Is the smartphone a horcrux inside which we’ve locked up our humanity? Ravi, who goes into a coma at the brink of the new millennium and wakes up 16 years later, thinks so. Director Pradeep Ranganathan’s debut film Comali is about the perils of technology that has made the world smaller and yet more distant. It’s a premise which could have easily veneered into preachy but Comali doesn’t fall into the trap.
Ravi’s (Jayam Ravi) father doesn’t believe in entering his son’s caste or religion in the school admission form, telling the principal that he doesn’t want his son to grow up knowing about such unnecessary things (clearly, he’s from the Kamal Haasan school of how to eradicate caste attended only by the privileged). Ravi thus grows up as an innocent, doing what all good Tamil boys on screen do – forming die-hard friendships, rating the girls in his class by their looks, and finally zeroing in on which girl to stalk (Nikhita, played by Samyukta Hegde).
Yogi Babu plays Ravi’s best friend Mani and for once, the comedian isn’t reduced to making jokes about his face or body. The two actors turn into schoolboys and while they’re not entirely convincing as teenagers in appearance, they make up for it with their banter. Most of the jokes land well and the pair keeps them coming.
Just as Ravi’s love life seems to be picking up, it’s accidentally interrupted by a gang headed by Dharmaraja (KS Ravikumar). The elaborate sequence involves an extremely crude and vulgar joke around a woman’s hips – which finds its way to the film later too. Guess what’s one thing that hasn’t changed in 16 years? Normalising the objectification of women in “family films” and handing out ‘U’ certificates to them. Pradeep, who takes a dig at the AIDWA protest during Simbu’s ‘Beep’ song controversy in the film, might be dismissive of this observation but well, it has to be said.
Jayam Ravi is funny and believable as the confused Ravi who slips into a 16-year sleep and wakes up in his friend Mani’s house in the year 2016. The controversial Rajini scene from the trailer has been clipped, to be replaced by yet another promise that has been repeatedly made to the people of the state. Another of technology’s perils, I guess – when Twitter fan outrage can arm-twist a filmmaker thus.
There’s a running commentary on how much the world has changed – from work culture (Mani is now a frazzled IT employee) to how families communicate with each other – but it remains light and amusing. When Ravi saunters around in a Shaktimaan T-shirt believing himself to be ultra-cool, you laugh though it is over-the-top. When Mani points to his son who has inherited his hair and says, “His name is Mysskin, he never talks!” you duly chuckle.
But as if to prove the point that there’s more to his humour than his hair, Yogi Babu wears a neat ponytail as the adult Mani. And yes, he brings the house down. Here’s hoping he does more of this in his upcoming films and less of the body-shaming which is getting old.
The script throws up quite a few coincidences (yes, we know the world is now small but is it that small?) but you’re in a forgiving mood because Comali never gets boring. Vinodhini Vaidyanathan plays a heavily pregnant woman and though the role for heavily pregnant women is pretty predictable – always, always go into labour only when it’s super inconvenient – she manages to move us with her dignified and realistic performance. Considering this emotional sequence is super-imposed on a display of stirring secularism (Pradeep manages to bring every major Indian religion into the frame, only missing the Buddhists and Jains), it could have become melodramatic. Actually, it is melodrama only, but melodrama done well. The VFX looks believable. More believable than Jayam Ravi as a Class 12 student anyway.
KS Ravikumar is brilliant in his role as the villain – there’s a moment in a temple when he reflects on how he was prevented from entering it as a child (thereby throwing light on his caste location), but is now welcomed because the priests think he is of a high caste. Ravikumar manages to express his emotions in that fleeting second, without saying a word. It’s a scene which answers “innocent” Ravi’s earlier question to Mani – are people still following caste? The film’s understanding of caste privilege seems confused because at one level, we have a privileged hero and heroine (Kajal Aggarwal as Reetika) who don’t “believe” in caste and this is presented to us as aspirational. But at another level, we have a Dharmaraja who must keep his identity under wraps to hold on to power – isn’t that proof enough that your caste identity does not dissolve just because you stop “believing” in it? But to Pradeep’s credit, Dharmaraja is at least humanised and his story arc isn’t that of the average biryani-eating-sickle-swinging villain.
Hiphop Tamizha’s background score allows the comedy to sparkle without overdoing it with sound cues. The screenplay brings in small surprises and twists at the right moments, keeping our interest alive all through.
Comali benefits from strong performances from the supporting cast. The “yen lover – yen pondatti” tug of war between Ravi and Dr Krishnamurthy (Sha Ra) threatens to grate on the nerves but is somewhat compensated by Nikhita having some kind of agency too. Still, this brand of comedy referring to women as “porul” is getting quite stale and a new age director who clearly has fresh ideas can come up with better.
As it stands, Comali is a fun comedy that aspires to make people think as they laugh along and for the most part, it succeeds.
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.