Cast: Hiphop Tamizha Adhi, Iswarya Menon, KS Ravikumar, Ravi Mariya, Yogi Babu
In the recent V1 Murder Case, it was nyctophobia. In Rajavukku Check, it was Sleeping Beauty Syndrome. In Naan Sirithal, Gandhi (Hiphop Tamizha Adhi) has a condition called ‘nervous laughter’. Medically speaking, it’s not really a condition. It’s just something everyone does. The film takes a minor liberty and superbly makes it a thing in which a person laughs only in response to stress. Reversal of laughter and tears sounds like a great idea for a comedy. However, director Raana chooses explore the idea as a Sundar C film (he’s the producer), with uneven success. Like, Kalakalappu 2, he throws into the cauldron one zany character after another and stirs until it’s funny.
The circumstances in which Gandhi’s condition manifests are hilarious yet touching. Gandhi is a 20-something who works at an IT firm while still clearing his University examination arrears. He gets a final attempt to graduate, and he must take that up at any cost in order to get married to Ankitha (Iswarya Menon). During the exam, he realises there is no way he is going to pass, and he laughs. The laughing doesn’t help him pass, but he begins to use it as a shield against his accumulating problems, one of which is that his friend has gone missing. Everything in this stretch feels believable. The sequence in which Gandhi prepares for his final exam is something that any engineering student would relate to. It feels like it was written by an engineering student.
There is another narrative arc involving a gang war between Dilli Babu (KS Ravikumar) and Sakkaradas (Ravi Mariya). The writing in this part is wooden, and there is none of the earlier believability. The henchmen are profoundly unfunny. For instance, two characters named Nelson and Manickam make an obvious joke about Nelson Manickam Road (in Chennai). The henchmen just stand around talking all the time, and do little that other gangsters do, even comic ones. The team could have simply written them as opposing bank employee unions, and saved money on Dilli Babu’s pistol.
Are memes, one-liners, and pop culture references the only way to write comedy in our films? There are nods to Ajith and Vijay. ‘Bigg Boss’ Julie plays a cameo in which she is mocked in bad taste. The film pays homage to Baasha by setting up an identical interval sequence. There’s a random reference to Mortal Kombat. Why not mine Gandhi’s condition a bit more for situational comedy? The funnier parts of the film are when Raana does this. For instance, Dilli Babu is about to shoot Gandhi, when his laughter leads him to believe that Gandhi has a secret that he needs to know. When creditors attack Ankitha’s house, Gandhi saves the day, not with a fight, but with laughter.
Are psychological conditions becoming a way for writers to take a shortcut when it comes to character development? An easy way to say that someone is going to be different? If so, why not use such a condition to move the narrative forward instead of just using it for generic comedy? In the film, Gandhi’s condition is merely used as a metaphor for laughing at adversity. Gandhi advises us to do the same. And in that spirit, the film does keep you laughing.