" Are you saying, you are giving this money to me for free!!??" asks Ahalya ( Manisha Koirala). Avinashi ( Kamal Hassan), who is completely deaf, listens through his ear machine, understands the question and enthusiastically replies "yes! I am saying, I am giving this money to you for free". Manisha, a bar club dancer, mother of an illegitimate child and one who is looking to make a fast buck to build a nest, pauses and considers, for a moment, what Kamal had just said, and seems to wonder to herself "is this guy for real?" Then her mind begins to work tick tock tick tock. She draws from knowledge gained through the Machiavelli 101 course that every child is taught as soon as it is born, and acts in a way that further expands her knowledge base on this subject.
This is a movie - where when two people are talking to each other, both have no clue as to how incorrectly he/she has understood the entire situation and the identity of the other person. While one tries to outwit another person, he infact is outwitting and eliminating himself. The beauty of it is, we the audience are gods. In what can be called as the supreme form of voyuerism, we know exactly who is who and whats going on. We are thrilled at the way the situation has developed itself into this mix. Only Kamal can do this. And thank God ( this time its capital G) for giving us KamalHassan.
Kamal Hassan's Mumbai Express deserves to be released in Hollywood. Watching a Kamal hassan movie immediately after a Rajinikanth movie is like adjusting the sensitivity dial from Angstorm units to Light Years. A completely different set of standards need to be applied to Kamal Hassan. This movie is slick and is the definition of cool. If I dare say so - not many in India are good enough for this kind of a movie. Just to throw away 90% of the pop-corn sundry audience, I can tell you, there are no songs in this movie (well... there were 2 half-songs -- one of which was the highlight of the movie). I loved this movie just for this fact. Many will dismiss this as a half-"comedy" movie ( after comparing it with MMKR) and most will not appreciate the movie for what it is. This is a work of sheer genius and like many other Kamal movies, will only be appreciated by serious movie watchers. If Guy Ritchie had thought he was a master in the art of robbery-kidnapping-money-mystery-confusion movies and assumed that he had this genre Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Madonna must have sneered and told him to go Snatch a Screenplay 101 from Mr. Kamal Hassan. Story, Screen Play and Dialog is by Kamal Hassan and the direction is by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao ( the Pushpak combo). Siddarth's Camerawork is clear. Has that dusty foggy feel to it. The color contrasts in the movie are low, like it was in Kaakha Kaakha. The sets, the dresses all converge to the same color and give out that dusty grey look. This I believe are attributes and reflection of the "look and feel" aspect that better movie makers like Kamal and Manirathnam decide in their drawing board. They pre-decide certain stylizations that will give a specific look to a movie. Thiruda Thiruda and Kaakha Kaakha are good examples of this.
There is nothing to the story really. You can write the following on the back of a PTC bus ticket " 3 people try and kidnap a child of a wealthy Mumbai business man and things go wrong ". From the way the movie begins, until the very end, Kamal Hassan's script jumps, dances and talks all by itself. I have to say even though this was the second movie I was watching in the same evening, I couldn't help jumping with joy and thinking "He has done a good movie.. finally". I hated, and pretty passionately too, most of his movies from Devar Magan till Vasool raja ( barring the odd Mahanadhi, Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam and Sathi Leelavathi). I Hated Panchatathiram, Avvai Shanmugi, Thenali, PKS.. everything. But this movie is a classic and easily among the Top 10 Kamal movies.
The reason why Kamal is one of the best ( if not THE best) minds in the Indian movie industry is purely because of the casual way in which he starts the story. It flows like a single stream which grows and becomes a river and then becomes a big ocean. Like a relay race where one passes the baton to another, there is only one single thread in the script. Do you recollect those games where cards are all arranged in order and when you knock of the first card its knocks the second one and starts a cascading effect. This whole movie is one such big movement of one thing leading to another. There are only 8 or 9 people in the movie. Thats it! totally about 9 actors. And about 7 people exchange dialogs between themselves. Who speaks what and to whom is extremely important in this movie. Its is an Integrated Chip design logic kind of a thing. The script has been so carefully constructed that the events or dialogs must work like clockwork for the script to come a full circle. It sets up identities of people and how each person perceives the identity of the other person. All required for the grand finale. I will not talk about the last half-hour of the movie. Its just pure brilliance! "Amazing" - actually was the word I was searching for.
