Directed by: Singeetham Srinivasa Rao
Starring: Kamal Hassan, Khushboo, Urvashi, Roopini,
Delhi Ganesh, Jayabharati, Manorama, Nagesh,
Nasser, Praveen Kumar, Santhana Bharati
I'm neck deep in wedding preparations and travel and work and am living on fumes, grabbing a scarce few hours sleep every night: there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day to do all that needs to be done. (One good news amidst all this hectic activity and stress is that my dad has been cleared for travel, and will be attending my nephew's wedding!) My blog has been the first victim of the circumstances. I barely have enough time to breathe, let alone watch a film and write about it. The past few months have also been hectic, and I have resorted to using up my bank of drafts and even exhorted my husband to write a review for me. (Which he very supportively did.) But my bank of drafts is not inexhaustible and my husband is busy with work and home and looking after Son no: 2, and since I cannot, in good conscience, ask him to bail me out again, I had to find a review to revive my moribund blog.
(Please ignore the subtitles!) The story begins with a song: an itinerant singer, who regales his audience with the tale of four brothers, born out of wedlock to a wealthy industrialist Venugopal (RN Krishnaprasad), and his beloved, Sushila (Jayabharati), a woman from a lower economic strata. When Venugopal's brother, Nandagopal (RN Jayagopal), who is secretly eyeing his brother's wealth, learns that Sushila is pregnant, he conspires to kill not only her, but also the child she bears. However, fate has complicated matters - it is not one child, but four.
And unfortunately for Sushila, the assassin (Santhana Bharati) tracks her down and kidnaps all four babies. Fortunately for the babies, however, the kidnapper is loath to kill them. Enamoured by their innocence, he keeps one of them, and abandons the others - one in a temple (the baby is picked up by a cook), one at an orphanage, one in the car of the industrialist - the baby's father... who adopts his own son and brings him up as his foster son.
By the time the credits end, they have all grown up to be Kamal Hassan - Michael is a thug, the foster son of the assassin, now an alcoholic wreck; Madan is abroad, completing his studies, having been brought up in the lap of luxury as his real father's adopted son; Kameswaran is the beloved son of a famous cook, and Subramaniam Raju, the orphan, is now a fireman.
And now, Madan is on his way back after earning a business degree from London. Much to the consternation of Nandagopal and his son Ramgopal /Ramu (Nasser), Venugopal informs them that Madan is the heir to his entire property. Though brother and nephew try their best to make him change his mind, it is clear that Venugopal doesn't have much of an opinion of his wastrel nephew. Ramu is quick to see that it is incumbent upon them to kill his uncle before Madan arrives. And they proceed to set that plan in motion - luring Venugopal to his death.
The next morning however, sees an end to their gloating. Even as Ramu sheds a few crocodile tears, and his father makes a tearful plea to the Board of Directors to accept Ramu as their new Managing Director, their nemesis walks in. Madan not only cuts them down to size, he also has his father's last Will that declares him to be the deceased's legal heir. Duly registered and cleared by the court.
As the usurpers look on in disbelief, they are quickly shown the door, by Bhim (Praveen Kumar), Madan's bodyguard. Madan also meets Avinasi (Nagesh), his father's personal assistant - who, in the thirty years he had worked for Venugopal, has misappropriated vasts sums of money. He is also quick to play both ends against the middle, hopping from one side (Nandagopal and Ramu) to the other (Madan).
However, Madan is a far cry from his father, and Avinasi gets no respite (despite his claims of penury, or his sad tale of having eight daughters to marry off).
Next up is Michael - having grown up in an environment of crime, he is now a counterfeiter. Having printed Rs5 lakhs worth of counterfeit notes, he and his foster father are planning to escape to Singapore. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men...
The police give chase, and Michael deliberately crashes into two enthusiastic but misled policemen (who fall safely into appropriately placed haystacks and cardboard boxes - leading me to think that 'No policemen were harmed during this chase' must have flashed before the director's eyes), but ends up as a casualty himself when their car crashes into the circuit board in the basement of a building.
On one of the top floors of the building, an exhibition of paintings is being held. The short circuit that results from the crash starts a fire, and the distraught artist, Shalini (Khushboo), refuses to leave her paintings. In comes the knight in shining armour - Raju. (I've never seen a fire engine arrive so quickly on the scene!)
He not only saves her, but also puts his own life at risk to save her paintings. Shalini is grateful and Raju is in love. Shalini is not unaffected either; however, the day that began so splendiforously for Raju ends rather dismally - he had once borrowed a huge amount from a Pathan in order to stage a drama (he's obsessed with the stage), and hasn't been able to repay the interest, much less the principal. He tries to mollify the Pathan by offering him biscuits and dried fish, but the Pathan is having none of it - he flings the plate out of the window, just when Kameswaran is passing by.
