Films can disappoint you in a variety of fashions: By not living up to all the hype and excitement they generate, by being decidedly crap, or through an infinite number of other possibilities. But the worst sort of disappointment is when a film does what Kumki does: Collapse into nothingness after setting up a delicious plot full of several engaging characters in what seems to be a very interesting milieu. Failure to live up to the hype or being crap, I can forgive. This, I cannot. And it is not that Kumki falls short, but that it does so by falling back to every cliche known to Tamil cinema is what made me feel as if I was conned. At some point towards the end, I started to give my friend sitting beside me cold looks of frustration; that just about sums up my feelings.

The title refers to a set of combat-trained elephants hired by villages that form the periphery of our civilization to battle wild elephants that run amok during harvest season. The catch is that the hero Bomman’s (Vikram Prabhu) elephant isn’t one; Manickam is a domestic elephant used in processions and weddings. Bomman goes to the village of Adhikaadu only to serve as a substitute for a couple of days until the real mahout shows up with his kumki elephant. There he glimpses Alli (Lakshmi Menon) who just so happens to be the village elder’s daughter and is struck by love-at-first-sight. (That one sentence itself contains two of Tamil cinema’s oldest cliches, spot them if you can.) Naturally, he decides to extend his stay a bit longer. Oh, and there’s also a forest ranger duo who’re hoping that the village does get overrun by the wild elephant whom everyone refers to as ghost.

Kumki does deserve credit for breathing some life into these characters, but when they take you nowhere, you can’t help but feel exasperated. Kothali (Thambi Ramaiah), Bomman’s uncle, initially seems to be there only to be insulted by his niece and make way for jokes that are intermittently funny. But there’s a minor scene where he tells their sidekick (Asvin Raja, Velpandi of Boss Engira Baskaran fame), “Kothali! I’ll get insulted, but there’s no way you’re getting my job.” It was a scene that appeared out of nowhere and gave me a sudden jolt. I thought to myself, “This is good. Finally something seems to be happening.” But once again, it leads nowhere. Then why bring it up at all. Why have such a dramatic scene if you are not going to make something out of it? I cannot even guess.

Predictability was the film’s other big problem. Once you get wind of the fact that Prabhu Solomon is relying on cliches, you can make estimated guesses of what the next big cliche will be. This is as true for Alli reciprocating Bomman’s love after realizing his life is in danger as it is for the villagers’ reactions to the forest ranger’s informing of their romance. The director also employs one of the biggest cliches of them all in the climactic fight, but I couldn’t have cared less by this point. The film had gotten so boring that I was relieved to see some action, even if it came in the form of two extremely similar looking CGI elephants duking it out in a poorly rendered fight.

If Kumki is at all watchable for its two and a half hour running time, and it most certainly is, then the credit should go to music director Imman and cinematographer Sukumar, both of whom help in lending an incredible sense of verisimilitude to the film. Kumki is one of the most beautifully shot films of 2012. Featuring lush green forests, stepped rice fields, and breathtaking waterfalls, it is a splendid visual assault and most certainly deserves to be seen on the big screen. Imman delivers what can easily be considered the most complete soundtrack of his career, one that is steeped in the film’s rurality. Soi Soi…, Ayayayoo Aananthamey…, Onnum Puriyala…, and Sollitaley Ava Kaadhala… are all winners in an album that comes together in resounding fashion, though Imman’s background score is a bit over-bearing at times.

Vikram Prabhu does prove that he has “something” in him towards the end of the film, but not before he has looked bland for most of it. My friend leaned over and told me exactly what I was thinking, “His eyes don’t have any life in them.” That may come across as being a tad unfair on him, so I’ll reserve doling out judgments until further is seen from him but color me unimpressed. (It doesn’t help that I couldn’t take my eyes off his abnormally shaped nose. Yes, I know I am not supposed to look too much into physical features, but all those closeups don’t do him any good at all.) Lakshmi Menon is equally bland and uninspiring. Thambi Ramaiah’s subconscious contributes to more laughs than the words he actually speaks.

I realize I am coming across as being overly harsh on the film. Some of my friends have told me that they’d rather watch this than another commercial potboiler like Thuppakki (which, to be honest, is actually watchable). I find it difficult to judge a film on those terms. Sure, there’s a lot of effort and craft that’s gone into Kumki’s making. Visually and aurally, it is pretty much unmatched in recent memory, but those two aspects of Kumki deserved a better script than what’s made it to the screen.

Citations

  • Banner image used falls under fair use and taken from Wikipedia