Synopsis: A producer challenges a bunch of social media reviewers who have torn his recent masala film to come up with a good script in six months.
Review: In the titles of Masala Padam, director Laxman Kumar (the cinematographer of films like Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu and the Thillu Mullu remake) shows us clips from the Lumiere Brother's famous Arrival Of The Train to those from Tamil cinema's superstars like MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, MG, Sivaji Ganesan, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, to tell us a bit of the history of cinema. The film begins with a newly released masala film being trolled by social media reviewers. One of them is hit by a car and believes that it was a hit organised by the film's producer. The producer denies the allegation and challenges them on TV to come up with a script in six months. They decide to follow the lives of three men — Mani (Shiva, who generates the laughs with his usual deadpan style), a middle-class sales guy, Krish (Gaurav, adequate), a rich orphan and Amudhan (Simhaa, one-note), a gangster — and ask their friend Diya, a travelogue writer, to flirt with all three of them. Will their plan work out?
True to its name, Masala Padam is a potpourri of many genres — there is comedy, action, romance, drama. And it contains nods to numerous films down the years, by way of shots and plot lines. The most obvious one is the producer challenging critics, like Raghuvaran in Mudhalvan, to make a script that sells. Then, there is the Maan Karate-like initial set-up about a group of self-centred youngsters using a person for their personal gain. We even have Bobby Simhaa playing a fearsome gangster as he did in Jigarthanda.
But the film it feels the closest to in spirit is Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam (KTVI), which was also about people who are racing against time to develop a script. As in that film, the screenplay tries to ride on its quirkiness. But unlike that underrated film, this is not essentially a commentary on the workings of the Tamil film industry, but rather a look at the movie-going audience today. It talks about the elite audiences and critics who keep comparing "our films" to world cinema (read art cinema) and expect them to be realistic and artistic like those films. It talks about the common man, who expects nothing but entertainment out of these films and unquestioningly accepts them and celebrates them and their stars when they satisfy his expectations. It talks about how social media has become a disruptive force when it comes to deciding the box office fate of films. It talks about how the cliches that we see in our films are actually part of the formula that makes a film a hit. As a character remarks, "shit-ku ulla kooda oru hit irukku".
As if to illustrate the fact, Laxman gives us three sub-plots that are cliched but keeps things engaging. We see the three men falling for Diya and she, in turn, developing a soft corner towards them, and how her presence influences their lives. Like Diya, we, too, come to care about these characters to an extent. But where the film falters is in never coming together as a whole unlike KTVI, which, despite its rather intentionally disjointed screenplay, was consistent from start to finish. It also feels less sophisticated technically, with the music, camera and editing, all of which seem just functional and never enhance the plot. And while the film explains why a masala film still works — they are a projection of the unattainable dreams of the lay man ("cinema oru kanavu thozhirchaalai"), it doesn't offer any explanation on why innumerable films that follow the formula fail and how offbeat films end up being successful sometimes. Perhaps, that is a question for which even the industry doesn't have an answer yet.