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When asked to name a film that’s so bad it’s good, a ‘Gaptun’ Vijayakanth movie would seem the obvious choice. But somehow the “badness” stands out more when it comes from someone associated with quality cinema, like Kamal Haasan. The star-actor made many so-bad-it’s-good films in the 1980s (Andha Oru Nimidam, Japanil Kalyanaraman), but I chose A Jagannathan’s Kadhal Parisu, because it was released in 1987, which was a watershed year for Kamal, the year of Nayakan. Thereon, his focus changed, and even his “casual” films had the stamp of quality (think Pammal K Sambandam or Panchathanthiram). Yes, Soora Samhaaram, which came out in 1988, is a bad film, but at least, it was trying to do something different. Kadhal Parisu, on the other hand, is a lazy-ass attempt to duplicate the success of Kakki Sattai, the Kamal-Ambika starrer from 1985.

This time, Ambika is joined by real-life sibling Radha, and before I begin to talk about the film, I must direct you to its Wikipedia page, clearly updated by a fanboy: “The sisters delivered stunning performances that are fondly remembered by a generation of fans… The director does a beautiful job of selecting scenes that portray all the aspects of Ambika’s varied persona in the movie, [including] a scene that underscores her youth and physical beauty in the dressing room… This is one movie where Kamal’s role and performance pales in comparison to the collective power of an outstanding performance by two of the hottest actresses in South India.” Phew! The fandom of Ajith-Vijay devotees pales before this passage, which doesn’t seem written with a laptop so much as a moist towel and a jar of Vaseline.

Kadhal Parisu opens, fittingly, in prison. This is, after all, a film that gives the viewer the sense of being trapped, with no escape in sight. A boxing match is in progress. The winner is declared unbeatable. Can anyone challenge him? The inmates begin to shout, “Mohan, Mohan!” That’s Kamal, who after some “Who? Me? No way!” faces, gets into the ring and knocks out the earlier winner. Chitra (Radha), who’s in the audience, is rooting for Mohan, cheering him on. But why? She doesn’t know him from Adam. Maybe she has an inkling that Mohan will save her from being killed by a poison-tipped knife? It turns out that the earlier champion is actually an assassin, who decided that the best way to kill someone in the audience is by hurling a poison-tipped knife at them from inside the ring, which is where everyone is looking. Anyway, Mohan saves Chitra. She falls in love.

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Now, who wanted Chitra dead? Kailash (Jaishankar), that’s who. It’s no great mystery. In the next scene, Kailash tells us all about his plans. With Chitra out of the way, her sister Malini (Ambika) will become the sole heir to the family fortune. Kailash will then marry Malini and everything will become his. Next, we get the Malini introduction scenes, showing that she can be soft (she distributes sweets to orphans) and hard (she puts errant managers in their place). Meanwhile, Chitra, driving her car, has stopped at a traffic light, and launched into a dream song with her and Mohan. This is where we suspect the director is a staunch feminist. He puts Radha in a short skirt. He puts Kamal in a toga, which means the hero ends up showing more leg than the heroine. A couple of minutes later, we see that maybe the director is not a feminist, after all. Radha ends up on a revolving bed and Kamal keeps tossing roses on her navel. A close-up shows a rose positioned exactly on the belly button, as though blooming out of it. Mohan’s aim appears to be far better than that of the dumb boxer-assassin who threw that poison-tipped knife. 

Chitra learns Mohan hates rich people, so she dresses up in a dhavani and pretends to be poor. When her uncle (Janakaraj) asks if she’s planning to stand for an election, she replies, “It’s not about an election. It’s about a connection.” Shit, she’s begun to talk in rhyme / And the watch is showing that there’s a lot of remaining time. Mohan falls for Chitra, and she takes him to one of her companies for a job. Kailash insults him by calling him a “bloody jailbird,” and Mohan leaves in a huff. Chitra, then, comes up with another idea. You’re thinking she’s going to give Mohan a job in another of her many companies? Nah. She wants Mohan to… enter a dance competition. Again, I think she has an inkling – that Bob Christo is going to kidnap her after the dance and haul her off to a mansion with elephant heads mounted on the walls, so she wants Mohan to save her. He does. They sing another song, Purakkale. It’s the best Ilayaraja number in the movie.

