For people in the US (like me), things like global trade, inexpensive travel and the Internet have helped create the illusion that the world is getting smaller. That's why it's good, now and again, to stumble across a movie that reminds us that the world is really unimaginably vast. There, in a pop culture product meant simply to entertain a local audience, we get to see a culture through its own eyes for a moment, and we start to realize that the distance between people is sometimes much further than can be measured in mere miles. It's not just other cultures' outlook on the physical world around them that differs so powerfully from our own; more importantly, it's the way other cultures view the intangible world... the unseen yet vast and powerful forces that shape so much of our earthly existence.
In other words: international copyright law.
What — you thought I meant religion? Oh, no. Actually, pretty much all religions look flat-out bonkers from the outside, so religion is the one of the aspects of cultural exchange that people expect to be baffling. But the ways pop-cultural products from the West — which, frankly, tend to be commercial more than cultural artefacts, if there's a difference any more — are chosen, repurposed and given entirely new identities in other parts of the world can be both fascinating and mind-boggling. It's especially interesting to see them put in a context that's not only completely unexpected, but also completely at odds with what most of us in the West would consider appropriate entertainment.
For example? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 2010 Tamil film Kutty Pisasu.
As I've mentioned in previous reviews, Indian cinema is much bigger than just Bollywood, which is the Hindi-language industry centered in Mumbai. Mumbai is also home to the Marathi film industry, which consequently doesn't have a generally-accepted "-ollywood" nickname; Tamil cinema, on the other hand, is referred to as Kollywood, after its central location of Kodambakkam on the southeast coast of India (a good thousand miles away from Mumbai and Bollywood). Almost every region of India has its own local film center; popular movies made by one of India's regional film studios are frequently either dubbed into the local language of other areas, or are remade entirely by another of the local industries. This is the way I've got used to Indian cinema interoperating... though it can get a little complicated following a cinematic thread around and around the subcontinent, and it will sometimes take me years (and inaccurate reviews) to figure out where the chain of remakes and revisions actually begins.
But Kutty Pisasu wasn't just dubbed for export to other regions, nor independently remade, but entirely re-shot — identically, or as close to identically as possible — with a slightly different cast for each regional version. I have not yet seen Kutty Pisasu in its original Tamil form, but I have seen the Tamil cut under the name Magic Robot, dubbed into Hindi; remade as Cara Majaka in Telugu; and remade again as Bombat Car in Kannada. Each version uses the same story, most of the same blocking & camera movements, most of the same costumes, most of the same music... but with different actors in many of the major roles.
You might have noticed that the titles of the alternate versions all seem to suggest there's some kind of autonomous car in the story. That's appropriate: if your movie features a magical living car, you're probably going to want to tell people about it. But Kutty Pisasu, the original title, means something like "Devil Kiddy". Unless the word "Pisasu" has a less-sinister translation than "devil" that I haven't found in my research, the original Tamil title seems ever-so-slightly at odds with the tone of the movie. The young girl at the center of the story isn't a demon — she's an agent of divine retribution.
Indian commercial cinema is well-known for borrowing ideas from other industries, particularly from Hollywood; so from my limited description of the movie so far — something about a young girl and a magical car — you might think Kutty Pisasu was somehow connected to Herbie Fully Loaded, Disney's 2005 attempt to reboot the Love Bug franchise. There is a connection between the films, but it's not as simple as it might seem. In fact, Kutty Pisasu takes a great deal of inspiration from an failed Hindi blockbuster called Taarzan the Wonder Car. That 2004 film was in turn a serious, action-film remake of a 1988 Marathi comedy called Ek Gadi Baaki Anadi, which was sort-of a much darker version of Disney's original 1968 movie The Love Bug. In Ek Gadi Baaki Anadi, a man (played by comedian Laxmikant Berde, the charismatic star of the utterly insane film Zapatlela) becomes the owner of a Volkswagen Beetle that's possessed by the spirit of his murdered father; together, with much comic violence, man and car get their revenge on the evil villains who caused the father's death.
