Of Founders, Filmmakers and Viewers.

Indian Cinema, rather mainstream Indian Cinema, represented by commercial cinema in regional languages sold to us as various “woods” by popular media was rather averse to biopics until mid 2000s or so. Biopics were by and large, customary Doordarshan screenings on national holidays to us with Attenborough’s Gandhi being the one etched in the collective memory of the country, for eternity. One wouldn’t blame the average Indian producer for staying away from the genre while Hollywood managed to churn out biopics that found critical acclaim and won the box office too. In India biopics were considered the reserve of art house filmmakers whose subjects were historical and political figures on most occasions. Shekhar Kapur is an exception here and he graduated from movies like Masoom and Mr. India to the rather unconventional Indian biopic for mid 90s, Bandit Queen. He then went international with Elizabeth. That didn’t change much in Bollywood but. It was still  few years later when Ajay Devgan and Bobby Deol clashed with their versions of the life of Bhagat Singh. Then Aamir tested the waters with Mangal Pandey. And then there was the eponymous movie on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose by Shyam Benegal, who wouldn’t identify as a Bollywood filmmaker by any stretch of imagination too. Apart from the fact that all these movies tried to monetise patriotic fervour at the box office, another common factor was A.R Rahman’s music, with the exception of Deol’s Bhagat Singh movie. Rahman has this uncanny ability to stir up emotions of the patriotic kind with his music like no other singer- composer out there. Back then in the late 90s his version of Vande Mataram was quite the rage and looking back at it now, I’m not surprised that he was part of these films in a major way too. Coming back to biopics, it was in the second decade of new millennium that Bollywood actually realised that the audience were primed for biopics and it looked as if every major actor out there was looking to bag one in their kitties.The hyper nationalism that swept the country helped too. The general perception was that playing these roles all it took to be recognised as a true citizen. Having said that, Indian biopics are the most absurd if you ask me. A movie on the life and career of the most popular Indian cricketer of the past decade actually had one of those regular Bollywood romantic songs. But in a country where posters get milk showers, the actual absurdity is in questioning the content here. This is around the time when Bollywood realised the potential of biographical sports dramas too. Every major league actor was looking for real life events that could set the cash registers ringing with some political mileage thrown in. Except for Dangal maybe, none of these films actually managed to make a mark apart from the initial buzz which they created, riding on the biographical element in the film which naturally evoked interest in the general audience. Most were poorly executed and at best was hardly anything more than what we generally associate with best intentions in Bollywood, farce.

Down south, serious filmmakers like Mani Ratnam had a safer, more pragmatic approach which allowed them to dabble in every excess of commercial cinema while telling a tale from real life that deserved to be told. It was a
win-win approach for all. And they never told you that it’s a true story,  it was the media who did that. This is why movies like Guru or Iruvar had all the songs it had and you were okay with that too, as a viewer. When he first tried this in Iruvar, it was the only way Mani Ratnam could touch upon the lives of two individuals who found unparalleled success in cinema and politics in the highly volatile political atmosphere of Tamil Nadu and, live to tell other tales. He did this with Guru again, years later. Sudha Kongara, whose Soorarai Pottru garnered much attention in an year of very few releases even on streaming platforms, interestingly was an associate director in Guru. Soorarai Pottru left me disoriented to an extent and is the reason why I’m writing this in fact. It is indeed an engaging film but the sheer amount of drama, rather melodrama infused into the script for the sake of commercial appeal for a film that was marketed as a biopic let the puritan in me down I guess. To be fair to the makers, never in their wildest dreams would they have thought that this film would have an OTT release and ultimately the business of filmmaking is about profits which justifies the cinematic liberties the director has indulged in, to an extent. Yes, maybe it would have turned out a documentary if she had translated the book on which the film is based onto the screen down to the dot. If it wasn’t for the biopic tag, everything about this film is run of the mill Tamil Cinema, not too different from an Annamalai if you ask me. As in all Indian biopics what we have here too is a hero who cannot do wrong. He is present everywhere, from the tarmac to the ATC tower to the cockpit. He indulges in melodrama reminiscent of a Sivaji Ganesan at his histronic best and heroics that you normally associate with Rajnikanth. Surya, as an actor has always delivered what the director and the character demands of him and here too, he obliges. But for more than a decade now, he has been trying to compete at the box office with his contemporaries rather unsuccessfully to speak the truth, the casualty of which happened to be the quality of content which we as an audience expected from his films early on. This film too has been heavily influenced by that approach by the Surya camp, I guess. Compare this to a film like The Founder, where Michael Keaton plays the eponymous founder of the McDonald’s empire. The politics of the film starts right with the title and it doesnt take sides or project the protagonist as a hero who beats all odds, rather they present him as a man with all the failings of an asipiring businessman. There are no attempts to infuse drama into the narrative by the makers for the sake of it but the film still makes a gripping watch. But in Soorarai Pottru, even the social circumstances of the character have been changed to appeal to an electorate rather than an audience, one cant but help feel. What drives a filmmaker to arrive upon such choices when they are telling a tale ? Is it their perception of us the audience or are we truly not ready for the kind of content that The Founder or The Pursuit of Happyness present? Closer to home, Swades is the only film that compares in theme and feel to Soorarai Pottru though it was not a biopic but was indeed an odd film for Bollywood and the leading man at the time of it’s release. For a film that’s all about defying odds and breaking norms in terms of the story it says, Soorarai Pottru at the end of the day plays by the perceived rules of the marketplace and conforms to the age old norms of a “star” driven industry ulitmately and that’s when it leaves a bad aftertaste and that exactly is my only beef with the film, I realise now.


