Charlie Chaplin 2: A comedy late by about a couple of decades

You don’t walk in to watch Charlie Chaplin 2, expecting to be in the presence of finesse. This gets reaffirmed when you see the title flash amid a dizzying combination of green and yellow. It’s been a while since we got to see this brand of comedy, which, when well done, reminds you of the Crazy Mohan-Kamal Haasan partnership’s highlight reels — but only when well done. These films are typically dialogue-driven, and their jokes often have musical cues, to make sure you don’t forget to laugh. Like when Ramakrishnan (Prabhu) is being introduced in the film, and the narrator (RJ Shiva) says, “Kadhailaye ivar dhaan weight-aana character.”

Charlie Chaplin 2
Director: Sakthi Chidambaram
Cast: Prabhudheva, Prabhu, Nikki Galrani, Adah Sharma

These films are usually stories built on a case of mistaken identity, and/or about how one lie begets many. It was the case in the original Charlie Chaplin (2002), and it’s quite the same here too, as Prabhu and Prabhudheva reprise their respective characters, Ramakrishnan and Thiru. There’s no other connection between the stories though.

Watching the film, I caught myself wondering if we would give as warm a welcome to some of those late 90s comedies, were they to have been made today. For one, back then, we didn’t bat an eyelid then about awkward song detours, the like of which there are several in Charlie Chaplin 2. There’s also more awareness today over the importance of jokes that punch up, and not down. Charlie Chaplin 2 is a bit oblivious to such details, and happily tries to make an ‘unattractive’ girl the butt of its jokes for a while in the beginning. Later in the film, it turns its focus on a supposedly gay man, and attempts to milk his relentless pursuit of a strange man for slapstick laughs. Homosexual men have traditionally been portrayed in our cinema as libidinous creatures who make unsophisticated advances on others, and it continues in this film. And this ‘avanaa nee’ brand of comedy is not funny at all, no sir.

But perhaps there’s still a future for this genre, if the writers channelled their energies into coming up with cleverer, and definitely, braver jokes. Unfortunately, it’s much of the same here. In Charlie Chaplin, the misunderstanding at the heart of the story is of Ramakrishnan’s wife suspecting him of infidelity. This time, it’s Thiru’s turn, but the problem is reversed. Perhaps to take into account the passing of almost two decades in between the films, WhatsApp plays a prominent part in this story. The characters even go into discussing what ‘one tick’ and ‘two ticks’ means, and one even explains that a WhatsApp message cannot be permanently deleted, once an hour passes after the message is sent. In truth though, it’s seven minutes, not an hour. (And a minute of research indicates that by following a simple set of instructions, you can delete messages without any time limitations). I don’t know about you, but this sort of inaccuracy puts me off, especially given that this fact is at the foundation of the film’s conflict.

The film’s still figuring out its technology, it seems, and this lack of evolution is apparent in its dated humour too (quite a few stale jokes over the horror that is marriage). The songs are somewhat salvaged by Prabhudheva’s dancing. But while compliments about his dance aren’t particularly new, this film, to a certain extent, also brings to light an underrated aspect of his career: his comic timing. The good bits in Charlie Chaplin 2 get you thinking fondly about some of his old films like Kadhala Kadhala. One scene references Kadhalan, and another scene, about a suicide rescue, reminded me of Minsara Kanavu. While on tributes, there’s one lengthy dialogue that stitches together many titles of Vijay’s films… because the priest saying it is apparently a Vijay fan. I rather liked another bit in the film, where someone dubs over a video to great effect. It’s really well done, and I wished some of that effort had also gone into the film’s jokes, whose purpose, after all, is to be a comedy. And that’s why unlike the original, the best bits of this film may not even go on to make for attractive television.

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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