Unlike the Herbie films or Ek Gadi Baaki Anadi, Taarzan the Wonder Car had featured a sleek and very modern automobile. A new line of Indian cars based on the style of the one in the film was due to be launched after the movie's release (though presumably without the on-board vengeful human soul... at least in the standard edition). Perhaps they should have stuck with the Burger King commemorative glasses: the movie tanked, and the new-model cars were never put into production. The makers of Kutty Pisasu returned to the old formula, and decided their possessed car should be an old-fashioned jalopy. In its review, the Times of India referred to Kutty Pisasu's haunted car as a Morris Minor, which is a pretty good description; however, ironically enough, the Morris Minor is actually easier to anthropomorphize than the vehicle used in the film, since the Minor's much-wider and lower-placed grill made the front of the car look like a grimacing face.
Still, if the connection between Kutty Pisasu and Disney's Herbie series is tenuous, the connection between the Tamil film and its Hindi and Marathi inspirations aren't particularly direct either. They may share certain similarities of plot, but in terms of style and tone they're worlds apart. In both Taarzan... and Ek Gadi Baaki Anadi, the car with a mind of its own is the most unusual thing in the movie. In Kutty Pisasu, I don't even think it's in the top ten.
And just wait until I tell you which car-related American movie Kutty Pisasu rips off in earnest.
(For simplicity's sake, I'm going to refer to the characters by their names as given in the Tamil version, according the the movie's IMDb and Wikipedia pages.)
The movie begins 200 years ago, during the early days of India's colonial occupation by the British. In a small village in Tamil Nadu, at the bottom of a well, lives an avatar of the goddess Kali, the often-terrifying Mother Goddess. She offers her divine protection to all in the village who honor her, especially when they invoke her aid through a little ritual involving fire. When thieves attempt to break into the house of one of Kali's devotees, she appears in the empty house and dares the burglars to try and touch anything therein. To further thwart them, she multiplies herself by the thousands, marching out the door in such great numbers that the terrified thieves couldn't find a place in the house if they'd wanted one.
Outside the village lives the decadent "English" governor, a drunken fop in a powdered wig — and a genuine vintage eighteenth-century telephone:
(Note to would-be colonial powers: while you're making contemptuous stereotypes of the locals, the locals are busy stereotying you.)
The governor awakens from his wine-induced stupor long enough to realize he wants a woman. Making a hash of the local language to the extent that he finally has to speak only in English — or what the film-makers call English, anyway — the lecherous "Englishman" demands his sepoy take him to the closest approximation of a whorehouse the local culture provides. The horrified sepoy points out that it's madness for him to go outside at night. He risks offending the Mother Goddess, who will surely destroy him. Well, the Governor certainly isn't going to allow local superstition to interfere with is lechery: he demands to be taken to the well of Kali at once.
Trembling with fear, the sepoy does as he is told. Naturally, the "Englishman" doesn't hold with any of that silly Hindu religious nonsense. Seeing that there's no sexy goddess at the bottom of the well, he calls her up out of it... and when she fails to appear, he spits in the well.
Well? Well. The angry goddess rises from the depths, and the sight of her strikes the "Englishman" blind. As he writhes at Kali's feet, the sepoy intervenes on his behalf and begs her to forgive him for his ignorant blasphemy. Moved by the sepoy's generosity of spirit, even toward a man whose existence is a burden to him, Kali relents. As the "Englishman" sobs his apology and his undying devotion, Kali asks the sepoy if there is anything he would like to ask for himself. The sepoy begs Kali to grant her protection to his family in perpetuity, and the goddess agrees.
Fast-forward 200 years — and how better to bring us back to the modern world than through an enormous, energetic, eye-poppingly colorful musical number? The production is pretty spectacular, using multiple rapid changes of locale and costume, speeded-up footage, reversed footage, dropped frames, green-screen effects... and yet, there's still something very old-fashioned about it. Busby Berkeley on acid, with a computer, is still Busby Berkeley, after all. Nevertheless, like a good Busby Berkeley number, it's still ridiculously entertaining in spite of its obvious artificiality. More importantly, the opening song does provide us with a memorable introducion to our heroine, Priya, played by a young performer named Keerthika. It says a lot for Keerthika that she manages to stay at the center of attention amid all the eye-poppingly colorful antics around her. Perhaps its because of the sheer force of her personality. Perhaps it's because of her obvious talent and technical skill. Perhaps it's because she's five.
