The late great veteran actor and Dada Saheb Phalke Award winner, Chavelier Sivaji Ganesan, would have been a proud grandfather had he been alive today alive today to see his grandson Vikram Prabhu make his debut as a hero. And to his credit, Vikram convincingly has donned the role of a mahout, deeply in love with his elephant Manikkam and also with Akki, the village girl. With an entire Tamil filmdom, growing up on the staple diet of his iconic grandfather's great acting era, Vikram's debut ensures a 'minimum guarantee' as Kamal Haasan put at the audio release function of the film. Together with his hard work of undertaking training as a mahout of the elephant, it is an extrmely positive beginning for him.
The other highlight of the film is the D Imman's excellent music, which aids the film greatly. All the songs stay with you after the film, especially Ayayayoo Aananthamey sung by Haricharan, Sollitaley Ava Kaadhala sung by KJ Ranjith, Shreya Ghoshal and Soi Soi sung by Magizhini Manimaaran. The director of the film, Prabu Solomon, has been riding high, especially after his last block buster film, Mynaa. He has maintained the same team for this film too except for the lead pair. The song Jinku Chikka in Mynaa was an all-time hit. Soi Soi in Kumki is conceived as a parallel to that. Lyrics for all the songs both in Mynaa and in Kumki is by Yugabharathi.
Prabu Solomon, seems to have specialized in taking his cast and crew to remote locations, in an National Geographic or Hollywood Predator style kind of treatment. Mynaa too was shot in the wilderness of the hills. Sukumar's camera work brings alive the remote locations and waterfalls. One of the highlights in the film is also a song sequence shot from the top of Jog falls, using a top angle crane, with the actors precariously perched on the ledge and water falling below them to great depth.
In spite of all this, in my opinion, Mynaa still remains the better work of Solomon, in comparison to Kumki. And this primarily due to its content and screenplay. Kumki starts rather weakly with a lengthy voice over narration explaining the context of the story. In fact, I find this happening far too often now in many films, with the director resorting to this easy way out, instead of working on the screenplay to devise and visualize a more cinematic beginning. Thambi Ramaiyyah, who bagged the National Award for the Best Supporting Actor in Mynaa, is overused in this film role as the uncle and constant companion of Bomman. Still, he literally carries the script on his shoulders, sometimes thanks to a good comedy track - his voice used off-sync serving as his thought processes - obviously worked through in the post production to pep up the story.
The formation of the central relationship between Bomman and the elephant is rather forcibly introduced, when the elephant steals something from the shop, at the behest of Bomman's uncle's instruction. Bomman, get angry and walks off, and the elephant follows him in public, creating panic everywhere. The so called comedy dialogues mocking the Malayalam language used by the Kerala police could have been avoided. Bomman's elephant Manikkam, is not even a really trained elephant to take on a rogue elephant. Bomman actually ends up coming to this village as 2 days make shift arrangement as the real Kumki elephant that was to have been supplied by another mahout could not make it. But Bomman falling in love with Akki changes all his plans. The script also, introduces 2 police men, who are keen to evict the villagers from the area, threatening them. There are obvious hints through dialogues about land acquisition for ulterior purposes with the threat of rogue elephant. The policemen also hate the presence of Bomman and his elephant and warn him to leave the spot. However, this angle is not followed up and it ends up rather frustratingly unexplained.
The girl Akki, belongs to a community who is very strict. Her father deeply believes in preserving their culture and will not tolerate any outside influence. He takes on the policemen. The girl caught between preserving the village culture, her father's expectations of her and her love for Bomman, finally remains confused and this issue too is left hanging for the audience to imagine their own ending. Lakshmi Menon, as Akki, gives a good performance, as a girl from a conservative and strict family, falling in love outside her community. Though in my opinion she managed a similar role in her earlier film Sundarapandian, with director Sasikumar (of Subramanyapuram fame) better. Apart from some glorious top angle shots of the waterfall, Bomman and Akki's meeting secretly near the falls is not handled well at all and looks very clumsy.
Towards the end of the story, the change over of the elephant, Manikkam, becoming an aggressive mad elephant for it to take on the rogue elephant, is highly unconvincing. Even the climax fight between Manikkam and the rogue elephant is executed with extremely tacky computer graphics. You never come to know, who is fighting whom, reminding me of Vali-Sugreeva fight in the epic Ramayan, when Rama could not distinguish between the two.
But finally, the exotic locales, the novelty of the elephant, the promising debut of Sivaji's grandson, Vikram Prabhu, as the mahout hero in a love story, some excellent songs, and exceedingly good promotion - all these factors are likely to make sure Kumki works big time at the box-office, irrespective of its other weaknesses.