Kaithi : Road Rage.

A semblance of truth and human interest are all it takes for a reader to suspend his disbelief and overlook the implausibility of the narrative, proposed Samuel Taylor Coleridge two centuries back. In Kaithi the director applies this to Cinema as he knows best and thought fit.

Kaithi at the core is essentially your generic Tamil hero vehicle. Lokesh Kanakaraj who impressed with his debut Maanagaram, for obvious reasons have indulged in the trappings of an out and out South Indian commercial entertainer intended for the masses. The director finds inspiration from a multitude of films, namely Con Air, Assault On Precinct 13 and The Departed which itself was a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs.

Kaithi is a decent thriller but not without failings, which brings me to Coleridge again. Kaithi is also Karthi’s glorious return to the road after Paiyya, sans songs this time around but. The whole premise of the film basically rests on a top cop’s fear of the media which to be fair is not hard to fathom in these times of prime time media trials. Which is why it’s odd that for a plot that’s all about cover up in a small town, the absence of OB vans and frenzied journos stand out like sore thumbs given the number of explosions and mayhem unleashed on screen, but then again, you have chosen to suspend, your disbelief that is.#kaithi

NGK : Tamil Stars Care About Farmers, Do You?

Long before the Kisan Long March, we saw Ilaya Thalapathi Vijay lamenting the cause of the farmers on the big screen in A.R.Murugadoss’s Kaththi . Now, Murugadoss was smart enough to realise that when you tackle as grave and complicated an issue as the plight of  farmers in a film, you simply cannot pull it off with a single Vijay, so we ended up getting two for the price of one, saviours I mean. In stark contrast, we are presented writer-director Selvaraghavan’s latest, NGK where Suriya is seen fighting the farmer’s fight, on his own. Incidentally Suriya had played twin roles  in another Murugadoss film about saviours, 7am Arivu. Murugadoss’s heroes are always simple men with simple answers to complex issues and gets the job done with a Kaththi (knife) or a Thuppakki (gun), in comparision to Selvaraghavan’s leading men who are troubled individuals who almost always can’t even rescue themselves, leave alone the people who look up to them. But then, Murugadoss and Selvaraghavan are two directors at the far ends of the narrow spectrum that commercial filmmaking is and if direction was a jungle, Selvaraghavan could rightly be called a different animal. From psychological thrillers to gangster drama to  fantasy to sci-fi, Selvaraghavan has lent his touch to diverse genres with varying success in the past and now he has attempted to give the political thriller a twist of his own.

Suriya plays Nanda Gopalan Kumaran in this eponymous film about a regular citizen who is distressed by everything that’s wrong with the political establishment, not a first in Tamil films, Shankar almost made a career out of it, but given Selvaraghavan’s repertoire, it was something to look forward to, right from the day the news broke that the director was teaming up with Suriya who was in much need of a box office resurgence too. The last time Suriya played a politician was in Mani Ratnam’s Ayutha Ezhutha and he played it with elan. Michael Vasanth looked and talked every bit like the leader he was. In last year’s Sarkar we saw Murugadoss getting Vijay to spreadeagle down on Tamil polity and transforming governments overnight, literally. Selvaraghavan however, would have none of that for Suriya. Unlike Sarkar’s protagonist who transforms the system in a jiffy, in NGK, it’s the character who undergoes a transformation. NGK is essentially as much an exercise in character study as of the social circumstances that the director asks the cinematographer to pan his lens across. It basically shows us how individuals with the noblest of intentions make compromises and resort to dishonorable acts once the tentacles of the system closes in on them. In the same breath, NGK is also Selvarghavan’s most commercialised hero to date. Nanda Gopan Kumaran holds a PhD and left a cushy job with an MNC to take up organic farming. He’s at arms length for people in need, literally. Trained in mortal combat too he is, apart from being a cook with a Midas touch , we learn later. Naturally, NGK’s opponents are the ones reigning in the traditional political power centres who control everything with the aid of a PR army, which is a true reflection of the times we live in. This also brings us to one of the prominent female characters in NGK’s story, played by Rakul Preet, the other being his wife, Sai Pallavi in a rather one dimensional role.

