Director Shankar's production house S Pictures needs to be applauded for producing a historical comedy like Imsai Aarasan 23rd Pulikesi. The film is a satire on the current state of affairs. The dialogues are in chaste Tamil, but shift to contemporary lingo when necessary, making the film more appealing to a contemporary audience.
If it were not for Shankar, no producer would have come forward to produce a film like this. Another thing working in its favour, however, is that the character is already famous through the pages of Tamil film weekly Ananda Vikatan.
Vadivelu, in the title role, is the strength of the film, which could also be described as a takeoff on the MGR film Nadodi Mannan.
Now for the story. After 22 attempts, the King (Nagesh) finally brings forth an heir. This time, it's twins. His brother-in-law (Nasser) asks the astrologer which child is capable of being an heir. The astrologer says that one is a dimwit, the other a strong-minded child. The uncle chooses the dimwit and asks the astrologer to get rid of the other baby. Years later, the dimwit grows up to be Imsai Aarasan 23rd Pulikesi (Vadivelu), the King. He keeps goofing off, has no valour, and is completely under the control of his uncle who is now the chief advisor.
His brother Urgaputhiran (Vadivelu), who is still alive, is planning a rebellion against the kingdom that is now under the British thumb. In a series of events, brothers switch places and the British suffer. Do the brothers unite or does the uncle win? Watch the climax.
The interesting thing about the film is its references to current issues -- caste clashes, corruption, the propaganda machinery, the endorsement of harmful soft drinks by actors, selling out to MNCs and the nexus between rulers and thugs. Shimbudevan deserves credit for a taut screenplay. Vadivelu's body language and dialogue delivery keeps changing well, while Nasser is right for the role of scheming uncle.
Music director Sabesh Murali, faced with the task of finding the right tunes for the story, has used singers like Binny Krishnakumar, T L Maharajan, Krishnaraj and Swarnalatha, who have done well. Pulamai Pithan, who penned songs for MGR and Sivaji starrers, is back with a bang. Murali also seems to have taken pains to get musical instruments used in historical movies of the past.
The song Vanam Namakul brings back memories of T L Maharajan. A tailor-made voice for a song that arouses patriotism and vigour, the orchestration is a mix of contemporary western and traditional Indian music. Krishnamoorthy's art direction is another highlight, while Arthur Wilson has captured the requisite grandeur with huge sets.
On the downside, the film's first half is slow, but raises a few laughs. It picks up momentum in the second half. The comedy is subtle in many parts and may therefore fail to get a repeat audience. On the whole though, this is worth watching along with your family.