It’s probably not a stretch to say that M Rajesh is singularly responsible for some of contemporary mainstream Tamil cinema’s worst tropes. Everything from the loosu ponnu trope, the soup boy trope, the TASMAC song trope, even the stalking aspects of these films to an extent are his doing. Either he invented them or made them popular. Mr Rajesh has a set template that he has admirably used to get through seven films in ten years. That’s prolific. There is a hero who is either the jobless wastrel or the one possessing a decent job but looking for love while he practices every misogynistic trait in his daily life. There is that hero’s friend who doubles down on every bad habit of the hero.
Sathish has now replaced Mr Rajesh’s constant, Santhanam, because the latter is bitten by the actor/star bug. There is even a joke played on Sathish in Rajesh’s latest release Mr. Local with Siva Karthikeyan. Sathish makes a quip about the very character of hero’s friend and Siva Karthikeyan responds by saying that even he was playing that hero’s friend (notably in Aishwarya Dhanush’s 3, the film with the most famous soup boy song) but then he had bigger dreams unlike actor Sathish who is still wallowing in these roles. Mr Siva Karthikeyan, why give Sathish these ideas? We are struggling to live with one of you as it is. Imagine Sathish joining Mr Rajesh for the director’s tenth film? Nobody needs that.
Where was I? Ah the tropes. There is also the hero’s family. Usually the mother in a prominent role for whom the son is the most flawless speck in the universe and there is a helpful sibling. There was an elder brother in Boss Engira Bhaskaran and a sister in Siva Manasula Sakthi and Mr. Local. And in the end comes the heroine. She might be last, but she is never the least because without the women Mr Rajesh’s universe does not exist. They are so integral to his films. If not, who will Mr Rajesh attack? The woman of the film becomes every character’s punching bag. Sometimes that sentence is literally true in Mr Rajesh’s films. As it is in Mr. Local. Manohar (Siva Karthikeyan) slaps Keerthana (Nayanthara) at one point.
Few years ago, at least Mr Rajesh came up with original insults and original bad jokes. Now the meme creators of Tamil pop culture have made people like Mr Rajesh bankrupt. Creatively, that is. He is forced to piggyback on their ideas. He piggybacks on so many things in Mr. Local. Everything from current politics to current cinema. No wonder he’s made his worst film with Mr. Local. The film shows the director plunging new depths, depths that the Pacific Ocean will be proud of. The gravest sin among using contemporary politics as filler quips by Sathish and Siva Karthikeyan throughout the film is the disrespectful way in which the Me Too movement is belittled.
At an event celebrating a TV studio’s success (of which Keerthana is the CEO or President or whatever. Details don’t matter in Mr Rajesh’s films), Sathish refuses to take the phone numbers of a couple of TV actresses because “Me Too”. None of that stops him from making a joke that involves Shakeela and one of her films while talking about those very actresses in front of them. There is even an attempted joke about Radha Ravi. If Tamil cinema’s men cannot engage with an important movement, the least they can do is stay far away from them.
Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a single woman character – named or otherwise – in Mr. Local who is not insulted on screen. Manohar insults his sister, Keerthana insults Manohar’s mother played by Raadhika, Sathish insults his colleague, Keerthana and aforementioned TV actresses, Manohar insults another named TV star Sowmya. The list goes on. One of Manohar’s early dialogues is “all girlfriends are enemies”. It confirmed that I was sitting in the right screen for the right film.
Such an auteur, Mr Rajesh, whose films continue to explore his pet themes – misogyny, sexism, fat shaming, homophobia, transphobia. Mr. Local plays like a collection of his greatest hits. A local car showroom owner played by Robo Shankar is a walking sexual harassment lawsuit. Here too, the woman is blamed and rained insults upon. At a recent press meet, Mr Rajesh said Siva Karthikeyan asked him to avoid his usual TASMAC song and the ridiculing of women for breaking up with the man. He promised Mr. Local is clean. Mr Rajesh and Siva Karthikeyan keep using that word. Guys, I don’t think it means what you think it means.
Early in the film, Manohar makes a comment “yaaro ellam mass kaatranga“. That’s rich coming from a star whose resume reads like a bad knock-off of Rajinisms. And Mr. Local isn’t spared either. He tries to do the Rajini laughter, recalled by Petta and 2.0 in recent times, throughout the film. It’s not a homage anymore, it only means that Siva Karthikeyan has no tricks up his sleeve. The yaaro ellam mass kaatranga line fits him more appropriately than any other star in Tamil cinema currently.
It’s also sad to see Nayanthara in a role like Keerthana Vasudevan. Especially the post-2015 Nayanthara. Keerthana is another knock-off from Vijayshanthi of Mannan. Without the spark, without the organic arrogance. She needs to set a low bar so that someone as unremarkable as Manohar can eat her up. As means to that end, Mr Rajesh resorts to transphobia. Mr Rajesh’s man must get the girl alright. Mr Rajesh’s man who has insulted, abused, harassed the girl for the better part of 2.5 hours. So, what do you do? Give the girl a choice. The abusive unremarkable cis male or the abusive trans man? Apparently to Mr Rajesh, the choice and the answer are pretty clear.