Michael Madana Kamarajan
One of the most enduring themes in Tamil cinema is that of twins being separated at birth and reuniting later in life. So its no wonder that every hero, from MGR(Enga Veettu Pillai) to Surya(Vel), has appeared in atleast one movie built on that plot point. Kamalhaasan proved that all it took was one big tweak to make this oldest of plots seem brand new and fresh. And he did this not once but twice. In Aboorva Sagodharargal, he made one of the brothers a midget to deliver a very unique, comedic, revenge saga. And in Michael Madana Kamarajan, he makes the brothers quadruplets and aided by a terrific screenplay and a hilarious script, gives us one of Tamil cinema's smartest and funniest comedies.
The 90s was when Kamal was known to alternate between 'heavy' and 'light' movies as he switched between serious, dramatic efforts like Guna and Mahanadhi and light, more box-office-friendly fare like Singaravelan and Kalaignan. With its familiar, masala-ish premise, cinematic situations and comic overtones, MMKR would probably fall in the 'light' category. That said, Kamal is probably the only actor for whom a film where he plays four roles and which features such a complex and clever plot would classify as a 'light' film!
The prologue, in the form of a song that is played during the opening credits, tells us about the birth and separation of the quadruplets. Born to a rich man and a poor woman, the babies faced death as the rich man's younger brother saw them as stumbling blocks on his way to his brother's riches and ordered them killed. But the killer, whose heart melted after seeing one of the babies, adopted one and abandoned the others. Michael(Kamal), who grew up with the assassin, is now a petty criminal; Madan(Kamal), unknowingly abandoned in his father's car, is pursuing higher studies abroad; Kameswaran(Kamal), abandoned in front of a temple and adopted by a priest, is a cook; and Raju(Kamal), abandoned in front of an orphanage, is now a fireman. Once Madan returns home, a chain of events is set off that brings the four brothers together.
Movies featuring the premise of brothers separated at birth usually bring the brothers together only after they meet. Until they become aware of each other, they lead separate lives untouched by the other. But MMKR links the lives of the four brothers right from the beginning. Though they each lead their lives blissfully unaware of the existence of the other three, their paths cross several times. In the best example of this, Michael crashes the car that causes a fire that brings Raju to the scene, who then offers a moneylender the fish that is thrown on Kameswaran. But there are several shorter instances where their lives intersect. Like when the thugs following Madan end up following Kameswaran instead or the sword thrown away by Madan is used by Raju to fight off the bad guys(who are attacking him thinking that he is Madan!). All this can be seen as fate gradually bringing them closer together or simply as building blocks in a very smart screenplay.
The fun in movies like this increases once the look-alikes switch places. Laughs are evoked from both the attempts of the protagonists to adapt to their new surroundings without raising suspicion as well as the problems arising from those around them treating them in wrong ways. With four look-alikes, the fun during these portions is quadrupled in MMKR. The screenplay is constructed like a chess game in this segment as Michael, Kameswaran and Raju, all looking like Madan, move around in Madan's house. As they wrongly identify each other or are mistaken for someone else by others, we alternate between laughing at the proceedings and admiring the screenplay. Kameswaran's protestations of ignorance with Kushboo and Manorama/Rubini are hilarious, as are Nagesh's attempts to keep things quiet.
Things are complicated and chaotic as everybody congregates in Madan's house but the chaos seems to be controlled. From the time that S.N.Lakshmi begins to engage in fisticuffs, things get a little out of hand. Slapstick and physical comedy gains the upper hand and this continues all the way to the climax in the house on the cliff. It is still possible to admire the tricks employed to switch seamlessly between the roles played by Kamals but the admiration is not accompanied by laughs. The seesawing of the house goes on a bit too long as the situations feel repetitive.
Kamal always seems to bring the best out of 'Crazy' Mohan and the writer's comic genius is in full flow here. Kamal's 3 other roles have their moments(Michael saying kodukkara dheivam kooraiyai pichitu dhaan kodukkum after crashing his car through a garage's roof, Raju referring to the grain of rice with a painting as a kalai arisi) but its Kameswaran who gets the lion's share of the jokes. Every single scene with him is a laugh riot, whether he's arguing with his dad, preparing for his first night with Urvasi or trying to keep a fawning Kushboo at arm's length. The combination of the Malayali accent and the clever wordplays(the way the word meen seems ubiquitous after a fish is dropped in the sambar, the cook/kugraamam linkage, the misunderstandings of Thiruppu, etc.), make Kameswaran's sequences consistently witty and quite unforgettable.
One only has to see MMKR to understand how the make-up actually robbed Kamal of the opportunity to use his talent in distinguishing between the roles in Dasaavathaaram. Make-up is probably what he relies on the least here as he employs his voice, expressions and body language to create 4 completely different characters. Kameswaran's innocence, Raju's naievete, Madan's sophistication and Michael's toughness are all conveyed in pitch-perfect fashion through a combination of the aforementioned. This is really evident during the climax as they all look alike but their actions tell us who they are. And the attention to detail, like the way Raju always adjusts his glasses showing us that he is not used to them, is amazing. Most of the others are usually reacting to Kamal but Urvasi takes the top spot, perfectly in sync with Kamal. Nagesh once again manages to evoke laughs inspite of playing a slimy, not-very-likeable character. Kushboo is sweetness personified while Rubini isn't exactly memorable.
Ilaiyaraja matches the fun with a collection of light-hearted tunes. Sundari Neeyum... is a wonderful melody and Kamal brings his accent to his singing also. Rambambam... is a fast, fun number picturized in an energetic, colorful manner. Per Vechaalum... is an average tune but is enjoyable more for the humor, cleverness and choreography. It is choreographed very nicely with the actions of the participants matching the tune and the part where Raju and Kameswaran switch places shows that the director's thinking cap was not off even during the song sequences.