Man and machine Metroplus

Cars can be funny too

Unforgettable comic characters in films and television serials have stood tall, propped up by cars. Two examples readily spring to mind — Mr. Bean, played by Rowan Atkinson in the British comedy series by the same name, and dance-music troupe owner Thangavelu, played by Goundamani in the Kollywood blockbuster Karagattakaran.

In each of the cases, the choice of car and its ‘characterisation’ are flawless. The Mini — first played by a Mini MK II from the British Motor Corporation and then by a Mini 1000 from British Leyland — is an extension of Mr. Bean. As can be seen from the episodes, Mr. Bean’s world is limited: he is a narcissistic loner. He, however, regularly wades into the larger world and in his own bungling and whacky ways, rattles people who cross his path and gets what he wants. With its limited dimensions and its run-ins with a bigger-made Reliant supervan, the diminutive Mini makes the cut as Mr. Bean’s travelling partner.

In Karagattakaran, the Chevrolet Impala, probably from 1960, signifies the size of Thangavelu’s vanity. As he takes his troupe of dancers and musicians, who specialise in the dance form called karagattam, on what appears to be a ceaseless tour of towns and villages in Tamil Nadu, his Impala gives him an air of significance. Even now, in rustic settings, ownership of any car as lengthy as a whale’s tail tends to evoke respect. Thangavelu, therefore, glosses over the condition of the car — which stalls often — and rebuffs suggestions that he junk it. The majority of humourous situations in the film take place while the car is being pushed to a venue. On each of these occasions, the mammoth mass of metal seems to prepare the ground for a light-hearted moment.

In each of these cases, a car is woven into the tale and imbued with a character of its own. However, more commonly, cars are unobtrusively employed as props in films and television serials that thrive on slapstick humour. Cars are a dependable ally for anyone specialising in this form of comedy.

Many episodes in Didi’s Comedy Show — telecast on Doordarshan in the mid- to late 1980s every Saturday — have cars flitting into the frame for the comic effect. Can anyone forget Dieter ‘Didi’ Hallervorden, sitting in a pram dressed as a nanny, and hitching it to a moving car, in an episode where he plays a detective?

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 9:11:45 AM |

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