Politics has been the natural retreat for actors in the South of the country and in the recent past we saw two of the most prominent stars putting an end to decades of speculation by launching their own parties. NGK is provocative when it reflects subtly on such attempts to revamp the prevalent political narrative and tentatively present the political realities which these new crop of parties would inevitably face sooner or later. The choices they make would decide if they will previal or perish. Even in a state as starry eyed as Tamil Nadu, it’s no hidden fact that the days of MGR and Jayalalitha are long gone. Even with all his on screen charisma, no political commentator would expect Rajnikanth’s or Kamal Hassan’s party to be anything more than an ally to one of the major league players, at the end of the day. To cut him some slack, Selvaraghavan is not selling a pipe dream like Murugadoss but true to his roots as a filmmaker has tried to hold a bleak and morose mirror to the political curry pot in the underbellies of the state. Selvaraghavan the writer has been let down by Selvaraghavan the director in the past, especially when the canvases were large, I feel.  He reminds me of a kid who goes to school prepared for his exams but has an anxiety attack at the last moment and makes a mess of the answer sheet. In NGK, too Selvaraghan passes, only barely. NGK is no call for political upheaval, rather it’s a warning sign which says, Okay you want change but enter at your own risk.



Peranbu : Ram’s Gift To Mammooty, And Us.

Peranbu has been in the news for a while now. In the days leading up to the release of the film, what I came across mostly in my news feed on social media platforms were the rave reviews the lead actor’s performance had garnered in festival circuits and more recently the responses of his peers from the industry after the premiere. Media houses  these days have little option but to sing to the tune that the social media crowd plays, to keep their business afloat, and were no different in their coverage. It’s all good. But, to an average Malayali filmgoer, it’s nothing but overkill. I mean do we really need a revalidation of the skills of an actor who has delivered in films ranging from Thaniyavarthanam to Vidheyan to Rajamanikyam ? Yes, Mammooty  hasn’t had the best of times at the box office of late but that’s pretty much like Sachin going out to bat for the Indian cricket team of the late 90s, if you ask me. Sachin hits a century but the match is lost because his team lets him down. While the filmmakers closer to home are content with dressing Mammooty up and celebrating his sunglasses, Ram has made a film where this actor unparalleled gets to do what he does best, act his heart out that is.  Peranbu is what Mammooty the actor deserves and maybe even desires too. And believe me when I tell you that Mammooty does his best dance performance ever in a film too, in Peranbu.

You are in for a surprise if you thought that this was just another sob story about a parent and a differently abled child. Yes, there are intense emotions that will leave you disturbed, but there’s laughter too. Ram has used a unique narrative arc here to tell his tale. To draw an analogy it’s pretty much like being invited by someone into his home where he makes you comfortable, serves you tea, then knocks you on your head with a club and puts an icepack on it himself right before he sees you out. No, I’m not saying that Ram would be a psychotic sadist if he wasn’t making films, no. Narrated in a dozen chapters or so by Mammooty himself, Ram attributes different moods of nature to each of these chapters. The first half of the film is set in the woods. Beautifully shot, it’s up there with some of the best works in contemporary cinema, in terms of cinematography. The camera compliments not just the script, but the actors too in a process that is as organic as it gets. It’s masterful filmmaking by Ram here, when he gradually immerses the viewer into the landscape and the story being told. Aiding him in the task is a Yuvan Shankar Raja in fine form.  One of those rarest of rare cinematic experiences if you ask me. The second half of the film is set in a jungle of a different kind and one we are most familiar with, concrete. The mood of the tale shifts here too. The film doesn’t judge any of its characters, much like its main protagonist, Amudhavan. He is far from perfect and after having failed as a father and a husband, he is doing penance by trying to be a good father to his daughter. He forgives everyone, even the ones who have done him wrong. Though Ram addresses issues that have never been discussed in any public domain, let alone cinema, what he demands from his viewers ultimately is a reflection into their own lives, through Amudhavans eyes and experiences, as an individual and as a parent. Ram doesn’t have all the answers  to the questions he raises here, he merely suggests that compassion, Peranbu is all that our fellow beings need from us to cope with the greatest of tragedies.

