Badlapur & Theevram

As I was watching Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur I was struck by a number of similarities to Theevram, a Malayalam film I’d watched just a few weeks before, so it seemed appropriate to write about them together. Both are films based on a story of revenge where the hero is forced into action by his perceived lack of justice, and both star an up-and-coming young actor surrounded by an experienced and proficient support cast. While Badlapur focuses on the obsession of revenge and the destructive consequence to Raghu (Varun Dhawan), Theevram is a more straight forward drama with Harsha (Dulquher Salmaan) playing a game of cat and mouse with Police Inspector Alexander (Sreenivasan) as he exacts his revenge. Both are good films in their own right but while I prefer Badlapur’s more ambiguous storyline, Dulquher Salmaan just pips Varun Dhawan in his portrayal of a man driven to the absolute extreme for revenge.

The story of Theevram is told in a non-linear fashion, and is actually based on a couple of real life murder cases. Sreenivasan plays a respected police officer who has an unfortunate dislike of autopsy although there is nothing lacking in his detective skills. He’s paired with a younger officer, the more impetuous Ramachandran (Vinay Forrt) and the two make a good team. The film begins with Harsha’s revenge and it’s not until later that we discover why he has been driven to this extreme. At the start we don’t know if he is a good guy or a serial killer, as without any explanation he systematically tortures and kills a man in his plastic coated cellar. His actions seem to be at odds with his day-to-day life as a piano teacher, however once Inspector Alexander comes to call it becomes clear Harsha was the victim of a crime. Most of the film is shot with dull and muted colours, but once a flashback sequence starts, explaining what has happened to Harsha to turn him into this cold and methodical man, suddenly the colours are full and rich. A rather obvious metaphor but one which is very effective.

Harsha’s wife Maya (Shikha Nair) was murdered by a company driver Raghavan (Anu Mohan) for her complaints about his speeding with her in the car. Her murder is pre-meditated and brutal, with Raghavan severing her head from the body to attempt to delay identification. He’s quickly arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for his crime while Harsha struggles to cope with life without Maya. However, just as Harsha is starting to get on with his life, the circumstances of Raghavan’s family life allow the murderer to obtain an early release from jail. Very early. In fact he only spends 4 years behind bars before being allowed his freedom. Harsha and his friends Dr Roy (Vishnu Raghav) and Nimmy (Riya Saira) decide that Raghavan must die for his crime and set about planning the perfect murder.

Theevram rather controversially takes the view that murder for revenge is perfectly justified if the legal system has failed to properly punish the offender for his crime. Writer and director Roopesh Peethambaran delivers a story of vigilantism where the cold-blooded murder of a criminal is depicted as a good solution, and even acknowledged as such by the police. I can’t say that I agree with this view or with portraying Harsha as a hero for what he does, but the story is gripping and the plot cleverly developed. The contentious treatment of Raghavan is perhaps a way to start a discussion about such issues, and it’s interesting that he isn’t a completely black character. Raghavan does appear to try to look after his disabled wife and seems to be trying to turn over a new leaf after his release from jail. However his behaviour towards Nimmy suggests that the change may only be surface deep and he still has a poor attitude towards women.

Badlapur is a darker film where the lines between right and wrong are blurred and revenge is shown to be a weight dragging Raghu down. The first few minutes are brilliantly filmed, with a shot of a street, with people going their everyday business and the only sounds heard the traffic going past and snatches of conversations as vegetables are bought and gossip exchanged. However in the background there is a robbery, and as the two criminals leave the bank they force their way into a car parked outside where Misha (Yami Gautam) is just loading in her young son and her groceries. During the subsequent chase Robin falls out of the car, while Misha is shot and killed. While one of the robbers manages to escape, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is left to face the music. After his wife’s murder, Raghu becomes a haunted and driven man, obsessed with finding Liak’s partner whom he believes fired the fatal bullet. However in reality the opposite is true. Liak was the man who, in the heat of the moment shot and killed Misha, although he never confesses, insisting that he was just the driver.

15 years later when Liak is diagnosed with terminal cancer Raghu is persuaded to plead for Liak’s early release in the hope that he will run to his old partner in crime. Raghu’s bereavement turns him into a cold, hard man who rapes and abuses Liak’s girlfriend Jhimli (Huma Qureshi) as part of his revenge. He’s so obsessed with the idea of finding the man behind his wife’s death that he lives a miserable life, alone and in fairly dismal circumstances. The tragedy has become what has defined the man and it seems as if only his plans for revenge keep him going.

