There is plenty to dissect about this film, and while it may be reasonably effective as a dark horror-comedy, it is all the subtext that makes Nenjam Marappathillai so fascinating
At a time when the idea of a Tamil horror film coming out is enough to give you the chills, director Selvaraghavan unleashes auteur touches into this genre to create a film that works brilliantly in patches. More importantly though, it’s a film that’s so original in its objective and treatment that you can barely take your eyes off it. It’s fascinating that the filmmaker manages this with the bones of an oft-told horror story: you know, when you-know-what happens to a young, innocent woman, causing her to become you-know-what. If you are rolling your eyes already, know that the filmmaker, by employing the ingenious twist of focussing not on the victim, but on the malevolent protagonist instead, has managed to make a film that is addictively eccentric.
Cast: SJ Suryah, Nanditha Swetha, Regina Cassandra
The depraved protagonist, the antithesis of ‘saami’ if you will, is ironically named Ramasaamy (SJ Suryah). Ramsay, as he prefers to be called, has come to wrest control of a big business, but more relevantly for the purposes of this film, he is satan in human form (his frames are doused with plenty of red, just so you know). He is a fearless psychopath who is almost bored with the idea of murder. He is sneaky as a snake and almost takes quiet pride in his depravity. He suggests at one point (or is it Selvaraghavan?) that he is the embodiment of every person (n. scum). SJ Suryah plays this character with much charismatic relish that it got me thinking about whether the same praise that’s generally accorded to subtlety in performance is generally accorded to such exaggerated portrayal. The actor is a fantastic fit in the Selvaraghavan universe. His face is dry and stoic one minute, and in contorted fury, the next. He hams it up without inhibition, and with such conviction that you ask no questions when he takes to mimicking the late Sivaji Ganesan in dialogue delivery. While many actors, chiefly Vivek, have utilised the Sivaji style to create humour, here, Ramsay’s notorious ways adds an evil twist to all the amusement. SJ Suryah’s performance—as he struts about his mansion, ordering his servants and being such a slave to his senses—evoke images of a similarly corrupt man Rajinikanth plays with such style in Netrikann. Towards the end, as Ramsay drawls, “Mariammmm!”, a different evil Rajinikanth character, one from Enthiran, came to my mind.
On some level, I couldn’t help but wonder if Nenjam Marappathillai is a very deliberately designed morality test for us all. Ramsay is charismatic, funny, eccentric, and most importantly, the devil incarnate. So then, are you tempted to cheer him on, like many of his minions (“kozhandhainga”, as he affectionately calls them)? Or are you repulsed by his advances on Mariam (Regina Cassandra)? Had Ramsay, who declares that all humans are vile, been part of my screening, he would have relished watching the audience cheering on his villainy, thriving in his perverse fantasies of Mariam, while a romantic track plays in the background. A loud cheer ensued when this embodiment of evil, Ramsay, lectures that true love occurs only at first sight and that familiarity can create only lust. The devil’s words drip with charm but are not to be believed, it is said—but nobody seemed to care. I liked though that Nenjam Marappathillai was playing, what seemed to me, these meta games on its audience through this despicable ‘hero’. The filmmaker’s creative choices are also, of course, responsible for evoking these reactions—like, a lengthy shot of a cleavage, for instance… Would it have been so difficult to establish that Ramsay is ogling without having to make us privy to his visual? Or, in Nenjam Marappathillai, is this a calculated, meta choice designed to ram home Ramsay’s point that we are all debased voyeurs… his minions, so to speak? Is that perhaps why, every time his fantasy takes flight, Ramsay, dressed in red and wearing a red wig, dances about on stage—as though to entrance us? We can draw conjectures and argue over these details. I enjoyed that this film allows for such interpretations.
For the remainder of this review (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), Nenjam Marappathillai Movie Review: A twisted dark comedy that works brilliantly in patches- Cinema express