More than his acting chops, it’s Mammooty’s decision to be part of Peranbu and the willingness to play Amudhavan as Ram dictated, unconditionally that deserves to be lauded I feel. In a scene, which I percieved was a single shot, he proves again why he is one of the best actors to have ever graced the screen. In another brief scene which would otherwise be insignificant, when a family alights from the taxi he drives, Mammooty conveys the whole crux of the film with just his expressions. Because it’s Ram, who conceived that scene and trusted Mammooty to deliver it exactly as he envisioned it as a director and writer, that we can safely say that Peranbu is first a Ram film and then a Mamooty film. But I couldn’t but help notice that maybe the film ended a bit too hastily considering the slow burner approach for most parts. The pace of the proceedings are perfectly  in sync with the mood of the story being told. I’m indeed speculating wildly when I say that the festival circuit cut was maybe a different one, especially towards the end. Sadhana, who plays Paapa has the most challenging role here, considering the fact that the portrayal would be subjected to much scrutiny. If a reference must be made, it’s Rani Mukherjee’s performance in Black, I’d say. Anjali makes an impression in a brief role as one of the women in Amudhavan’s life. Another significant addition to the cast is Anjali Ameer, a transgender actor who plays a prostitute in the film. Anjali Ameer excels in this niche role but it remains to be seen how  the industry welcomes her. Not every filmmaker is Ram and not every film is Peranbu. At the end of the day, that’s what we lack as a society the most, compassion and Ram holds a perfect mirror to it in this landmark film that will haunt us for long.






Petta : What A Man !

Yes, that’s Abbas’s line from Padayappa. Not necessarily the best Rajni ” moment” that by any stretch of imagination, in fact the scene might look downright funny to any soul a stranger to RCU, that’s yes Rajni Cinematic Universe and Karthik Subbaraj the director of Petta has made a film which proves that he is stuck in a cinematic time warp of sorts where that dialogue from Padayappa is played over and over again. But he wouldn’t be alone there, considering the fact that the Superstar has a fan base in lands as far as Japan. Rajnikanth might very well be the only import to that country. Okay, maybe I did exaggerate a bit there, but we are talking Rajnikanth and his films where everything is larger than life. The last time a director paid tribute to Rajnikanth was with Sivaji when Shankar finally got to work with him, though one can’t help sigh wondering how Mudhalvan would have turned out had the star said yes to Shankar. Bygones are bygones  and a decade since, a young filmmaker has brought the Rajnikanth every fan yearned for, back to the screen.

Rajnikanth is 68 and he is most probably the only star his size in our part of the world who is the least bothered about looking his age off the screen, he can afford to do that simply because the energy and charisma he brings to his characters on the screen is something even his younger peers cannot match. In Petta he plays a college warden who appears to be more than just that and there’s a hint of mystery to everything he does and says. You know something’s brewing because you have watched him do that in the first half of Bhaasha too. But this time, he is not taking any blows, he’s only delivering them, verbal and physical to anyone who stands in his way. The first half of the movie is essentially a walk in the museum of all things Rajnikanth. Karthik Subbaraj uses everything from silhouettes to shadows to the sound of the star whislting to drive the fans into frenzy. Rajnikanth gets another introduction scene just before the interval which takes us into a narrative totally removed from the fun and frolic of the first half. But before he gets serious Karthik Subbaraj ensures that the fan in every viewer is fed well. Rajnikanth channels his inner Bruce Lee more than once and there’s even a scene where he displays his nunchak skills, obviously a throwback to his Paayumpuli days. Then there’s a song set on the hostel grounds where Rajnikanth shows us that he hasn’t lost his groove. The only time the audience erupted for a scene without the star was when Vijay Sethupathi appeared on the screen. Vijay Sethupathi again sleepwalks in a film where he has little else to do other than being a satellite to the star at the centre. Other Karthik Subbaraj regulars are splattered across the canvas, namely Bobby Simha. Simran makes a breezy comeback and Rajnikanth again gets to show that his charisma hasn’t faded in romantic scenes and songs. But in the second half it’s an entirely different film and these characters disappear. We do not miss them because another set of actors take their place. Sasikumar appears in a role that has shades of more than one buddy character from Rajnikanth films of yore. Nawazzudin Siddiqui in his Tamil debut is in a role that is essentially what we identify him with the most thanks to popular cinema, the nonchalant gangster with a hint of psychopathy.

