Gulu Gulu Movie Review: Excessive quirk marks this exhausting film
The problem with Gulu Gulu isn’t one of ideology. It’s one of excess
Gulu Gulu is rather puzzling. Even if I tried, I would struggle to quickly tell you what this film is about. I guess a good place to begin would be the genre—‘black comedy’ or ‘absurd comedy’ would fit, I think. What’s the story, you ask? It’s difficult but let me give it a go: Circumstances force a helpful gypsy protagonist (Santhanam) to pair up with a bunch of misfits—which includes a woman who suffers from gerontophobia (fear of old people, apparently)—in a quest to rescue a wrongly abducted boy, even as the abductors look to retrieve one of their own from the big villain, who hopes to murder his step-sister for digging up the body of his father… You know what, never mind. This isn’t a film that’s so much about the story, anyway. It's one that seems to be trying to deliver quick laughs—through dialogue and situational humour—peppered, of course, by occasional simplistic messaging. The problem with this comedy is, I don’t believe I laughed all that often. And that means what’s left behind is a shell of a story and a film that seems to stray and digress to unsettling effect.
Cast: Santhanam, Athulya Chandra, Namitha Krishnamurthy, Pradeep Rawat
It all begins with a VFX sequence—just like the director’s previous film, Aadai—and this time, we learn of a survivor from an Amazon rainforest tribe—our protagonist, Google, played by Santhanam… The beginning seems intriguing, and I enjoyed the passing suggestions that Google’s altruism comes at the expense of great self-harm. And yet, towards the end, when you are shown the physical trauma on Google’s body, it’s not as moving as it should be. Gulu Gulu sets the stage for many such character arcs, but they rarely result in emotionally fulfilling resolutions—like that gerontophobia girl, whose conveniently quick healing happens in a pedestrian scene.
Rathnakumar seems to mean well though, and you can see this with much of the messaging—even if he resorts to simplistic ways and one-liners. There’s talk about the importance of preserving a language. There’s some subtext about absent father figures. There’s some empathy for the elderly, especially for the women. There’s some criticism of how men are selfish and are quick to an ‘I love you’—but look at how the film equates this with sexual abuse and rape. This is also the same film that plays to stereotypes around Chinese people and how they eat everything. A Chinese man who’s tortured with a rat apparently enjoys eating it.
The problem with Gulu Gulu isn’t one of ideology. It’s one of excess. Let’s talk about the very many characters that populate this world. There’s a father figure who speaks like Raghuvaran. There’s a European NRI woman who speaks a tribal language. There’s a man who keeps talking on the phone about pavakkai kozhambu. There’s a murderous, bereaved son who doesn’t like people crying about his father. You already know the Amazonian tribal man, and the woman who suffers from gerontophobia. There are Chinese men who take a gaming grudge a tad too seriously. There’s a bad guy with a tattoo of an eye on the back of his head, to symbolise his love for eye-gouging. It’s, to put it mildly… a lot of quirk. I found it all to be rather tiresome, especially given that these individual eccentric elements don’t come together to make the laugh riot the film is perhaps intended to be—even if all the quirk is right up Santhosh Narayanan’s alley.
My most favourite scene of this film, in fact, is one that’s not meant to be funny. It’s about Santhanam’s Google punishing a police officer, and the manouevring he does to make it happen. It’s a scene that shows smarts, and one that made me appreciate Santhanam in this rather silent, serious outing. But like with many other promising ideas in this film, nothing much comes of this, even as the film quickly and disinterestedly moves on to its villain figure killing someone and saying what he seems to think is a great punchline: “Cockroach!” Was it supposed to be funny? Frightening? Wacky? Amusing? Like with the rest of the film, I was not really sure.