'Tamil cinema' is one of the topics that has been least tackled in Tamil cinema. In the recent past, the few films that were set in the filmworld were either fantasies(like Mahaanadigan) or disasters(like Kaatrullavarai). In other words, we've rarely had films that portrayed the cine-field realistically. So Kodambakkam is a rarity - a film that portrays Tamil cinema as it is. By portraying a director's struggle to make his first film, it offers an interesting behind-the-scenes(or is it behind-the-screens?!) look at the tough world of cinema.
Sugavanan(Nandha) arrived in Chennai with hopes of becoming a film director. Praying for his success back in his village are his mother(Kalairani) and his lover Dhanam(Diya), the daughter of a money-lender. After working as an assistant director to other popular directors, Suga is now ready to direct his own film. Titled Neyar Viruppam, it is a different, woman-centric film without the usual glamour and stunts. With help from a production manager Kumar(Ramesh Khanna) and financing from Ramasamy Goundar(Manivannan), a villager, he finally begins the film but soon learns that completing it and getting it to the screens is not going to be an easy job.
Like Mugavari, Kodambakkam's chief attraction is that doesn't sugarcoat the travails of its hero (atleast for the most part). We are with Nandha every step of the way and we get to see exactly how difficult it is for a new director to get his foot in the door. From getting the initial financing to dealing with eccentric stars to waiting for the decision of the censor board officials to getting the prints out the door, the film charts in pretty good detail, the tedious journey of a film director.
At the same time, the director avoids making the movie a sob story where the too-good-to-be-true hero is constantly crapped on by the rest of the world. He makes Nandha a three-dimensional character whose passion for his work is matched by his short temper. Some of the troubles he faces are brought on by himself and he has no one else to blame. He is also surrounded by interesting people like the good-hearted production manager and the producer who is new to cinema. Such characters make his journey interesting.
The director's intention is to make a realistic film portraying the travails of a new film director in Tamil cinema. But he seems to have had doubts about how realistic the film should be (this could have been due to worries about both making the film entertaining and surviving in an industry which he criticizes!). So he resorts to exaggerations at many points and these affect the realism of the otherwise realistic movie. Key among these is the character of the heroine. She doesn't look like she would fit the role Nandha talks so passionately about. And her behavior, which was probably intended to be a take-off on all those Mumbai actresses we've seen lately, ends up making her a caricature.
When Nandha is talking to the censor officials late in the movie, he mentions that he had to add some glamor since it was a small movie and he had to attract the youth who make up the bulk of the movie-goers today. That seems like a confession by the director of Kodambakkam himself. So we get a glamorous song-and-dance clip by Tejasri, crude comedy by Muthukalai and kuthu duets that don't fit the mood of the movie. Take away these and Jagganji would have had a truly different film on his hands.
Nandha seems to be one of those actors waiting for the right break. He looks smart and acts well too. Diya plays the independent village belle well. Manivannan and Ramesh Khanna have important roles and deliver. They also get the best lines taking shots at the film industry. Kailairani overacts as usual and her makeup seems unnecessarily overdone. Sirpi comes up with a very melodious Rahasiyamaanadhu Kaadhal.... But he also makes up for it with a song that rhymes Figure and Mother!