Kabaali and Kaala were films where the director used Rajnikanth as a medium to sell his politics but unlike Pa. Ranjith, Karthik Subbaraj has done what the likes of  K.S Ravikumar, Suresh Krishna has done in the past, build a shrine for the Thalaiva. Apart from that he has also done something clever here, I feel. Despite Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vijay Sethupathi playing bad guys to Rajnikanth, Karthik Subbaraj who is also the writer has written a character for his favorite actor which almost makes a statement that in the ultimate Rajnikanth film, it’s the star who plays both the hero and the villain. Interestingly this is the second time in a row where a Rajnikanth film references Ramayana, given Tamil Naud’s love-hate relationship historically with the mythological epic. If you see Rajnikanth as a Christ figure against a cross in the first half, he is almost Krishna justifying the means to a win when pitted against opponents who are kin in the second half. Karthik Subbaraj also has taken a subtle jab at the hard right politics here. The only time the film drags a bit is when it ceases to a Rajnikanth film somehere in the middle of the second half and tries to take a serious tone but Karthik Subbaraj, I think it’s to safe to say, saves the film from an inevitable mediocre ending with a cinematic sleight of hand of sorts that will leave the audience stunned, much like the characters on the screen.  After two back to back movies laden heavily with political themes, Petta is just what the doctor ordered for the Superstar and his fans. Rajnified indeed, to the dot.



2.0 : They Have A Marvel, We Have A Shankar.

That’s improvising on a Marvel quote but nothing could be more truer. Shankar once made a love story that had two Aishwarya Rais romancing two Prashanths and he brought in a dinosaur in the climax scene just for the heck of it. This was in 1998 and I still haven’t figured out what that T Rex was doing in the film, but it was indeed as good as Spielberg’s dinos. Dinosaurs that looked life like were quite the rage back then thanks to breakthrough CGI in Jurassic Park and The Lost World and Shankar just had to have one in his film. A perfect one that looked like it walked off from one of the screens where The Lost World was playing and decided to check out Shankar’s Jeans. That’s Shankar for you. Remember how as a kid you had your favorite toy and did all sorts of stuff you could imagine with it? That’s all Shankar’s doing with Rajnikanth. He tested the waters with Sivaji and showed us a spectacle in Enthiran. Now in the Enthiran sequel 2.0, he has just gone bersek with his imagination. He in fact wanted none other than Arnold Schwarzenneger to play the bad guy to Rajnikanth. That failed during talks but how’s that for thinking big?

2.0 is not Shankar’s best in terms of content but it is indeed his most ambitious in terms of  vision and execution. He has focused all his attention on delivering the grand action sequences, so much so that the rest of the film is almost a rush of customary proceedings reminiscent of his earlier films and  I’m not complaining because he just doesn’t give the viewer the time to do that once the film starts rolling. After all, you need to think, to complain. It’s one CGI extravaganza after the other till the end credits roll. The CGI is indeed the best we have ever come across on Indian screens and given Shankar’s imagination even Hollywood studios would have budget concerns if they were to bring them to screen flawlessly. Lyca has done more than their best here I’d say. Almost all Shankar films to date have a core vigilante theme around which he builds the rest of the story. Here that core belongs to Akshay Kumar.No, he owns it.And one wishes Shankar had spent more time on that character.The back story of Akshay Kumar’s character was poignant and compelling which evoked a sincere and touching performance from the actor too. The sensitive enviornmental threat being discussed here is indeed true , confirmed by reports from the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Yes, Shankar takes more than a few liberties and resorts to his hat when science can’t explain the proceedings on screen. He throws quite a fair share of bull about 5th force at the audience but I don’t recall anyone complaining about Adamantium or Vibranium. Just saying in case you can’t live without logic,ironical though considering you’re in for a movie. Though it’s unlikely that the system or the people in charge would change for good, the disturbing message when passed on a scale as large as this is something that lingers, even if it’s only for a short time.

