Kathanayagan: Sporadic laughs don’t really save this dud

Kathanayagan will remind you a lot of your well-meaning mother. It wants nothing better than to put a smile on your face. To achieve this, it tries every trick there is out there… to varying degrees of success. For starters, it gets Rajendran reading the smoking-drinking disclaimers. It’s not the first time he’s doing this, of course, but his voice, which seems to be produced by his vocal chords after a herculean throaty ordeal, still makes you laugh. And there’s his enunciation which is a genre of humour unto itself. He tries to say ‘liquor’ and ends up saying, ‘liqueuer’. Shortly, after the film begins, Saranya, who plays the non-existent mother character of Thambidurai (Vishnu Vishal), says ‘conceive’ when she means ‘confuse’. But these actors should not even have gone down that road, given that the great-grandfather of that humour genre, Mr. Soori, is part of the cast. Uttered by him, ‘sambar’ becomes ‘jaambar’, ‘symbol’ becomes ‘jimbol’, and by the time he says ‘whatjap’ when he means ‘WhatsApp’, I realised with consternation that a teeny, tiny laugh had escaped my mouth. Oh, the horror. Some nights, I wake up in cold sweat from nightmares that have me browsing through endless compilations of Soori tracks and cackling like a maniac. I wonder, with trepidation, if that tiny laugh has now started me on that bottomless descent.

Director: Muruganandham
Cast: Vishnu Vishal, Catherine Tresa, Soori

What’s with all the talk about the film’s humour? What about the story, you ask. Kathanayagan isn’t about its story, as much as it’s about trying desperately, almost beseechingly at times, to make you laugh with any available thread from its non-story. Thambidurai is a man scared of everything, except, of course, a fair-skinned woman, the heroine. He sees her once, and at once, begins to have visions of her everywhere. In one scene, she’s lying next to him, and he thinks it’s another one of the quintessential Tamil director’s cheesy tricks till he realises it’s actually her. Apparently, Kanmani (Catherine Tresa) has developed a fondness for him, mainly from getting to see glimpses of him from afar. She’s seen him on the road a couple of times, which includes once when he’s scampering like a scared rat. The big conflict is that the heroine’s father wants her to marry a man. Cue Sean Roldan’s theme score with guitar riffs and a singer bellowing ‘hero!’. Thambidurai, from being a kozhi, transforms into aneruppukozhi. Before you judge me for the horrible expression, please note that I’m simply quoting the words of Thambidurai himself before he runs at a thug with that choicest of weapon in a TASMAC bar: the beer bottle.

The story suddenly turns into something about a kidney transplant. I suspect Kathanayagan’s story was developed through one of those crowdsourced storytelling techniques on Twitter, where each participant develops the story with a single line.

Participant A: “Thambidurai is a coward who wishes to marry the girl of his dreams.”
Participant B: “That changes when he drinks one day and breaks a thug’s head with a beer bottle.”
Participant C: “He then develops a life-threatening illness, and becomes willing to donate his kidney.”
Participant D: ?!

Luckily though, the organ transplant angle is an excuse to bring in Anand Raj’s character of a rich sheikh (is there another kind in Tamil cinema?). He’s a riot, but just as that track begins to show signs of weariness, the director, aware that there’s more time to kill, before the audience can be released, makes the clever move to bring back Rajendran. This time, they go one step further and make the actor sing at a wedding. The end results are both traumatic and hysterical. The actor singing Maya Nadhi is really the stuff of nightmares.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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