Kameswaran is hurrying, with supplies, to a wedding where his father, Palakkad Mani Iyer (Delhi Ganesh), is catering the feast. He assumes that the Pathan had thrown down vegetables, and after exhorting him to be more careful, proceeds on his way. It is only when he arrives at the wedding hall that he begins to smell fish - a dried fish had slipped into his shirt pocket.
An aghast Kameswaran flings it away from him in disgust, and accidentally, the fish falls into the sambar - much to their utter dismay. Unfortunately for them, while they are still searching for a ladle to fish it out, one of the servers comes by to fill the serving bucket, and proceeds to serve the guests. While Kameswaran continues to argue with his father, he bumps into Tripurasundari (Urvashi), who engages him in seemingly innocent conversation. But little things - glasses, paandaans, etc. - keep disappearing, and it appears that Tripurasundari is somehow responsible. Kameswaran, in fact, is sure that she is the thief; he calls her 'Thiruttusundari' (thiruttu = thief).
Tripurasundari pleads her innocence - she was only replacing the missing things. Her grandmother (SN Lakshmi) suffers from kleptomania. Nothing is too small or too insignificant for her to flick. Tripurasundari follows her around putting back the things that her grandmother steals. But Kameswaran is not convinced; until he sees the 'thiruttu paati' (thieving grandmother) in action. But when he drags Tripurasundari out into the hall and accosts the grandmother, the paati cleverly turns the tables on him. She accuses Kameswaran of outraging her granddaughter's modesty. Poor Kameswaran cannot get a word in.
In the meantime, Madan gets a phone call from a stranger telling him that his father did not die a natural death. She refuses to divulge any more information on the phone. If he wants to hear the truth about his father's demise, he should come to Santhome Church in Madras by 10 p.m on Sunday. (Madan is in Bangalore.) Unknown to either of them, Avinasi listens in on the extension.
He promptly takes the news to Nandagopal and Ramu, who send him off without much ado. Nandagopal is worried, but Ramu consoles him - if they had shown any interest in Avinasi's news, the latter would have known they were complicit. Now, they just have to make sure that Madan doesn't return to Bangalore. Madan's taken precautions to ensure that no one follows them (or so he thinks) but the thugs sent by Ramu miss him anyway. However, they run into Kameswaran, who is on his way to buy provisions for the next feast and mistake him for Madan. So they follow him instead, only to lose track of him as well.
Meanwhile, Kameswaran is in for a shock at the grocer's. It appears that the thiruttu paati has ordered a long list of groceries and credited them to Kameswaran's account. An incensed Kameswaran goes in search of Tripurasundari and her grandmother. Unfortunately for the poor man, things get rather out of hand, and he ends up - under duress - affianced to her.
Madan, who's reached Madras, receives another call - this time, the lady gives him a different address. When he and Bhim arrive there, they are greeted by a middle-aged widow who claims that it is all a lie - her blind, handicapped, mentally ill daughter makes up tales about rich and famous dead people dying unnatural deaths.A chastened Madan returns to the hotel, intending to return to Bangalore the same day. He even calls Avinasi asking him to reschedule all his cancelled appointments. Until...
It turns out that Sakkubai (Roopini) and Gangabai (Manorama) are stage artistes who had been paid to mislead him. That is when Madan realises that he has to keep that first appointment if he wanted to find out what happened to his father. He quickly makes the rendezvous, and leaving the con-women in Bhim's care, steps out to keep his assignation.
Sushila (for it is she who called him) begins to tell him that his father had been killed by some of his relatives; just then, the thugs following Madan arrive there. In the melee, Sushila runs away. And when Bheem is overpowered, Madan has no other alternative but to escape with the two women. Chased by the goons, Madan and the women take refuge in a public bathroom where, coincidentally (where would we be without coincidences?), the goons find Raju and mistake him for Madan; in the ensuing scuffle, Raju fights his way out, but drops his wallet.
Madan, who has noticed Raju's striking resemblance to himself, decides to make use of what he sees as a coincidence. After leaving the women in his guesthouse and warning them not to go anywhere, he picks up Bhim and visits Raju at his house. There, he makes a bargain with the flabbergasted Raju - if Raju will go to Bangalore pretending to be Madan, he, Madan, will repay all of Raju's debts. A grateful Raju agrees, with reservations.
