cinema Essay

Kalaai as a Service (KaaS): Siva Manasula Sakthi (SMS)

It’s time the world took note of the work of director M. Rajesh.

The other SA Chandrasekhar assistant. Especially of interest is his pentalogy of movies with comedy star Santhanam, which began with 2009s Siva Manasula Sakthi or SMS. 

A decade just went past and no one only seemed to notice. Of course SMS is a certain kind of film that would not attract revivals, it also has the misfortune (from a critical pov) of being a non-classy romantic film, a genre which seems to somehow require a film to be ‘classy’ to be revived. 

Anyway, Rajesh wouldn’t care. I don’t mean that in a wrong way.

It shows in every scene right from the start, the mock freeze frame narration and pausing to question the audience whether Jiiva would be an Olympic athlete but then insisting that he is just a normal guy running to catch a train. It’s not that he is not sincere, it’s just that he is probably bored with what is quite commonly known here as “build-up”. No pretensions. 

Cut to next scene

Siva meets Sakthi on the train. 

Seconds later he is asking her to talk to him to pass the time. 

That’s it. 

No glowing close-up to the heroine’s eyes, no hero touching his chest and kneeling to the ground, no guitar solo,no “avlo oru azhagu” types, no Harris Jayraj duolingo humming (although Rajesh would use the composer in a later film), no general wishy washy circling around for 40 mins before saying something poetic etc. 

No romance in a romance film. Boom. 

Full disclosure, we generally love all types of films, but we also tend to hate the most romantic of the romantic ones. The ones where romance is the sole soul, we mean…never mind. 

Siva can never be a movie romantic lead, his pick up line is about Anantha Vikatan (also the producers and the magazine is ‘well placed’ in the movie), it’s not much of a pick up line too, he is raw male instincts personified  he is also real. 

Our usual romantic leads are often those who just jump out of a strawberry dream in little heart situations. Unrealistic even by middle class expectations. 

Siva is just another guy, Sakthi too, just another girl. 

They remain so till the very end.

No no, this is definitely not the glib “mature understanding love story” , no no, this is even not the “poratti podra” transformational love story where one lead influences the other to change their entire life. This movie does not even fall into the taming of the shrew subgenre. 

Siva Manasula Sakthi is the most realistic love story ever made in Tamil cinema, the fact that it is told as a humorous interplay between two characters with brittle ego who cannot get enough of themselves is its differentiating point. That it also avoids unnecessary social commentary is where its brilliance lies. 

Right so, when they do first meet, both are instinctively attracted to each other and present complete fake versions of themselves, but those thin characteristics break away and the rest of the movie is just Siva and Sakthi irritating themselves to the world’s end. 

Yours Irritatingly

Love stories tend to focus on the great moments that a couple have (imagined, with the passage of time) but SMS stays on the not so great moments and more on how much can one tolerate the other, which seems to be a more practical approach to deciding on long term romance, rather than say learning guitar or that sort of thing. 

Hence, the term real.

In life or say real life, relationships are truncated or prolonged based on the mutual tolerance level and relationships include love, we think no other movie touched on this aspect and it’s a very practical way to decide. Great work Rajesh, we know you don’t care, but still. 

Again, a romance film that does not romanticise. 

But it is true that they do have their sweet moments, but it is reserved for a montage during the time Siva and Shakti are away,not as elaborate as the “Kalaai” portions. 

Making irritation scenes the mainstay is also clever while looking at it from the impact POV, when Sakthi realizes that Siva really does love him underneath all the put on contempt, sitting in a restaurant with Arya (another Rajesh trademark cameo feature) her “could have been would-be”. It’s incidents from these irritations and scheming that Siva really understands her. It hits her (and us) hard.

Not so punny, kid

‘Kalaai’ is a difficult word to translate, so is ‘Nakkal’ and ‘Kindal’, make-fun-of does not really meet the meaning, it’s a very Tamil thing and although it is not unique to Rajesh’s films, but he was the one who codified it and it becomes emblematic to the point of difficulty in his later films (maybe wait for our essay on Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga). 

Comedy films have been gauged on the amount of laughter that they provide, how many lines have been remembered, how many lines that could be repurposed for daily life. Maybe that’s a cerebral way to approach humor, but it is not the natural way. Structured dialogue comedy does not happen in real life, people rarely speak in rat-a-tat-a-tat. These are constructed screenplays based on intellect, not for normals.  

Like his practical approach to love, Rajesh also has a practical approach to comedy, he doesn’t want to pack 200 jokes in 100 minutes, he doesn’t even care if some jokes do not land (which is very true of the film) and that’s okay, because in the life of Siva or a person like Sakthi would not be able to make up smart turns of phrase. They would probably make fun of a fat person, which is what they do. But they have a good laugh.

Kalaai hence becomes both the medium for love and comedy, it was refreshing to watch this two pronged approach the first time and it is still refreshing because very few have attempted such a radically different way to tell a love story. Rajesh would, but then this is his mould from which other movies do come out. Do note that the Kalaai is not one way, the hero too gets it back (and nicely so) from the heroine (Anuya Bhagwat is a treat to watch in her debut, despite the dubbing). 