Actress? Oh, no, no. But screen presence? Yes, indeed.
(I'm not actually sure how old Keerthika really was at the time of the filming, but the character she plays is supposed to be five. She's certainly not much older.)
As the number suddenly concludes, we see the camera wheeling in from off-screen; as the director runs up to congratulate Priya, we realize this whole sequence has been part of a filmed dance competition that the little girl has won. Well, of course she has. In fact, in the very next scene, we find out she's also won her elementary school's drawing competition, with her amazingly realistic drawing of a bright yellow vintage car. Normally, a little kid in a movie who's good at absolutely everything is just plain insufferable, but in Priya's case it's pretty easy to accept. She's not cutesy; she's not sentimentalized; as played by Baby Keerthika, she comes off as a tiny force of nature, so when she eventually turns into the vastly powerful incarnation of Kali it seems perfectly reasonable. Maybe even a slight downgrade.
Besides, Priya isn't quite perfect. The first indication we're given that things aren't quite as they should be with this little girl comes when we discover she's been drinking all her classmates' water. In fact, she's drinking more water than a normal adult could drink in so short a time. The next indication comes when she tells her teacher why she drew an old-style car instead of a nice modern one: she had no choice. The car insisted on being drawn.
"Uhhh, Disney's lawyers are on Line One..."
Then there's her behavior at home. As an only child, Priya is indulged to a ridiculous degree by her mother; it's not so much that she's spoiled — although she is — but rather that she seems to see very little reason why she should be modest about herself. Even so, her mother Gayathri is taken aback when she starts speaking in very grown-up ways. In fact, it's the way of one grown-up in particular: Gayathri's now-deceased friend Savithri.
Meanwhile, outside an old house reputed to be haunted, there sits an antique car very much like the one in Priya's drawing. This car, though, is every bit as decrepit and abandoned-looking as the house behind it; strangely enough, it's also chained to the ground. Late one night, when a water delivery man is riding by on his bicycle cart, he thinks he hears a ghostly voice crying out to him: "I'm thirsty! Please, give me water!" An invisible force upends the delivery man's cart; a water bottle flies through the air and lands in front of the abandoned car. The car's hood flies open, and the water cascades into it as though the car were drinking.
So: Priya is unnaturally thirsty; Priya drew this car; the car is also unnaturally thirsty. Clearly there is something unusual going on here. Just how unusual becomes clear to us when Devi Maa Kali arises from her well and goes to see the yellow car. "Please unchain me, divine mother!" pleads the car. The goddess smiles, and promises the car that not only will he be free, he'll also be able to get his revenge on the evil people who wronged him.
While all this is going on, Priya's mother is asking for Kali's help in a slightly different way. Worried about Priya's odd connection to Savithri, she performs a protection ritual over the girl, the same fire ritual we saw the homeowner perform during the film's prologue. She has to wait until Priya is asleep, though, because Priya has recently developed an aversion to open flames. The ritual doesn't quite go the way Mom has planned... for as soon as she's has turned her back, the little flame flares up, and out of it flies a glowing blue spirit. Unobserved, the spirit flies straight into a photo of the late Savithri, through the wall, and into Priya's room. It hovers over the little girl for a moment, and then disappears into her forehead.
When Priya wakes up, she hears a voice calling to her. "Sister, give me water!" it says; "I'm so thirsty!" In her mind, she pictures the yellow car from her drawing, lit by dazzling sunlight. The house doors spring open without her touching them, and Priya brings a pitcher of water outside. The car is waiting for her in the dark. It blinks its headlights at her as she approaches. "Brother," she says, "you've come back! Here is your water..."