Here, revenge is shown as something that corrupts. Raghu becomes more despicable than his enemy, killing Liak’s partner Harman (Vinay Pathak) and wife Kanchan (Radhika Apte) in cold blood. Liak himself is shown as a rather grey character, who seems to have more of a life than Raghu, despite spending most of it behind bars.

Dulquher Salmaan and Varun Dhawan both do an excellent job as young men devastated by their loss. The problem I have with Varun’s character is that it takes 15 years before he manages to achieve his revenge, and it seems unlikely that he could have maintained his rage so long. Varun tries hard but doesn’t quite manage to pull off playing a man in his forties although he does convey his preoccupation with finding Liak’s partner and his disconnection from normal life very well. Dulquher has an easier time of it, as his character only has to wait 4 years to exact revenge, and his protagonist is easier to dislike. Dulquher is also a man who has managed to move on with his life and although his world is duller without Maya, he would have been content to let Raghavan rot in jail if he’d just stayed there. His revenge is coldly plotted with great attention to detail but there seems to be little rage left – in fact little emotion at all.

Both films are made even better by their excellent support cast. Badlapur would have been less substantial and the revenge less ambiguous without the excellent Nawazuddin Siddiqui and his nuanced performance as the main antagonist. Sreenivasan doesn’t have such a consequential role, but his support and that of Vinay Forrt rounds out the story and ensures a satisfying plot. The films are brutal, both in the violence they depict and in the exposure of such deep despair but there are lighter hearted moments in both and it’s not all doom and gloom. There is just enough light to allow the shade space to deepen and both directors have paced their films well. The strength of both Badlapur and Theevram is in the portrayal of emotions and it’s heartening to see two young actors bring so much depth to their roles. I enjoyed both these films and recommend them for a combination of fine performances, strongly written characters and good storytelling. 4 for both.

 

 

RangiTaranga (2015)

RangiTaranga

Luckily RangiTaranga was so popular in Melbourne last weekend that they ran some extra screenings this Saturday, giving me the chance to see Anup Bhandari’s début film on the big screen. As an added benefit the film released with grammatically correct English subtitles (yay!), and with yet another full house and the option of samosas and tea at the interval, it was definitely well worth the trip out to Monash.  And it’s a good film too. RangiTaranga is a clever blend of horror and suspense with plenty of twists and unexpected plot turns that keep the film entertaining until the very last minute. It’s an excellent effort from a new director and mainly inexperienced lead cast, although they receive plenty of assistance from the very capable veteran support actors.

The film starts out similar to any classic horror story with a deserted road, driving rain and a lone pregnant woman in a car. Something half seen on the road causes an accident and as the eerie music starts it’s pretty much guaranteed that the lady in the car isn’t going to make it home to her frantic husband. Nothing grotesque is actually shown on camera but right away the atmosphere is set to creepily scary even after the film shifts to the present day and blue skies instead of a dark night.

Gautam (Nirup Bhandari) and Indu (Radhika Chetan) are expecting their first child, but Indu wants to go back to her ancestral village before the baby is born to fulfil a superstitious belief that this will stop the spirits ill-wishing her baby. Gautam rashly agrees to take her, even though Indu is 8 months pregnant and has previously suffered a miscarriage.  After all what can possibly go wrong? At the same time journalist Sandhya (Avantika Shetty) is trying to track down reclusive novelist Anashku and manages to discover his post office box address, which sets her off on his trail. Of course Gautam is Anashku which means eventually Sandhya follows Gautam and Indu along the same rain soaked lonely roads from the beginning of the film to reach the village of Kamarottu.

There are many strange incidents once Gautam and Indu reach the village and the reputedly haunted house that belonged to her family. The ‘ghost of the hills’ seems determined to terrify Indu and her reluctance to leave the house means few of the villagers have even seen her. This becomes a problem later on when Indu disappears and the police refuse to believe that she ever existed. Sandhya becomes involved in Gautam’s search for his missing wife but there are more mysteries than just Indu’s disappearance and not every clue ends up being relevant.  Gautam has the assistance of local postmaster Kalinga (Saikumar) and teacher Shankar (Ananth Velu) while Inspector Haadimani (Arvind Rao) does his best to discredit Gautam at every turn.

RangiTaranga succeeds because it has a well written story with many unexpected twists. I would have been lost a few times without the subtitles as the story gets ever more convoluted with every new revelation. And yet it all makes sense with all the subplots cleverly interlocking to form a complete whole by the end of the movie.

