Saturday, April 5, 2014

Maan Karate -- boxing away to half-baked glory

Sivakarthikeyan's now the latest Tamil 'mass-hero'

For Sivakarthikeyan, this is it. He has become the latest entrant to Kollywood’s ever-burgeoning “mass-hero” club. His latest movie, Maan Karate offers several pointers to the same: a shroud of invincibility to the lead character, irreverence to factors such as logic, the mandatory David vs Goliath setting, and an “intro” song (yes, you read it right). So much for an actor who shone in “very much like us” roles in Ethirneechal, Marina or Varuthapadatha Vaalibar Sangam.

As in any other “mass” movie, Peter (Sivakarthikeyan) has his way with everything: Maan Karate is all about the man who is out to claim his space, be it by right or by serendipity. He hails from the “low-class” locality Royapuram, but manages to impress and woo Yazhini (Hansika Motwani) the daughter of a college professor (Sayaji Shinde, who surprisingly does not play the corrupt politician/ police officer). He can’t tell apart cricket from boxing, but participates in a boxing tourney and gets to knock-out an eleven-time champ hands down. Why? Because, according to an ascetic, he was destined to.

Undoubtedly, the movie’s biggest weakness has to be the routine involving Peter participating in the boxing tournament, which generates the impression that it has been dealt with as an afterthought. He is there to win, after all, so where is the need for scenes showing him preparing for the same? The same applies to the evil streak in the antagonist, which gets hastily added towards the closing scenes when you begin doubting whether he is actually the villain.

And then there is the list of ‘wasted’ characters whom we get to see for just a few scenes, especially those involving the parents of the lead pair. We’d never know whether their sequences were chopped at the editor’s block, but this makes for an incongruous phenomenon. Add to this list the character of the boxing coach -- remember the smart Malayalam-speaking cop from the taut thriller Onaayum Aatukuttiyum? – who springs the biggest surprise by delivering a pep talk to the hero despite not being shown as having tutored him, when you wonder whether filmmakers ever lose sleep over such details.

Quoting the Tirukkural to fall in love
Humour is Maan Karate’s bedrock, over which its inconsistencies have been smoothened; the morphine for viewers to endure a painful narrative. For most of the first half and even in the latter half – when it enters somber territory -- viewers are subjected to a barrage of lines that induce laughter. As the hero, Sivakarthikeyan delivers some of the cheesiest lines that bring the roof down (“Why do I need a nightie?” he says when his ladylove presents him with a boxing gown). The routines involving his learning and reciting verses from the Tirukkural – including one related to a Jayam Ravi movie! – in order to impress Yazhini’s father evoke heavy doses of laughter.

Sivakarthikeyan manages to deliver an impressive performance. With a near-flawless dialogue delivery, he waltzes his through the humorous sequences. In fact, whenever he utters a serious line, you wonder whether it is a spoof. Hansika may be eye-candy alright, but her acting has improved several notches; her trademark wooden expressions seem to have disappeared. Anirudh’s peppy soundtrack and BGM is among Maan Karate's positives.
The Indian fascination for fair skin --
Will it ever end?

Shamefully though, Maan Karate makes no bones about the fact that it propagates the hideous Indian spectacle called white-skin fascination. Of all her attributes, it is her fair and ‘clear ghee-like’ skin that entices Peter to Yazhini, making even the crudest of advertisments for Fair and Lovely seem palatable. It sounds jarring when the hero says he sees no wrong in girls with ordinary complexions having boyfriends. And let us not even get started on the ‘fair’ preference even for the extras in song sequences. At the very least, can't filmmakers keep their prejudices to themselves?

If only "mass-hero" movies learn to be a little more politically correct, at the very least?