Cast: Jayam Ravi, Kajal Aggarwal, Yogi Babu, Samyukta Hegde
Director: Pradeep Ranganathan
Dhanush is an actor who can carry off a very young look. He can convince us he's a college student, maybe even a schoolboy. Jayam Ravi is another. Comali is set in the 1980s/90s, when people used to gather at the one home in the neighbourhood that had a TV set, and your neighbour's phone functioned as yours because…well, you didn't have one. With some weight loss, Jayam Ravi (named Ravi in the film) looks like he really belongs in that era. He looks like he has stepped out of his school photographs. No suspension of disbelief is needed. Yogi Babu plays Mani, Ravi's classmate. It's tougher to buy him as a school-goer. Perhaps this is a throwback to a time colleges in Tamil cinema were filled with Charlies and Chinni Jayanths. Or perhaps this just means you can't make a movie, today, without Yogi Babu.
Mani and Ravi spend their first day of the eleventh standard scouting for newly admitted girls who are better than the "mokkai" girls in their school. The writer-director is a young man named Pradeep Ranganathan. I wanted to take him to the next screen showing Thanneer Mathan Dinangal, the Malayalam hit that features a bunch of hormonal schoolboys. They, too, obsess about girls, but not once do they mock these girls on the basis of their appearance. When they make fun of the "unattractive" aspects of these girls (say, a wispy moustache), it's used as observational comedy, not body-or looks-shaming. Why don't we have a similar attitude in our cinema? How long do we endure "super figure" versus "mokkai figure" comparisons? Why is it still funny when girls on Facebook are assumed to have loose morals? This isn't just about political correctness. It's about laziness. Think up new jokes! What's new is that Yogi Babu gets to body-shame someone else. He calls a classmate "soap dabba moonji". But this, again, feels like a throwback. It feels like something Goundamani would have called Senthil. Think up new jokes!
Ravi falls for Nikitha (Samyuktha Hegde), a girl in his class, but due to an accident, he ends up in a coma for 16 years. Hence the unusual spelling of the film's title. Get it? Coma-li! It may be film's best joke. No, scratch that. The film's best joke is the scrolling ticker on a TV news programme that says the Rajinikanth gag in the trailer has been deleted. Talk about eating your cake and having it, too. Before you know it, the world has turned into a 2.0 version. Ravi wakes up surrounded by smartphones and online shopping and Google maps. And you wonder how the film will use its fish-out-of-water scenario. Will we see a rom-com that shows Ravi having to update himself to a world where romance has transformed from the chaste courtship of Kaadhalukku Mariyadhai or Kaadhal Kottai to the live-in scenarios of OK Kanmani?
I wish this had been that movie. Instead, we get a heist comedy…I think. It's hard to classify the severely underwhelming Comali because the director himself isn't sure what he's making. Whenever Sha Ra is around, we seem to be watching a live-action cartoon. (That's the only way I can explain the actor's OTT mugging, which makes Tom and Jerry look like Method actors.) Then we get some rather hip comedy—rather, comedy based on the rather big hips of a buxom bajji seller. She bends over to make vengaya bajji and vazhakkai bajji, and this very specific action is somehow linked to an assassination plan. (It also made me very hungry during my 8am screening.) KS Ravikumar plays the schemer. In his final few scenes —one of them features music from The Godfather!—he made me think he's a better actor than director. Then again, how much of a compliment is it, really, when you say "better than Lingaa"!
The bulk of Comali, strangely, is a badly written drama. I was puzzled when the film began with lectures about caste and the need to be there for someone (even if you can't really do anything for them). Pradeep Ranganathan is really serious about this angle. The heroine, Reethika, is introduced through a matrimonial site where she says caste doesn't matter. Performance doesn't matter, either. Kajal Aggarwal plays Reethika. It's a relief to report that her lip-sync is getting better. When she says "You are a YouTube superstar", you can swear she uttered the same words during the shoot. But her role, eventually, turns out smaller than the statuette everyone's after. It's a family heirloom, and Comali, it turns out, is really about family. The message is as follows: "Look, we barely talk to our mothers over the phone, but 16 years ago, we all used to gather in the terrace for nila soru, and today we eat pizza, but 16 years ago, everyone played cricket in the open, and today our eyes are glued to our phones, but 16 years ago, KS Ravikumar made Paarai. So it's not Ravi—those of us enslaved by technology are the ones in a coma." Some of us in the theatre were in one, too.