Kolamavu Kokila: Nayanthara with gun

Kolamavu Kokila Review: Nayanthara Continues to Shine!

Nayanthara is on route to becoming the first female superstar of Tamil cinema.

I was rewatching Shankar’s Sivaji: The Boss the other day and found myself genuinely surprised when Nayanthara made an appearance in the opening dance number, Balleilakka. It’s not that I didn’t know, but it had been seven or eight years since I last watched the 2007 mass-masala starring Superstar Rajinikanth. I chuckled. Both at the ridiculousness of Rajinikanth dancing vigorously in the opening number (this really should’ve been the movie he started playing his age) and at how far Nayanthara has come since then. There was a time where Nayanthara, just like many Indian actresses before her, played your standard loosu ponnu — flips hair in slow motion, tears up while awaiting the arrival of the hero, and dances (hopefully, for the sake of the teen boys watching, with as little clothes as possible).

Over the past five years or so though, Nayanthara has slowly transformed herself from a dance piece to a wholesome actress and then into a star, capable of leading a movie and making a sizeable chunk at the box office — from damsel in distress to damsel who’s kick-ass. In Aramm Nayanthara plays a character usually reserved for men: A District Collector who defies her superiors in an effort to save a little girl who fell into an open borewell. In Kolamavu Kokilashe plays an innocent girl who stumbles upon the world of illegal cocaine trading (hence Coco).

YouTube video

When Kokila’s mom (played of course, by Saranya) is diagnosed with stage two lung cancer, Kokila (Nayanthara) figures that dealing cocaine for a big-time drug lord would be the most efficient way to save up for her mother’s treatment. I think it would make for a better viewing experience if you went in knowing that the marketing campaign was slightly misleading. The trailer teased a masalafied Breaking Bad-lite. In reality, Kolamavu Kokila is an all-out comedy. And while there are dramatic and thrilling moments, know that if writer-director Nelson sees an opportunity to pick between a gut-punch and a gutbuster, nine out of ten times, he goes with the gutbuster. Which isn’t a criticism, but an observation. While Kolamavu Kokila isn’t the movie I expected it to be, what I did get is pretty darn entertaining.

The comedy in the movie isn’t purely slapstick. Despite Yogi Babu’s inclusion in the film, he isn’t the butt of all the jokes. His purpose in the film isn’t for Nayanthara to constantly mock him or his fat-ness. In fact, I can’t recall that happening at all. When he does get teased for being an ugly duckling underserving of Nayanthara, it’s by a pre-teen working at his shop. It catches you off guard and will leave you cracking up, repeatedly. He assumes the “hero” role in the movie, fully packaged with a hero introduction song. But just like the rest of the film, it plays like a satire. In Vijay movies, you’ll find grandmothers dropping down and busting a move during the dappankuthu songs. Here, the grandma walks away from Yogi Babu with a deadpan look on her face.

Yogi Babu and Nayanthara

But despite being the comedian in this comedy, Kolamavu Kokila isn’t a Yogi Babu show. Everyone is incredibly funny, from the true hero of the film, Nayanthara, to Saranya all the way to Mottai Rajendran (billed as Naan Kadavul Rajendran here). The best part is, the comedy isn’t sitcom humour but situational humour. Scenes are funny not because the frames are filled with exceptionally funny characters with the gift of gab. Kokila doesn’t tell any jokes, yet some of the funniest moments revolve around her. A lot of the big laughs happen when Kokila’s innocence and naivety clashes with the unvirtuous members of the drug ring. Humour that happens naturally because of the situations the characters find themselves in, not childish jokes included simply to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

While I praise debutant director Nelson’s ability to craft comedy, I must also point out his and ultimately this film’s biggest flaw. It appears to me that while Nelson was in the zone, penning laugh out loud comedic sequences, he seems to have forgotten to write great characters. Kokila is one note and lacks any sort of arc. It always sucks when a character, especially the lead, is exactly the same at the end of the movie as he/she is at the beginning. When our story commences, Kokila is innocent with a tinge of smarts. When we come to a close, she’s exactly the same. It’s as if nothing happened in the middle. What was the point of the journey? Imagine a version of Breaking Bad where Walter White doesn’t become the guy who knocks. That’s Kolamavu Kokila in a nutshell, as far as character is concerned.

We assume Kokila would eventually fall in love with the trade she initially walked into just to save her mother’s life. We assume that as the narrative trucks along, she would outsmart the people who brought her into the fold and rise in the ranks. We assume the line in the trailer where her father says, “I once had a daughter named Kokila. Is that you?” would be powerful. But it falls flat. Because while Kokila goes from being a manager at a massage parlour to a drug dealer, her character remains unevolved. There are obstacles, sure, but there is no escalating conflict (yes, you can have escalating conflict in comedies too). This isn’t Nayanthara’s fault. She delivers a performance as you would imagine an actor of her calibre would. But the material doesn’t allow her to show her range.

That said, besides the sequence that centres around the killing of multiple drug dealers that goes on way longer than it should, and poor character development, Kolamavu Kokila is a triumph. A triumph because of its interesting story; a triumph because of its comedy; a triumph because the women (not just Kokila, but her sister and mother) are highly capable characters. Earlier this year, saw another comedy orbiting around the criminal world — Junga, starring Vijay Sethupathi. I hate that movie and all of its cringe-worthy poop and fat jokes. I like this one. Kolamavu Kokila is (almost) everything Junga should have been.

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