Wednesday, June 24, 2009

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.


At 2:36 AM, Blogger Munimma said...

My all time favorite. I think part of the reason Kameshwaran clicked was the interaction between him and Thiruppu. The word play is superb.
On my last trip, I hunted around for the dvd and got it (packaged with singaravelan). Got the girls to watch it with me too. Fun.

At 3:01 AM, Blogger KayKay said...

Absolutely spot on observation about Kamal's reliance on body language and voice modulation to delineate the characters as opposed to truck loads of latex.

A wonderfully entertaining comedy that I could watch over and over again (as long as I stop short of the climax in the tilting house).

You're also right in observing it's easy to overlook how cleverly written and tightly constructed the screenplay was for what was an out and out comedy

At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Easily qualifies as one of the greatest films in Tamil cinema. And beats any other comedy hands down. No other comedy to my mind is as ambitious as this one. Satire, slapstick, verbal, screwball, this one has it all.

Over the years, I've greatly revised my opinion on Crazy Mohan's contribution here, which I think is vastly overrated. This is one film where Crazy Mohan clearly didn't write the film line for line (which can be said of most of the latter Crazy-Kamal comedies), but helped enhance the dialogue with his lines. I must say, I find the trademark one-liners and wordplays quite "routine," and the film a lot funnier when the dialogue is devoid of Crazy's signature.

And I can never understand why Raju is so underrated! What a hilarious performance.

At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yeah, long time indeed! But I keep reading your blog regularly, just that I lost the habit of commenting. By the way, good piece here.

At 6:44 AM, Blogger Anjana R said...

this was a good movie. though im not a huge fan of it, it sure brings back great memories. :)
family members esp. could relate to Kameshwaran!

At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Prakash said...

For some reason, I didn't like this movie as much others did. I saw it once or twice at time of release, maybe time to watch it again. Found 'Avvai Shanmugi' much funnier.

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aiyo balaji super review..

When it was released I did not enjoy the movie but now it is an absolute stress buster... But I stop before the overly drawn climax...

"One only has to see MMKR to understand how the make-up actually robbed Kamal of the opportunity to use his talent "

wonderful comment right on dot...
I wish Kamal actaully reads it..

Sujatha Ramesh

At 8:58 AM, Blogger *chutz* said...

how strange. a friend and i somehow landed on the topic of old kamal movies and were in fact discussing MMKR just last night. and then i click this blog and find you've written a piece on it. such coincidence :)

hands down, this is one of my all time favourite kamal flicks. comedy is one of his forte and comes so naturally, he's simply at his best in the movie. time and time again he's also proven that he's a master of accents and his effortless execution of the palakkad-speak here sure is amazing. you know what, i think i might pop that dvd in and watch it right now!

At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a shame that there is no single mention of the great Singeetham Srinivasa Rao!

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Prakash said...

I guess one reason I like 'Avvai S' better is because it starts slow, and finishes strong. With MMKR, it's the other way around.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

munimma, same here though I got it as part of a 4-pack - Nayagan, Singaravelan and Kalyanaraman being the other 3 :)

kaykay, oh yeah, i think it was the cleverness of the screenplay that lifted this above other comedies. some of the plot developments are sheer genius :)

zero, if u've revised ur opinion over the years, couldn't that be just because the films that followed used the same stuff he used here. there were moments in other films like PKS where I could guess the punchline but not here :)

i agree on raju though. the scene where he says adhellam apdi varadhu dhaan illa? after admiring madan's sophisticated catch my point is just so innocent and endearing :)

anjana, i guess u could call me a huge fan :)

prakash, i feel MMKR is one of the few sophisticated comedies in Tamil cinema. until the climax, it just doesn't seem to try too hard to make us laugh. i didn't get that feeling with the others including AS :)

sujatha, thanks! yes, its a definite mood-lifter. and yes, i usually FF the climax too :)

chutz, "comes so naturally" - exactly. he does everything so effortlessly here and thats a big reason why it works so well :)

anu, darn! I knew I'd missed something. yes, he is great and the way he has translated the screenplay to screen deserves kudos :)

prakash, once again goes to show how important the climax is :)

i always thot i was among the minority when it came to not being a big fan of the climax. but doesn't look like it seeing the comments here :)

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Srivatsan Sridharan said...