"It's the anniversary of our deaths," she goes on, as the old car magically restores itself to mint condition. "Today our enemies will die as well! We must kill them! Kill them all!"
(Let me remind you: this is a five-year-old girl... talking to a car.)
The next morning, a trio of men we've never seen before are walking through a lot filled with hundreds of Indian cars, all waiting to be loaded aboard ships and exported all over the world. Sure, it seems like a shameless plug for the Indian automotive industry, but it's about to go horribly wrong. One of the men catches a glimpse in a side-view mirror of a car that definitely doesn't belong in the rows of shiny new vehicles. Why, it looks like a bright-yellow Morris Minor from the 1950's! When the men turn around, the car isn't there any more. Yet it's definitely appearing in the mirror! Then, suddenly, the car is not only there in the lot behind them, it's hovering over them — Indian cars may be very much up-to-date, but the ability to fly certainly isn't among the standard options.
Soon all three men are being chased through the lot by the flying car, which subjects them to some Warner-Brothers-cartoon-style violence that's very disturbing to watch in a live-action movie. But if you think being chased by a flying car is ridiculous, wait until you see what happens when the car decides to go back to the ground:
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that's a Transformer. Specifically, it's the generic off-brand version of Bumblebee, the bright yellow robot that can only speak by retuning its radio. This version can't speak either, at least in its robot form. But instead of switching its radio to some suspiciously appropriate broadcast, the Indian Transformer just shrieks. And it shrieks a lot, as it chases its victims.
I can't stand the Transformers. The original cartoons were basically toy commercials posing as a show. As for Michael Bay's live-action versions? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is one of the few movies I've ever seen in a theater that left me speechless with rage, and I have refused to watch any of the films that followed — not even to heckle. I'm never particularly happy to see a Transformer on-screen, but when I see one pop up in the middle of an Indian supernatural revenge drama, Hasbro's intellectual property rights are the last thing I'm worried about. It's my sanity I question. A goddess living at the bottom of a well just turned a talking car into a Transformer. Either I've fallen asleep in front of the TV and am having a terrible nightmare, or this movie has lost its mind.
Two of the men manage to run away, but the third is picked up and flung into a brick wall by the rampaging robot. As he lies there, dying, he sees little Priya (in a spangled T-shirt that says "Rock Star") descending magically from the sky. Priya then incinerates the man with her fiery breath, Godzilla-style.
Once the man's screams have subsided, and he's reduced to a pile of smoldering ash, the soundtrack changes to "wacky cartoon car" music: the Transformer reverts back to its yellow jalopy form and speeds up to the burning corpse. Then it waggles its trunk over the body, and lets out a cloud of exhaust over it as it zips away.
To recap: a five-year-old girl and a robot car just burned a man alive; then the car farted on the body.
Back at home, Gayathri is panicking because she can't find her daughter anywhere. When Priya does show up at the door, things actually get worse: the girl demands water so she can perform the purification ritual for someone who has witnessed death. Gayathri realizes Priya has been at the docks, where the news is reporting a ghastly murder has just taken place... though she doesn't yet realize that Priya is the killer rather than a potential victim.
It's at this point that we have an extended flashback that puts all these strange events into context. Five years ago, when Gayathri was heavily pregnant with Priya, she had depended on her best friend Savithri. Savithri shared with Gayathri a rare blood type, so Savithri had offered to be a donor if Gayathri should have need of her. Savithri had been completely devoted to her friend: since Gayathri was the daughter of a Brahmin priest, Savithri had given up eating meat for the duration of Gayathri's pregnancy — if she should need her blood, Savithri wanted to make sure it was spiritually uncontaminated.
Savithri was unmarried, and lived with her brother Kabir. Her brother was also unmarried, but as devoted to his vintage yellow car as Savithri was to the priest's daughter. But the two were also devoted to one another, as evidenced by a fantasy musical number in which Kabir sings what can only be described as a love song to his sister... the two of them get on top of Kabir's yellow car and go flying through a series of fantastic landscapes. I'm hoping the artists of Deviant Art got some royalties for the use of their work.