Rajesh’s films are also dubbed (not in another language) as TASMAC films (why not wait for our essay on All in All Azhagu Raja), owing to how the hero and Santhanam spend most of the time at wine shops and yes TASMAC is an important setting in SMS, it’s where Sakthi finally admits to being in love (he still thinks it’s another elaborate Kalaai), but what other outlet does Siva have in matters of the heart. Where else will he go to nurse his broken ego and who else would support him like his friend Santhanam (named Vivek [LOL] in the film). 

Santhanam’s role in Rajesh films would continue to grow even to the extent of the whole film revolving around him, but surely you can witness traces of the flow in the ever popular ‘Harry Potter Vaaya’ and the broken mobile phone gag in SMS, but it is definitely not peak Santhanam. We were surprised about how little he appears in the film.

Rajesh also believes that Kalaai is not restricted to what only the comedian says, he finds it in the RJ voice obsessed Siva’s sister, he finds it in the kindness personified Urvashi, Siva’s mother. It is here that Rajesh forged his strong family setup which would be repeated time and again. 

But it is Jiiva who takes the money to the bank, the testimony to his acting prowess is that after SMS, he is able to fit right into Neethane En Pon Vasantham too. Absolute talent, perhaps the most versatile after Kamal. 

Rajesh perfected his model in his first film while many accumulate signatures slowly over time.

Why yes how many first film directors set out to make their best film as their first?

Working under limitations of a production house (Vikatan) which was till then producing tele serials and no star magnet to put people in their seats. His advertising background probably came to help in including items that interest his core audience (the youth of 2008-9) and he went about it making it as honestly as possible and proving that excessive displays of conviction alone cannot make a good film, just being self will do. 

Do give it a watch, if you haven’t lately and we hope you would think well to include it in future anniversary revivals.  

After a top debut, where will Rajesh go from here? 

Tune into the next edition of Kalaai as a Service, where we (hopefully can) dive deep into the cinema of M Rajesh. 

Thank you for reading.

cinema cinema:tamil Uncategorized


Mugamoodi (2012)


Sometime in the near past, I made up a character called Turkey Towel Man, a man with apparently no relevance to society but exists only to satisfy my need to be part of the things I was watching at the time on TV, the turkey towel of course was the cape; you could say he was my first indigenous hero of sorts; but he existed solely within the mind, without purpose other than to be part of creation.

The setting is a well lit and brimming indoor auditorium, the kind which makes you immediately think about how much money they spent in bringing these people together, it is a Kung Fu competition of some high order, the participants are wearing different colors. The crowd erupts when one of them falls, there is one man silent amidst all this; the archetypical wise but calm, poor idealist master; the man who predicted the fall from the beginning, just by looking at the stance of the fighter.

That is exactly how I felt while watching Mysskin’s Mugamoodi. But wait, everybody knows the story; not just this one but perhaps every super hero film, especially when the director is spitting into the promotional mikes saying “yes plans for sequels are on.” The matter of any story lies in the telling and Mysskin in his fifth film has achieved that to a considerable extent while managing to combine his usual visual style to the story of the super hero.

I know and I’m tired, there are already a score of them waiting for a Blue Ray release and few more to come to the theaters, but it is the way of the world, the roll of the wheel and the squeak of the mouse.

As it is the tradition these days, these films generally begin with the villain, carefully establishing the power of the character and dropping hints on what his great plan would be, Narein plays Dragon an exponent of Kung Fu and the leader of a meticulous band of thieves; his streak of madness visible only during the time he prepares himself for murder; mouthing child like rhymes scarily and giving the opponent enough time to come to the conclusion that death is perhaps the better option.

So we now have the mad villain, we must also have the hero played by Jiiva who finds his real purpose in life, this is handled much better than the stock villain; Mysskin effectively combines the typical wayward son from many Tamil films and the ‘other’ man characters from Hollywood superhero film to create a fresh Anand alias Bruce Lee; the noms de guerre assumed not only because he has a much worshipped poster on the wall, but his inspiration in the world of Kung Fu taught by his selfless master. In the same city inhabit the duty bound police officer Gaurav who is hot on the trails of the thieving gang and his daughter with whom our hero will eventually fall in love.

There are some great themes in the origins story like how Mugamoodi thankfully isn’t a film where the hero stands for the oppressed; but gets into the suit quite accidentally and the good thought of having both the main characters on an equal footing by making them both men of martial arts, with this come the slow running shots, the movement of people like clockwork and odd ball characters typical of Mysskin’s films

It is in the events that lead up to the climax that one wonders how much the film has borrowed from its Hollywood counterparts and from Mysskin’s own stable but sadly more than it can use; in these times it is the music of K that lifts the film; one of the finest soundtracks in recent years.

Although Mugamoodi’s claim that it is Tamil Cinema’s first superhero film can be debated, but it is certainly the first to achieve an atmosphere comparable to the current Hollywood trend viz. to make the superhero look more meaningful and that at a small percentage of the cost involved; but all that withers away in the end, still making Mysskin’s previous Yuddham Sei (wage war) his most evolved work.


Aside, the film also makes the weirdest reference to Sherlock Holmes; the borrowing of set pieces and characters do not bother me to the extent of condemning it to plagiarist hell as it is quite understandable as references for a Tamil super hero are minimal and this made me go back to my Turkey Towel Man, a character as stated before only to fill my fantasies, maybe Mugamoodi is Mysskin’s Turkey Towel Man. The relevance of the character and film can only be known at a later date, if any. But all this seems like I am defending the director for his ordinary work.