Three people start the movie. They are engaged in a serious conversation. No time is wasted. No multiple stories and disconnected introduction scenes that warm up a movie. The first 4 lines of dialog as soon as the movie starts, tell you the story. 3 goons want to kidnap Businessman Chettiyar's (Santhana Bharathi) son. They seems to be rehearsing on and on, every step of their kidnap plan. In a casual way the movie shows how each guy meets with some mishap or the other and gets injured neccesitating a replacement.
The pace of the movie is deliberately slow( in a very cool way) to begin with but picks up pace as the movie progresses. The three people are called A, B and C ( that is what they are called in the movie). Each holding stake to "33.33%" of ransom. C falls sick after drinking necessitating a new C. The new C should not distrub the old C's 33.33%. So new C is a relative who does it as a favor. New C is Kamal Hassan. NewC sometimes calls himself newC. And NewC allows A to narrate the entire plan without telling A that he is completely deaf. New C moonlights in A's job because A's hand is bitten by a horse and A "falls asleep" while kidnapping the boy. newC also gets B injured and adds a D to the team in a small accident. While newC does the kidnapping and quadraples the ransom money (because he really doesn't know how much to ask for), collects it, poses himself as a police officer. He is a good guy. Believe me! he is the only good guy among the 7 people. When he does most of the things he actually does, he really doesn't intend to do all those things :-) get it ? The other 6 people are very bad people who fend for themselves. And this is just the beginning of the story!
I can go on and try and narrate the entire movie but it would neither be fair nor possible. This is a movie of mistaken identities, confusion, tricksters taken in a very slick way. The movie has "ironies". Tons of them. The last half-an-hour is a laugh riot with the title of the movie providing the final and the biggest of all ironies. As I struggle to explain this story with any sort of coherence, I realize more the genius of the script. The way the Vande Mataram song has been shot speaks volumes of the minds behind this movie. It is absolutely hilarious and should be spoken about for a long time.
Kamal hassan, the actor, Kamal hassan the script writer and Kamal the dialog writer compete against each other for the honors. The use of analogies (" Fan in an A/C hall to signify a concubine") is brilliant. Here is a virtuoso movie maker at the peak of his talent. The dialogs and situations concerning the child are excellent. Pasupathy, Vaiyapuri, Nasser, Ramesh Arvind( I couldn't believe he was the insurance agent), Santhana Bharathi and Manisha all do an excellent job. I recommend even the most hard core Rajinikanth fans to watch this movie. For the "ladies" crowd who love to hate Kamal Hassan -- this movie has no vulgar scenes, no rain dances and nothing offensive about it. Its a very good family entertainer.
I was asked about a hundred times on which of the 2 movies are better. It is easy to say "both are equally good". But I won't do that. Maybe I am from the old school but not giving out a personal opinion because of political correctness theory - that to me sounds like fear. In a good world people would and should like decisiveness. Even if such a decisive opinion does not really endorse their personal beliefs. Chandramukhi is a very good movie. But Mumbai Express falls into a completely different strata. It would not do justice to this movie if its clubbed with Chandramukhi, no matter how good Chandramukhi is ( at its level). Movies like Mumbai Express is really what makes Tamil cinema a cut above the rest and it is certainly the better of the two movies.
Disclaimer: I thought Guna was a better movie than Thalapthi inspite of Manirathnam directing Thalapthi.
Dislaimer 2: I am not a Kamal fan :-)
Disclaimer3: I don't think Mumbai Express will run well in the BO.
DIsclaimer4: I dont think Chandramukhi will run either
Disclaimer5: I dont care about Disclaimers 3 & 4