Cast: Santhanam, Surabhi, Redin Kingsley, Maaran, Deepa Shankar Pradeep Rawat, Masoom Shankar, Naan Kadavul Rajendran, Munishkanth
Director: S Prem Anand
Debutant Prem Anand is well aware of the world he is building in the third part of the Diilluku Dhuddu horror comedy franchise. In the very first scene, we see a family conducting a “win or run” escape room game in a French Castle. While the general result is that you get stuck in the room if you don’t crack a clue, you’ll be dead in this game. But if you win, there is a bigger prize, you get 50X of the money you had bet. One day, the evil members of the family — where even the child’s hobby is to hunt humans — are murdered by the villagers. Done and dusted with the flashback, especially without any sentimental scenes that make you empathise with the dead, DD Returns starts on a better note and maintains the rhythm throughout.
If you’re someone who is terrified of ghosts and the eerie scores played in horror films, but still call yourself a horror genre fan, I get you. And that is where horror comedies come to the rescue. Spiritual successors to horror comedies are nothing new in Kollywood. Successful franchises like Raghavan Lawrence’s Kanchana and Sundar C’s Aranmanai have managed to produce sequels that remain largely watchable (well, not Aranmanai 3, but you get the point). But none of those so far have managed to achieve what DD Returns could. It is loaded with fresh ideas and doesn’t follow the tested formulas and formats of its predecessors. And the only common factor between the three films is the cast — Santhanam, Maaran and Naan Kadavul Rajendran. Perhaps that is also why there is a clever play with the abbreviation DD in the title which refers to both Dilluku Dhuddu and “Dare Demons”.
Without the usual plot points — an emotional heft or a suspense element about the ghosts — that often make even the so-bad-it’s-good horror comedies watchable, DD Returns needed some other element that could hold the plot together. Similarly, what undoes most of the super cool pay-offs in horror comedies is the often underwhelming buildup part. It is here you see the smartness in Prem Anand’s writing. Right before the film takes the left turn to reach its horror-comedy zone, which happens only an hour later, you get a heist comedy that keeps you entertained while you meet the characters and get invested in their stories.
Sample this: A gang of drug dealers decides to rob a politician’s house when he is away for his son’s marriage, while the event manager kidnaps his son. The event manager hides the politician's son in a car because the bride is his lover. There's another gang that loots the drug dealer's hidden money and then steals the event manager’s car. It is, well, crazy! As each of them follows the other to get their hands on the stolen money, the culmination of this heist, where the ghosts join later, takes place in the horror maze game.
Though the double-meaning or body-shaming jibes that often make their appearance in this genre are left out, you can’t seem to take the pant-jokes out of it — be it when the politician’s dog bites the head drug dealer's (played by Bipin) pants or when Munishkanth tears Bipin’s pants into smaller pieces, placing it as reference points in the similar-looking exit doors of the maze game. Even though these remain laughable to an extent, such scenes overstay their welcome. But do watch out for all kinds of wacky callbacks like the parody of the iconic step from ‘Oo Antava Oo Oo Antava’ as you can see in the trailer. Sometimes, the film unintentionally does so like the scene where it recreates the “pei kum pei kum sanda atha oore pakkuthu (the whole town's watching the fight between two ghosts)” moment from the Kanchana films. The best ones come when Prem Anand subverts the elements of a horror film. For instance, Santhanam plays a spiritual song on his smartphone to drive the ghost away (I am not giving you a spoiler, the best part comes after this).
Santhanam is in his zone in this horror comedy, as he gets to be a hero and also a comedian, without having to even make slight compromises. Like disappointing a ghost that is waiting to scare him in the franchise’s first part, he simply throws away a cupboard drawer when it keeps opening to scare them. Besides his never-ending jokes, the writing also backs him with some selfless, heroic acts where his character decides to protect others instead of running out of the exit gate or when he steps in to sacrifice his life. The actor soon enough makes these emotional decisions lighter, matching the film’s mood with his funny but smart antics.
While DD Returns gets the jokes right, the same cannot be said of its horror or thriller elements. The second half takes place in a horror game set-up, which is a refreshing take on the “stuck-in-one-huge-palace” format of the genre (props to cinematographer Dipak Kumar Padhy and art director AR Mohan). But sometimes Santhanam and co seem to easily get through the games (read: lacks logic), which happen in four levels, and that hampers the riveting moments. The ghosts are also too friendly even for a horror comedy film. Despite these minor distractions, the laughs never run out in DD Returns which has the whole Kollywood comedy troupe in it — Deepa Shankar, Rajendran, Redin Kingsley, Munishkanth, Masoom Shankar, Tiger Thangadurai, Fefsi Vijayan, Dheena, Maaran. And even when a few don’t land, you just don’t care because some better joke is in the air to make up for it.