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The long-lost humorist of Tamil cinema, Vadivelu returns in style after a brief hiatus, as the astute and quick-witted court-jester ‘Tenaliraman’ and his good-hearted, hilariously naïve king ‘Maamannar’ and Oh boy, what a joy to see the man back in his element!


The film opens with a disclaimer that it is just a fictional tale and not an attempt to portray the historical incidents or beliefs. Director Yuvaraj Dhayalan, who had earlier assisted Chimbu Deven, gives his own take on the legend of Tenali in this movie, woven round the fables of Tenaliraman. He keeps the proceedings humorous and fairly entertaining through-out, but attempts to make a difference by interlacing the script with social overtones, giving us something to ponder on. Having taken a fantasy-period-comic-drama in hand, the major challenge for the filmmaker and its lead actor would be the obvious inevitable comparisons with the brilliant and trendsetting ‘Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi’, a film which defined the genre by itself in Tamil cinema.


Have they made another legendary laugh riot?  No, not at all.


Have they succeeded in differentiating their take on the mythological ‘Tenaliraman’ from previous attempts at monarchical comedy and given us a decent 'engaging’ entertainer?  Yes, almost!


Despite the basic premise of the film being set in medieval times, Yuvaraj’s strength is his skill at making his script relevant to modern times – the battle of the exploited simpleton against the deceitful and scandalous administration, which has sold out to the ‘rich and prosperous’.  Yuvaraj, with the help of some witty dialogues, uses every opportunity he gets to take a bold dig at modern-day politics and the 'foreign direct investment’ fad. In fact, he does go overboard at times, giving the film a ‘border-line’ preachy feel.  The first half of the film, which has been utilized to showcase the wit and prowess of Tenaliraman, comes across as pretty much engrossing and convincing.  However, some of the episodes lifted directly out of mythology, render a lingering predictable feel to the narration. Yuvaraj’s compromises for the sake of the masala-loving junta like inclusion of a female lead and the ‘thrust-in’ songs do not help sustain the pace of the movie much. However, he strikes back effectively in the second half by narrating the king’s realization of the plight of his citizens in a funny though ‘expected’ manner. Again, many sequences fall flat and unwarranted, and the film drags in parts only to pick up steam later. The dull moments in Yuvraj’s screenplay, especially in the second half are a definite dampener.


It’s definitely a refreshing change to see our very own Vadivelu donning the avatar of a witty minister. The man is at his sparkling best, be it the fun-loving guileless ‘Mannar’ or the quiet smiling intellectual rebel ‘ Tenali’. His eye for detailing and character molding comes to the fore through his mastery of two radically different body languages, one of a rich innocent ruler and the other of a court-jester. However, it’s true that the comedian feels more at home in the role of the king, which allows him to showcase his funny mannerisms compared to the somber ‘Tenali’. Meenaxi Dixit, playing the female lead has nothing much to do, in addition to ‘looking pretty’. The bevy of nine ministers played by experienced actors including Manobhala, GM Kumar and Bala Singh are at their spontaneous best.


Imman’s background score is decent, but his songs are a complete letdown. The director should have boldly done away with them. The film boasts of some skillful cinematography by Ramnath Reddy, and impressive art work by M. Prabhakaran, both of whom have worked hard to give the ‘period’ feel to the film. Ramnath’s smart idea of resorting to long shots to show palaces and kingdoms gives a rich look to the film, given the limited budget. The CG works are just about adequate. Editing by Raja Mohammed is poor, as the jump shots between the past and the present stick out as sore thumb in many places. The running time of 150 minutes is also totally unwarranted.  Why do young directors feel the pressure to pad out the movie to two and half hours?


Tenaliraman, as a family entertainer package is definitely a good attempt, but the non-stop chuckles and rip-roaring slap-stick humor you expect out of a Vadivelu movie is found lacking. The movie dips at crucial places, where it should have scored and the ‘engagement’ factor in the screenplay is not uniform.  The ‘foreseeable’ nature of the narration apart from the numerous loose ends and ‘easily resolving’ artificial sequences work against the film’s overall appeal.


Still, Tenaliraman is a film though engaging in parts, definitely deserves a watch for its entertaining demonstration of Vadivelu’s comic versatility. The man is certainly back in business and has given a ‘cracker of a performance’!


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