In LKG, a seasoned politician, upon getting harassed, expresses his irritation through a well-timed slap on a party worker. As the events happen in today’s world, someone’s video camera is switched on, and the cropped video goes viral, with meme-makers (“meme engineers”, as the film calls them) taking control. Someone composites this clip into a scene of Doraisingam throwing a 1.5-tonne-powered slap on some hapless thug. It’s impossible not to laugh out loud. The question though is, is it fair to that seasoned politician (or any subject on whom these memes are made) that these go into circulation, forever altering the public’s perception of them? Is our laughter truly unpolluted by any subconscious assessment we are making at those targeted? Are we unwittingly propagating something dark and dangerous without being aware of it? I doubt another Tamil film has understood the power and nature of memes as much.
Typically, our films — save for a dig or two at YouTube film criticism — have championed social media as a saviour. It’s been projected as a uniting force. Is the hero in need of some help? Use Twitter! Use the Facebook pages! I can’t remember seeing another Tamil film that exposes this dark side of meme culture and social media, and it’s quite fascinating that it does this under the guise of comedy. LKG makes it abundantly clear that social media is a madhouse that has the power to make and break reputations, fairly and unfairly. It’s Black Mirror, but in a traditional masala template; one that yields fairly enjoyable results.
The film’s titular character, Lalgudi Karuppiah Gandhi (LKG), has no interest in waiting around to make something of himself in politics. The film too is rather similar; it has lofty aspirations but has almost no time to wait around to establish the authenticity of characters, or make some of their decisions seem less forced. This isn’t a film in which you try to analyse why a corporate giant that propels important political parties to power, bites into the career of a lowly councillor (the explanation offered doesn’t cut it). The company’s called Trust Analytica, an evident dig at the global political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica. It may all have you conclude that this is a satire about politics, especially given the seeming parallels with the present situation in our State, but I see this film more as a satire on the ills of social media. In any case, the most enjoyable parts of the film concern this. Like when a live video of a school’s squalor is being streamed on Facebook, and a random commenter goes, “Thalapathy 63 update please.” Later, in another live video, another one goes, “Thala Ajith massu”. I laughed out loud, at the truth of it all. It’s the sort of tragic silliness we are surrounded by, and while most films use references of these top actors to cash in on their fan base, LKG does it too, but subverts it.
Interview with Priya Anand
It’s a crafty film in that sense. It’s at once aware of the rules, and even while playing by them, shows evident disapproval of them. It takes a usual hero introduction scene — of him praying to deities for a glorious future; but there’s a twist. He’s no hero, and they are no deities — quite the opposite. There’s a father-son sentiment angle, but there’s a twist — he doesn’t idolise him; quite the opposite again. The writer in RJ Balaji is clever to realise the film will likely not survive a love angle, and so, while he hints at one (and sneaks in a bit of a song), he gets out quite swiftly. He knows it’s the same with stunt sequences; he drags a weapon suspicious similar to the one used in Kaththi, but, yes, you guessed it; it doesn’t end well for him. There’s one another usual box he checks, but that’s a subversion too — we’ll come back later to that.
LKG is hampered by a few missteps. The background score is often needlessly loud. In more than one scene, it paints this immoral manipulator as some sort of a hero who’s secured victories you should root for. Only problem is, you don’t, because he’s a corrupt man, remember? All the bad lip-syncing is a put-off too. It’s a dialogue-driven film, as films in this genre usually are, and perhaps they were too enthusiastic with adding details in the dubbing? In one scene concerning LKG and his father, it’s especially distracting. The musical cues keep egging us to take his side, and it’s especially a problem when he says something problematic. Like when, at the beginning, he insinuates that sincere love somehow is supposed to exclude physical intimacy. Later in the film, a female news anchor says, “Polama?” (to ask whether they are good to go for the take) and the cameraman says, “Idha mudichtu polaam,” suggesting that he’s ready to bed her. Later, a gay man (seemingly) is portrayed as a creature of lust. All this writing bogs down the experience quite a bit.
Interview with RJ Balaji
Some of the jokes will work really well if you’re in the mood. A man gets punched so powerfully he goes into the atmosphere and exclaims, “Aiyyo nila!” People smear so much turmeric powder on LKG’s forehead that it begins to bleed after a while. I enjoyed these exaggerations. There’s also a concerted effort at making the jokes seem less as disconnected detours, and create a strong thread that goes through them. In such films that look to expose the corruption and silliness around us, it’s often tempting to distance ourselves from the problem and feel self-righteous. The best part of LKG, for me, was its end, when some of these people begin cheering for a monologue, and RJ Balaji does something quite clever with it. It’s the sort of parting cheekiness that makes you kinder to the whole film.
Director: KR Prabhu
Cast: RJ Balaji, Priya Anand, Nanjil Sampath, JK Rithesh
Rating: 3 stars
(This review appeared on cinemaexpress.com)