Of the actors, Akshay Kumar is the one who stands out. The appearance of his character seems to have been heavily inspired by Salim Ali , India’s greatest Ornithologist and Akshay Kumar has played the role with conviction, I felt. While Rajni lights up the CGI laden scenes with his moves as 2.0 , Vaseegaran is almost colorless. The mood of the film changes when 2.0 makes his entry and he even does the goat baying thing which rocked the audience in Enthiran. Rajni is at his entertaining best when he plays bad guys.He did that in Chandramukhi with Lakalaka. He manages to do that here too despite the mind boggling CGI Shankar throws at the viewers. Amy Jackson plays a robot and she is at home in the role. No, her jokes dont work but you hardly have time to squirm when the next big CGI scene is always around the corner.And yes you have to watch this in 3D. That takes the experience to a whole another level. ARR is at his best as always with Shankar.For a first in a Shankar film, you hardly have any song sequences except for the one with Akshay Kumar and his birds and the one at the end credits. Pullinangal is vintage ARR with minimal orchestration, a throwback to his Rasathi (Thiruda Thiruda ) days for me. Shankar is an entertainer and he knows commerical cinema inside out.He doesn’t need CGI to hold the viewer’s attention. In his debut film Gentleman, the hero played by Arjun is engaged in a fight mid-heist with an old cop. The cop knocks Arjun down and coughs before he signals Arjun to get back up. He’s just an extra but the scene and the stuntman stay with the audience for eternity .That’s the Shankar we love and miss. Shankar has had his inspirations too here in 2.0 I couldn’t but help notice and that brings me to the fact that in a movie this big that hopes to give Marvel a run for their money, the biggest and most delightful surprise was the smallest one. Find out what I’m talking about for yourself. You may not love it but you definitely cannot help liking it.

Vishwaroopam 2 : A Legend, A Career Switch and Some Leftover Footage.

Kamal Hassan went silent with Pushpak back in 1987. Aamir Khan turned a hearthrob only an year later with Qayamat se Qayamat Tak in 1988. Aamir’s Dil, another regular 90’s Bollywood fare was released an year after Kamal awed us with Apoorva Sahordangal. Aamir was doing Raja Hindustani and still hadn’t earned the perfectionist tag when Kamal hit the screens with Indian and Avvai Shanmughi. His ambitions then just got too big not just for Tamil, but for the Indian film industry as a whole. Marudhanayagam unfortunately was reduced to an YouTube clip. Marmayogi never took off. Vishwaroopam too hit troubled waters with Selvaraghavan leaving , leaving Kamal to take over the reins.

Vishwaroopam 2 starts rolling with an ad for Kamal Hassan’s newly incubated political party and the rhetoric on display resonates conveniently with the central theme of the film in more ways than one. The  actual movie then starts off almost like the next episode of a TV show would from where the first movie ended five years back replete with a recap which also doubles up as the titles. The proceedings then on are too dull for a spy thriller here and when Kamal refers emotionally to an officer played by a nondescript  foreign actor slain by the bad guys in the first installment, you as audience can hardly connect. The jokes are dead even before they’re spoken. Waheeda Rahman is the notable new addition to the cast and Kamal again withdraws into the background when the yesteryear leading lady performs. The movie mostly works like a sleeping pill with occasional jolts of hyperactivity which are when the action sequences happen. You see bad guys looking out of airplane windows like kids on board their first flight. Shekar Kapur gets to relive his Digjam moments,walk around in suits that is. Andreah and Pooja Kumar do their bit nonchalantly. Anant Mahadevan is not quite sure if he’s a bad guy or a good guy. Then there is the hurried climax because even Kamal Hassan himself could’nt take it anymore I felt.

Though marred by manufactured controversy the first Vishwaroopam  was more or less a good watch where Kamal the star actually gave space to the story being told. But then he did that in Hey Ram too. He actually tried to say something relevant and sensible with the Afgan leg of the movie. In Vishwaroopam 2 there’s nothing left to say. Yeah, there’s a twist but you don’t really care after five years. The man’s vision and ideas are too radical for the Indian commercial film format one can’t but help feel. Still he thrives in that space with hits and misfires in equal measure. He went bersek with Aalavandhan and then turned social commentator in Virumandi. His Dashavatharam was underrated I feel so was Anbe Sivam, two works at the extreme ends of the cinematic spectrum.  Anbe Sivam infact held a mirror to his political leanings. Vishawroopam 2 was never meant to be  but when you have enough footage leftover from your first movie to almost make a second one, why let it go down the drain, especially when it might help as an overlong commerical to take the cause of your political aspirations forward.

Kaala : The Review.

