Cast: Mu Ramaswamy, Nagavishal, Yog Japee
You are from Kallupatti, in Virudhunagar. You raise five children, three boys and two girls. You are so committed to their well-being that you don’t get remarried after the death of your wife. One day, after the children are grown and married, one day when your hair is gone and all that’s left is a flowing white beard, you fall into a coma. You remain bedridden for months. That’s when your children decide you are better off dead. There is this custom called thalaikoothal, a kind of euthanasia for the aged arranged by the family. They will slather you with oil and feed you lots of coconut water and watch as your organs begin to fail, one by one.
A little quiz for the reader, now. If this is the plight of the protagonist, Karuppudurai (Mu Ramaswamy), what might be the tone of the movie that ensues? Now, add to this the plight of a second character, a young boy, an orphan named Kutty (Naga Vishal) who has been raised by a kindly priest in the premises of a temple. At one point, these two characters, at either end of the spectrum of life, meet. Again, I ask you, dear reader, what might be the tone of the ensuing movie?
Few among you would say “a lot of laugh-out-loud comedy”, but that’s what writer-director Madhumitha (with co-writer Sabarivaasan Shanmugam) has accomplished in the modestly mounted KD, which is what Kutty calls Karuppudurai. Note that the initials, when said out loud, sound like the Tamil word for rascal/scoundrel: kedi. Very early on, we see a girl in a school uniform being praised for her dedication, her potential. She could be the next Indira Gandhi, the voiceover marvels. But soon, we hear a wolf-whistle and we see what the girl is up to. That’s what KD is up to, as well. It makes us think it’s a noble “message movie”. Then, it winks at us with a piercing wolf-whistle.
One part of why KD is so entertaining is the chemistry between the old man and the young boy — the other part is that their characters have been sketched out so well. Mu Ramaswamy plays Karuppudurai movingly, but with a twinkle in the eye. It’s touching to see this old man not just describe the mutton biriyani his daughter makes, but also tuck into the dish as though it were the last plate of mutton biriyani on earth and he is making sure he will remember the taste forever. His appetite isn’t just reserved for food, though. His appetite for life is just as large.
His bucket list is a big part of the movie, and just wait till you see the items on it. These feel-good contrivances, if mishandled, can become terribly manipulative or cloying (see the underwhelming Marathi drama Bucket List, for instance, which even Madhuri Dixit couldn’t save) — but despite a few rough edges, the writing is top-notch. The lines crackle with fun, so it’s easy to forget what a sad story this is. Take KD and his school-days friend Valli (warmly and wonderfully played by Vijaylakshmi). They know they don’t have much life left in them. The very fact that they are able to see each other again, when so many of their contemporaries are dead, is a small miracle. And yet, seeing them together, you’re not sad. You smile.
It’s a bit of a “miracle” — at least, some kind of chance — that brings KD and Kutty together, too. Had KD not boarded that particular bus, had that bus not suffered a breakdown, had KD not been hungry and found the temple priest doling out food, he may never have stumbled into Kutty. Also see how nicely the issue of Kutty’s education is later woven in. The priest asks KD to not take offence at Kutty’s teasing, and then, casually, as part of the same conversation, the bit about the boy’s future is dropped. And then, this becomes a sub-narrative. A team comes by to inspect the temple’s accounts. KD meets Valli. All these detours contribute to this sub-narrative, and there is a similar “continuity” with all plot points. Nothing appears random.
Even the kinship between KD and Kutty makes emotional sense. As entertaining as their scenes are (it’s a kind of “mismatched buddy comedy”), we also see that they have both been “abandoned” by their families, in a sense. They are now together because there is no one else. You may be reminded of Power Paandi, Kabuliwallah, and a dozen other stories about old age and youth and all that happens in between. The only difference here may be that the old man has such childlike desires while the young boy struts about as though he’s far older. And yet, when KD collapses in an epileptic fit, Kutty just stands there, confused. For once, he doesn’t have all the answers.
But as devastating as this scene sounds, it comes and goes without a fuss. I wouldn’t call KD “naturalistic”, but there’s very little artifice. Even a private investigator (Yog Japee, in a superb performance that’s also about how he carries himself) isn’t as menacing or melodramatic as you’d think. He simply acts like a man who has a job to do. The only real issue I had was with Karthikeya Murthy’s over-emphatic score. Naga Vishal is cute enough without the music having to “cutify” him further. The songs, too, try hard to conjure up a “rustic” mood, but they end up at an arm’s length. And maybe the film could have used a bit of a trim. But for the most part, KD is the kind of movie you wish we got more often, serious enough to be about something, yet not taking itself too seriously. It’s the reverse of the cycle of existence. It begins with death and ends up filled with life.