Saturday, March 27, 2010

You are My Chicken Fry, Part 2

"Do you want to be a hero? Or would you rather be a chicken-man?"
-- from Repo Man

Unlike in the American idiom, where "chicken" usually means "coward," the hero in the 2009 Tamil release Kanthaswamy doesn't have to be one or the other. He can be both!

I believe it was Filmi Girl who posted the awesome trailer on her blog, although I can no longer find the evidence. When I first watched it, I was swept away by its spectacular magnificence. Or as I think were the exact words: "It's like Batman. But instead of a bat, he's a -- chicken?"

It is truly truth-in-advertising here, because for once, the trailer gives a pretty accurate idea of what the movie is like. And while it didn't quite reach the heights of lunacy that I was hoping for: come on, it's a superhero in a chicken costume! That's all I really need to know.

With early research, I also discovered that this film was the source of the annoyingly catchy "Excuse Me Mr. Kanthaswamy" that was very popular on the Hyderabad radio stations at the time -- but more on that later.

The movie is very glossy and expensive-looking right from the beginning, with action sequences full of quickly edited martial arts moves. However, the costumed superhero does in fact make "buck, buck, buck-caw" chicken noises while he fights, which brings it to a whole different level.

Kanthaswamy is both a CBI agent, taking down criminals by day, and a costumed superhero ... taking down criminals by night. This was momentarily puzzling, but it's all part of a Robin Hood thing. In his day job he confiscates the ill-gotten goods, and uses the disguise to redistribute the money to the needy. "Kanthaswamy will see that the gap between the poor and rich is minimized," as one song puts it. Without the secret identity business, he'd probably lose access to the evidence locker pretty quickly.

As it is, his shenanigans, giving money to the poor who leave prayer requests tied to the sacred tree at the Kanthaswamy/Murugan temple, draw the attention of an inspector who is introduced with the caption "Bharathidasan IPSDIGCBCID."

At first I thought this acronym was a gag for comedic effect, but I looked it up for you. That's "Indian Police Service" (IPS), "Deputy Inspector General of Police" (DIG), "Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department" (CBCID). Wow.

Kanthaswamy is played by 'Chiyaan' Vikram. The IMDB doesn't know this is the same Vikram starring in the upcoming Raavana, but it appears that he is. Vikram is a well-known playback singer who does his own singing here, which is interesting, and kind of retro. So far, I have no information on the "Chiyaan," or why they put that in quotes. Did you know that Google Translate doesn't have a Tamil option?

Anyway, our hero brings down the crime empire of a bad guy called PPP, who then fakes a stroke for sympathy. All this brings on the enmity of the villain's pampered daughter Subbulakshmi (Shriya Saran), who vows to destroy Kanthaswamy. Both of them pretend to fall in love with the other, as part of their ploys, leading to various complications, and a couple of crazy songs.

First off, there's "Excuse Me." I'd heard this many times, but was completely dumbfounded when I saw the translation for some of the lyrics. The premise is that at this point, she's pursuing him, and he's resisting. Which doesn't explain this:

He: You Hitler's grand daughter. Love is not a Jew to kill it!
She: You Lincoln's grand son. Don't kill me by talking philosophy! I'm Kashmir and you are Pakistan! There will be no end for our fight.

What the? What? WHAT? I heard "Excuse Me" on Radio Mirchi for the first time in ages the other day (obviously an omen of some kind), and when I listened closely, I could hear the word "Hitler." Funny how it never popped out until I knew it was there.

On a lighter note, the next verse includes:

He: You are an egg of a duck and you can't enter into the group of ducks!
She: Don't talk like crazy, you rogue.

Which is the first logical thing anyone's said since the song started.

Then there's the "Meow Meow" number, in which both of them make cat claws and cat faces at each other. Even apart from being a cat song in a chicken movie, it makes me giggle a lot, and also, is a lot racier than I'm used to!

This song also gets an amusing reprise later on. The two are on an airplane, and she corners him in the restroom for a heart-felt talk about how she's learned the error of supporting her evil father, and is now on his side. Meanwhile, all the other First Class passengers imagine that the two are Mile High Clubbin' it in there.

Throughout the movie, we get more explanation about what's going on. The superhero is actually backed by a whole team of experts, college friends who accidentally ran afoul of a crime lord, thus changing the course of their lives. He also has a whole complicated network of informers and helpers. Subbulakshmi solves the mystery of his identity in literally about two seconds, so even as the authorities are zeroing in on his accomplices, her father is able to manipulate him into working for the bad guys. Or so the crime bosses think! All leading to various double-crosses and what have you.

Sadly, the second half gets bogged down in all these machinations. We're not here for a serious crime caper film; we want more Attack of the Neon Chickens stuff!

One intriguing aspect of this admittedly silly film is that the wealthy lifestyles of its characters are openly contrasted with the lives of the poor and downtrodden. There's spoiled Subba living in a mansion, dancing in lavish stage shows, and even Kanthaswamy drives a very expensive-looking car. The people he's helping live in ramshackle houses on dirt roads, and are struggling to find clean drinking water.

A member of the team even brings up the age-old question of how to best help the poor, whether their simple redistribution of wealth to needy cases can ever change things substantially. Are their actions really going to help people in the long run? Kanthaswamy responds that there's "lots of money on one side, and no money on the other side," adding, "What to do?" What to do indeed.

Full disclosure time: I swear, I was half-way through this movie, after weeks of Rock Dancer-related chicken silliness, before it occurred to me that my last name actually means "Rooster" in an Eastern European language that shall remain nameless to protect the innocent.

If, like me, you simply must see this movie, be warned: Nehaflix only carries a $30 Blu-Ray. Even I'm not that crazy. Once again it was eBay to the rescue, where supplies are hit and miss, but I didn't pay anything like $30 to get my fix of my wild chicken action.


memsaab said...

Dear God. That is all.

Filmi Girl said...

You know, I've been trying to find a copy of this but hadn't thought to check Ebay!!

I... must... see Kanthaswamy!!!!!!!