Director: ARK Saravan
Cast: Aadhi, Anandraj, M.S. Bhaskar
What would you do if your story began with a prologue in the Pallava period, dealing specifically with a supernatural emerald stone (hence the title, Maragatha Naanayam), and came to rest in the present day, with numerous raiders after the lost artefact? One option is to craft an Indiana Jones adventure. Director ARK Saravan (note those Spielbergian initials!) chooses to divert this conceit towards Tamil cinema’s most lucrative genre, the horror-comedy.
I bought into whatever the film was selling very early on, when we see a small-time crook named Senguttuvan (Aadhi) conduct a series of suitcase swaps using hilariously matching code phrases reminiscent of Cold War spy thrillers. I won’t even try to translate them, but here’s one: “Meen kozhambu…” The expected reply from the other party is: “Vaasanai thookkudhu.” Another code pair goes thus: “Thala” / “Thalapathy.” Imagine saluting the reigning stars, as expected, and yet managing a wink. Senguttuvan wants to lay his hands on the emerald. He furnishes a fishy backstory about needing 40 lakhs, and I suspect it’s so that we’d feel he’s more desperate than amoral. I wasn’t convinced, but this is not a film fuelled by character arcs and motivations.
The most welcome surprise in Maragatha Naanayam is that it isn’t just a collection of gags and scares, which is all this genre really needs
What matters is the amiable nuttiness in the air. It’s in the name of the “menacing” gangster played by Anandaraj, a name that leads MS Baskar to wonder if the man runs a play school. It’s in the contraption this gangster uses to issue his orders. It’s in the merry band of ghosts, headed by Ramadoss (who, after his uproarious turn in Maanagaram, appears to be having quite the banner year) — the equivalent of Harry Potter’s Nearly Headless Nick had me in… stitches. (See the movie and you’ll see what I mean.) It’s in the screenplay’s cheerfully non-discriminatory appropriation of everything from a Sivaji Ganesan drama (Karnan) to an ancient war poem (Kalingattuparani) to a Telugu-cinema comedian (Brahmanandam) to the kitchen sink.
The most welcome surprise in Maragatha Naanayam is that it isn’t just a collection of gags and scares, which is all this genre really needs. Consider the heroine, played by Nikki Galrani. She gets what appears to be an underwhelming opening scene — she’s waiting for a bus, and a besotted Senguttuvan is staring at her from across the street. I kept waiting for the love duet two reels down. There’s none. What shapes the character, instead, is that Senguttuvan has never heard her voice, and when she finally speaks… Let’s just say that, intentional or not, this may be the slyest commentary ever on Tamil cinema’s “North Indian heroine” who depends on a borrowed (dubbed-over) voice.
And yet, there’s the feeling that this premise should have delivered bigger laughs. The film takes too long to get going, and the amusing bits aren’t as frequent as you’d like. And some gags splutter out. “Gangsters on the hero’s trail jump onto a ghost truck and hold the driver hostage” sounds terrifically funny on paper, but on screen, something’s missing. I’m not complaining. This is a spirited, well-mounted production, made with poise. I just wish I had something better to offer as a summation than “better than your average horror comedy.”
Watch the trailer here: