Mr. Local, Sivakarthikeyan and Nayanthara’s summer release directed by Rajesh M, begins with the hero playing football in a French prison. He hits a goal. A cop comes up to him and asks him how he managed to do that when everyone else failed. The hero, Manohar, explains that he thought of his girlfriend and got angry, and so hit the ball hard (the implication being that he was hitting her).
“Is your girlfriend your enemy?” asks the cop, incredulously.
“For all boys, girlfriend only enemy”, enlightens Manohar, in pidgin English that we’re expected to find adorable.
From this very moment onwards, Mr. Local is a sexist, misogynistic, transphobic cesspool of abuse passing for love.
Manohar, played by Sivakarthikeyan, is a “middle-class” youngster, who worships his mother, loves his sister, cherishes his friends — who are also his comic sidekicks — and works at a car dealership. Keerthana Vasudevan, played by Nayanthara, is a rich entrepreneur, the CEO of a television production house.
For all that is disagreeable about him, it’s obvious that some thought has gone into Manohar’s character. We see him play football, prank his friends, we meet him at his workplace several times, he has ‘amma sentiment’ scenes, we even know how his father died. Sivakarthikeyan, with his boy-next-door demeanour holds the character together for the most part.
Keerthana, on the other hand, is a cardboard cut-out. She has no parents and was raised by her extended family, whom we never see. Yet, she is almost always called “Keerthana Vasudevan” in full. She has no friends — the one time she meets some women for drinks, they talk to her like they were just introduced. Her only companion seems to be her phone, and she is always at work. All we know of Keerthana is that she has “thimir” (arrogance) and she is always angry. Nayanthara herself doesn’t help the character much — she looks gorgeous in every frame, but that’s that!
So, Mr. Local is the story of a hero who is a witty, carefree youngster; and a heroine, who is a self-destructive impulsive cardboard. This kal thondri mann thondraa kalathu sandai (conflict of the stone age) forms the crux of the film. But frankly, it isn’t much of a conflict. It is just Keerthana doing inane things and Manohar repeatedly insulting and lecturing her.
There is nothing imaginative, funny, likeable or even remotely enjoyable about the film. Rajesh picks the worst of taming-the-shrew stories for his film, and sets it in a deplorable milieu of sexism and misogyny.
Sample this: Kuthala Chidambaram, played by Robo Shankar, is Manohar’s manager at the car dealership. He is your classic predator. He gives expensive gifts to his female co-worker, orders cake in “heart-shape” for her birthday, touches her inappropriately, kisses her without consent, prohibits her from taking pictures but takes some on his own phone for later.
The film treats all of this as funny. In fact, when Manohar ends up outing Chidambaram to his wife, we hope there’ll be some sensibility there. But no. She is also treated as a caricature, sombu (vessel)-throwing wife who we are expected to laugh at. Her pet name is ’gundu’, which literally means fat. The co-worker’s nickname, the one being harassed, is ‘kulfi’, like the dessert.
The movie has no respect for a woman’s personhood, privacy or autonomy. At one point in the film, Manohar says, “Jolly-a one side-a love panren”, which is literally an admission that he is harassing her for fun, but the film presents it like a sweet hero’s idiosyncrasy.
It repeatedly disparages the #MeToo movement. In one scene, at an award function, Manohar and his friend Satish, meet several television actresses. Manohar helpfully tells Satish, “get their phone numbers”. Satish says, “no”. Manohar asks why and Satish says, “MeToo”. The lived experiences of millions of women are reduced to a punchline.
But it doesn’t end there—the film has a rollcall for men named in the #MeToo movement. Vairamuthu, Susi Ganesan, Radha Ravi are all mentioned in passing. John Vijay, whose character is called ‘Arjun Reddy’, has a role in the film — he even charges to hit a female lawyer in court! Then, of course, the judge dismisses the case because, there is so much plaguing Tamilnadu — Sterlite, Jallikattu ban, NEET and the likes — that women need to silently bear the sexual harassment heaped on them until men’s problems go away.
The film hates women’s guts, even if they don’t identify as women. A trans man — played by a man — is insulted and misrepresented for cheap jokes. When Satish pretends to be a woman, the scene is filled with innuendo. “Ponnu madhiriya pesaraa ava”, (Does she speak like a woman?), the hero asks at one point. “Adhigama kova padugiraval kizhavi aagiral” (a woman who angers easily grows old quickly), he proclaims. The hero, who finds the heroine’s unexpressed anger a turn-on, calls it “saami aadradhu” (hysterical) when she expresses it in words. At one point, Thambi Ramaiah tells Balaji, who plays a television producer, “andha Sowmyavukku kootti kudu” (Pimp that Sowmya), which he then clarifies that he meant to recommend a salary hike for her.
The film is full of jokes like this: dated, and distinctly unacceptable in 2019. Sivakarthikeyan’s inability to let anyone else speak — because he thinks of himself as the god of wit — is a running joke in the film. The one time Yogi Babu is not in love with Nayanthara, we end up wishing he was: at least that way she’d have a helpful friend. For a film starring five full-time comedians, Mr. Local is patently unfunny.
And for a romantic film with two attractive lead characters, the film is also devoid of any chemistry, companionship or even basic empathy. The film has no sense of ‘love’, only an all-pervading presence of manipulation and emotional abuse. It sees a romantic relationship between a man and a woman as a cat-and-mouse-game — predatory and mutually destructive.
Mr. Local is a 155-minute primer on everything that’s wrong with Tamil cinema. You know what’s worse? Sivakarthikeyan is a huge hit among children. The multiplex I watched the film in was crawling with children. What’s the use of Rajnikanth and Selvaraghavan changing their views when weeds like these keep growing?
Someone please give gender sensitivity lessons to Sivakarthikeyan, Rajesh M and all their fans. I’d even pay from my own pocket for it!