"Uhhhh, Warner Brothers' lawyers are on Line Two..."
Still, Savithri's main passion was always Gayathri, to the point that Savithri told her that if anything were to happen to her, she hoped she would be reborn as Gayathri's child. Frankly, Savithri's attachment to Gayathri is so overstated that it made me wonder: is that how difficult it is, even now, to be a lesbian in South India — that being reborn as your beloved's child seems like the only reasonable way to get into her pants?
Unexpectedly, Savithri received an offer of marriage from an estranged cousin named Nanjappan. Nanjappan seemed to Kabir like a perfectly suitable match. But what neither Savithri nor Kabir realized is that Nanjappan was one of three hangers-on who followed a black magician named Mandiramoorthy. Mandiramoorthy and his gang hid out in an abandoned mansion reputed to be haunted — the same mansion we saw at the beginning of the film. It was Nanjappan's intent to turn the place from a bhoot bangla (Hindi for "haunted house") to a "youth bangla" — a terrible pun that's nevertheless so important to the screenwriters that is occurs in all three languages in which I saw the movie. But Mandiramoorthy had more important things on his mind. He wanted to acquire terrible powers from the forces of darkness by sacrificing a virgin of the utmost purity. And who could be purer or more naïve than Nanjappan's cousin Savithri?
But there's a slight complication: Savithri and Kabir were descendents of the sepoy who was granted the protection of the goddess Kali. Kali, mindful of her promise to keep the family safe, tried to intervene, appearing in human form and gently suggesting to Kabir that the marriage is ill-advised. But Kabir had refused to consider anything that would bring his sister unhappiness. So the goddess, having made the attempt, shrugged and muttered, "You'll find out." Or words to that effect.
So Nanjappan worked his way into Savithri's trust. His chance to act came when Gayathri went into labor: such is patriarchal culture in India even today that when Gayathri was about to give birth, there was room in the car for her, her husband and her father... but her female friend — who was her emergency blood donor during a complicated pregnancy — had to find her own way to the hospital. Wouldn't you know it? Her way turned out to be through Nanjappan... who had no intention of actually taking her to her intended destination.
Kabir, frantic when his sister failed to show up when she was needed, took his yellow car and traced her movements to the haunted mansion. He arrived too late to save Savithri from being burnt alive. However, by rushing in and dying heroically trying to save her, he managed to completely spoil the evil ritual.
Mandiramoorthy then realized that he'd drawn the attention of the gods for nothing, and determined to flee to Nepal for some extra training in black magic. He used his powers to trap Kabir's spirit in the body of his own vintage car. But unbeknownst to Mandiramoorthy, Savithri's spirit had already escaped — for at the very moment of her death, Gayathri's child had been born, and apparently the gods had remembered her wish. As for Nanjappan and his two friends, they were left on their own; but with no surviving witnesses to accuse them, they could simply go back to their ordinary lives with nobody the wiser.
Until now, that is.
For it was Nanjappan and his friends who received that unexpected visit from Bumblebee at the wharf. And one of them ended up dead. Not only that: the second goon has seen his own obituary placed in the paper, and had the undertaker show up at his door. Someone is out to get them, and it's probably a result of the murder of Savithri.
Goon #2 meets his fate in (of all places) a circus tent: he's dropped from the trapeze by the Robot Car and subsequently incinerated by Priya — still in her Rock Star t-shirt. The police immediately sieze Nanjappan as the most likely suspect for both his friends' murders, but the manager of the Bombay Circus points out that all the police have to do to find the actual killer is review the security camera footage. Nanjappan is very enthusiastic about this idea, but quickly lears two things:
But if you think this is the end of the story, you've forgotten about Mandiramoorthy. The evil magician comes back in the form of an invisible man... a man so invisible that when he faces the camera, the back of his jacket disappears ([cough] green screens are a little more complicated than they seem). The invisible man breaks into the prison where Nanjappan is being held and makes short work of the guards. Then he magically blasts open the bars of Nanjappan's cell and drags the man to freedom.
