In Pradeep Ranganathan’s Comali, Jayam Ravi (character name: Ravi) plays a 90s high schooler who meets with an accident and slips into a coma (geddit?) just as he was about to say “I love you” to the pretty girl he’s been bumping shoulders and catching eyes with, in school. He wakes up 16 years later to discover that the world around him has changed. Gone were the days where the entire neighbourhood would hangout at that one house which had a small TV set. Now everyone owns a tablet, smartphone, flat-screen TV and portable gaming devices… but Radikha Tamil serials are still a thing.
A large portion of the first half is actually really entertaining. We get a brilliant joke about Rajinikanth’s political career and also a witty scene where Yogi Babu (who plays Ravi’s best friend) shows him how love and relationships too, have evolved from the days of Kadhalukku Mariyadhai to the pre-marital sex era of OK Kanmani we live in now. One would guess that this would be a fish out of water comedy where Ravi, with Yogi Babu as his wingman, tries to navigate today’s world, while also poking fun at it. And for a short while, that’s the movie that we get. Yogi Babu and Jayam Ravi have excellent chemistry, bouncing off each other and delivering one chuckle-inducing line after another. It also helps that Yogi Babu doesn’t play an intrusive caricature but an actual character.
But Comali starts to get tonally jarring when a mistake Ravi makes — he kisses the Kajal Agrawal character who’s pouting her lips while taking a selfie, assuming that it’s what she wants — leads us to a serious and melodramatic scene where Ravi’s sister yells at him for bringing shame to the family. It’s such an odd choice for a film that had been trucking along tongue in cheek. And then it morphs into a heist film (or something) about acquiring a family heirloom worth millions from a gangster-politician played by K.S. Ravikumar. None of this, which is a bulk of the movie, has got anything to do with Ravi trying to navigate the fast-moving concrete jungle of the 21st century. It feels like two completely different screenplays slapped together awkwardly.
An over the top cartoonish scene which sees our protagonists jumping around a house in search of a film roll is suddenly and forcefully pierced with a mind-numbing lecture. You see… Ravi yells at his friends and the audience, back in the day people used to go out and play with their friends; These days, people only play video games within the confines of their rooms. Back in the day, families would sit on rooftops and have picnics; These days, people order pizza and sit in front of their TVs. Back in the day, people would leave their work in the office; These days the phones are ringing and buzzing with emails even after working hours. In short: Back in the day, everything was great, these days, everything sucks. Therefore, it isn’t he who was in a coma, it’s all of us. It felt like a jagged knife being jammed into my eardrums. The intent is fine, but I think Pradeep Ranganathan needs to watch a few episodes of Black Mirror to see how it’s done. Tamil cinema desperately needs to stop with its finger-wagging “message” movies.
Comali becomes even worse when it turns into a different message movie, this time on how caste and religion divide people. When the film opened with Ravi’s father telling him how “they have no caste” and “shouldn’t see caste and religion” I smiled (I’m a sucker for these sentiments) but wondered how this was gonna be shoehorned into the narrative. I like the quick exchange between Ravi and Yogi Babu in which he asks something along the lines of, “looks like everything has changed, except this.” It’s smart, true and very funny. I hated the blatant message dispensing at the end, which once again is such a drastic diversion from the lighthearted comedic set up about a man waking up in a different era. Yes, Hiphop Tamizha’s final track is great, but it simply does not belong. All in all, short bursts of fun and funnies from Jayam Ravi and Yogi Babu (barely) saves Comali from being a draggy mess of a movie.
Comali is currently playing in Malaysian cinemas.