Of late, the 'black comedy' label has been freely applied to a wide range of Tamil films, most of which revolve around crime but are rarely funny. Nelson's Kolamaavu Kokila, however, is unexpectedly hilarious. And in a good way.
The premise is similar to American TV show Breaking Bad, but set in Gumudipoondi. A mild-mannered Kokila (Nayanthara), who barely ever raises her gaze, decides to sell drugs. The reason is cancer, except it is the mother played by Saranya Ponvannan who has it. (I was impressed that we're told what cancer it is and in which stage. For some reason, that information is never revealed in Tamil films).
The idea of a lone woman struggling for the sake of her family is not new. These films usually take a melodramatic turn as the heroine performs one sacrifice after another, only to be betrayed by the people around her. Kolamaavu Kokila, however, is an interesting subversion of this plot-line. It's not that we're not shown her struggles - at the very beginning, even before the shadow of cancer falls over her family, Kokila ends up losing her job because she snubs her boss who tries to sexually harass her. The matter of fact way in which she gives it back to him, however, sets the tone for the film - it makes its points while keeping the story moving.
Nayanthara alternates between deadpan expressions and wide-eyed innocence laced with fright. She does not perform any stunts or even raise her voice at any point in the film. From the beginning, she is meek as a mouse but succeeds in pulling the rug from under the feet of her opponents with her demeanour. I wish something had been done about her hair though - the brownish blonde strands look out of place for the subdued character that she's playing.
Jacqueline, who plays her sister Shobi, is the perfect foil for Kokila. While the elder sibling is deceptively demure, Shobi is quick with her tongue. This difference in personality is established through how they deal with their respective suitors - the lovelorn Sekhar (Yogi Babu in one of his best performances) and a besotted LK (who is incidentally the nephew of a man with Remo in his title because he's part of a Sivakarthikeyan fan association). The obsessive loverboys who've been glorified in Tamil cinema are cleverly taken apart in the film. The scene in the battered old van with LK asking Sekhar to forward a Sai Baba photo to 30 people on his list had the audience in splits.
In a surprising and very welcome move, the women keep the two loverboys at a distance and they are not rewarded for their "efforts" at any point. I was half expecting the ladies to melt into their arms for standing by them through thick and thin though they hadn't asked for it in the first place. There's also an extended gag overturning the usual villain rape scene stereotypes - I'm still trying to decide if it was done sensitively enough, but at least, the intention seems to be in the right place.
The film draws much of its comedy from unexpected moments. Just as the two sisters present a contrast, so do RS Sivaji and Saranya Ponvannan, who play Kokila's parents. The father is gentle, Gandhian (he even looks like a plump version of Gandhi). The mother, however, doesn't mind taking an axe to a man's head if it comes to that. The exchanges between the couple, though brief, are hilarious. There is, of course, plenty of body-shaming humour as can only be expected in a film starring both Yogi Babu and Motta Rajendran. But the adukkumozhi in which this is presented is so creative that I confess I derived guilty laughs from it.
Nelson takes numerous liberties with logic, especially in the second half where I thought the final twist was rather lazy. But that said, the film doesn't fail to entertain. The performances by the motley cast (which is cinematically secular - from a Muslim bhai to an Iyer accountant) ensure that the scenes are never dull. Anirudh's music and background score are a big plus, with appropriate song placements that gel with the screenplay and don't derail the storyline.
Nayanthara has been looking to do films as the solo lead for a while now. She has experimented with horror, delivered an Aramm last year. Kolamaavu Kokila is her breaking badass.
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 filmâ€™s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.