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July 15, 1999


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A good day's work

A still from Swayamvaram. Click for bigger pic!
Shobha Warrier

One should not be harsh on this film, one told oneself when going to see Swayamvaram, the Tamil film made in 24 hours. If there were discrepancies, if the storyline was badly disjointed, we would give it the blind eye, we thought.

And since the film-makers too had requested viewers to keep in mind the constraints they were working under, there was little reason to expect a masterpiece. It is nice to be disappointed at times.

There was no need for any apology since the movie was slicker and better made than many churned out regularly by some film factories. Not that Swayamvaram was art fare. No, it wasn't. But it was an absurdly funny and entertaining movie with absolutely no pretensions whatsoever.

It's particularly praiseworthy if we take into consideration the time factor and the amount of co-ordination the film-makers had to do. Having witnessed parts of the shooting, with more than a dozen directors directing their bits at an astounding pace, one expected that the film would show some evidence of the haste with it was made. It did, but never as much as it could have.

On the sets of Swayamvaram. Click for bigger pic!
The story has all the masala elements -- songs, dances, melodrama, love between rich and poor, fights, villains, comic situations...

The film starts with the 60th birthday celebration of one of the wealthiest and prominent personalities in the city (Vijaya Kumar) who has four sons and five daughters (Satyaraj, Prabhu, Abbas, Suvalakshmi, Roja, Kasturi, Maheswari, Preeta Vijaya Kumar and Ramba). All nine children are unmarried, though Satyaraj and Prabhu look way too mature to be bachelor boys.

Some well-wishers who come to greet the tycoon and his wife (Manjula, who is Vijaya Kumar's wife in real life too) ask him why he's celebrating his birthday when he should have been celebrating the weddings of his children. The tycoon promptly suffers a heart attack. He announces then to the stricken masses that he wished to see all his children married and well settled before his death.

A still from Swayamvaram. Click for bigger pic!
The pace of the film picks up from this point. A frantic hunt begins for brides and bridegrooms though other than the eldest and the youngest daughters (Suvalakshmy and Ramba) all his children have secret lovers.

Napolean, who plays the doctor who is pretty close to the rich man, advertises in the newspapers offering Rs 10 million and a share in the family property to the brides and bridegrooms selected for the rich man's children. The response is overwhelming and the mansion is soon overflowing with people.

Four experts are called in to interview the prospective brides and bridegrooms -- two of them, Bhagyaraj and Urvasi conducting the interview in one room and comedians Senthil and Jankaraj in another.

Urvashi and Bhagyaraj. Click for bigger pic!
Though they are seated in one place throughout, their vibrant facial expressions and excellent dialogue delivery help them score over all the others. Their verbal jousting was a treat and those who have made their name as comedians pale by comparison.

On the other end of the entertainment spectrum is the team of Satyaraj and Khusboo who plays a gypsy. It was pathetic watching an ageing Satyaraj and a bloated Khushboo singing, dancing, cooing and smooching.

More tolerable was the pairing of Prabhu with Aishwarya, a glamorous but imbecile toilet cleaner. Together they provide some hilarious scenes. Abbas and his love Heera are just about passable, as are Vineeth and Maheswari. Other than Karthik and Prabhu Deva, all the other actors come in the mediocre category.

Giridharilal Nagpal Click for bigger pic!
Prabhu Deva (playing Roja's lover) is sheer magic as a crazy black-marketer of cinema tickets. Karthik plays a scatterbrained doctor who reaches the venue by accident but is picked to wed Ramba. He does a good job but one wonders if he couldn't have found a better wig and beard.

Ramba emerges from a bathroom all the time, clad in just a towel.

Just when the film -- that was a little longer than it need have been -- seems to be reaching a safe conclusion, an escaped criminal kidnaps all the brides with the intention of grabbing Rs 90 million from the tycoon's doctor. He also plants a time bomb on the mandapam...

And you know how it goes from there.

A still from Swayamvaram. Click for bigger pic!
By the time the three hours were over, one wondered if Giridharilal Nagpal of L S Movies could make a film like this in 24 hours, why do most other film-makers take so much time and money to make below-average, patchy creations? And here he was performing a trapeze act with 12 leading actors and 10 actresses, working with 15 different directors.

But it appears the directors did their homework well, bringing together the various bits beautifully in the final product. Though the editing of the film is not top-notch, the editor has managed to produce a film without too many jerks. What struck one when one visited the sets during the making of the film was the infectious enthusiasm of the artists. That certainly adds to the joie de vivre evident in the film.

And that perhaps is what makes the film worthwhile watching.

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