Films like Comali try to convince you that the way to win over a woman is to stare and stare hard at her exposed waist. A character played by Ponnambalam has a quirk apparently: As a saree-clad woman makes bajjis, he likes to ogle at her waist. At one point, his enemies attack him—alas, for some other reason—and drops of blood splatter on her hip, which has the bizarre effect of making her moan in pleasure. Director Pradeep Ranganathan even gives us details of how the folds of her waist move, based on the type of bajji she makes. I sunk deep into my seat, hoping no one would recognise me in the theatre.
A scene later, the premise of the film gets set up, and… it isn’t bad at all. Ravi (Jayam Ravi), a teenager, meets with an accident, ends up in a coma, and does not wake up until 16 years have passed. I couldn’t but notice that when he wakes up, he looks all fine and dandy without any motor control issues or muscular atrophy. In fact, he looks fairy ripped, making us wonder if he was secretly slipping out of coma to use the gym every day. Anyhow, it’s an interesting premise that reminded me a little of Captain America’s similar predicament, though his loss of time was more substantial.
In a sense, Ravi has travelled in time and lost all the small things that meant so much to him. As a person who grew up in the 90s, I quite enjoyed all the nostalgic callbacks: Book cricket, trump cards, hour cycles, Yellow Pages, landline phones, Spencer Plaza, 1-4-3… But even during what should have been a straightforwardly innocent flashback portion, this film sneaks in an irksome pursuit of a girl (Samyuktha Hegde). Ravi and his friend (Yogi Babu, who thankfully does a bit more than shaming his own appearance), stand in front of the girl, causing her to try and manoeuvre herself between and past them. In the process, a gentle breeze—you will know the type if you have been raised on our commercial films—conspires to make her hair fly onto Ravi’s face, which causes him to freeze. And then, as she is almost past him, her body comes into contact with his, which causes him to let out an electric gasp of pleasure. It’s all pretty disturbing. One of Hiphop Tamizha’s energetic songs in the film, Hi Sonna Pothum, makes it plenty evident that these aren’t accidental choices. One line goes, “Edamirundhaalum unna idippen…”
And yet, if the film settled into simply being a drama about how Ravi makes peace with the loss of more than a decade, how he settles into the new world, how he deals with depression on account of the assistance of his friend… there may still have been an interesting film in Comali. But as it exists, all these issues feel cursory, with the film making the strange turn into heist territory. There’s something about royal lineage, a treasured statue, about having to steal it… It is hard to care for any of this when you are invested in a different story.
Occasionally, it offers you some respite. There’s some genuine humour (I liked both Yogi Babu and Shah Ra in places), some pretty decent characterisation. I liked that Yogi Babu gets a few serious scenes, and like most comedians, he brings in a lot of warmth. I liked that KS Ravikumar seemed quite convincing as the villain, and more importantly, that his character is established to have humanity. Be it the scene that shows him craving for respect, the one where he proudly sets foot into a temple, or when he breaks down at the end… these are decent touches and hint at a likeable refusal by the director to create shallow characters.
The film’s premise naturally lends itself to easy digs aimed at technology, at how integral mobile phones have become. But these don’t exist just as passing jokes; this is a film that takes its sermonising quite seriously. Ultimately, all it wants, it seems, is to tell you through Ravi that life was better a couple of decades ago. It tries to do this by comparing the good of the 90s vs the bad of the 2000’s. For millennials, I suspect that the film must almost seem like the sort of well-meaning advice they get from grandparents. When we were children…
I wish the film had delved a bit on the useful aspects of the period we live in now. At one point, Ravi finds a ‘button spy camera’ useful, but that too turns out to be unreliable and even harmful. Towards the very end, Ravi is shown to be making money off technology, but the joke is still on us. It’s this film’s refusal to step away from the sermonising—and the refusal to treat this film simply as an emotional drama—that makes this a testing experience, even if there are a few effective jokes. By the end of the film, the posturing goes up several levels as Ravi gets assistance from those around him. Of those few people, there’s a Christian, a Muslim, a ‘Singh’… You get the idea. Even a tree comes to the rescue of the hero. Nobody comes to yours though.
ACTORS: Jayam Ravi, Kajal Aggarwal, Yogi Babu
DIRECTOR: Pradeep Ranganathan
(This article was originally published in cinemaexpress.com)