Tamil Features

What a Karuvaad! When Director RV Udayakumar Took The Audience For A Ride In Singaravelan

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It was April 1992, hardly a couple of weeks after we wrote our last exam in the Class 12 boards. The results were due in May, and April was a bit of torture, with the sword of results hanging over our heads. Possibly, the first thing that made us laugh that month was a movie that demanded no thought.

Singaravelan saw the unlikely pairing of Kamal Haasan and RV Udayakumar, the director best known for his village-based dramas, and for having given all the reigning stars that one village film, or in the case of Karthik two, that their fans will remember fondly, or chuckle over. Kizhakku Vaasal and Ponnumani for Karthik, Chinna Gounder for Vijayakanth, Ejamaan for Rajinikanth, and, of course, Singaravelan, for Kamal. Can you imagine that all of these films released in the period between 1990 and 1993?

Singaravelan was a most unexpected film too, sandwiched between two films that find a place in every Kamal top 10 — Guna and Thevar Magan. It also shone the spotlight on another talent that continues to help launch a thousand memes even today — Vadivelu, who incidentally, also made for an arresting Isakki in Thevar Magan the same year.

I digress. This love for Singaravelan returned when a video did the rounds last week, where RV Udayakumar basically laid out threadbare how he took the world for a ride from 1992 to 2019.

 

And, how when a director confident of his craft so wishes, he can ‘poo suthufy’ (spin yarn) as much as he wants to.
What’s the one smell that defines Chennai? It will have to invariably do with the salty sea breeze. Now, imagine an auto driver who rides all over town, taking in food aromas from all over, the stink of the Cooum, and the smells from the fishing villages, retching over the supposed stink of what is considered a delicacy, karuvaadu. 

Why on earth will someone travelling from Kongunadu, with no link to the sea, carry karuvaadu to, of all places, Chennai? Think, think.

That’s what all of Twitter was doing last week, wondering how the director got away with this deceit for so long. How did Kamal Haasan not raise this doubt, some asked. Others carried forth debates on the benefits of sea fish karuvaadu versus river fish karuvaadu, almost akin to the mutton biryani-vegetable biryani debate.

The hapless auto driver and Kamal Haasan in a still from Singaravelan

RV Udayakumar laughs thinking of everyone’s late reaction. “You must remember that even when I advertised the film, I did warn people that they should leave behind their brains at home,” he says.

“If you look at it, there’s really nothing in the film beyond the first reel. The entire story is there in the first few minutes. We know what happened and why he’s going to Madras. I introduced two flashbacks in the introduction itself and being a commercial film, you know he will get the girl. How do I keep your interest alive for two-and-a-half hours? Enter karuvaadu,”  he elaborates.

The entire stretch from where Kamal lands in Chennai Central to auto drivers fighting over who will take the ‘savaari’ continue to be all-too-common sights. Where Udayakumar scored was in convincing us that in a place such as Chennai Central, whose defining smell is that of karuvaadu, the karuvaadu baskets Kamal’s character carries with him were raising a stink. Then on the track continues till the baskets reach home, and the auto driver (one in real life too) scoots without taking any money.

A still from Singaravelan, where the friends drool over the baskets of karuvaadu

To think, none of the actors on the set raised a query, raised a doubt… All the more special, considering we live in a day and time when everyone jumps on the bandwagon, tries to decipher a film and lay threadbare the golden eggs in the script or screenplay. Here’s a film, mostly mediocre and sometimes brilliant, showing you just why you sometimes go to the theatre to watch a movie and dissect it 27 years later.

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