Madan returns to the guest house while Raju goes back to Madan's hotel room prior to leaving for Bangalore. There, he runs into Shalini and her father, Sivaram (Venniradai Murthy), who are also going to Bangalore for Shalini's exhibition. Raju promptly offers to take them along by car. What he doesn't know is that Michael, hired by Nasser's goons to kill Madan, has cut the brake wires. Sushila, who has come to the hotel in search of Madan, sees Michael tampering with the car, but Raju drives off with Shalini, her father and Bhim before she can warn him. She follows them in a taxi.
Michael, who is taken aback by 'Madan's' resemblance to him is further shocked when the real Madan walks past him. Assuming that 'Madan' had decided not to go to Bangalore after all, he decides to follow Madan, with the sole aim of impersonating him.
Meanwhile, Sushila, who has caught up with Raju, is told to go to the guest house so she can meet Madan. She is confused, but does as she is instructed. Finally meeting Madan, she tells him the truth - Madan's father was the subject of a dastardly attack, but he is alive. She takes him to her house to meet him.
Raju, reaching Bangalore, remembers Madan's warnings about Avinasi, and taking whatever was left of the money that Avinasi had appropriated, gives it to Bhim to keep in the safe. Avinasi, who comes across Kameswaran, decides to use him to impersonate 'Madan' so he can get the money back. Forced to agree by Tripurasundari's avaricious paati, Kameswaran lands up in Bangalore.
Michael, still following Madan, kidnaps him from Sushila's house, and takes him to a hideout on the edge of a cliff - in Bangalore. But not before Sushila recognises the man who kidnapped her babies. So now, all four brothers are in Bangalore. And so are everyone else... Michael's foster father, Avinasi, Shalini, her father, Tripurasundari, her grandmother, Bhim, Sakkubai and Gangabai... add Nandagopal and Ramu, and a few thugs, and the scene is set for absolute mayhem culminating in a cliffhanger of a climax.
Watch. And enjoy. And no, you cannot leave your brains behind. Not even when there are coincidences galore. The script is taut, the direction crisp, the dialogues (by Crazy Mohan) witty.
Movies with separated siblings are a dime a dozen. In fact, in a move to celebrate our masala sisterhood, Dustedoff, Bollyviewer and I wrote a set of reviews that bespoke this trope. However, it is very rare that a movie like this becomes a full-length comedy. Directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao (who makes a cameo appearance as the travelling salesman), Michael Madana Kamarajan is a laugh riot, with the screenplay (by Kamal Hassan himself) adroitly using sequences to build up to the climax and the reunion of the parents with their children. Besides, since Kamal always has a reputation of never doing things by halves, he doubled the hilarity by making the protagonists four identical brothers. That not only leads to confusion galore, but also quadruples the laughter.
What works for the film, apart from the aforementioned screenplay and direction, is the dialogues by Crazy Mohan. He seems to reserve a special something for his outings with Kamal, and this film is no different. Witness the hilarity that ensues between Kameswaran's (the Palakkad Iyer) understanding of the word 'meen ('fish' in Malayalam), and his encounters with others who use the word 'mean' differently. Or the part where Raju, the unlettered fireman pretends to understand every word that Madan says in English, and later attempts to speak English himself. The wit is in the dialogue, and if I had one wish, it would be that that had continued - the last few scenes are purely slapstick, and though intelligently conducted, still went on a bit too long (in my opinion).
The laughter rises organically - the confusion that occurs when the brothers switch places (not knowing they are brothers, of course) and are mistaken for someone else defies description. At one point, Raju, Kameswaran and Michael are all wandering around Madan's mansion - and each of them, running into the other at some point, mistakes the other for Madan. Not only that, poor Kameswaran, persuaded against his will to impersonate Madan, not only has to avoid Shalini (who thinks Madan is avoiding her on purpose), but also keep Tripurasundari from getting jealous. Also, watch the scene where Madan shaves off Raju's mouche to prepare him for the impersonation. When the devoted Bhim walks in, Raju asks him (Madan insisting that if they could fool Bhim, they could fool anybody), Eppadi enga double action? (How do you like our double act?) and the gobsmacked Bhim replies, Enakku naalu theriyathu, Boss! (I seem to see four, Boss!).That is both a literal construct (since Bhim sees the two brothers and their reflections), as well as a sly nod to the viewers, who know that there are in fact, four identical men.
Or the one where Kameswaran and his father are desperately trying to fish the 'meen' out of the sambar, and the former asks - innocently: 'Meen pidikka therinjava yaarana koopadalama?' (Shall we call someone who knows to fish?) The fun lies in the timing, and the puns. (As also Kameswaran's quaint 'Bhimbai, Bhimbai' sequence!)
