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Dagaalty, ostensibly, is a comedy, but is it a comedy if you don’t laugh? It’s a film that has both Santhanam and Yogi Babu, and somehow, between them, the film can barely muster one or two effective jokes over two hours of its duration. Perhaps Dagaalty took its humour for granted because it shows more effort in continuing—very unsuccessfully—to try and transition Santhanam into hero space (haven’t we been saying this for the last six years?) than it does with its jokes.
Dagaalty, for this purpose, introduces the hero, Guru, in a bar, as he’s ogling at a woman dancing for an ‘item song’, for, what’s more masculine than this? For added measure, he gets into a scuffle, and breaks a few heads with alcohol bottles. Contrast this with the introduction scene of the heroine (Rittika Sen), who is named Malli in this film, perhaps because it’s an aphrodisiac — which is pretty much her purpose in this film. Malli’s opening scene has her mock-fighting a few people, and while Guru hurt the bad men with bottles, what does Malli use? Vegetables. While Guru’s stunt sequence happened at a bar, where does Malli’s happen? At a vegetable market. But of course, Dagaalty has far bigger problems than its portrayal of men and women. It is, as I started this review, a comedy without a joke.
The villain, named Samrat, is a wealthy weirdo who paints women, and sends his team to kidnap lookalikes from the real world. It seems like a bizarre idea that has the potential to be milked for humour, but strangely, the film treats him too seriously. In a sense, it’s the same mistake the film does with Santhanam, the hero. If you make up your mind not to leave the theatre without letting out a few laughs, you could perhaps laugh at the heroine, Malli, a poster girl for stupidity. She apparently wants to be a filmmaker so badly that she’s willing to be whisked away to Mumbai by Guru, who promises to get her an appointment with Shah Rukh Khan. And really, you wouldn’t care about these details, had this film got you laughing on occasion. Unfortunately though, an average of one effective joke per hour isn’t the best return for the ticket price.
Santhanam needs to make peace with the notion that his brand of insult comedy just doesn’t work anymore — not with the insults being so uninventive anyway. He takes quite a few jabs at Yogi Babu’s character in this film: “Korangu kottaavi vitta madhri irukka.” Manobala meanwhile gets: “Therula phenyl vikkaravan madhri irukka.” After a brief break, he returns to Yogi Babu with “akkul mudi thalaya”. In between feeble attempts to replicate this Goundamani brand of comedy, he also looks to make progress with the hero transformation, but never with any real conviction. He lands a slow-mo flying punch or two in stunt sequences, but quickly reduces it to a less-serious more-slapstick version of fighting. He speaks a romantic line or two, but quickly returns to mocking the heroine.
Hell, he even reels off a punch line or two in verbal duels with the villain, but quickly returns to saying, “Enna yen da punch dialogue pesa vekkaringa?” Given the apparent lack of conviction, it’s a question you want to ask on behalf of him too.
For lack of jokes to take your mind off the ‘serious’ events of this film, you are left grappling with several questions. Why’s our cinema still so obsessed with the female waist? Why does its romance still need to have beginnings in the hero saving the heroine from being raped? And in any case, what’s this strange world of Dagaalty where the heroine, mere seconds after being rescued from the clutches of a lustful, bloodthirsty villain, sits happily, playing the piano? Around this point, it’s hard not to feel a sense of self-pity for what you’re putting yourself through in the name of entertainment. I also felt this sympathy for the film’s composer, Vijay Narain, who puts on a decent show despite the material. One of his songs, Paaren Paaren, comes in the aftermath of Guru convincing Malli to come with him to Mumbai.
How does he do this? Through a couple of absurd lies, and some good old-fashioned waist pressing, as Kushi’s Kattipudi song plays in the background. And all the while, you wait and you wait in vain for the jokes in this comedy. It’s not until you are walking out of the theatre, shaken at the sheer boredom of it all, that you dimly realise that there indeed was a big joke in the film, one that ran through its duration. The one on you