Cast: SJ Suryah, Priya Bhavani Shankar, Karunakaran
Director: Nelson Venkatesan
After Oru Naal Koothu, Nelson Venkatesan makes a hell of a U-turn with Monster. I mean, it’s like watching a right-handed batsman suddenly switch to his left, or a dog person suddenly swearing allegiance to cats. If I appear to be making a big deal about something one should take for granted from filmmakers— that they make all kinds of films—it’s because, they so seldom do. We may get someone making a light drama after a heavy one, but Nelson Venkatesan has followed up a sobering look at modern-day marriage with the kind of film where Sivaji Ganesan’s hammy acting in Miruthanga Chakravarthy is used as a hilarious reaction shot. Monster is like nothing we’ve seen in Tamil cinema. It’s a live-action cartoon—the closest example I can think of is Home Alone. Instead of a boy trying to save his home from thieves, we have a man trying to rid his home of a rat.
The man is Anjanam, and SJ Surya plays him perfectly. The actor’s cartoony rigidity, his fondness for jerky movements, his exaggerated expressions—everything fits. The film opens with Anjanam as a boy, being taught to value all living creatures. An ant falls into his drinking water, and he gently fishes it out and sets it free. So when, many years later, a rat infests the home he has bought for himself, he can’t just…kill it. He has to find a less-lethal way, which is when the fun begins. The director reveals an utterly unexpected eye for slapstick ballet. A micro-mini set piece involving a gas cylinder, an umbrella and a ridiculously expensive sofa is staged like a dream. So is the bit where Anjanam sets a trap, not daring to breathe—this is an unusually alert rat. Justin Prabhakaran propels things along with a fine, busy Tom-and-Jerry score.
At a time so much of our comedy is so mean-spirited—say, shaming people for their weight, or making cracks about Yogi Babu’s face— Monster is a lovely reminder of how gently (and generously) smiles can be evoked. I smiled at the E.T.-like shot of the rat silhouetted against a giant moon. (Good job, animators.) I smiled at the song sequence where children appear in rat costumes, taunting Anjanam the way the rat (apparently) does. I smiled at the “rat’s eye view” camera angles. I smiled at the way Anjanam and his fiancée (Meghala, played by Priya Bhavani Shankar) clean up the mess after an all-out attack by the rat. Karunakaran’s (he’s Anjanam’s buddy) asides are priceless. It’s a combination of verbal and situational comedy. They’ve really thought this through.
The Meghala-Anjanam scenes are in the same tone. Unlike the frantic-to-please love scenes in our films, there’s a relaxed intimacy, with nicely judged comic touches. (Listen to the ‘Andhi Maalai Neram’ number, and you’ll see what I mean—fun, yet relaxed, yet intimate.) There are very few off scenes, really—like the one where Meghala assumes Anjanam has come to her workplace to see her. (At that point, he doesn’t know what she looks like. They’ve only spoken over the phone.) But the film’s real big problem is its length, padded out by a smuggler subplot. But I didn’t feel like complaining because the sheer joy elsewhere is contagious. I felt like a kid again, watching cartoons on TV. Had Monster been a half-hour shorter, it might have been a classic of its kind. But even now, it’s an awfully charming tail.