Dharma Prabhu Movie Review: This partly funny comedy about Yama turns into a preachy bore
Despite having a number of giggle worthy moments, the Yogi Babu starrer tries to touch a lot of issues, thereby moving away from its prime motive
We have all but forgotten all those age-old Tamil films based on deities and mythological characters, and so, I was rather excited to learn that Dharma Prabhu that stars Yogi Babu, is about Lord Yama. This actor, who had told us a year ago that he isn’t looking to play lead roles, carries his character on his shoulder like Lord Yama does his mace.
Cast: Yogi Babu, Ramesh Thilak, Radha Ravi, Rekha, Rajendran
Unlike traditional 'yaman' films centred on the lord of death, Dharma Prabhu is actually a coming-of-age story of Yama's son (played by Babu) who has no interest in taking over the throne. He fails his fifth grade a number of times, and is happy doing normal things a young adult would do in Yemalogam: Learn Tamil from Thiruvalluvar, mathematics from Ramanujam, but the pressure rises on him as the reigning Yama (Radha Ravi) is getting old and his wife (an underutilised Rekha) is a staunch believer of keeping the position within the family. In her words, “Saavathu yaaraga irrunthalum, kolvathu naam aga irukka vendum". The reluctant son taking over the throne irks Chitraguptan (a likeable Ramesh Thilak) who vies for the position. While this, on its own, would have been a decent storyline, director Muthukumaran doesn’t think so, and instead spends much time on commenting on every headline-worthy issue that plagues our society today.
Dharma Prabhu’s hell looks like a God Of War game played on an outdated console, while its heaven is shown as a picturesque locale, in which two of our late chief ministers even have a conversation. Incorporating such real-life characters turns out to be quite enjoyable in this film. We see everyone from Vaali and Mother Teresa, to Gandhi, Periyar and Ambedkar. There is even a scene in which Bosskey enacts Cho Ramaswamy. While the depiction of these characters are enjoyable as easter eggs are, it gets tiring after a while.
The issues are very many. There’s a needless track involving Azhagam Perumal, Sam Jones and Janani Iyer. The film also just can’t stop checking a list of issues riddling our state, including farmer problems, rapists and Hindi imposition. There are also jokes on politicians, including about expensive suits, stolen statues, and even Rajinikanth's political foray. While some of them are funny, most feel like rehashes of what films such as LKG and Nenjamundu Nermaiyundu Odu Raja have already done. Some other attempts are plain ridiculous, and not in a good way. There's a scene showing women drinking at a pub which a character refers to as the cause of the Pollachi incident. A lady who has drowned a few snakes in the name of feeding them milk is given the ‘punishment’ of marrying a heavy person. It’s all plain regressive and toxic.
Some redemption comes in the form of decent dialogues in other scenes. Lipsync issues betray that many of those lines are improvised, but that doesn’t stop them from being enjoyable. Yogi Babu's wit has fetched him dialogue writing credits in this film. He calls Thiruvalluvar bro, cries at his swearing-in ceremony while the background music is one that was played during the telecast of a CM’s death, asks the slow-walking angels of heaven whether they are attending an awards function, and even compares a vision shown by Shiva (a brilliantly cast Naan Kadavul Rajendran) to an operator from Kamala Theatre. Several of his lines bring the house down with laughter. While on clever writing, let’s not forget a Trump lookalike shown to be America’s version of Yama. Aware that the film will be compared with the hilarious 1995 film, Lucky Man, Dharma Prabhu also makes references to Goundamani and Senthil.
Instead of capitalising on such elements, Dharma Prabhu quite needlessly takes on the mantle of messaging. It appears even narakalokam isn’t immune to the rampant disease of posturing.