Mundasupatti is set in the 80s. Fascinatingly so. It has a well-worn Yashica camera that takes pride of place, an old-fashioned studio with charming props, – a rusty tripod replete with a cloth hood, and a photographer who sneers faintly through the lens and says, “thalai seevitu vaanga”. It is perhaps a bizarrely comical version of a Stephen Leacock essay, but fashionably vintage and very Indian. There’s the mullet hairdo (perfectly coiffed), those cool flip-up glasses, the floral-printed shirts and khakhi-coloured bell-bottoms and huge block frames that are reminiscent of Bhagyaraj from Pudhiya Vaarpugal.
But what is more fascinating is the fictitious village where the story begins. Mundasupatti is a tale of superstitions. It is also a village where stray asteroids turn deities, where bell-tolls are taken for divine intervention, mailboxes are buried with evil-warding charms, and schools are considered haunted. A village where nobody but the katteri-in-residence is educated (so much so that “thirumbi po” is scrawled on every door); and where the men are never seen without a turban, a mundaasu.
But the one superstition to rule them all is a belief that being photographed causes death. Gopi (Vishnu Vishal) and his assistant – Kaali Venkat in a hilarious role – run Hollywood Studios on a sleepy street (with a PCO) in Sathyamangalam. They even have a 5-digit phone number, an old grandfather clock; and a charming rotary-dial phone. One day, they are summoned to shoot pictures of the dead chieftain in Mundasupatti. Arriving to a less-than-warm welcome, the duo soon discover that the residents are mortally scared of their camera.
And here, the director treads lightly, milking the situations for humour rather than social commentary. Kaali Venkat’s Azhagu Mani mutters and mumbles under his breath most of the time, and we have to lean in to catch what he’s saying; but the theatre explodes with laughter all the same. He’s neither as stylishly clothed as Gopi, nor has his toned biceps, and is mostly overlooked for Ramdoss (as Munis Khan, an aspiring actor who sounds like Vadivelu with a drawl). But he wins hands down alright; with his deadpan one-liners, and brilliantly-timed situational comedy. When Munis Khan saunters into their studio one day, with a flippant– “oru tea sollu” directed at Azhagumani, he stares at him for a second, goes back to what he’s doing and says in a perfect stroke of deadpan mastery – “tea”. This isn’t intelligent comedy, nor does it seem funny when written about here; but that’s where the movie scores: with those simple, little things that speak of perfect execution, and thoughtful planning.
Mundasupatti also reminds us of the conversation that we had with actress Nandita (who plays Kalaivani, the chieftain’s daughter) a few days ago. Kalaivani is indeed silent. And probably not that innocent. There are hardly any dialogues, we barely get to hear her voice; and she is for the most part, twirling her pallu between her fingers, looking flustered. The romance is childish, embarrassing and over-the-top. Literally so. During a particular moment, Gopi climbs onto the roof of her house and floats a feather in at a sleeping Kalaivani, who promptly stirs and reveals his picture that she was hugging to sleep. Of course, it evoked some bad memories for us; of this Jayam Ravi-Sadha starrer that we have been desperately trying to forget.
The grouches aside (we never get to know why Mundasupatti’s residents always wear turbans; a let-down since we were expecting an interesting back-story), a fitting last moment does wonders to any show. And in this case, it’s a chase; between the villagers and the photographers; now accompanied by Kalaivani. Their bike breaks down; they have no weapons on them and when the chase-party draws near, all seems lost. That’s when Gopi does a Superstar.
[accordion title=’Spoiler’]He gets off his bike, faces the rowdy mob with a menacing growl; wife huddled behind him, and pulls out his weapon of mass destruction. The brahmastra. His faithful old Yashica camera.[/accordion]
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