Director: G.R. Adithya
Cast: Ram, Mysskin, Poorna
You'll probably not see a more bizarre movie than Savarakathi (Shaving Knife) this year, and I mean it as a sort of compliment. The film opens with Pitchai (the director Ram), a barber given to tall tales. (He claims the razor he uses once caressed the stubble of the emperor Akbar!) Pitchai's wife, Subathra (Poorna), is hearing-impaired, and listening to her crosstalk with her husband, the stage seems set for a broad comedy. But pay close attention to the scene where Pitchai holds his razor (in jest, of course) to the throat of a customer who doesn't seem to buy his yarns. Soon, the tables will be turned. When Pitchai gets into a scuffle with a machete-wielding gangster named Mangaa, the blade, in a manner of speaking, now hovers close to his throat.
And we get to the scene where Mangaa is at a coffee shop, his eyes fixed on a woman dipping into a chocolate cake. She tells her husband that this is making her uncomfortable. They swap seats, so she is no longer facing Mangaa. But he continues to stare. And when the husband retaliates with a scowl, Mangaa's men beat him up. What is the point of this scene, one may wonder! Hasn't the violent nature of these men already been established in the earlier stretch where they beat up a number of men, in quick succession? But the woman is in a yellow sari and Mangaa is played by Mysskin. So…
Savarakathi is directed by GR Adithya, who is Mysskin's brother. But the film bears the unmistakable imprint of the latter, who wrote and also produced. Part of the fun is watching the numerous Mysskin-isms. The deliberate, bug-eyed acting (Ram and Mysskin are both terrific), that harks back to silent cinema. The exaggerated gestures, where people walk furiously and then stop as though the frame just froze. The god's-eye-view shots. The playful editing. (Mangaa's grand introduction scene features… jump cuts.) The compassion for the differently abled. And Arrol Corelli's lush score, which deploys the solo violin at a key scene. Now, imagine these signatures in service of a comedy, with slapstick chase scenes. I don't blame you if you can't. Until I saw Savarakathi, I could have scarcely imagined it myself.
Savarakathi is directed by GR Adithya, who is Mysskin's brother. But the film bears the unmistakable imprint of the latter, who wrote and also produced. Part of the fun is watching the numerous Mysskin-isms.
But this is no longer just the broad comedy the opening scenes suggested. The humour comes in several surprising flavours. When Pitchai thinks his assistant is suffering from piles, we see those moolam posters that adorn every bus stop. I laughed out loud at the point where Pitchai is found hiding in a dumpster – and even his ringtone is nuts. It's Nalanthaana, from Thillana Mohanambal. The song asks the question, "Are you well?" Well is the last thing Pitchai is. I loved the phrase a madman uses: "Nonsense of the North America." It's tailor-made for meme-dom. But some of the set-ups don't work. The hearing-impaired routine from Subathra gets old really fast (Poorna's shrill performance doesn't help), and there are really odd bits, like when Pitchai performs sit-ups in a park preparing for a showdown with Mangaa. Another writer may have prepared us for this aspect of Pitchai's character, shown how his male pride has been pricked, how he thirsts for a fight…
Then again, one could argue that there's a subtext of unhinged masculinity running right through. (A shaving razor vs. a machete? That's essentially Mangaa telling Pitchai, "Mine is bigger than yours!") I wondered at first about the constant peeing and being kicked in the nuts, but when the last scene plays over a leaking tap… Well, a Freudian term that rhymes with "Gallic cymbal" comes to mind. Consider this development, too: When Pitchai is getting beaten up by Mangaa's men and his daughter asks him to fight back, he says, weakly, "Sandai laam theriyadhu ma." (I don't know how to fight.) But when he sets eyes on his son, he's possessed by the fighting spirit.
All of which is to say that Savarakathi is more interesting to analyse than stay consistently invested in. The name-dropping of older stars (AVM Rajan, Kanchana), the birth-death juxtaposition at the climax – get cracking on your theses, already! The dark overtones are hard to take, even if you treat this as jet-black comedy. I winced when a pregnant woman is roughed up. In a "comedy," the gangsters behave like clowns. Here, they also behave like… gangsters. But I was always gripped by the whatever-next question, which is what you get with an auteur. My favourite Mysskin touch: A woman (superb casting here) prays that the man her daughter has eloped with ends up under a water lorry, with his legs broken, and it turns out the man is already in a wheelchair. A fabulous touch of fatalism. Maybe Savarakathi shouldn't be slotted as a comedy after all. It's just… a Mysskin film, which, by now, is its own genre.