Rajnikanth movies are where you get to realise and count the actual number of hairs  you have on your body. He manages to get each one of them to stand straight up for almost the entire time when you are watching his films. Goosebumps are what he has built his career upon but this time around, in his second consecutive outing with Pa.Ranjith, he has revealed a cinematic side of his that was more or less locked away since Dalapathi hit the screens almost three decades back. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge for Rajni since, and Kaala arrives at a crucial time for the Superstar when he is wading  into the volatile world of Tamil politics. Kaala is unique as a Rajnikanth film in many ways, it is his most political film to date which could obivoulsy be attributed to his change in stature and the man at the helm, Pa.Ranjith. Rajnikanth did try to make a political statement a while back with Baba and that did not help him much then.The politics and symbolism in Kaala were more than evident, right  from the day the first look was released. One of them had Rajni sitting atop a Mahindra Thar sporting a number plate BR 1956, a not so subtle reference to B.R.Ambedkar ,the architect of the Indian Constitution and champion of Dalit rights who passed away in 1956. If that did’nt put things in perspective for you, Nana Patekar’s villain who called for a “Pure India” in the teaser, must definitely have.

I am not sure who has used whom here exactly, if it’s Rajni using Pa.Ranjith to declare his political ambitions or if Pa.Ranjith is using Rajni to speak about his political outlook, maybe it’s both, symbiosis I think is the word. Kaala is set against the backdrop of Dhaaravi, in Mumbai and Kaala is the protector and defacto leader of the people there. Pitted against him are real estate tycoons and Nana Patekar’s Hari Dada who is the representative of the deep reooted regional politics in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai which we know by the name of the Thackrey’s and the Shiv Sena. The director’s intention is anything but subtle here and stops just short of using actual names. The movie takes it’s sweet time to tell the story and woven deftly in there is a love story involving mature adults too where Rajnikanth the actor flexes his muscles after ages, no I am not talking about the Rajni-Huma scenes exactly. Easwari Rao who plays Kaala’s wife will win your hearts and Huma Quereshi is perfectly at ease in her role as Kaala’s long lost love. It’s Pa.Ranjith’s masterstroke here again if you ask me because for all their talk about Dravidian culture and politics the leading men of Tamil Cinema have always chosen to sing and dance with the fair skinned leading ladies from the North.Samuthirakani plays a perpetually drunk man Friday of sorts to Kaala and giving him company are a bunch of less familar faces playing Kaala’s extended family.

If you are a hardcore Rajnikanth fan looking for another Padayappa or Bhaasha you might have to wait for 2.0. Kaala has it’s  fair share of Rajnikanth moments but it also tells a tale of oppression and fight for survival without going over the top as a “Superstar” movie.The movie is loaded with symbolism and makes sublte statements randomly to provide food for thought for the keen observer. At one point in the film a policeman named Shivaji Rao Gaekwad ( yeah right !) is shot dead, which triggers violence that leads up to the climactic showdown.Nana Patekar’s holds his ground with elan in the scenes where he faces off with Rajnikanth. There are some worthy exchanges between Rajni and Nana where both actors leave their mark. Pa.Ranjith has used a Ramayana recital to build up the crescendo towards the end where Kaala’s Ravana is taken on by Haridada’s Ram in a role reversal of sorts.Periyar would have smiled at this reference.It doesn’t end there and Ranjith has gone ahead and depicted the Lankadhanam chapter of Ramayana here in the battle finale.Dhaaravi is Lanka and is being burned down by Hari Dada’s goons. Ravi Kale, who plays Haridada’s lead henchman is in fact Hanuman, replete with a piece of iron that passes for the mythological character’s weapon of choice, the mace. B.R Ambedkar’s  call to educate and agitate finds place in the lyrics of the background score and is played aloud in the ending scenes.Kaala himself advises the younger generation to get educated.The ending of the movie reminded me of Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises  where a hero becomes more than a man, becomes an idea and one could almost see inspiration there.On a closing note, Pa. Ranjith has managed a coup d’etat with the climax I think and this has to be one of the most important films in Rajnikanth’s career as an actor and a politician.

Mercury:The Review.

When you’re Karthik Subbaraj and you have works like Pizza, Jigarthanda and Iraivi in your repertoire, you’re the Quentin Tarantino of sorts of Tamil Cinema and you’re allowed to do anything with a camera and a bunch of artists. If Pizza and Jigarthanda didn’t earn him that right, Iraivi certainly did.Though i do hope that he doesn’t indulge like the Tarantino post Pulp Fiction in his idiosyncrasies to the point of excess, i spoke too late i can’t but help feeling, having watched his latest.Mercury is a silent film in terms of spoken dialogues and if the title card is to be believed, an ode to silent films from Harishchandra to Pushpak. Harischandra maybe, Pushpak, No.That’s overreaching, i have to say considering the results and the tactics that the writer-director has used to justify the lack of diaogue here.

