Cast: Santhanam, Tara Alisha Berry, MS Bhaskar, Rajendran
When Santhanam’s A1 (Accused No 1) opens, a policeman tries to flag down a woman for not wearing a helmet. A few moments later, he’s passing on a message to her friend whom he likes – in exchange for not levying a fine. I’ll buy you a helmet too if you convey my love, he offers. When the end credits roll, this conversation seems almost unimportant to document, but is here anyway because Santhanam or Santy (or Santa?) as he’s styled himself wants that to set the tone for the film. It is funny for an instant, but that’s almost in relief. Thank god it isn’t something worse? The thought, however fleeting, seems to precede almost every one-liner that Santhanam spouts. Even if the actor seems to have lain off ridiculing women to an extent, all through A1, Santhanam and writer-director Johnson bank on themes that draw on caste and its markers, and brazenly milk them for laughs.
Tara Alisha Berry as Divya is Johnson-Santhanam’s Brahmin poster girl right down to the dialect: her father is a righteous government officer, mother is devout, and she – she wants to marry someone who knows how to deliver a punch, and is well within caste confines. Iyer only, she emphasises. The film, mostly constructed on the rich Tamil cinema fantasy (and also a male writer fancy) that women fall for men with a rough streak, has Divya and friend devise a test. What better way to find out if the cop-with-a-streak-of-holy-ash-on-forehead is worth his salt than to hire a few men to harass her? He’s passed the first one anyway. Obviously, cop fails to make way for Santhanam as Saravanan who decimates the goons. Divya is more heartened when she sees a caste marker on his forehead, but later learns that Saravanan is from the ‘far end of the beach’.
The premise on which A1 is built is devoid of any and all social sensitivity. The lines that writer-director Johnson make Santhanam deliver are so flippant, and done with the sole aim of raising a hoot. The tropes of the communities they represent are well, just that, tropes and the duo makes no pretense about it. This sheer irreverence is perhaps what gets the audience laughing though. Santhanam and his crew spare no one really, and are inclusive in their ribbing (the tables are turned on the casteist, virtuous dad in the end). Any and every person who crosses Saravanan’s path is fodder for humour, and so are the tropes of Tamil cinema themselves. Now Santhanam does know a thing or two about timing his delivery right, and when benign, this registers to good comic effect. You don’t really want to laugh even then, not during this film, with this theme, but do anyway. An especially funny scene plays out with MS Bhaskar, who plays Santhanam’s father; he mouths an inane cliché and is subject to some verbal drubbing courtesy his son. All through A1, you alternate between cringing at the apathetic portrayal of caste and class, and a few times, guilty-laughing at some relatively clean humour. But perhaps the biggest joke of all, and one that will most likely be mined for laughs in Santhanam’s next film is Hindu Tamizhar Katchi’s petition against A1. Hurting sentiments of Brahmins? Lol, really.
The A1 review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.