'A1' offers some laughs and exposes people's hypocrisy; the lack of layers is easily explained – this is a Santhanam film and not lasagna.

A1 review Santhanams comedy film is half-boil only
Flix Review Friday, July 26, 2019 - 16:37
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A1 directed by Johnson K has already raised hackles for showing a Brahmin woman attempting to eat a half-boil in the film's trailer. Minor spoiler: she doesn't actually eat it in the film. But I doubt that those who objected would be mollified. This is a strange film, and the more I think about it, the more I think a half-boil perfectly describes it – parts of it look well-cooked, but the rest is just runny and messy.

Divya (Tara Alisha Berry) falls in love with Saravanan (Santhanam) after he displays his machismo to save her from a bunch of old men. Rather, she falls in love with the naamam on his forehead, assuming that he's an Iyengar. She plants a kiss on his lips as if to seal the deal (what, so quickly, you ask? Well, the movie is less than 2 hours and there's no time to waste on character development and other distractions), only to realise a few scenes later that she was completely mistaken about who he is.

Divya is a modern "maami" – she wears Western clothes but speaks in a distinctly Brahmin dialect, and has no qualms in making casteist declarations. For his part, Saravanan is unapologetic about being "local" (whatever that means) and only seems to care about getting Divya to kiss him. Saravanan and everyone associated with him speak an exaggerated "Madras bashai", as if to underline that they are not-Brahmin, but their caste location is not defined beyond this. The stereotypes on both sides are pretty cringeworthy, but Santhanam and the actors who serve as his friends and family manage to carry the absurdity on their shoulders quite lightly, eliciting some laughs out of wordplay and slapstick humour. The comic timing of the supporting cast (including MS Bhaskar) means that even the really average jokes land fairly well – the sort of "kadi" comedy that is not funny the second time around and you're mildly ashamed for laughing at all.

Divya's father is the pious, do-gooder Ananthraman (Yatin Karyekar) who is highly respected, but he is not above humiliating Saravanan and his family for not being Brahmin. While this scene establishes him as a nasty and casteist man, it's puzzling why nobody in the film seems to develop a bad opinion about him. But the plot somewhat makes up for this, ripping off the "highly cultured" masks that privileged people wear in society towards the end. That it chooses to do so in a farcical and completely far-fetched fashion with zero finesse or layers is easily explained – this is a Santhanam film and not lasagna.

The Brahmin community has been stereotyped in several ways on screen – as a harmless, curd rice eating population, as the intelligent "kanakku", and so on. The women have mostly appeared as conservative, madisar-wearing innocents. Tara Alisha Berry's Divya is different from that but let's not get too hopeful. This only means she's a "loosu ponnu" who says "vango-pongo" instead of "va-po". She largely functions as Santhanam's prop and looks quite clueless about what she's doing in the film.

Parts of A1 are fun only because it's not interested at all in political correctness. The film doesn't seem to care who it offends and who it does not, in the process exposing certain hypocrisies that we rarely get to see on screen. Beyond that, there's nothing remarkable about it – certainly, no stunning aerial shot of an agraharam – and I doubt that the makers wanted it to be anything else.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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