Gulaebaghavali, the MGR film, was the title that used to leave us flummoxed while playing dumb charades in school. The word would be split into several parts – some that had meaning and some that didn't – and you'd have to make sense of it all somehow.
Kalyaan's screwball comedy is similar to that childhood exercise. The film opens in 1945, with a story about an Indian who steals valuable gems from a British man. Then, cut to the present and we see Revathi sitting in the park, lost in thought. She's thinking about her dead son – you think she's playing a sober elderly woman but no. She is Masha (remember the spirited young woman from the '90s screwball comedy Arangetra Velai?), a seasoned con artist.
Revathi's contemporaries like Rajini and Kamal are still playing the hero, getting "mass" introduction scenes and macho fights. Gulaebaghavali surprises us by giving this veteran woman actor similar sequences. It's entertaining and oddly touching even, to see the petite Revathi flick her hair back and do a stylish walk, indulge in a high speed car chase, and sock the villains.
There's one scene where Masha starts talking about an orphanage she cares about, her eyes brimming and I was going *yawn* but it's not what you think it is – the subversion is surprising and funny. She even gets the fourth wall breaking moments that are usually reserved for our big heroes – references to Mouna Ragam and Mann Vasanai that you're supposed to know.
Prabhu Deva and Hansika (who features in a meatier than usual role) get some romance going in the middle of the hunt for...for what? There's gems, statues, a sister held hostage – a bunch of plot lines that come together. It's difficult not to love Prabhu Deva's dance if you've grown up in the '90s and it's good to see him do the "boneless" moves as effortlessly as ever. Why isn't Prabhu Deva wearing Prabhu Deva pants any more though? The film was sold to the audience as an "adventure fantasy" but the fantasy part is restricted to one song which, for some reason, also features a polar bear.
Gulaebaghavali is not a particularly original film. The comedy is mildly amusing, especially if you catch all the references – the red car joke from Karagatakkaran, for instance. The climax is bizarre and had potential to become truly hilarious – but somehow, the film misses the bus by staying too close to the slapstick territory.
However, Gulaebaghavali still took me by surprise because I went thinking this was a Prabhu Deva film and ended up watching a Revathi film – and here it is, competing with Vikram's Sketch and Suriya's TSK at a crowded weekend at the box-office. Will KJR Studios, which gave us Nayanthara's Aramm last year, manage to stay afloat with this one? One hopes so, for Masha 2.O's sake!
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.