One of the teasers for A1 begins with a very familiar qualifier, “Ulaga cinema varalatril mudhan muraiyaga, muttrilum marubatta,” only to intercut and say “avlo build up lam venam." Expectation is a funny thing, and when the promo material prepares you well for a film, you walk out largely unaffected. A1's teasers proclaimed that humour (more on that later) is the only thing that you should look for from it. If you want logic, nuance or anything else — after all it's a film and not a joke book — that's your fault. Come on, what were you expecting?
Hence, it shouldn’t matter to you that the ‘agraharathu ponnu’ Divya is played by debutante Tara Alisha Berry, who doesn’t speak the language or know the slang. No offence to her, she gets her lip sync fairly right. What more do we need from a heroine, right? (I, for one, specifically wanted to know more about her job, which pays one lakh per month.) It should also be fine that Divya wants a ‘rowdy’ for a boyfriend, as long as he is from her community. Or the fact that it just takes one kiss for Saravanan aka Saro (Santhanam) to fall for her. Or the fact that the story takes some incredibly convenient narrative turns. Definitely not the fact that A1just reiterates the usual cultural stereotypes and warped idea of love that Tamil cinema has always portrayed.
The film doesn’t take itself seriously, and neither should we. Anything goes as long as the humour works, right?
So, let’s talk about humour. To be fair, A1 does have some incredibly good conversational humour. For fans of Lollu Sabha, this is the closest 'Hero Santhanam' has come to that avatar. And he is ably aided by the supporting cast. There is a comeback to almost everything and it falls under different categories — gags that genuinely make you laugh, jokes where you laugh first and have second thoughts later, and ones that plain make you uncomfortable. And these come in cycles.
The minute you finish laughing at one joke, a problematic one comes around, and before you can process that, you’re hit with a third. To borrow a line from Avvai Shanmughi, ‘theliya vechu theliya vechu adikaranga’.
Let me give you an example. Saro, at one point, chides his uncle for attempting to record the physically intimate moment of a couple. Later, he tries to shoo off a prospective groom of Divya's by saying that they have ‘done everything’ and that he has videos of it. And when the guy shrugs it off (not without a creepy ‘show it’ before), Saro says he will give it to them as their ‘wedding gift’. It may be just a ploy to change the groom’s mind, but a joke about revenge porn is uncomfortable to swallow all the same.
However, I quite liked Santhanam's performance and Santhosh Narayanan's music (Maalai Neram is especially addictive). Santhanam seems to have finally carved a space for himself in the commercial hero universe. Humour is the man’s forte, and he is now taking full advantage of it. Even the fights aren’t serious.
His introduction scene has him spinning around dangerously on a bike. It makes for quite a mass entry scene. But immediately after it, he stands up feeling all dizzy for a few moments. The film functions on this premise — humour being used to create suspension of disbelief. And thus, it is incredibly hard to take Saro or A1seriously. It is one of those films where you forget everything, the good moments and the bad ones, the minute you step out of the theatre. And, thank god for that!
Cast: Santhanam, Tara Alisha Berry
Direction: K. Johnson