Despite their relative inexperience, or maybe because of it, the cast are all great too.  Nirup Bhandari is excellent as the ever more desperate husband while Avantika Shetty is nicely eccentric as the journalist who gets roped into the search for Indu. Gautam isn’t particularly heroic and never has to do anything too impossible which makes his actions plausible and relatively realistic, despite the supernatural theme. Like any good hero he doesn’t believe in the ghost but the very real fear for his wife and the increasing tension he experiences as his world falls apart is very well expressed. Thankfully Radhika Chetan’s Indu isn’t as terminally dumb as most horror heroines – she doesn’t go tearing off by herself or take ridiculous risks, which makes her terror more frightening and Radhika effectively portrays Indu’s distress and fear. There were times when I wished she would be just a little less brave, and I did jump quite a few times when Indu went hunting whatever it was that was making the odd noises rather than sensibly running for cover and waiting for Gautam to get home!

Saikumar has an important role as the postmaster of the village and his character is well written to take advantage of his support for Gautam and Indu, although there again, things may not be quite what they seem. It’s a perfect role for Saikumar and he is excellent, particularly later in the film, while the rest of the support cast are just as good in their various roles.

The film looks fantastic with the amazing colours in the Nee Kele Vaaduve song perfectly bringing to life the colour wave of Rangi Taranga. All the songs are excellent, although they do occur in quick succession in the second half and could have been a little better placed. B. Ajaneesh Loknath’s background score is very effective and maintains the mood of the film without ever getting too loud and intrusive. Another plus is the stunning cinematography from Lance Kaplan and William David with traditional costumes blending well with shots of beautiful countryside to provide an excellent contrast to the spooky shots inside the building or in the forest at night.  Basically it’s a complete package where everything works together to make RangiTaranga one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Definitely one to catch on the big screen if you can.

 

Megastar, mini toga

Megastar-MiniToga-Adavi Donga

Happy 60th Chiranjeevi! And many happy returns!

Considering the spate of historical epics across the Indian film industries of late, I think it is time to consider Chiru’s visual contribution to the ‘sword and sandal’ oeuvre. Who knows? Maybe we will see toga redux in his 150th film.

Chiranjeevi was never averse to giving the audience some skinshow. As good friend Beth recently commented, “Chiru wears and not-wears with equal aplomb.” He was fearless when it came to wardrobe choices and the question “Why Chiru?” has sparked many a late night philosophical debate with The Mahesh Fan.

Broadly speaking, his toga oriented costumes fall into three categories.

The historically accurate toga or princely miniskirt

Because it is all about the historical accuracy.

The mini toga as outdoor wear

This would have presented challenges both for the wearer and the observer. Horse riding. Ouch!

The gladiatorial political statement

AKA ‘Your Comeuppance Has Arrived’.

Megastar-MiniToga-Jwala

 

I’m sure there are more examples. I did exclude songs involving hitched up lunghis or dancing in underwear or bathers as that is outside of the scope of most (but I suppose not all) historical fantasy epics. Here is a playlist so you can see the glory of these costumes in motion – Let me know of any additions!

 

Pasivadi Pranam

Pasivadi Pranam

I watched Pasivadi Pranam with high expectations since Kodandarami Reddy directed many of Chiranjeevi’s best films including my favourites Challenge and Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu, while story writer Fazil was also responsible for the excellent Manichitrathazhu. The film is a remake of Poovinnu Puthiya Poonthennal with Mamootty but as I haven’t been able to track down a copy of the original Malayalam film, it seems quite reasonable to settle in with Chiranjeevi and Vijayashanti instead.  And well worth it too – with Raghuvaran as the villain and with plenty of good songs including a breakdance (below!) Pasivadi Pranam is a great way to celebrate Megabirthday 2015.

The story starts with a rather horrific murder, witnessed by the victim’s wife and young child as Sundaran (Prasad Babu) is stabbed by Ranjit (Babu Antony) under the direction of his boss Chakravarty (Raghuvaran). Intriguingly Ranjit is dressed entirely in white – surely not the best colour to wear when preparing to stab someone, and then rather randomly he pulls on a red hat before carefully removing it a few moments later when he attacks Sundaran. One of those delightfully random moments that I wish had some deeper meaning – but doesn’t!

Despite murdering Sundaran almost right outside his front door, Ranjit and Chakravarthy are shocked and appalled to realise their crime has been seen and Charavarty sends Ranjit to get rid of the two witnesses; Sundaran’s wife Lakshmi (Rajyalakshmi) and their son (Baby Sujitha). Although Ranjit manages to kill Lakshmi, her son has a better developed survival sense and manages to escape. Initially he does quite well, hopping on a bus and heading far away from the chase, but eventually he falls asleep at the side of the road. And that’s where drunken bar owner Madhu (Chiranjeevi) finds him later.

