Kombu Vatcha Singamda Movie Review: A subdued Sasikumar shoulders an okayish Sundarapandian reboot
Sasikumar and SR Prabhakaran seem to have come up with Kombu Vatcha Singamda as an answer to the criticisms that their first film, Sundarapandian, revelled in casteist undertones.
In one particular scene, a bunch of oppressors try to kill a Dalit person who “had the guts” to sit cross-legged opposite them in a tea stall. Sasikumar’s unnamed protagonist (let’s call him SS-Saviour Sasikumar), who is witness to this horrific oppression, doesn't jump into action straight away. How can SS not save someone at the first sign of danger? Only after one aruva slash at the victim does SS spring into action. And interestingly, instead of delivering a sermon to the oppressors, SS and his coterie of five friends file a case at the police station against these oppressors. At that moment, it became safe to assume that the Sundarapandian combo of actor Sasikumar and director SR Prabhakaran came up with Kombu Vatcha Singamda (KVS) as an answer to the criticisms that their first film revelled in casteist undertones.
Cast: Sasikumar, Madonna Sebastian, Soori, Mahendran
Director: SR Prabhakaran
In fact, in many ways, KVS is definitely a Sundarapandian reboot. We have Sasikumar, Soori, and four more friends, who cut across religion and caste barriers, ruling the roost in a certain part of rural Tamil Nadu. They are the do-gooders of the area and in KVS they are Periyarists who have denounced the idea of caste. SS and co are constantly at loggerheads with a casteist Velappan (Hareesh Peradi), and incidentally, it is the latter’s daughter (Madonna Sebastian) that SS fancies.
While the film meanders from one preachy incident to another, we are shown how the biggest fear of SS and co come to life. You see, having grown up listening to the lessons preached by an Eelam fighter (Samuthirakani, of course), SS and co turn staunchly anti-casteist and disturb the status quo of their casteist town much to the chagrin of oppressors like Velappan. However, SS and Co, strongly believe they shouldn’t allow the casteist powers that be to bring caste into their friendship. Of course, there are generic scenes to show how SS, who comes from a 'dominant' caste, is aware of the oppression and struggles to bring a semblance of equality within his living community. While this does reek of supreme saviour complex, it has to be noted that these are little steps forward. However, there is no real commitment to this cause by both Prabhakaran and SS as the latter is shown supporting Velappan’s election campaign because his father Deivendiran (Mahendran) said so. It isn’t to say that SS gives up without a fight, but it doesn’t seem he had to be that coerced. This election campaign is what creates irreparable rift lines between this thick group of friends. Well... Two years, and two murders later, we venture into a whodunit space that is quite a welcome distraction from the overall genericity of the film.
In fact, despite the best attempts to mask Sundarapandian 2, I mean, KVS as a commentary against the idea of caste, the film doesn’t quite do justice to the premise in hand. The unnecessary misogyny and unbridled regression don't bode well either. However, there are certain nifty touches made by Prabhakaran that allow us to throw our weight behind the intentions that don’t necessarily get translated well onscreen. We have a scene where Aruldoss’ Dalit leader gets reminded that bonhomie with the oppressing caste might sometimes be helpful, but it can never be a long-term relationship. There is this wonderful dialogue about the deification of dead people by their respective castes despite the person himself never aligning with any caste. But, these come few and far in between a film that is a bit confused as to where it wants to position itself.
It is impressive how Soori has grown in these types of films and sees himself more as a supporting actor and not just a comedian. In fact, with Prabhakaran showcasing SS at one of his subtlest (he doesn't even get an intro song), it is this group of friends, lead by Soori, who take care of the melodrama. While the love track between SS and Madonna sticks out like an unnecessary appendage, we do get two melodious numbers by Dhibu Ninan Thomas, who also puts in his best to create an adrenaline rush with his background score. However, the leisured pacing of the film doesn't really help Dhibu or the audience.
All things said it might seem that KVS does have its heart in the right place, but a lot of plot points are forced into the narrative just to exhibit woke credentials. Many of the scenes feel more like a checkbox being ticked rather than a movie being narrated. But to give credit where it's due, Prabhakaran ends this film on a rather poignant note. It is layered, and points to one understanding but also alludes to a completely different one and puts the onus on societal changes on us, the society. In ways, that's what many rising voices in the anti-caste space are doing with their films. Kombu Vatcha Singamda is definitely no Pariyerum Perumal or Karnan or Kaala, but it is definitely a couple of rungs higher than Sundarapandian, and it just goes on to show that the long write-ups, the deep analysis, and well-intentioned criticisms are reaching the right places, and the change is happening. Slowly... but steadily.