Only when I watched the movie the second time, I realized that there is a style in which Kamal had attempted to make the movie, which more or less has been consistent throughout the movie. That is a plus. I am trying hard to put what I interpreted as the style of the movie, into words. May be at the end of this analysis, I would be able to sum up that “style”.
Once again, screenplay (or script), which is Kamal Hassan’s fortress of strength comes into forefront in Mumbai Express. His ability to connect sequence of events logically not losing his focus on the main plot makes him a good scriptwriter. Of course, like Virumandi, he ends up with a long script (this is without any song being shot in its entirety). But unlike Virumandi, this script, fortunately has comedy interwoven making the theatre goers not squirm so much in their seats.
The opening credits roll by very fast and the script pretty much starts of with 3 of the 9 or 10 main characters getting introduced (to us) in a very natural manner, also revealing the main plot quite wisely to the viewers, without any dramatic effort. Pasupathy, the actor who was being typecast as a rustic villain in tamil movies with cruel stares and vengeful dialogues, gets an opportunity to work with Kamal again. Boy! What an opportunity it turned out to be. He still has some stares in the movie – but not cruel ones. He is not a comedian, delivering humorous one liners every 3rd line he speaks. But his character of Chidambaram (Mr. A) is very well etched and more importantly, very well portrayed.
He comes off as a desperate man in need of some quick money, filled with ideas to get that but lacking all the expertise and skills to do so, committed, not trusting anyone around, yet willing to work in a team and just be normal. Everything a regular bad guy in your neighborhood would do. Nothing cinematic here.
Vyapuri’s character (Johnson or Mr. B) is definitely there for some laughs. But even Mr. B doesn’t do anything silly or quirky to bring out the laughter from us, the character had some high points in the movie. The confession joke, constant reminder to Mr. A about the usage of code words are some.
For any actor willing to experiment, take up challenges, etc., Thambu Chetty’s character is a welcoming opportunity. Like Pasupathy, Ramesh had a very good opportunity and he made full use of it. He is an annoying insurance agent – never losing focus on his job, even when he is badly injured. He had some great lines in the movie (“headukku maelae floodu..John poanaa enna? Johnson poana enna??”). My mother who watched the movie with me did not even know that it was Ramesh Aravind till I told her the following day. So whoever worked on Ramesh’s facelift needs to take some credit.
Hardik (10 year old), did a decent job. Even though his character crossed limits of a 10 year old at times, his character was neither too lovable nor too repulsive. Kamal Hassan probably did not want the focus to be on the boy & his characteristics too much – instead wanted the focus to be on the actual kidnapping of the boy. If that indeed was the case, then he, as a scriptwriter, lost his grip for a few minutes in the second half of the movie, when Manisha-Kamal relationship was being portrayed.
Nasser and Santhana Bharathy seem like they have played similar roles before. But that factor definitely does not hinder us from enjoying their respective characters’ antics. Sharad Saxena has a small part. Nothing to brag about.
Dheena, the new comer, needs to learn to speak better. His voice (and his lack of modulation) was my pet hate pick of the movie. Sarala was annoying at times, but I think she can blame Kamal Hassan, the dialogue writer for giving her some real jerky lines. The good part was that her screen time was less.
Manisha – It could have been anyone playing this part. I am not sure why Kamal was desperate to get Madhuri Dixit for this role. Or was the role underdeveloped and under portrayed because Manisha ended up doing it? Anyway, I am glad that some really talented actress was not wasted for this role. I like Manisha, but I think she seems to have lost her passion for acting in movies. She seems more distracted than being involved – may be her body language. But that’s my observation.
Finally Kamal the actor. He has definitely underplayed his role.. so much that some critics have termed him as the weakest link in the movie. For me, it is exactly what Kamal had wanted to do in this movie. In fact, I believe right from Anbe Sivam, Kamal has managed to bring in an air of reality around his characters, which means, he underplays his roles dramatically. For those for whom “Nayagan” is the benchmark for Kamal’s acting, this may seem like under par. But this is what an actor should do. Evolve with the ages, with generations and with cinematic growth. That is exactly why, I like the fact that Avinashi’s character not taking a bulk of the share of the script. Avinashi walks in and walks out of the script as needed.
The strongest link in the movie is definitely the screenplay. The screenplay has been developed without taking the audience for granted. There is no repetition or reinforcement of sequences just to make sure the audience is with you. Even dialogues for the most part are written for an intelligent audience (intelligent by Indian movie standards). Some dialogues bring out a smile instantaneously and some don’t. Some drag you and some make you weary. On the whole, Kamal could have had Crazy Mohan, his favorite writer for comedy films, do the job. But may be, he was afraid of stereotyping. I get the feeling, Kamal Hassan’s dialogues are definitely not the kind that an average moviegoer enjoys. Having said that, I thought Kamal really did a very decent job in MX with his funny one liners. It is only when he has to write some not-so-funny stuff, he loses his perception or his plane of thinking is never the same as the audience’s.
Direction – A man of Singeetham Srinivasa Rao’s caliber needs to be appreciated for taking up such challenges even at this age. He is a Raaj Kamal favorite and probably on a permanent payroll there. But I am sure, he added his dimension to the movie even though it is a given that Kamal pretty much wore the director’s hat while letting Rao gaaru sit in the director’s chair.
Ilayaraja is a star of background music. He has done an amazing job in MX but is all the Budapest hype worth? No. Not in my view. The way the songs have been handled in the movie has to be mentioned here..I really liked the way no song was fully shot. There was no forceful entry of these songs either. As for the songs go, I think Ilayaraja owes it a big time to Sivamani for the mood he created in every song he worked on. Even though the melody is very much Ilayaraja’s (reminds you of Kamal-IR combination’s 80s/90s music), the sound layering, rhythm and overall recording have been done by someone else making the album sound a little modern. But I am not sure if the album will cut into the skin of any generation. “Poo Poothathu” stands out just because of its sheer melody.
Cinematography was very unique in this movie partly because of the digital format. But there were some camera angles that only Kamal could have conceptualized (reminding you of some famous Hollywood movies) setting a very natural & calm tone throughout the movie. If not for the poor picture quality that it turned out as a result of going digital, may be we would have appreciated Siddharth’s work better.
So Mumbai Express on the whole was a carefully scripted movie, with a deliberate attempt to portray the characters as real as possible. The movie has its ups and downs. Every actor has played his/her part close to perfection. “Comedy of Errors” it was.
If I have to summarize – MX is an “Up close look at reality being underplayed resulting in some comedy of errors”!!
May be this is the style that I was talking about!