There’s a scene in the eternal F.R.I.E.N.D.S when Joey asks his Australian girlfriend why she doesn’t like his best friend, Chandler. She says, “He’s just… blah.” I doubt I could find a better word to describe Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren. The film’s just… blah. It’s supposed to be a rollicking comedy with its eccentric material lending itself to odd situations, but the writing just doesn’t manage to create humour.
The characters talk and talk, and like a talentless stand-up comedian, desperately want to see you laugh, but quite early on, you realise the futility of the exercise. Eventually, it all becomes so bad that you crave for a quiet moment, for some respite from the incessant mundane chatter.
In one scene, Gautham Karthik, playing an effervescent young man, Harish (“Unakku enna Mouna Ragam Karthik nu nenappaa?” asks Vijay Sethupathi’s character, Yeman), is trying to be cute with a couple of women, one of whom is Sowmya, the girl he’s interested in. For some strange reason, he tells her that he thinks all women are idiots. She’s naturally offended, but her response is that all men are idiots.
She proceeds to question his masculinity, and notes that if he were indeed a man, he would have taken the girls for a few drinks and a long drive. Harish laughs and retorts that he isn’t stupid to be taken advantage of like that. And… that’s it. The girl walks away, and Harish throws a lovesick glance at her. It’s the sort of purposeless, unenjoyable conversation that this film is full of. Characters seem to be under the impression that repetition is humour. Take the title, for instance. Various characters milk it over and over again, and not once does it evoke even a smile.
On paper, the idea of having a dry humour specialist like Vijay Sethupathi playing a tribal leader seems funny. The premise of him having to abduct a woman to fulfil an oath should lend itself to plenty of laughs. The attempts at humour include an emasculated father figure, a couple of friends who get beaten up over and over again, some talk about bears raping men (not making it up), a burning arrow that pierces a man’s posterior… Occasionally, a small joke works, but that’s the equivalent of trying to help a drowning man by throwing a small eraser at him.
In a better film, I would have noted the championing of consent, the matriarchy of the tribe, women constantly shown to be more righteous than men… Even in a scene when Yeman slaps a woman, his friend immediately rebukes him because it’s not sanctioned by the rules. Yet, it’s also a film in which an emasculated father thumps his chest and declares that when in great need, it’s always the father who comes to the fore.
His idea of help, of course, is sitting atop a large statue of lord Yama and threatening to destroy it. You aren’t laughing. You aren’t even amused. You’re just trying to make sense of all the bizarre ideas you are bombarded with in the name of humour. Towards the end, Sowmya stands surrounded by tribespeople who explain to her the weird story of why she’s been abducted. She has a look of absolute bewilderment, and I immediately empathised with her. It’s the same look I had been wearing for the previous two hours.