Synopsis: A struggling filmmaker agrees to make a film for a big shot, accepting the latter's condition that he cast his daughter as the heroine.
Review: After getting too preachy in his previous film, Gouravam, Radhamohan is back with what can be described as his forte — a light-hearted comedy that feels like a spiritual sequel to his debut film Azhagiya Theeye, even if this one feels slightly watered-down compared to the earlier film. What if the aspiring filmmaker of that film, who was also named Chandran, had become a failure, with his first film a box office flop and the next stalled mid-way? That is what has happened to this film's Chandran (Karunakaran), who considers his next project — whenever it happens — will be his "last bus". So, when his manager Pandian (Mayilsamy) takes him to Ayya (MS Bhaskar), a big shot in the fishing community who wants to produce a film, he instantly agrees (his sister's impending marriage also forces his hand), even though there is a catch — Ayya wants him to cast his daughter, Maha (Nandita) as the heroine. Has Chandran bargained for more than what he had asked for?
Thematically, Uppu Karuvadu feels like a Jigarthanda-meets-Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam (KTVI). As in the former, it is about a filmmaker who makes a compromise with a gangster-figure to make his film, and his exasperation trying to make a non-actor act provides the humour; and like the latter, the scenes are mainly discussions — that serve as genteel commentary on the film industry — that the filmmaker and his team have as they try to get a script ready for the film. But in place of the visual stylishness of Jigarthanda and the structural bravado of KTVI, the scenes here play out like a series of comedy sketches, giving it the feel of a stage drama that has been taped on camera. The music (by guitarist Steeve Vatz) is a complete let-down while the images look flat. Interestingly, the cinematographer is Mahesh Muthuswami, who was behind the arresting visuals of Mysskin's earlier films. You could watch this film on the big screen or on your TV or mobile and your experience will be the same.
But this has been Radhamohan's approach in his other films as well, and if you have to be less critical, you could qualify it as an understated visual style. And the director, with help from his dialogue writer Pon Parthiban, does make up for it with a constant stream of laughs delivered via gags and one-liners. Some are laugh-out-loud funny (Mayilsamy's mannerism of calling every sound as a good omen), some just about make us break into a smile (Tata Sumo-ku puncture podalam; Titanic kappal-ku unnala puncture poda mudiyuma?) while a few are been-there-done-that (the scenes involving the fake godman who counsels Ayya). And the casting is also spot on. Karunakaran brings the right amount of seriousness to the role while Nandita captures the spoilt child aspect of Maha. Chawms and Narayan as Chandran's associates convey the right amount of cluelessness, while Mayilsamy shows that he could be a fine replacement for Thambi Ramaiah. And the Radhamohan constants, Kumaravel, as a former gangster who ingratiates himself into the story discussions and turns out to be the best contributor, and MS Bhaskar as the big shot with a penchant for poetry, are impressive as ever. The standout is Doubt Senthil, as a naive assistant director who keeps using the wrong similar-sounding English word — bald for bold, impotent for important, Akila Kurosawa for Akira Kurosawa and so on. In the end, despite the considerable failings, it is these touches that ensure that we leave the theatre with a smile on our face.