Picture this, you’re having dinner while watching the news and the headlines report of many residents coughing uncontrollably over the past few days. There is speculation that this may be caused by an unknown virus. Before you have time to react to this horrific news, the channel promptly switches to entertainment and cinema news. Having flashbacks to 2020? Me too, but fear not, this is just a snippet from the 2014 bilingual film Vaayai Moodi Pesavum (Tamil) / Samsaaram Arogyathin Hanikaram (Malayalam). The film is set in the fictional town of Panimalai, where there is an outbreak of “dumb-flu” causing the local government to impose a speaking ban.
When I first watched the film, as a teenager, I would’ve described it as a light-hearted satire that is neatly packaged into a feel-good, comforting film, perfect for a virtual weekend escape. After revisiting the film last year, I was stunned by its striking similarities to the current pandemic. From the nasal swab testing to the taped mouths on the film posters, and even the title itself, “Vaayai Moodi Pesavum,” appears to allude to current social distancing measures (the unfortunate phenomenon of the new decade). All of this makes me wonder whether Balaji Mohan has a secret time travel machine of his own or if he’s simply an exceptional astrologer.
First and foremost, Balaji Mohan’s thorough understanding of the average Tamil cinema audience needs to be applauded. Experimental comedy is a hit or miss with this audience. Here, satire is portrayed in an overtly comical way so it can be easily understood without deep thought. Another pillar is Sean Roldan, in a film with no dialogues for roughly half the runtime. It is the music that sets the pace and keeps the audience engaged. The strength of the film lies in its presentation, despite addressing a variety of topics, it retains the entertainment factor.
My favourite aspect of the film is its ensemble cast. The primary characters are Aravind (Dulquer Salmaan) an aspiring radio jockey who loves to talk and Dr. Anjana (Nazriya Nazim), an introverted woman who is not fond of confrontation. The friendship between them is a treat to watch, an old-school in-person meet-cute followed by bonding over their love for the candy: “jaavu mittai.” Other significant characters include a caricatured corrupt politician, Sundaralingam (Pandirajan), Anjana’s writer stepmother (Madhoo) and a newsreader played by Balaji Mohan himself. Rather than retaining a single comedian who delivers punchlines, having multiple intertwined stories presents the opportunity for more wholesome comedy Besides the narrative of contagion, Vaayai Moodi Pesavum also explores the apathy and negligence of politicians while also touching on personal aspects such as the dynamic between step-parent and child and the obvious signs of a toxic relationship. Further, there is a particularly humorous sequence featuring a fictional superstar Boomesh and the fan wars that ensue between his fan club and the “kudikaara sangam” (drunken association). This fan war is continuously highlighted on the news even after the onset of the flu. The sequence is a clever critique of the media’s obsession with entertainment news.
Vaayai Moodi Pesavum / Samsaaram Arogyathin Hanikaram is a well-made comedy that aged eerily well. Although comedies are served best in a language we know well, I believe that the pandemic helped this film cross that boundary and it is now intelligible to everyone. Happy watching!
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.