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Now, she wants Mohan to meet her sister. She takes him home. Mohan wonders if he placed his right foot in first, while entering the house. Chitra laughs. She says these “auspicious” sentiments are only for women. And then she utters a line of irrefutable logic that makes us see we may have seriously underestimated her intelligence. “Besides, what if someone has no right leg? Will he just keep standing outside the house?” Mohan proves he’s her equal in every way. He says, “Well, if not the right leg, maybe he’ll use the right crutch?” Unfortunately, this scintillating brain-duel has to be cut short, because Malini sees Mohan and all hell breaks loose. She thinks Mohan is the father of her little girl. Mohan thinks she’s trying to palm off someone else’s kid on him. Chitra begins to despair that there may be no more belly-button blooms in her future.

Radha ends up on a revolving bed and Kamal keeps tossing roses on her navel. A close-up shows a rose positioned exactly on the belly button, as though blooming out of it.

Cut to a Malini flashback, which shows how her father died. He says, “I sent you to college bearing books. You’ve come back bearing a child.” He then clutches his heart and falls, leaving it unclear whether he gave up the ghost due to his daughter’s pregnancy or the awful line he was made to utter. Back in the present, Malini decides to marry Chitra off to Anand (Rajkumar). We know that will never happen because (1) Mohan is still around, and (2) given the utter lack of age-appropriate suspects who raped Malini, Anand has to be the guy. There is another possibility, a strange character who keeps saying: “Yours sincerely, KK Bahadur.” But he disappears before we can ask, “Why do you keep saying ‘Yours sincerely, KK Bahadur’?”  

Chitra is now sad and serious. We know this because she has abandoned her “Western clothes” and is now seen in salwar-kameezes. But Malini, hitherto seen only in silk saris, has switched to “Western clothes”. It’s a flashback, from when she and Mohan were in college and were lovers, singing “Ku ku endru kuyil koovatho.” Now, wait. With Chitra, Mohan sang a song that went Purakkale. So one sister gets a song about the cuckoo, the other one about the pigeon. What a cunning metaphor for the fact that both these love stories are… for the birds. Back in the present, Mohan is on his bike, being chased by goons on Jeeps. They lasso him and drag him through the road, but he somehow gets up and beats them up. He ends up in jail. I really don’t know why, but maybe Chitra has an inkling.

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Now, we meet Siluvai, also played by Kamal. This chap is a rowdy, and he speaks in Madras slang. Kailash (you remember him right, the Jaishankar character?) is stunned by the resemblance, and he recruits Siluvai to play Mohan. We get a scene where Anand looks at Siluvai and says “Wonderful” and Siluvai hears it as “ondra-full” and asks why not aim for more booze, i.e. “rendra-full”! I kept thinking of Kamal Haasan in his office, reading this script and punching it full of holes with a poison-tipped knife. So Kailash tells Malini that Mohan (i.e. Siluvai playing Mohan) is ready to accept her and her daughter. She’s thrilled. Does she care that Mohan had left her to raise her daughter alone? Does she care that Mohan, till now, was tossing roses on her younger sister’s navel? Nah. She says, “I cannot be a dominating businesswoman anymore. I have to be a submissive housewife.” That song was quite apt, if you think about it. She’s really… cuckoo.

Chitra learns Mohan hates rich people, so she dresses up in a dhavani and pretends to be poor. When her uncle (Janakaraj) asks if she’s planning to stand for an election, she replies, “It’s not about an election. It’s about a connection.”  

Meanwhile, Kailash finds out that Siluvai is actually Mohan, who has slipped out of jail with the police’s permission. How does he find out? Because Siluvai told him he was ticklish in the hip. But when Chitra tickled Siluvai’s hip, he didn’t react. What a cunning metaphor for the fact that this film is a total… waist of time. At a party, Siluvai strips off his pants and dances in his baggy, striped underwear. Soon, Mohan gets out of jail and discovers that Kailash and Anand have kidnapped Chitra and Malini and headed to the hills. Mohan saves the day, but Kailash is now back in Malini’s house, asking her to sign over her property to him. Anand reveals that he’s the rapist. Malini shoots him, then discovers that there are two sisters but only one Kamal Haasan. So she shoots herself, and tells Chitra and Mohan that her daughter is the “Kadhal Parisu”, gift of love. She dies. Will Mohan and Chitra raise the child as their own? Does the little girl inherit the ticklish hip? Will Chitra wear “Western dresses” again? Alas, no sequel was made. It makes me so mad, I want to throw a poison-tipped knife at someone.

Click here to read other Team FC picks of So Bad It’s Good films 

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