Mercury is Mercury because it’s based on the mercury poisoning tragedy unearthed in Kodaikanal, caused by the dumping of toxic waste by the Unilever thermometer factory which ultimately led to the shutdown of the factory in 2001.Apart from the facts that a major part of the movie is set in a rundown thermometer factory and the main protagonists being presented as victims of the poisoning which rendered them mute and deaf, the movie does little to explore this instance of gross corporate irresponsibility and its aftermath.It is indeed a well made movie in terms of production values but personally the movie felt more inspired by the movie Don’t Breathe  than the Kodaikanal tragedy.Of course Karthik Subbaraj was never one without original ideas ,but it’s perfectly alright to be inspired once in a while too.The movie had me thinking of The Walking Dead at one point, but that’s just me i guess.

True to the tradition of horror movies, here too a bunch of youngsters meeting together and celebrating ends up paying,  for enjoying the little pleasures of life.Though there is no actual explanation for the events that unfold on the screen, Subbaraj does get it right when it comes to the execution but one can’t but help feeling that he was trying too hard to get his cast down to the factory so that he could shift gears into the thriller mode because almost all of the movie is about the cat and mouse game between the killer played by Prabhu Deva and the five friends inside the factory.The communication between the five disabled characters is almost reduced to a pantomime session, which is quite surprising, given the skils and attention to detail Subbaraj displayed in his earlier films and the climax had me wondering if Subbaraj had handed over the reins to Mysskin.



Richie: Review, of sorts.

Ulidavaru Kandanthe was a film that was deeply rooted in the culture and life in the coastal belt of Karnataka, in the vicinity of Udupi.From the painted tigers to Yakshagana to tales of Madhvacharya and sunken treasures, the Rakshit Shetty film had all the makings of a cult classic.Shetty himself has gone on record that he had Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction on his mind when he was writing the film, the glowing,mysterious content of the bag in Ulidavaru is an obvious reference apart from the non linear narrative and names of characters.Shetty delivered an inimitable performance as the central character too.So when Nivin Pauly announced a remake of UK he had a task cut out for him and was a bold decision too I’d say considering the fact that he chose to make the film in Tamil.Listening to him speak on air the day before the release i had the impression that he had no illusions whatsoever that he could beat or match Rakshit Shetty’s work.The Richie bashers are barking up the wrong tree too early, i have to say.

Nivin Pauly’s Richie is a diluted version of Rakshit Shetty’s UK but not a bad one at that as some of the opinions doing rounds online would have you believe.Though the teasers and trailers might have sent out wrong messages to a wider audience, those who had watched UK must have had their apprehensions early on about the kind of expectations they would generate amongst Nivin’s audience and this could be one reason why some of the viewers who went in looking for an out and out actioner ended up disappointed.If Pulp Fiction were to be released in theaters in our part of the world, how many of us would actually hail it and obsess over the tiny details that make it a film worthy of its cult status, except for the connoisseurs?In fact Ulidavaru Kandante was more of a critical success than a commercial one and found a following amongst film lovers beyond the barriers of boundaries and language.

Comparisons to the original apart, Richie as a standalone work of art is indeed noteworthy in terms of making and performances but then again the comparisons are inevitable and is something Nivin and crew would’ve to just live with.I’d go so far as to say that the Raghu bit here in Richie felt more realistic than the one in UIidavaru.UK, true to its Pulp Fiction roots offers no explanations for the incidents that unfold on screen and leaves it to the audience to figure it out for themselves unlike Richie which chooses to make it easier on the audience to follow the narrative and the fate of the characters.Nivin Pauly admitted beforehand that he had a tough time dubbing in Tamil and he has a done a pretty decent job here,considering.Diction and delivery is something he would want to work on, in the long run.Sraddha Srinath is in her elements here too. To compare Natraj Subramaniam to Kishore is as unfair as comparing Nivin Pauly with Rakshit Shetty but that’s not saying he’s not up to the task, just putting things in perspective here, for the benefit of the detractors.Democracy unfortunately is reduced to comic relief here.Richie might not be for you if you’re looking for a Nivin Pauly vehicle with all the ingredients of a regular Tamil action movie, but that’s not what the makers have intended here either.Uprooting UK from coastal Karnataka and bringing it over to Tuticorin is no mean task and Nivin Pauly and team I must say have been fairly successful at that.
#ആമാണ്ടാപേപയല്ലേ #richie