For a movie that explores euthanasia and impending death, KD is bursting with life.
Madhumita Sundararaman’s Tamil-language film encourages you to dab the corner of your eyes ever so often and dares you to withhold your grins. The rural drama centres around an octogenarian who sets out to fulfill his bucket list of unfulfilled wishes with the help of an eight-year-old orphaned boy. Karuppu Durai (Mu Ramasamy) and Kutty (Nagavishal) prove to be a winning combination, providing each other with wisdom and comfort and viewers with heart-warming moments and scenes of both observational and laugh-out-loud comedy.
The movie begins with the travails of Karuppu Durai, who has been in a coma for three months. His pragmatic family decides to subject him to the illegal but socially sanctioned method of euthanasia known as thalaikoothal. It involves giving the victim oil massages followed by cold baths and then plying him with coconut water until renal failure is guaranteed.
Karuppu, however, wants to live. He manages to rise from his bed and flee. He takes refuge in a temple a few towns away, where he runs into the formidable Kutty. The boy is wise beyond his years and given to aphorising. I am too smart for school, Kutty declares, and indeed he is – he can read and write despite never having been in a classroom.
Kutty gives Karuppu the cooler-sounding acronym “KD” and draws up a to-do list. The unlikely pair set out to fulfill Karuppu’s pending dreams (including smoking a joint, meeting his childhood sweetheart, and dressing up like the Tamil movie star MG Ramachandran). Along the way, Madhumita Sundararaman, who has also written the screenplay, ladles out sweet and sour moments, piles on the feel-good flavour, and sets the table for a rollicking time spent in the company of two impossible-to-dislike characters.
The dance between winsomeness and wisdom is an equal one. Kutty’s bracing sloganeering – I am my own television set and remote and I live life on my own terms, he declares – evens out KD’s poignant attempts to embrace the inevitability of death. Some of the early scenes smack of cutesiness, but the movie settles into a rhythm after the bond between KD and Kutty is established.
Among the supporting characters who stand out is a biriyani shop owner whose business booms after Karuppu’s finger-licking endorsements and a detective who reluctantly hunts down Karuppu, always making sure to arrive after his target has fled and wondering if he should simply leave the old man alone.
The fairy tale plays out in the verdant fields and bustling towns of Tamil Nadu’s Virudhanagar district. KD lacks the edge and social observation that underpinned a recent tale from Tamil cinema of unlikely heroes on a life-altering quest. In M Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai, two brothers from a slum in Chennai go to great lengths to eat pizza. Folded into their cheerful adventure is a sharp commentary on urban poverty and conspicuous consumption.
KD takes a more lightweight approach towards the genteel poverty that surrounds its lead characters. Money isn’t the real obstacle for Karuppu’s wish fulfillment – he finds innovative ways to survive – and the movie is content to celebrate minor pleasures rather than grapple with weighy questions. The spirit of accommodation that marks the bond between Karuppu and Kutty washes over the entire narrative.
As the mood shifts from gentle comedy to poignancy, and tears replace the goofy grins, the solid performances by the lead pair are consistent. They are complete characters in themselves and complement each other beautifully, making this road trip both touching and memorable.