Spoofs work when the original is kept in sight. And “Quick Gun Murugan’s” claim of being an ‘idlified Spaghetti Western’ doesn’t really work.

This street in Chennai has a way with things. Unmarked mobile phones and pirated DVDs of all new Tamil films surface with astonishing regularity. However, uncharacteristically, those enquiring about the Tamil version of the recent “Quick Gun Murugan’ drew a blank. Not wanting to let go the opportunity, an enthusiastic shop owner offered to discuss “Vedigundu (Bomb) Murugesan”, another recently released Tamil film in its place.

Baring the three and half things in common, the two films — “Quick Gun Murugan” and “Vedikugundu Murgesan” — are as “far apart as nuclear physics and voodoo”. Despite the common Murugan in the name, the prefixes that evoke an arsenal and similar character names such as Rice Plate Reddy and Low Sugar Ganesan, they are worlds apart. Even the additional half thing in common — the first is an English-Tamil film (also dubbed in Tamil) and the latter a Tamil film — does not bring them any closer.

Despite the un-connectedness, the sheer act of putting the names together is probably the most revealing moment, one that offers an insight to Tamil audiences’ perception of “Quick Gun Murguan”. Like many spoofs before, “Quick Gun Murugan” represents “the dramatic and weighty as silly and absurd”, and parodies Tamil films and popular culture. In brief, it is about the adventures of a moustachioed, lipsticked, more than middle-aged protagonist Quick Gun Murugan who, even while sleeping, wears a pink and green western outfit with guns in sling. He protects the cows and saves the country from the villain who wants to convert all vegetarian restaurants into non-vegetarian.

In order to enjoy this film, as Roland Barthes would remind us about wrestling, audiences abandon themselves to the film’s primary virtue: its wackiness and do not ask serious questions about its motives and consequences. As a result, even if they do not find it a rip roaring comedy, the half bag of ticklers is enjoyed. However, despite not wanting to probe the film, one question seems to linger. How is it that this movie that unsparingly parodies revered Tamil heroes and popular culture has not seen a single protest? It is even more puzzling when viewed against the belief that the Tamil film-going public is irrationally sentimental. It is true that parody and spoof are not new to the Tamil audience. They have enjoyed comedians mock all the leading stars including Rajinikanth and “wacky films’ such as “Imsai Arasan have been well received”.

Familiar stereotypes

While the other well known comical caricatures in films such as Mr. Bean and Austin Powers rely on haplessness and shamelessness respectively, “Quick Gun Murugan” has less to do with clowning or self mockery and instead relies on stereotypes about South Indians dished out for and familiar to a Hindi film audience.

Spoofs work successfully by keeping the original in sight. The western is possibly the least ingrained and an almost forgotten genre in Tamil films. Including Jaishankar, who acted in most of the western Tamil films, there are no enduring images to parody. The images of “Quick Gun Murugan” have more to do with the much celebrated Mel Brooks spoof “Blazing Saddles” (1974) than all Tamil films put together. It begins with the dress of Quick Gun Murguan, which is the fundamental indication of both the anachronism and fun the film intends to provoke. The protagonist in “Blazing Saddles” appears in a meticulously designed sheriff’s costume with the Gucci label name written big and bold across his bag. The audience laughs at the incongruity of the costume by relating to the purpose of his trip and his African-American origin. “Quick Gun Murugan” takes this idea of incongruous attire literally and converts it into a wacky pink and green outfit that stereotypes Tamil films’ “dubious dress sense”. This is such an archaic trope that it hardly connects with the Tamil audiences.

Moralizing attitude

In the southern land of Thalapakattu and Hyderabad Biriyanis, even with wackiness as its licence and fun as purpose, the movie’s moralising attitude in favour of vegetarianism does not cut any ice and is bound to be viewed as an upper caste obsession. Dialogues that spoof scriptures only confirm that Quick Gun Murgan’s fight with non-vegetarianism has not moved very far from Mehmood’s earlier stereotyping of south Indians as a brahminical, vegetarian obsessed and English speaking tribe.

“Quick Gun Murugan” draws more from an assorted set of references including English TV commercials, Hindi movies and Hollywood films. The most visible are the references to “Blazing Saddle”. Both are irreverent and deploy politically incorrect jokes, the use of Yiddish with English in “Blazing Saddles” and Tamil-English in “QGM”, literal references to cow and cowboys, the connection between seductress Lili Von Shtupp and Mango Dolly and the crazy Mongo and Dr. Django cannot be missed.

The film connects with those who are familiar with the various archives and claims that “this Spaghetti Western is totally idlified” is probably not true.

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012