Hmm, waiting to see the actor in his recent films. He used to be(is still) an intelligent screen-writer but obsessed with makeup.

Karunaaku thukkudi entha velaila ezhavu handsup sonnalo thookiten poduma, hilarious.

It took me 4 viewings to catch up with most of the jokes. One sad thing though looking at the current crop I see no one whom would measure upto him.

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Sreekrishnan said...

Sorry to barge into your meeting like this. [ inever knew these words before that and thats the first time i saw a laptop !!]

Aarku kalyaaanam
Neekumnookumma ?

Pazhikku pazhi pulikku puli Naanum rowdyakkum kaetaela !

Inga oru thadi aal anga oru podiaaal pala size la adiyaal vechirkaan da !

to name a few, Its a light weight story weaved in an ambitious and stunning screenplay with limited graphics, yet astoundingly brilliant execution.

Dasavatharam is just 20 % as MMKR is. It stands out to show what Kamal Hassan is all about.

Simply to put, he doesnt act the roles - he naturally lives it !

And i have watched it 100 times or more but havent found a moment where i think its ambiguous or its a miss in the screenplay.

At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the rare Kamalhassan films I enjoyed, as a kid and now. Really, an amazing film and Kamal's hard work needs to be appreciated. Notice how, within a shorter time frame and less technical advancements, they were able to pull a film more impressive for its content than the ones they make for so many crores these days. Crazy Mohan was too good. Though the climax was stretched, it was a great laugh for kids.

There was one person who deserves a huge applause in this film. Though her time on screen is short, Urvashi made an absolutely wonderful job of her character. Especially in the scene where Kameshwaran comes to see her in the home, ticked off from the grocery store. The fluency in everything from her physical actions, facial reactions to dialogue, can put today's actresses to shame. Top notch.


At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Director's like Srinivasa Rao who gave challenging roles to the actresses can put today's male directors to shame.

At 12:23 AM, Blogger Funtabulous said...

MMKR is one of my favourites with Kamal's brilliat performance.I am not a Kamal fan...feel he overacts but somehow MMKR was superb performance except for the climax

At 5:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well as a fanatic fan of Kamal, for your information i would have seen this movie at least 150 times. Just imagine how much i would have enjoyed watching this movie. What makes Kamal so unparallel comparing with the other great actors like Dilip Kumar, Bachchan, Rajnikanth, & mohanlal is the dialogues. It's the great timing & unpredictability of dialogues he utter what makes him unique. Even in this movie "the Bimboy, bimboy" was totally out of the world. For me kamal is the greatest actor i have ever seen.

At 7:29 AM, Anonymous ram said...

I was talking to Crazy Mohan a couple of years ago about this movie and how amazingly taut the screenplay was and how some of the later comedies that he's done with kamal (like "panchathanthiram") seemed a lot more reliant on the one-liners and word plays and the standard mistaken identities...he mentioned that in the late 80s thro' till the mid 90s, Kamal used to take his time to craft the comedies along with him (Mohan) and have lengthy discussions before shooting began...but shooting (NOT discussion) for Panchathanthiram started less than a month after PKS was finished and within 5 months of PKS' release, 5thanthiram was in the theatres...Kamal's dire financial situation after Hey! Ram might have had something to do with his perception of comedies as quick money and dependable box office returns...

