Just as he is about to be married, Ramji’s bride-to-be runs off with another man. An arranged marriage, Ramji wouldn’t be too bothered since he has never met the girl, only he was depending on the dowry to pay for his own sister’s wedding. His cooking skills however are appreciated by one of the guests at the wedding and he finds himself arranged with a job as a chef in Australia. Unfortunately, on arrival in Melbourne, Ramji finds that his employer has just died and on his way back to the airport he loses his passport and visa. Fortunately, he is helped out by a Tamil Indian couple, who discover not only his talent for cooking, but his ability to communicate with their disabled son. Australian Immigration are however on Ramji’s case and there is only one way they can keep him in the country – he has to convert religion and marry an Australian national, and he only has one day to do it...
Not being of an Indian background, it’s hard to objectively say how funny Nala Damayathi is, but from an outside perspective it can seem quite laboured and predictable for the most part. Most of the comedy in Nala Damayanthi is fairly broad, derived from cultural fish-out-of-water misunderstandings and the linguistic difficulties of a poor boy from the country trying to adapt to an alien culture, language and way of life. The problem with this kind of comedy is that it is designed to be appreciated by the country it was made in and doesn’t translate well for outside viewers. Many of the cultural and linguistic double-meanings will baffle a non-Tamil viewer, as will a cameo appearance from Tamil cinema legend Kamal Hassan (who wrote the script for the film). The joke about a bunch of thugs stamping on Ramji’s rice-balls while he is performing a religious ceremony in a park works, but obviously the humour is pitched fairly low here.
Things pick up somewhat after the intermission (like most Tamil films I have seen, it is excessively long) when Ramji is forced into a marriage of convenience with the beautiful Damayanthi (Geethu Mohandas). The second half of the film does manage to overcome the obviousness of the situation and the predictability of the outcome through the charm of the leading actors, if not through their acting abilities. Madhavan, who was excellent in the Mani Ratnam blockbuster Kannathil Muthamittal, doesn’t seem to be a natural comedian but he’s a charismatic actor and copes well within the limited scope of this film.
No review of a Tamil film would be complete without mentioning the songs and music, as this can be where many films stand or fall. The songs in Nala Damayathi are unfortunately pretty poor. There are no major song and dance routines, but the occasional song narrates the current situation that Ramji is in and is neither musically nor lyrically memorable.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer isn’t too bad, but it has a fair amount of problems. It’s a little hazy in places and some scenes exhibit a fair amount of grain and compression artefacts – aliasing, dot-crawl, blocking and shifting backgrounds – but it is never too bad and is rarely noticeable during normal playback. Edge-enhancement is also visible now and again, while dark hair tends to create a haloed haze around heads set against bright backgrounds (see screenshot below). Colour levels are good, but brightness and contrast levels present a sometimes dull and flat image and there is no great detail or sharpness. There are one or two larger marks and scratches, but not too many. The Ayngaran logo is watermarked onto the transfer as an anti-piracy measure, but never as distractingly as in Kannathil Muthamittal. It only appears for a few seconds unobtrusively during the song routines.
DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included and there is little to choose between them. The music mix is fabulous, making strong use of the wider dynamics to present a lively musical score. The audio mix on the voices, which are mainly centre-speaker based, is however very rough, harsh-sounding, dull and muffled.
The dialogue in the film is Tamil, although characters slip into English language in Australia and there are a few Australians in the cast. Small, burnt-in Tamil subtitles translate the English dialogue. English subtitles cover everything, including the English dialogue, but as English words and phrases are often scattered into the middle of Tamil sentences and aren't always clear, this is probably necessary. The translation is fine and the few grammatical errors are easily overlooked. The attempts to explain the cultural references and linguistic double-meanings however completely fail.
There are no real extra features on the DVD, although each of the songs in the film can be directly selected or played all together, if you so wish. Trailers are included for forthcoming titles – Kakka Kakka (The Police), The Rock, Parasuram and the rather surreal-looking Priyamaana Thozi, and there is a ‘now available’ reel of Angayaran DVD covers. Not strictly a bonus, but I suppose it should be mentioned somewhere – there is a forced two and a half minute advertisement for Ayngaran Telecom which must be endured every time you load the disc. This kind of practice is extremely irritating and should be ceased or at least allowed to be skipped.
The songs aren’t great, the acting is unconvincing, but the broad Green Card-style romantic-comedy situation in Nala Damayathi offers plenty of opportunities for humour. Although the comedy is hit and miss, you can’t help but sympathise with the characters and their predicament and cheer them on to the predictable romantic conclusion. The DVD is far from major studio quality, but it’s a respectable release that does as well as can be expected with the materials provided.
Nala Damayanthi can be purchased from Ayngaran International.