Madhu apparently has a death wish – illustrated by a fight in the bar he owns and perhaps rather more riskily by gate-crashing an exercise class and joining in with the ladies in leotards. Despite his attempts to commit suicide by aerobicise, Madhu has a kind heart and he stops his car when he sees the small boy asleep at the side of the road. After a half-hearted attempt to locate the boy’s parents fails, Madhu decides to take the child home with him and call him Raja. The next day however he discovers that Raja has been born deaf and consequently is also dumb; reasons which the consulting doctor suggests may have been the reason for Raja’s abandonment by the side of the road. Madhu isn’t convinced though since Raja seems to be trying to tell him something, although he can’t quite work out the message.

Madhu has a sad past which is explained later in the film but initially there are just cryptic references to November 18th and a psychedelic green and red image of a spinning woman that appears onscreen.

A flashback sequence explains that Madhu’s wife Lakshmi (Sumalatha) was killed on their wedding day, and after that tragic event Madhu has turned to drinking himself into oblivion most nights. He tells himself not to get too close to Raja, but seems to immediately forget this instruction and starts treating the boy as if he was his own son. Sujitha is very cute as Raja and is also great at remembering the character isn’t supposed to be able to talk. It’s an impressive performance from the young actor and she has an excellent rapport with Chiranjeevi throughout the film.

While out buying toys for Raja, Madhu meets Geeta (Vijayashanti), and after the initial altercation when Raja breaks a model Taj Mahal, Geeta seems quite taken with the pair. She starts stalking Madhu, turning up at his house and inviting him round to visit. Much of the comedy is based on Geeta’s pursuit of Madhu and his rather ineffectual attempts to rebut her advances until he rather dramatically announces that he is a ‘married bachelor’.

At the same time as the romance is going on, Ranjit is still trying to follow Chakravarthy’s commands and get rid of Raja. However he misses numerous opportunities and is eventually soundly beaten by Madhu once Raja wakes him from his drunken stupor. This turns out to be the last straw and Madhu renounces the demon drink so that he can take proper care of Raja. The attempts on Raja’s life clue Madhu in that there is more going on than just an abandoned child and he starts trying to piece together Raja’s past. At the same time, Geeta’s father decides to reconcile with his estranged daughter (you guessed it) Lakshmi and finds her mysteriously missing. This in turn gets the police involved and after various mix-ups and tense moments, finally Madhu discovers the truth.

Although Pasivadi Pranam is a fairly straight forward story, there is a good mix of drama, suspense and comedy which all add up to a cracking good tale. Fazil knows how to keep an audience glued to the screen and even the interjection of songs and some comedy with Vijayashanti’s character doesn’t derail the tension. The songs are fun with the occasional odd fashion choice (gloves and a sari?) but I do appreciate the sensible footwear for snowy conditions. I love the backing dancers outfits in this song too – they turn from dull and drab to a glorious blue so simply and the effect is marvellous.

Chiranjeevi is excellent as a lonely man, ridden by guilt who wants nothing more than to be left alone to wallow in his misery. His gradual transformation at the hands of a small boy is beautifully done and the addition of a love interest in Geetha helps add some light hearted fun and stops the story from being too dark. Vijayashanti has plenty of infectious energy and I get the feeling she enjoyed turning the tables on Chiru, being the stalker rather than the stalkee for a change. The two have wonderful chemistry together and their comedy scenes also work well, although Raja steals the show when he does an impersonation of Geeta which is simply perfect!  The villains of the piece are also better realised than usual and are suitably creepy rather than all out vicious thugs, while Babu Antony is genuinely sinister as he skulks along in the shadows.

Pasivadi Pranam illustrates just how good a film can be when it starts off with a proper (and good) storyline.  Add excellent performances, appropriate dialogue and generally well placed songs and it all adds up to an entertaining film that’s well worth a watch. 4 stars.

 

Andarivaadu

Andarivaadu Poster

Andarivaadu is another of Chiranjeevi’s dual role ventures, although this time he plays father and son who share a house so that adds a degree of difficulty for director Sreenu Vaitla.

But right from the bombastic opening credits it is clear that this is a Megastar film and all other people and events will be quite incidental. And I’m generally OK with that.

