Cast: Raj Bharath, Pooja Devariya, A P Shreethar, Mathivanan Rajendran, Balaji Mohan, Vinoth Munna, Syed, R Amarendran, Thejaswini
Andhra Mess, directed by Jai, belongs to the “What if…?” genre. This is not to be confused with the kitchen-sink genre, where the director throws in everything and hopes at least some of it works. Here, we are talking about a vision. What if we make flickering bulbs a visual motif throughout the film? What if we pepper the scenes with older songs like Neerodum vaigaiyile and Poomazhai thoovi — in the latter case, invoking not just the music but also the visuals, with the members of a brass band? What if the man who decides the fees for a gangster’s jobs was a doddering TamBrahm who uses a manual typewriter and needs a hearing aid? What if a gun seller’s lair was filled with posters of 007 outings and vintage noir thrillers like Gun Crazy? What if…? What if…? What if…?
This kind of movie works if it all adds up to something more, like it often does in the work of Quentin Tarantino. Take Django Unchained, aka ‘What if the dentist travelled in a carriage with a huge wobbly tooth serving as signage?’ But that’s just one of the many pieces of wallpaper, whereas the quirky bits in Andhra Mess (I include Prashant Pillai’s ‘What if I went bonkers!’ score) are the whole building. As Va: Quarter Cutting and Jil Jung Juk proved, you can’t construct a building out of just wallpaper! By the time Rathna (Raj Bharath) takes aim at a cow because it was “staring at him,” or Arasi (Pooja Devariya, playing a completely redundant character) plays a game where she blows into a hole on an egg and ejects its contents out, I was resigned to the old adage: all fart, no shit!
Speaking of which, we have Richie (Mathivanan Rajendran) who tends to eat chips and let one rip. The output apparently smells to high heaven, but I’ll bet it can’t match the gassy plot. It’s something about Varadhu (AP Shreethar, the artist; he’s quite good) and a few others fleeing with a gangster’s money and hiding out in a nowhere-land where nothing happens. When Bala (the cognac-eyed Thejaswini, who resembles the older actress, Ramaprabha) turns up with a shotgun, I thought the film would tread on Ishqiya territory and become some sort of noir/Western. But Bala is just a love interest. She likes Salil Chowdhury’s Poovannam pola nenjam. So does Rathna. She points out to a lyric she loves. He recalls his mother. I began to wonder, “What if this story actually moved?”
The most interesting parts of the narrative are the ones given least importance. We needed more scenes like the one where Bala dyes the grey strands on her head or the one where Rathna speaks of how his abusive father drove him to a life of crime. Because, for a change, the characters are not trying to be cool — they’re actually trying to be people. A little normalcy all around would have helped, whether in the overstuffed decor or the ad-film-like, attention-grabbing cinematography or even the lines, of which I present a small sample: “Every time an elephant walks, a dozen ants meet their end.” “Life is like a snooker game — one ball touches another which touches another, till you cannot predict what the result of your action is going to be.” What if everything and everyone in the film hadn’t tried so hard, and just… been?