One of the underrated traits of Kamal Haasan is his impeccable sense of humour. When we think of him, we think about his award-winning performance in Nayakan, his maverick acting in Guna or his elderly vigilante role in Indian. We remember him more for his lucid screenwriting, distinctive sense of filmmaking and a slew of bold performances. But we don’t seem to pay enough attention to the madcap comedian in him. He is the best comedian the Tamil film industry has ever produced and he belongs to the class of JP Chandrababu, Nagesh and Cho Ramaswamy.
His humour was sharp as a razor when he worked with his long-time associate and late comedian-screenwriter Crazy Mohan.
Crazy Mohan and Kamal Haasan first collaborated for Apoorva Sagodharargal. The film is an example of what filmmakers can achieve within the confines of commercial masala cinema. While Kamal wrote the screenplay, Mohan took care of the dialogues. Following this success, they both collaborated again and this time they outdid themselves.
The writer duo’s Michael Madana Kama Rajan (MMKR) is among the best comedy films made in Tamil cinema so far. Even nearly 30 years later, the film will give you belly laughs.
MMKR was helmed by Singeetam Srinivasa Rao from Kamal’s script. The entire backstory of the film is narrated in the opening montage song, “Kadha Kelu Kadha Kelu”. The song, which was composed and sung by Ilaiyaraaja, quickly details how identical-looking quadruplets were separated at birth paving the way for the main plot to proceed forward without any baggage.
The film revolves around four distinctive characters: a foreign-educated millionaire Madan, a hardened criminal Michael, a heroic fireman Subramaniam Raju and a naive and kind-hearted cook Kameshwaran (all played by Kamal). The brilliant screenplay introduces the four estranged brothers in an ingenious manner.
Madan confronts Avinashi (Nagesh) after he finds out that the latter has siphoned off Rs 25 lakh rupees of his father’s money. What ensues is hilarious slapstick humour, involving Madan’s Goliath of a bodyguard Bheem (Praveen Kumar of Mahabharat series fame), that tackles brute loyalty and cold treachery. The main conflict in the scene is over the money owed, which becomes an invisible thread that connects all the brothers.
The next scene we see Michael, who is fast asleep as he pulled an all-nighter printing counterfeit money. The scene results in a chase sequence which ends when Michael’s car rams into a transformer under a basement of a building. The ensuring short-circuit sets the bulling on fire, necessitating the service of firemen. We meet Subramaniam Raju, a fireman, who rescues Shalini Shivaraman (Kushboo) and some of her paintings from the fire. His fantasy song with Shalini is interrupted by the moneylender, to whom Raju owes a debt (see the pattern). Raju has no money to give, so he offers a plate of dry fish, which the moneylender throws out the window. The plate of fish lands on the head of Kameshwaran, who is a cook. And when Kameshwaran meets his father, he has a small argument over balance amount of some purchase.
The life of four brothers remains interlocked even as fate has taken them in different directions. For example, Avinashi has misappropriated Rs 25 lakh of Madan’s money and he returns Rs 6 lakh later. Raju had taken a loan of Rs 6,000, which stands at Rs 25,000 with interest (the pattern continues).
Kamal Haasan’s quasi-improvisational nature of the plot is enhanced by Crazy Mohan’s spontaneity, which is beautifully organic. The film is rife with Mohan’s quotable one-liners and trademark puns. The jokes are no-brainers, even intentionally bizarre at times.
Sample this: when Shalini bumps into Raju at a Madras (now Chennai) hotel, he gives her his newly assumed identity- Madan. “Isn’t your name Subramaniam Raju?”, she asks. An unprepared Raju manages the lie by improvising an unreasonable explanation on the spot. He ad-libs: “My full name is Madan. But, all my friends lovingly, in short, call me Subramaniam Raju.” You might expect a follow-up question but Shalini buys into Raju’s ridiculous premise without a second thought. See how Mohan toys with the audience. He was nicknamed ‘Crazy’ for a reason.
Another variation of the same joke even seeps into Mohan’s writing for Avvai Shanmughi, where Kamal claims Basha is short for Palavakkam Swaminathan.
Michael Madana Kama Rajan is a work of pure and unadulterated passion for comedy and cinema, which is a rarity today. The film is available on Amazon Prime Video.