Director: Ramu Chellappa
Cast: Natarajan Subramaniam, Rajaji, Radha Ravi, Parvathy Nair, Sanchita Shetty
Natarajan Subramaniam’s (aka Natty) career is among the more curious ones in Indian cinema. On the one hand, he is the cinematographer of A-list Bollywood projects (Black Friday, Parineeta, Love Aaj Kal, Raanjhanaa). On the other, he’s settled into the groove of a B-movie hero in Kollywood. His latest outing as leading man is Ramu Chellappa’s Enkitta Mothathe (Don’t Mess with Me).
The title was first a Rajinikanth song. Then it was a Vijayakanth movie that took its name from this Rajinikanth song. Now, it’s the story of a Rajinikanth fan (Ravi, played by Natty) from the 1980s, the decade that brought forth that Rajinikanth song. The gods of meta work in mysterious ways.
Ravi is a cut-out artist. He paints those giant cardboard likenesses of actors which would then be garlanded and worshipped by frenzied fans. It’s a lost era, a lost art. Ravi’s best friend Nallaperumal (Rajaji) is a — you’d better be sitting down for this! — Kamal fan.
Like Kamal’s on-screen persona, Nallaperumal is “softer,” a romantic. Ravi, meanwhile, does tricks with the bidi in his mouth, and likes punch dialogues. (“Ponnum current-um onnu. Thottaa gaali pannaama vidaadhu.” Women are like electricity. One touch, and you’re dead.) He’s also a man of action. When thugs begin to beat up Nallaperumal, Ravi rushes to his friend’s rescue. Read that again. A Kamal fan needs a Rajini fan to save him.
In other words, the director has a lot of fun recalling the star war that defined Tamil cinema of the eighties. At one point, we see the simultaneous release of Rajini’s Manidhan and Kamal’s Nayakan. (The Rajini cut-out is 48 feet high. Kamal’s is a mere 44.)
There’s a near riot at the Thirunelveli theatre owned by Mandhiramoorthy (Radha Ravi). Furniture is destroyed. The canteen is set ablaze. Afterwards, surveying the damage, the theatre’s management arrives at this decision: It’s safer to show films of Mohan and Ramarajan.
The director has a lot of fun recalling the star war that defined Tamil cinema of the eighties. At one point, we see the simultaneous release of Rajini’s Manidhan and Kamal’s Nayakan. (The Rajini cut-out is 48 feet high. Kamal’s is a mere 44.)
Slowly, Enkitta Mothathe begins to turn into one of those dramas where friends are manipulated by ruthless politicians and their henchmen. Even here, the director brings in Kamal-Rajini shadings.
Kamal’s Sathya had these plot points, and we see the film’s release. A bigger point is made when a fight breaks out between members of a Kamal fan club. One of them has fallen in love with the sister of another. But they belong to different castes. The fight ends quickly because someone reminds them that the cinematic community they belong to (the “caste” of Kamalism, in other words) is bigger than social divides.
This comes into play much later when Mandhiramoorthy, who’s now turned politician, refuses to play the latest Rajini movie in his theatre. He’s warned that no Rajini fan, then, will vote for him. Rajini fans cut across caste lines, and Mandhiramoorthy knows the Rajini card outweighs the caste card. Cut to: fans whistling during the first-day-first-show of Guru Shishyan.
I wish the romances (with Parvathy Nair, Sanchita Shetty) had had at least a fraction of this detailing. l’d love to think the generic nature of these tracks is a knowing wink at the generic roles played by the 1980s heroines, but it’s just lazy writing.
The political angle is equally generic. The actors, with the exception of Radha Ravi, give the cinema world’s equivalent of saying “present, miss” when the class teacher reads out your name. Still, I find myself unable to come down too hard on a film that evokes so much nostalgia for the crummy films (like the Sivaji Ganesan starrer, Jallikattu) that continue to give us a kick. And forget Kamal-Rajini.
We are told that fan wars used to break out even in the times of PU Chinnappa and MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. I wonder whose cut-out stood taller.