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Black Comedy: What Actually Is and Isn’t?

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It’s always good to be bad. We all now love villains more than the heroes. But do you know how it all started? We all might’ve definitely come across the word “Black Comedy” or “Dark Comedy”. When Filmmakers term their film as a Black Comedy, have you ever wondered what the hell does it actually mean? Have you ever laughed to a joke about something offensive? Have you ever been in a situation where you might know how serious or how dangerous the problem is but still you couldn’t control your laughter at the jokes made about it. That’s what you call a black comedy. Typically black comedy or dark comedy – is a film which takes a heavy, controversial, disturbing, or generally off-limits subject matter and treats it in a humorous manner. It was the French writer Andre Breton who coined the word “Black Humor”. Black Comedy doesn’t necessarily have to involve death — anything that is tragic can become a Black Comedy.

Why is black comedy used in movies? You might think that why not a filmmaker make a serious, disturbing film instead of making it humorously. Just imagine if Soodhu Kavvum was made as a serious film. Do you think it would have received the same love, it received for the original? Never. Soodhu Kavvum was all about a psychopathic hero, an imaginary girlfriend, a sadistic cop, few clueless youngsters and a stinging commentary on present-day politics and youth. If these were told in a serious tone, Soodhu Kavvum would’ve been certainly a different film but the cult status it acquired would’ve been a doubt. And think if Jigarthanda would’ve worked if a gangster like Assault Sethu who knows zero acting didn’t force Karthik to cast him in the film he’s going to make? It would’ve become just another film. Black comedy is just a cheap trick filmmakers use to make a film on some ‘taboo’ topics. No one would like if you show subjects like violence, death, insanity, drug abuse, child pornography, racism, and sexism directly. But when you tell these comically, it would certainly be accepted. Dark comedy often force listeners to consider new perspectives.

So does adult comedy comes under black comedy? No. A black comedy is actually making something funny out of something that wouldn’t normally be funny. People often confuse with Satire and Black comedy. A satire is mocking something whereas a black comedy is making something look funny. ‘Varumayin Niram Sivappu’ is a satire whereas ‘Panchathanthiram’ is a black comedy. ‘Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi’ is a satire whereas ‘Kadhala Kadhala’, ‘Sathi Leelavathi’ is a black comedy. Sometimes black comedy won’t work when it is too dark. You just have to know the line and not cross it.

How should a black comedy be like? Definitely not like Settai. A black comedy should make us laugh and simultaneously make us think and aware of the world they’re showing us. Settai neither made us laugh nor made us think. Settai stands as the best example for an epic fail of a black comedy.

Now let’s look on some films which made us laugh to a situation that made us grim in another film.

Memory Loss – What happens if a soon-to-be married bridegroom loses his memory while playing cricket with his friends is the crux of Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom which is treated comically. Another film where you can see the protagonist suffering from memory loss in a film is Ghajini. But in Ghajini, the memory loss was shown seriously. Both the movies worked out really well with the audience.

Lead getting hit by a cop – Visaranai, a film which showed another side of police interrogation, has scenes where the three leads of the film gets badly hit by the cop. The situation in this scene which made all of us scare, has made us laugh in another film. You can see a similar situation in Soodhu Kavvum where the cop hits the leads in a dark room but once Bobby Simha says the dialogue, “Idhuku peru thaan Iruttu Arayil Murrattu Kuthu aa da”, we all would’ve laughed our lungs out. This dialogue changes the whole mood of the scene and even the other characters in the movie who are getting beaten by the cop starts laughing.

Murdering and disposing the body secretly – The minute you read the heading, Panchathanthiram will be the first to come to your mind. It is very obvious because one cannot forget the hilarious things Kamal and his friends do to get rid of the dead body. But there’s a similar nail biting scene in another movie, infact another Kamal movie and it would’ve definitely pushed you to your seat edge. The scene in Papanasam where Kamal disposes the car surely gave us some great thrill.

Black comedy film that didnt go well :

• Jill Jung Juck – The film did offer us some good laughs here and there but didn’t offer us the same post intermission. The film did create a world and tried to link with tamil cinematic universe by using some film references like Soppana Sundari but the audience refused to enter the world as it wasn’t appealling to them. Like their world, the humor was also not appealing.

What a black comedy should do is, never ‘tell’ a joke. Settai didn’t work only because they tried to make us laugh with their mouths. But black comedy is all that comes from the actions and reactions of the character. The whole part of a certain type of comedy (and arguably comedy in general) is to find humor in otherwise humorless situations. When a good joke is made of a horrible thing, the darkness of the subject-matter gives it a unique strength and poignancy.

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