Maragadha Nanayam: A wildly entertaining adventure

While watching Maragadha Nanayam, I couldn’t shake off the thought that this is the film Peechaankai wanted to be. It wanted to be quirky, it wanted to be laugh-out-loud funny, and it wanted to be lively and entertaining. Maragadha Nanayam is all of that, and is a testament to how with a writer who has great control over his humour, and the right actors, a thoroughly enterprising film can be created even from a premise that isn’t particularly inventive.

A couple of down-on-their-luck smugglers (one of them is the protagonist, Senguttuvan, played by Aadhi) take on the potentially life-changing project of selling an ancient emerald stone that is thought to be a harbinger of death. And if this sounds a bit too serious, wait till you see the film director ARK Saravan has built around this one-liner.

By now, most of us are over our fear of ghosts, thanks to Tamil cinema. And hence, the jokes built around such fear have lost potency too. What the filmmaker does then is to use this very absence of tension, of fear, to elicit the laughs. In fact, some of the writing actively ridicules the tropes of this genre. Like when Senguttuvan’s friend gets frustrated with the ghost’s attempt to intimidate him and asks it to make its point soon without wasting his time. People, like Senguttuvan, can’t be bothered to wait around for ghosts to scare them–not after the gazillion horror films that have been released during the last few years.

Cast: Aadhi, Nikki Galrani, Anandaraj, Arunraja Kamaraj, Munishkanth
Director: ARK Saravan

There’s plenty to like in Maragadha Nanayam. I liked that Nikki Galrani gets possessed by the ghost of a man who speaks Chennai Tamil. Her faultless lip-syncing went a long way in making me get over the staginess of a similar scene in I. I enjoyed the mock-swag of Anandaraj who plays the goon-in-chief. I particularly loved some of the puns that the writing offhandedly throws. The hero and his friend, along with a few friendly ghosts, are trying to extract crucial information from a man on his deathbed. And someone wryly comments, “Deadline thaandi pogudhu.” The characters don’t laugh, the director doesn’t pause as if looking into the camera and saying, “Deadline. Dead-line. Do you get it?” In another clever pun, a ghost quips, “Seththa neram summa vida maatengaraanga.” The smuggling scenes in particular–a parody of how such scenes are shown in old Tamil films–are a riot.

Maragadha Nanayam doesn’t quite hit the ground running, but once it picks up pace, it hurtles towards the end. The characterisation of each ghost adds a lot to the hilarity of the proceedings. Nikki Galrani’s character has a male voice speaking Chennai Tamil. Munishkanth’s character is a relative of the protagonist’s friend, and is their well-meaning saviour. But my pick of the lot is the one played by Arunraja Kamaraj, whose raspy voice is parodied. In one scene, when a thug shoots him without realising he’s already dead, he looks down at the bullet mark and asks: “Why did you ruin my shirt?” And I loved that his character breaks into a no-holds-barred dance in the final portions. It’s almost the director with gay abandon having fun with his material. There aren’t too many films in the recent past that can claim to have had so much fun, never mind the sanctity of the material at hand. Thirudan Police’s final portions come to mind. There were a couple of bits the film could have done without, like the righteous comment by a ghost on how people at a wine shop are all accelerating towards their deaths. But in such a wildly entertaining film, I was willing to let it slide.

Music by Dhibu Ninan Thomas is a big, big plus. It is as wild and lively as the film itself. Towards the end, Anandaraj, overdressed for a gangster, walks towards the camera in slo-mo, tagged along by henchmen. The background vocal drawls, “He’s a gangsterrrrr.” I spat my coffee in laughter. It’s a far cry from the sombre tone with which the film begins, as it recounts the history of the emerald stone (à la the elder wand in Harry Potter, which also incidentally gets buried with its owner in a tomb). As horror films go, you could do a lot better. But as comedies go, this is among the year’s best.

This review was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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