Siddharth (Chiru the Younger) decides that his widower dad Govindarajulu (Chiru the Elder) needs to be pulled into line and someone has to take on the task of looking after him. Govind must be the luckiest man alive as Siddhu forces him to marry Shanti (the stunning Tabu). Siddhu also has to settle down some day, and he becomes engaged to his wealthy girlfriend-by-insistence, Swetha (Rimi Sen). Of course things can’t run that smoothly in a Telugu film with such a big ticket star. Swetha’s dad Veerendra (Prakash Raj) has history with Govind he would rather forget, and Siddhu upsets a local crime lord. There is drama, dancing, action and moralising galore before anyone can call it a day.

Mildly surprising for a family-ish film, it opens with an item including rain, pole dancing, and finger sucking. The poor girls must have really struggled wearing their big clompy boots in the water. There is a faint attempt to weave the skanking into the plot as the water tankers have been diverted away from the colony and residents are left for days with no drinking water. Of course, only one man can sort this out. Sparks and a hitched up lunghi signal the arrival of THE HERO!

Govind is a sentimental bloke with a strong sense of family and justice. He adores his son and couldn’t stand to see him hurt in any way, and can’t even harm a slightly evil genius mouse. Chiranjeevi hedges his bets by also playing suave Siddhu, educated and apparently irresistible to all women.

Siddhu gets to wear more knitwear and his dance sequences are a riot of colour. Chiru in some ways tests the waters of being an ageing hero by playing the father, complete with last minute hair dye as he decides he needs to look a bit younger. But since Govind is still a roguish and salt of the earth man who solves all crises and defends the defenseless, he isn’t exactly turning his back on heroic hijinks.

A great benefit of two Chiranjeevi roles is a double up on the dancing and once again he has Lawrence on board as a choreographer. Chiru’s moves are not as sharp as back in the day but he seems thoroughly delighted to get down with his bad self, and his energy is undeniable.

The action relies a little more on nifty camera work than on Chiru flinging himself about but he does a lot of wire work that adds both comedic underscoring and dramatic impact to those scenes. There are some days when the skinny double worked as there are obvious changes in physique in some scenes requiring both Chirus.

Siddhu meets Swetha when she suckers him into pretending to be her boyfriend so she can save face as she has told her friends they’re together. She is introduced through a series of closeups of her butt, her waist and her chest and that is about it for character development. Rimi Sen does little but pout and swish her hair around, although even that exceeds the minimum requirements for a Telugu film heroine. Swetha reflects her father’s belief that wealth is the same as worth. Veerendra tells Govind that he will allow the marriage only because Swetha loves Siddhu and only on condition that Govind not be part of his son’s life at all. Cue noble idiocy as Govind tries to do what he always does, sacrificing his own happiness for his son. And then even more idiocy as Swetha tries to make Govind and Siddhu pay for insulting her father.

Shanti is working as a Hindi teacher and has been running her family household. For some reason she says yes, perhaps because Govind is so honest about all his flaws in an attempt to put her off marrying him. She seems fond of him but does register that he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Tabu’s role is frustrating. Early on Shanti seems competent, a little bit judgemental as she listens to the sheer nonsense her husband is spewing out, but fond of him and his moustache.

I do love ‘the moustache song’, as I call it.

But later on she loses the scope for the fun expressions and signs of character that made Shanti so appealing. It is a waste of a good actress, but Tabu does what she can to give Shanti some more depth. I liked her rapport with Chiranjeevi and they look good in their dances. In some scenes Tabu looked like she was genuinely trying not to laugh and that actually helped me see Shanti as someone with firm views of her own, even if she didn’t always articulate them. And on a really shallow note, she wears some beautiful sarees.

I am perfectly fine with Govind and Satti Pahlwan (Pradeep Rawat) kicking the living suitcases out of each other, but casual domestic violence is harder to take as entertainment. Govind slaps Shanti (even though he knew she had done nothing wrong) and Shanti dissolves into tearful joy at his acknowledgement that he had slapped her for no reason at all. Grrrrrr! Swetha gets slapped around a bit towards the end of the film but she and Sunil (as an annoying comedy cousin) were just so horrible and scheming that I can almost empathise. Lots of people slap Brahmi but, to be completely honest, nowhere near enough for my liking. I’m a little conflicted.

The climax of the film is not really concerned with the emotional coming of age of two men. There is still the matter of revenge to be thwarted, wrongs to be righted, and the greatest love of all: Will Govind and Ganesh the rat, finally acknowledge their friendship?

Chiranjeevi is showing his age but he also shows why his career has legs. See this for a silly and generally good-hearted action packed family romantic comedy. 3 ½ stars!

Andarivaadu-Ganesh