice to the genre it is in with all the trademarks of the genre in place. The film’s costumes, locations and sets recreate the West we’ve seen so many movies, quite accurately. Its story – a hero arrives in town to save its people from a tyrant – has formed the basis of many serious Westerns like Unforgiven. It also incorporates many of the stock elements, like treasure hunts, gunfights and card games, that usually populate Westerns. Its only the narration that transforms the film into a comedy.
When the film remains grounded in reality while being faithful to its genre and derives laughs from small and clever exaggerations(like Lawrence being faster – and later, slower – than his shadow!), it is quite funny. But when things get so ridiculous(like the whole ‘bomb agreement’) that the proceedings become a farce, the laughs are harder to come by. Since the comedy alternates rather regularly between these two kinds, the film is never consistently funny. One of the more successful segments is the one involving the Red Indians mainly due to the alien language and its translations. And there are some really inspired bits, like the one involving a fighting duo, which has a very clever and unexpected ending.
The lack of Westerns in Tamil cinema in the last few decades and the scarcity of the genre in Hollywood leads to a lack of jokes based on comtemporary people and events. For instance, the Hollywood actors referred to are John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, Hindi film references are made to Sholay and Amitabh Bachan and the homages to Tamil actors stops with MGR and Jaishankar. This is another reason the jokes aren’t as effective as in, say, Thamizh Padam, which referred to much more recent persons and topics.
The treasure hunt is one segment where the action and the comedy do come together well. The puzzles and the clues, though amateurish, hold our interest, the jokes(like the unnecessary translation of Bhaskar’s cry for help) feel funnier and the digs – on everything from sponsorships to teashop conversations – feel sharper as well. The gunfight that starts off the climax is also interesting but the fisticuffs following that make things less interesting.
Raghava Lawrence has the style to fit the cowboy’s role but little else. He hams up in many of the comedy scenes and dilutes their effectiveness. Thank God he is surrounded by some experienced and effective supporting actors. Bhaskar makes us laugh with his straight-faced delivery of the Native Indian language and the actor playing his translator gives him good company. Mouli, Ramesh Khanna, Ilavarasu and Vaiyapuri all have a few minutes in the limelight. Nasser enjoys himself with the false eye and the strong accent while Saikumar overacts quite a bit. The 3 heroines have little to do with Sandhya’s role being particularly sad since she has little more than a glorified item number. G.V.Prakash’s songs barely pass muster while Sabesh-Murali rely on some familiar Western tunes for the background score.
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