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

srivatsan/sreekrishnan, as with all good movies, i'm sure everyone who has seen this has his/her own favorite line(s). one of my favs would be take me, take me-nu solriye. nee enna bakshanamaa? :)

kajan, urvasi definitely deserves a lot of applause. one awesome moment is when she walks into her first night room and looks up to see nagesh. her look is just perfect :)

funtabulous, another person who doesn't like the climax much. join the club :)

anon, no arguments there :)

ram, i guess thats understandable considering his financial situation. and we probably deserve what we get for making movies like 'hey raam' such big disasters :)

At 2:47 PM, Blogger ரவிஷா said...

This is exactly what I mentioned in one of your postings. Actors not knowing the type of Brahminical slang and Iyengars talking in Palakkad accent while Iyers cooking Akkara-adisil in their houses. Performance sans research resulting in a very bad taste while & after watching movies.

Like you mentioned about the details, Kamal is one perfectionist when it comes to err.... everything. The Palakkad accent, depicting an educated rich man, etc. You could see that even in way 'Raju' walking while disguised as 'Madan'.

Moments I liked in the movie were many; but to top the list were 'levela formation-aa nikkanum', 'PTO verum. adhula potturukkaakkum' with an innocent face, looking for the wedge to place the tea glass with a dialog 'I must get my glasses'.

At 12:17 AM, Blogger D.E.V said...

Kamal's comedies like "PKS" and "panchathanthiram" are still funny and worth watching again and again. But non of his comedies are in the same league as "MMKR". i think "Mumbai express" had the potential, but same way it lost steam. But sometimes it makes me wonder, that Kamal still prefers to write for offbeat film, where his actula expertise lies than comedy. proof is that movies like "hey raam" and "alavandhaan".

At 1:31 PM, Anonymous thala said...

balaji anna
Nayanthara - your kanavu kanni has married beard prabhudeva. enna kodumai sir ithu...

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one of my all time faves....i should watch it again to get more of the jokes you guys have mentioned here!

At 11:58 PM, Blogger Gradwolf said...

Oh finally someone writes about MMKR! That was an awesome review, Balaji. I agree along with Kameshwaran, Raju was brilliantly essayed by Kamal. The part where he and Madan switch places is definitely one for the ages.

Shoka sonniya, dhool ya, idhellam apde vardhan la? Naanu nyamagathla vechukaren, engyadhu adichu vitturen. Tomorrow vacating Bangalore, going hotel away. Go go go..One nimmute...catch my point!

At 12:06 AM, Blogger Gradwolf said...

Another aspect worth mentioning is IR's background score. Just listen to that stuff when Kameswaran is mistakenly chased thinking he is Madan. It's brilliant!

At 12:37 AM, Blogger Idling in Top Gear said...

MMKR is the best Tamil comedy to date - bar none. I liked the Kameshwaran storyline + supporting cast the best - the klepto paati, Thiruppu, Mani Iyer, Varadu Kutti - all brilliant. I especially like the scene where the paati tells Delhi Ganesh that Kamal is "shy" to get on with his first night and the conversation that ensues! Also, the "pazhaya arisi" comment when Khushboo presents him the Taj Mahal painted on a grain of rice. However, the "Sundari neeyum" song wasn't as Palakkad as it was just mallu with white sarees and all (which PI women don't wear.)

At 8:08 PM, Blogger Sreekrishnan said...

GradWolf: i came back to this post thinking of adding that ... It was my ringtone for quite sometime !!

At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beg to differ on the best Tamil comedy title.

I believe, barring the music, Kalyana Galatta(B&W) starring Shivaji & Jayalalitha, was the best Tamil comedy(within my limited experience). Ilayaraja's music rocked MMKR. Otherwise, the concept of Kalyana Galatta(novel for its time), the antics of Sivaji and Co, some hilarious dialogues, make it one of the best comedies in Tamil.


At 10:57 PM, Blogger Krishnan said...

Kajan: You mean Galatta Kalyanam I guess.

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Super Review sir! MMKR is my all-time-favourite as well!

I think Crazy Mohan was at his humourous best in this movie!

