Director: P. Arumugakumar
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Gautham Karthik, Ramesh Thilak
To consider what passes for comedy in P Arumugakumar’s Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren (I’ll Let You Know when the Time is Right), let’s look at Harish (Gautham Karthik). He lowers his pants in a police station and asks, “Naan yaaru theriyuma?” Later, when the story shifts to a forest in Andhra Pradesh, he asks if a share auto is available. And when he sees the long-haired Yaman (Vijay Sethupathi, who clearly says yes to every movie that comes his way) from behind, he thinks it’s Sowmiya (Niharika Konidela), the girl he’s in love with, and he gives Yaman a tight embrace. At one point, his friend Sathish (Daniel Annie Pope) voices the feelings of the audience, when he says, “Dei, nee olarriya, illa olarra maari nadikkariya?”
A fair question. A philosophical question, even. If a character does inane things, is the actor off the hook? Or is he to blame for the inanity as well? I’m not trying to be deep. I’m stalling here. Otherwise, I might have to tell you about the scene where Harish, in a veshti, stands in front of an audience at an Electronic Music Festival, and begins to belt out an English song, and the angry audience members ask him to sing in Tamil, and he continues to sing in English, and they begin to pelt him with footwear and tomatoes, which is when Sowmiya falls for him, with Yaman gazing at her. Finally, I seemed to have an answer to the question: “Just what on earth am I watching?” A love triangle, apparently.
Vijay Sethupathi appears in a number of get-ups (ice-cream vendor in an afro, auto driver, tribal with plaits and a unibrow). What he doesn’t do is convince us why he’s in this movie.
But no. The director is after another genre, something like the Hollywood stoner comedy (but without the drugs), where two slackers set out on a crazy quest and get involved in crazier shenanigans. More attempts at humour follow. We meet tribals who worship Yama, dress in black and wear lots of gold (they look like backup dancers from an Ajith-Simran song sequence from the 2000s), and they speak English. The target audience for Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren is someone who cracks up at the thought of a forest-dweller exclaiming, “Option A or Option B? The choice is yours.” For the rest of us, Justin Prabhakaran keeps slipping in “comic” musical cues – a sad-sounding veena here, a sputtering trumpet there. Nothing helps.
There’s a loose, improv feel to everything, but these comedies need some rigour in the framing, in the performances. There’s a classic set-up from Farce early on, a wide shot that allows us to see two women stepping out of a ladies’ hostel just as two men planning a kidnap step right in. But the narrative is so choppy, so insistent on high-school humour that the cinematographer could have left the sets and we wouldn’t have noticed. What about Vijay Sethupathi? He appears in a number of get-ups (ice-cream vendor in an afro, auto driver, tribal with plaits and a unibrow). He sways to a Chiranjeevi hit from Gharana Mogudu. In a song, he steers a speedboat, then rides a horse, then dances around a campfire – all in a matter of seconds. What he doesn’t do is convince us why he’s in this movie.