A thoroughly entertaining black comedy
Now that I have watched Naanum Rowdy Dhaan , I can safely say, “I knew it!” I was probably among the minority that found Podaa Podi , Vignesh Shivan’s 2012 debut film, quite entertaining. Sure, the story was nothing to write home about, but the dialogues were effortlessly hilarious, and the female lead was among the stronger characters written. I felt that with a more universal story and perhaps a more appealing cast, Podaa Podi could’ve been so much better. In Naanum Rowdy Dhaan , Vignesh gets it right. It’s the story of a workaday man, Paandi (Vijay Sethupathi), comically aspiring to be a rowdy, and in the process, trying to win the hand of a pretty, hearing-impaired woman, Kaadhambari (Nayantara). This is the sort of film that gives its heroine a peculiar name, only so her nickname becomes the ironical Kaadhu.
Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is largely a black comedy, and I was reminded of another Vijay Sethupathi black comedy, Soodhu Kavvum — tellingly during a scene in which a seasoned rowdy (‘Mottai’ Rajendran) trains Paandi. There are plenty of quirky ideas that I found far funnier than they must have been in theory. For instance, there’s a white girl called Kamatchi. More funnily, an old man is called Rahul. Every time somebody called him that, I lost it.
Almost all the jokes, both subtle and loud, work. And they’re everywhere, and often admirably, without heed to political correctness. When Paandi learns that Kaadhu, despite being hearing-impaired, “speaks” by reading lips, he mouths two obscenities. Kaadhu erroneously concludes that he said, “ Roja poomalai .” But of course, lip-reading isn’t a foolproof skill, and though I’m nitpicking here, I couldn’t but wonder how she was having such effortless conversations. Special attention also seems to have been paid to the stutter in Kaadhu’s speech (Nayantara has dubbed for herself), and that’s commendable, as it would be impossible for such a person to talk perfectly normally. However, her deaf voice doesn’t sound as different, as robbed of tone, as it probably should. It could have led to a few more jokes.
The more serious problem is how dependent she is on other people. When somebody close to her passes away, she almost becomes a sort of refugee figure. No house to stay in, nobody to talk to, except a strange man she met accidentally a few days earlier. In short, she is a person with no life. Even though she claims otherwise in a scene at the end, she always seems to need somebody to take care of her, to do her dirty work. Hell, she even needs her dad to get her sanitary napkins. Kaadhambari could’ve been a lot stronger, and should have been.
Paandi’s love for her, on the other hand, is less fraught with problems. The only one — and that’s a big one — is when he, like too many men in our society, decides what is good for her, and ‘protects’ her from a tragedy by withholding information. It’s more immature than chauvinistic, I suppose, but it’s the sort of decision that should effectively have put paid to her interest in him, but for some reason, she gets over it fairly quickly. Otherwise, I rather enjoyed that he doesn’t use that overused declaration of affection: I love you. He doesn’t need to, for it’s evident in more than one scene. When his mother, a sub-inspector (Radhika), refers to Kaadhambari as that “ kaadhu kekkaadha ponnu ”, he immediately says, “ Apdi solladha ma .” When his super-talkative friend (RJ Balaji) — at one point, somebody says, “ Unakku vaaye valikkadha ?” — asks him if he’s in love with her, he simply says, “ Love-a nu therla. Aana, ava sandhoshama irukkanum .” If that isn’t love, what is?
Naanum Rowdy Dhaan also occasionally, and rather problematically, tries to become a mainstream film — like in the picturisation of the rather misplaced melody, ‘Neeyum Naanum’ (Anirudh). Surely, a two-hour journey to a city that is home to much childhood trauma, in order to take improbable revenge on a dangerous don, isn’t the most appropriate time to lie joyfully spread-eagled on the backseat of a convertible, and enjoy the moment. But on the whole, Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is a thoroughly entertaining film, with the jokes remaining sustained — perhaps even getting better as the film draws towards its end. A major reason, apart from the charismatic Vijay Sethupathi who’s perhaps in his best-dressed role yet, is Radhakrishnan Parthiban, who brings the house down during the final scenes. There’s some well-intentioned talk at the very end when Paandi seems convinced that a policeman is better than a rowdy, but if trying to be a rowdy results in such entertaining films, who’s complaining?