Incredible as this may sound, the Tamil film by Ram Kumar, Mundasupatti, tells the story of a village where people hide themselves the moment they see a camera. They believe that anybody being snapped will die soon.
This illogical view or plain simple superstition emerges after some villagers whose pictures were clicked by an Englishman in 1947, die. For all one knows, they may have succumbed to some of kind of virulent bug – with the camera being unjustly labelled the villain of the tragedy.
Direction: Ram Kumar
Cast: Vishnu, Nandita, Kaali Venkat
Running Time: 148 minutes
In 1982, 35 years later, Mundasupatti – that is the name of the village in the movie – has not shaken itself out of this fear. And when photographer Gopi is asked to click shots of a respected elder as he lies dying, it cannot be done till the last signs of life ebb out. The sombreness of the situation is juxtaposed with hilarity: the mourners scoot at the sight of Gopi’s camera. They will not step anywhere near the dying/dead man lest they inadvertently slip into the frames.
Vishnu and his assistant (played by Kaali Venkat) goof up their assignment, and find that they have not been able to get the dead man’s picture right. So they get hold of an aspiring actor, who resembles the village elder, to pose as the dead man. But the trick fails, and Gopi and his assistant are told to dig a well in Mundasupatti as a punishment, and this is when the lensman meets the village beauty, Kalaivani (Nandita), and eventually falls in love with her.
Of course, it is early 1980s, a time when mobile telephones with cameras had not arrived in India, and the film’s storyline is believable all right. What is really commendable is the sheer novelty of Kumar’s theme. I do not remember a movie where a subject like camera phobia has been tackled, and the director takes us through a series of happenings – some humourously narrated – related to this blind belief. Kumar’s innovative climax is just brilliant.
Yes, unfortunately, as has often been the case with Tamil cinema, performances in Mundasupatti are disappointing – exaggerated and wanting in sophistry. And the first 30 minutes of the film can put one to sleep. But, well, if one were to brave this, Mundasupatti has some delightful moments of freshness to offer.