Like all good separated-at-birth stories, this one too allows the brothers to cross paths. Michael crashes into a building setting off a fire that brings Raju to rescue Shalini. Raju picks up the fake sword that Madan throws away (after pulling it out of Sakkubai), and uses it to fight the gangsters who are after Madan. The gangsters who are chasing Madan lose sight of him, only to chase Kameswaran, and later Raju, under the mistaken impression that they are chasing their target.
Of the four siblings, it is Kameswaran and Madan who get the maximum screen time. Madan, because he is the one driving the plot forward in his bid to find out the truth behind his father's death; Kameswaran, well, just because! Kamal's enunciation of the typical Palakkad Iyer accent, complete with the intonation peculiar to that caste, is top notch. So is his chemistry with Urvashi as Tripurasundari (affectionately called 'thiruppu' by Kameswaran). Most of the laugh-out scenes involve one or both of these characters. While Michael plays the bad guy in a like-all-other-bad-guys manner, Raju also stands out with his love for Shalini, his admiration for Madan and his desire to be more like him, and his ingenuity.
In fact, the two people who I think really outshone the characters (other than Kamal) - Nagesh. One of Tamil cinema's enduring character actors, Nagesh is an institution by himself. A prolific actor, he was the reigning comedian in the 60s. In one sense, that was a crying shame. Because, one of his earliest films was Server Sundaram where, playing the eponymous role got him critical and commercial acclaim. He was also a great villain - one of the earliest films I remember seeing him in was Thillana Mohanambal - playing the bad man without resorting to the theatrics that usually accompanies such portrayals. In Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Nagesh is the slimy personal assistant who is not loath to line his own pockets at his boss' expense. He has no sense of loyalty, and is perfectly willing to play one side against the other if it furthers his own ends. As always, Crazy Mohan gives him some fantastic dialogues to work with, and Nagesh does not let the opportunity go to waste.
The other is Urvashi. She is one of the few actresses whose comic timing is impeccable. Here, matched against Kamal (Kameswaran), she keeps step with him, without losing a beat. Her 'Thiruppu' is a perfect foil to the rather naïve Kameswaran.
Khushboo provided the glamour and two great songs; she is one person whom I can always watch (and has grown into an actress of considerable stature). The weakest link was the other heroine, Roopini (a.k.a Komal Mahuakar) who had nothing much to do, and did it with as little 'acting' as possible.
But veteran actress Manorama more than made up for her lacklustre performance, infusing her Gangabai with characteristic verve. Watch her, especially in the scene where she tutors her daughter on how to seduce Madan.
Finally, what do I say about Kamal Hassan the actor? I have always considered him one of India's best performers, and have watched with dismay when he began (in my opinion, again) to take his 'Ulaganayakan' status a bit too seriously. I seriously admire Kamal the artiste, and firmly believe that he has forgotten more than most people will ever learn about the art of acting and film making. This, then, is one of his best - and that may seem ridiculous to people who are prone to seeing 'good' performances only in drama-heavy narratives. I personally think that comedy is one of the hardest acts to pull off, and deadpan humour, even more difficult.
In Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Kamal imbued each one of the characters with a distinctive personality - language, the style of walking, talking... Considering that this is one of the few roles in his later films where he has not made use of prosthetic makeup to differentiate his characters, it is incredible to see how he made each character unique. Especially during the climax, where all of them are present, looking exactly like each other, yet the viewer has no difficulty in identifying the four brothers.
The Kamal-Singeetham Srinivasa Rao collaboration has given us quite a few entertainers - Pushpak, Apoorva Sahordargal, etc. Here too, the director's light but deft hand is visible as he maneouvers the plot towards the final stand-off. Music director Ilaiyaraja steps in to give us some foot-tapping numbers - Ram bam bam aarambam, Sundari neeyum sundaran njaanum, Per vechalum vekkama ponalum...
I must confess that even though Kamal sang Sundari neeyum... with great elan, my favourite song in this film is the last mentioned Per vechalum vekkama ponalum. I absolutely love the picturisation which begins with Raju/Shalini and continues with Kameswaran/Shalini, with Shalini's father, Michael, his foster father, Thiruppu, her grandmother, Avinasi, et al, walking in and out of the frame.
To me, Michael Madana Kama Rajan is one of the finest screwball comedies that has been made in India. And decades after its release, it is its very 'ordinariness' (for want of a better word) that keeps it fresh. The simple humour depends mostly on intelligent word play (and no, the sub-titles are horrendous, and even if they were good, cannot really catch the nuances) and puns. This is comedy without preaching, with no underlying moral, whose sole intention is to entertain. And that it does - in spades!