Choo Mandhira Kaali
Cast: Sanjana Burli, Kishore Dev, Karthikeyan Velu, Venkatesh Babu, Niranjana, Mythili
Director: Eswar Kotravai
Genre: Comedy Fantasy
Duration: 2 hrs 7 mins
Choo Mandhirakaali opens with a note that says it is dedicated to Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson. Given that these two filmmakers are known for their quirky films, it does set up some expectations. The good news is that the film manages to fulfill quite a few of our expectations.
The plot is definitely imaginative. A village which only has cousins, who, while living together, are also so jealous about each other. As the narrator tells us, farming is their secondary occupation. The first? To bring ruin to their fellow cousins! One young man, Murugan (Karthikeyan Velu) is disturbed by this infighting and with fear the only thing that would put an end to this jealousy, he decides to go a village of tantriks and get the most powerful of them to his own village. Posing as a couple, he and his friend Saami (Kishore Dev) enter the place, and realise that the most powerful tantrik there is Sundaravalli (Sanjana Burli). Murugan who is attracted to her must make her fall in love with him to succeed in his plans, but his jealous cousins, who also manage to turn Saami against him, will even give up their own lives to prevent that from happening.
Though he does take his own sweet time (a scene involving a house in fire goes on and on despite conveying the pettiness among the cousins), Eswar Kotravai, the film’s writer and director, manages to establish his quirky world convincingly. It is a world filled with tantriks who can levitate, use lemons as mobile phones and even trap the rains inside a coconut. The production design, costumes and the location instantly immerse us into this fantastical world.
The comic flourishes keep us engaged with the proceedings even when the pace dips. The humour comes in all forms… While we get sight gags, deadpan comedy and situational comedy, the dominant comic tool that Eswar Kotravai uses is dark humour. A couple of running gags work brilliantly. One involves a thief who the tantriks have trapped in the village. He has been mesmerised to believe that he can find an exit and keeps running about at all times to escape from the place. It gets funnier when Murugan’s cousins, who enter village, decide to follow him to get out of there! The other involves Sundaravalli and Aruvi and Kuruvi, the two girls who are her helpers, trying to convince themselves that Murugan is actually Lord Murugan himself.
However, despite the many interesting things at the conceptual level, Choo Mandhirakaali remains only an engaging watch.. a mild diversion – even if a pleasant one. And that is because for all the quirkiness in the writing, the film lacks the visual inventiveness of the films of Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson. The visuals have a TV serial-like quality to them. And the performances are amateurish. There are times when we are left feeling that we are watching a student film. But the intent to deliver an unusual film shines through these shortcomings and look at it favourably in the end.