In his travels, Mandiramoorthy has acquired the help of a tiny Nepali demon, no bigger than his thumb. When Nanjappan expresses his doubts about anyone so small, the little demon turns Najappan into a human squid...
... until he agrees not to make fun of him.
Mandiramoorthy knows that some other magic has released the spirits of Savithri and Kabir, though he does not know anything more. His pet demon wanrs him that he must first coax the spirits out of their hosts before he can destroy them. The way to do that is by turning the already-suspicious Gayathri against the reincarnated spirit of her dead friend. To that end, the demon turns himself into Priya's exact duplicate... and then goes on a tiny reign of terror.
For example, Gayathri's family, being Brahmins, are forbidden from eating meat. Even the smell of cooked flesh is forbidden to them. So Demon Priya goes to a restaurant and starts eating a tremendous amount of meat. Word soon gets back to Priya's grandfather, the priest, who can't believe what he's being told. He and Priya's father rush to the restaurant... but the priest can't even go in, because of the odor of the food. Sure enough, there sits "Priya", surrounded by a mountain of empty dishes... and a bill for forbidden food that will have the old priest washing dishes for weeks. The smell of flesh on the fire so overwhelms the priest that, in another moment of hideously misjudged comedy, he runs to vomit in the dishwashing sink.
The Amitabh-ville Horror?
Eventually possessed Priya meets up with Demon Priya, and the two have a sort of a supernatural duel in the form of a musical number. Each Priya conjures up a nauseatingly cute monster avatar to do the fighting: Demon Priya a cartoon bat, and possessed Priya a cartoon bear. I wish I could remind the movie that, appearances to the contrary, these two are NOT CHILDREN: one is possessed by a dead woman, and the other is really a Nepali imp. There is no reason to make everything CUTE.
Possessed Priya gets the upper hand in the song-combat, but it's not enough. Serious doubt has been sown in the mind of Gayathri — though perhaps the murders had a thing or two to do with that as well — and, with the help of an exorcist, she eventually orders the spirit of Savithri out of her daughter's body. The devoted Savithri can't help but obey. At that point the exorcist reveals himself to be the Nepali demon in disguise. Now that Savithri has been recaptured, the demon is also able to drag Kabir's soul out of the yellow car. The two spirits are trapped in Mandiramoorthy's mansion until the next night, a night of the new moon, which is the only night on which souls can be magically destroyed.
At this point, Gayathri realizes she's made a terrible mistake. She considers asking Mother Kali for help — which is the cue for the goddess herself to come crashing up through the floor as a glowing giant, promising the destroy the evil-doers. Mandiramoorthy and Nanjappan are about to find out how foolish it is to challenge a goddess. If they need a night with no moon, Kali will suddenly make the moon full — and pop a few extra moons up in the sky for good measure. If little Priya's strengths are only music and dancing, Kali will turn her music and dancing into deadly ninja moves (much to Nanjappan's distress). And it doesn't matter if Mandiramoorthy does somehow transform himself into a twelve-foot-tall cyborg... Kali just transforms herself into a colossal CGI cobra that's more than a match for him.
Twelve-foot-tall cyborg sorcerers. Musical ninja toddlers. Transformers. Cartoon bats duking it out with Care Bears. It's all too little to make a compelling story, I'm afraid. When there's a god on one side of the battle, there's just no amount of weirdness you can add to the plot that will balance it. Kali can bend the laws of nature. She herself is immortal. Thus there is never the slightest doubt about how this conflict is going to end. The only real tension the plot is able to generate is in the story of Savithri's murder, and that's a lead-up to a foregone conclusion.
Kutty Pisasu wasn't very warmly received by the critics in India when it came out, in any of its versions. While Keerthika was singled out for praise (deservedly), the reviews tended to point out that this sort of divine revenge story was nothing new in Indian storytelling, and the addition of giant robots did little to make it any more entertaining.