Kameshwaran's - 'Pudhu kaapi podiya? Naalu kilova? Dho.. Angavastharathla jarigai madhiri list'la kadaiseeya irukke!!
I remember this dialogue every time I go out to buy coffee powder!

Nagesh asks - 'Neenga adichadhu.. Adhu dhaane varum!' to which Madan replies 'Computer'la naa adichadha sollala.. Enga appa kitta neenga adichadha sollaren!' What intelligence from Crazy Mohan!

"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."
Well-said..! I am not a great fan of Kamal, but this movie is one where Kamal gives us no other option but to just adore him! And so are the other characters, be it even those who appear for a few minutes, like the 'Pattani' and 'Varadhu kutti'! Not to forget Ilayaraja's BGM.. Awesome stuff!

I guess this one is one of the best comedy films in Tamil cinema history till date. Thanks for the wonderful review!!


At 8:14 PM, Blogger Sriram said...

"Yen per Raju. Friends-laan short-a Subramania Raju nu koopiduvanga"

"Adhu inna adhu" "Catch- my - point" "shokka soniya.idhelaan apidiye varudhu illa..."

"Tommorow going bangalore going hotel away...go go go go. One nimute. Catch my point"

One of the great comedies ever.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous raj said...

On the climax, it is not just slapstick - there is a lot of characterisation there - Kameswaran saying "vegetarian illaiya, adhaan balam ille, neengaLLalm nanna irungo etc" while giving up on surviving before michael lifts him up; santhana barathy going "naanum appa dhaane"; and many more culminating in VAM's immortal "idhula telungu vera".
No way the climax is mere slapstick as insinuated by many.

At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Bala said...

Balaji, here's an all time classic, a magnificent cinematic achievement and scintillating display of acting histrionics by Kamal and your review was somehow just so matter of fact. If ever superlatives were justified it was here. A genius of a screenplay, unbelievable attention to detail, top notch performances, great music and above all, cracking value for money. They just don't make it like it anymore!

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MMKR is certainly up there. I equate it to Sathi Leelavathi though its not entirely a Kamalhasan movie.

I just discovered your reviews Balaji, keep them coming :)

At 3:14 AM, Blogger Arvind said...

This is one of the best comedies ever.
My favorite dialogue
- for the acting is "Ennadhidhu? Edhu? Kattindrukkom? Kattindrukkoma? hmmm...aamaam kattindrukkom...." Awesome expressions on both the faces

- for the spontaniety is "Aadaran, paadaran, odaraan, engey odaraan? Odi odi ozhaikkanum, oorukkellaam kodukkanum, avlo kadan vaangi vachirukken.....dhe pataani, namma rendu perum bhai bhai, brothers..."

I can keep going.

Its disgusting when Kamal is compared to Sivaji. In my opinion, there can be no one equal to him.

If there's someone who can underplay the role, oh so subtlely, but still can be a great attraction, it can only be him.
Mumbai Xpress is my all time favorite. You need to watch it so many times to understand small things. It probably took me 30 viewings to notice every small thing in the movie. An absolute perfectionist.

Singeetam Srinivasa Rao and Kamal make an extra ordinary pair, they have given memorable ones like Pesum padam, MMKR, Kadhala Kadhala and Mumbai Xpress.

I agree with your comment about the make-up robbing off all his talents in Dasavadharam, but that was supposed to be a commercial movie, however he did differentiate each role by his body language and dialogue delivery (if not expressions), and I loved Kalifullah Khan, though not many did like that role.

At 6:51 AM, Anonymous suren said...

Nice review. Absolute classic movie. One small piece of trivia - Apparently Sivaji Ganesan used to call the great director Bhim Singh (Paana series) - Bhim bai.
Possibly a nice little reference here?

Like the 'babumoshai' in Anand (Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bacchan) which was a refernce to how Raj Kapoor used to call Hrishikesh Mukherjee?


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