I have to admit that I was rooting badly for Kolamaavu Kokila. It was for several reasons. First, when have we had a woman drug peddler for a protagonist? Second, the film is headlined by Nayanthara, who is truly living up to her Lady Superstar status. While there is much to complain about the roles that our heroines get in commercial films, we have an actor who is slowly proving that women-centric films could be profitable as well. Nayanthara did it with Aramm, and now, she is poised for another win with Kolamaavu Kokila.
Kolamaavu Kokila takes some time to build its foundation but Nelson strikes gold with the dark humour. We get to meet Kokila (Nayanthara) and her family comprising Saranya Ponvannan, Jacqueline and RS Shivaji. Kokila gets ousted from her job after she refuses to indulge her boss’ sexual advances. Her mother is diagnosed with lung cancer with a price tag of Rs 15 lakh placed on her life. A family of limited means, Kokila tries to get the money through several means – loans, NGOs, relatives. When nothing works out and she chances upon an interaction with a smuggling gang, she chooses to deliver Kolamaavu (slang for cocaine) for the money.
While the references to Breaking Bad are quite obvious, Kolamaavu Kokila has a lot working in her favour. The film takes its stereotypes and delightfully subverts them on all counts, thus pushing the film into a place of constant irony. Nobody expects a demure, beautiful woman like Kokila to be carrying drugs. Her meekness is constantly misconstrued for naivety; nobody expects her to be street-smart and turn the tables. This contrast between what it is and what it is deemed to be extends beyond the storyline to its treatment as well. Nelson makes Saranya Ponvannan, who could patent her warm-doting mother avatar, perform murders. On the other hand, he makes the stuttering, stammering Kokila who shivers in fear at the sight of a gun convincingly hoodwink gangsters and policemen. It almost feels like he has taken the coy, demure heroine that Kollywood loves and given it a tangy twist.
Kokila is a brilliantly written character, beautifully played by Nayanthara. She really sells the soft-spoken avatar, too well to be honest. And she doesn’t falter. Even the ‘mass moments’ in Kolamaavu Kokila are a subversion to what we get in mainstream commercial films. Nayanthara convinces a gangster to kill his own men. But she asks him to shoot after she turns away. As she walks away with the gunshot sound in the background, there is no sense of accomplishment, only trepidation. In another great sequence, where she is made to shoot a man, she doesn’t look him in the eye with bravado like our heroes do. Instead, her eyes travel down. (Anirudh’s Gun-in Kadhal is brilliantly placed here.) The lady superstar is in some fine company when it comes to performances. Saranya Ponnvannan and Yogi Babu are in fine form with the rest of the cast delivering what they need to as well.
Firmly placed in the neo-noir space, Kolamaavu Kokila’s lighting and sound go a long way to maintain its mood and enhance the effect of its writing. There is some great framing by cinematographer Sivakumar Vijayan and some memorable shots as well. Nayanthara is constantly framed against pillars, windows railings of windows, bus stops etc – an indication that she is a prisoner of circumstance. Several well-placed frame-in-frame shots not only make for great visuals but also turn to be metaphors for the characters in the frame. Anirudh’s jazzy background score fits the theme to a T.
Nayanthara is spearheading a change in Tamil cinema, one that it deserves. With her clever choice of scripts and directors, she is slowly proving that cinema isn’t just a man’s world anymore. Here’s hoping that she maintains her streak, changing perspectives as she goes further ahead.