In fact, there is something innovative about Kutty Pisasu, though not in a good way. Sure, in many ways it's not as remarkable as it might seem to an outsider. If you've ever seen any Indian mythological movies, then you've experienced some truly mind-melting images: ten-headed, six-armed deities fighting monsters in mid-air, for instance. These images are totally in keeping with their sources: religious epics dating back centuries, which stress the differences between the world we humans experience with our limited minds and senses, and the worlds beyond space and time where the gods hold dominion. When we're dealing with a mythological or an ancient religious context, we expect things to get really funky. It's when these miraculous, transcendental events get plopped down into modern life, clothed in the images of American commercial cinema, that things go from the merely weird to the deeply disturbing. At least, there's something troubling to my Western imagination, seeing a Transformer suddenly pop up as the tool of a vengeful Indian goddess. It's also odd to see so many hallucinatory visual effects applied to a story that seems off-putting to Western sensibilities, and hackneyed to the sensibilities of local audiences. It's a little like dropping peyote in the desert and then discovering your spirit animal is Mickey Mouse.
Yet even more disturbing is the apparent moral of this movie: Hey, kids! Murder is fun, as long as a god tells you to do it! Yeah, I'm sure there are a lot of people who would find that message acceptable, as long as the god in question was their god. But when it's not, the feeling is a little different.
I've had a lot of difficulty writing this review. Admittedly, the subject of our B-Masters' Roundtable was WTF Films, but even in the realm of wtf-ery this movie gave me pause. One significant problem had to do with current events: I was attempting to write up a description of a "comedy" scene in which the police, convinced that the mysterious & ownerless yellow car must be a bomb planted by extremists, go to investigate... only to be knocked down, jumped upon and run over by the car. Now, when the car knocks somebody in the ass with its door, or extends its steering wheel like a fist and slaps somebody silly, I guess it could be considered mildly humorous. But when the car actually starts running people down, even though we see they're not badly hurt, in my opinion it stops being funny. The violence is far too literal to be comical. To make matters worse, just as I was starting to write about this scene, I heard about not one, but two politically-motivated attacks — one in the US, one in Spain — in which people were killed by terrorists driving cars into crowds. It was bad enough I was writing about a five-year-old girl running around gleefully murdering people; once I ran into this disheartening coincidence, I had to stop for a little while and write about something else.
For in spite of the movie's bright colors, eye-popping musical numbers, intrusively unsubtle camera work, and overuse of computer-generated effects, there's something about its underlying tone that prevents me from enjoying it as pure mindless entertainment. Not even the charismatic performance by Baby Keerthika can rescue it; and, in fact, her character and the way it's treated is a large part of the problem. Little Priya should have been the central character of the story, as she seemed to be at the beginning of the movie. But after she's possessed by the spirit of Savithri — about a quarter of the way into the movie — we never again see Priya as herself... not even at the end, once all the murders have finished. When I see Priya dancing through a kiddie theme park with her robot buddy, or combating Evil Priya with a cutesy animated teddy-bear, I think: either these things are only superfically in-character for the possessed five-year-old — which is bad enough — or, on some level, little Priya is fully conscious of what she's doing as a puppet of Savithri and the goddess Kali — which is worse. After the supposedly happy ending, how will Priya's family look at her from then on? How will she deal with the blood on her hands, however righteously spilled, as she grows up? As an adult viewing Kutty Pisasu, I can't help but ask these questions of myself; as a kid viewing the movie, I know I probably couldn't come up with those questions, which makes me wonder about the movie's suitability for kids at all.
Of course, Transformer or no, this movie is not a product of my culture and was not meant for my consumption, so perhaps I've got the wrong impression. On the other hand, I note with something like distress that after her astonishing performance in Kutty Pisasu, Keerthika has been credited with no further film appearances. Did this film doom her career? I suppose it's possible Kutty Pisasu may have inspired a lingering unease in local viewers as well.
YouTube links (current as of December, 2017):
Magic Robot (Hindi version of Tamil original)
Cara Majaka (Telugu version)
The Kannada version, Bombat Car, was formerly available on YouTube, but seems to have been removed.