Chanakya Sapatham (1986)

Chanakya-Sapatham-title

One of a half dozen films K Raghavendra Rao churned out in 1986 (including the awesome Kondaveeti Donga), Chanakya Sapatham again pairs Chiranjeevi with Vijayashanti in a ripping yarn of smugglers, flight attendants and the Indian Customs department. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Chanakya Sapatham a neglected masala masterpiece but I do think it deserves some love.

Shashi or Sasirekha (Vijayashanti) is a flight attendant, unwittingly caught up in a smuggling operation by BOB CHRISTO! Bob, with his trademark poor judgement, hides a pouch of diamonds in her blouse (no, I don’t know how she didn’t notice) and when he  tries to get it back, Shashi puts up a decent fight and Chanakya (Chiranjeevi) leaps to the rescue. It’s like the finale of Doodh Ka Karz only with flying Chiru instead of snakes.

Naturally Shashi is swept off her feet by the dashing customs officer in his very snug uniform. They fall in love through a Kodak moment and product placement. Oh the visual metaphors.

Rana (Rao Gopal Rao) is the main villain. Bless the Paruchuri brothers for going to the trouble of trying to think of vaguely sane reasons for him to do some things, and then make him explain himself. It was unnecessary but greatly appreciated.  Rana’s chief henchman Ranga is a flamboyantly unpleasant creature and Rana’s son is a nasty piece of work. The son (Sudhakar) works for the airline, or at least owns a uniform, and was in on the smuggling but hasn’t quite got the wattage to do much off his own bat. They have little depth of character, so I was pleased to see they have that nice tricolour chandelier in their house, and I think I also recognise the stuffed tiger and the mysterious beep boop machine from previous outings.

Rana runs a Natural Health Remedy Centre. I liked the apparent lift and shift substitution of ‘karate school’ for ‘yoga school’ as a background for some of the fight scenes.

Chanakya is hot on Rana’s trail, but frustrated at every turn by the sleazy businessman’s connections and ability to weasel out of any trap. But how do they not see Chiru in surveillance mode? His pants are so blindingly white.

Both Shashi and Chanakya are close to their families.

Shashi’s sister Savitri was married but due to dowry issues (Shashi was robbed on the way home from the bank), the in-laws turned her out. Financial pressures are causing strife at home, and Shashi is the only one who seems to have a chance of fixing things. The baddies have their eye on her as a way to get to Chanakya, and offer her a smuggling job that would pay for Savitri’s dowry and put the family back on an even keel. She traps the smugglers and gets a reward which she intends to use to pay the outstanding dowry and get her sister settled.

Chanakya’s family are close and affectionate, and I liked their domestic scenes. There are so few times when an older married couple get to show an affectionate or playful  side, and I really liked those moments between Kaikala Satyanarayana and Annapurna. Chanakya is the only child and, of course, the centre of his parents universe. When Rana sets Nagarjuna up to be arrested as a smuggler Chanakya is bent on revenge and justice, which may actually be more or less the same thing in this instance.

Chanakya and Sasirekha are united by their mutual attraction and also the mission to shut Rana down. I liked that they were both smart, both tried to take care of things themselves, but could accept or even ask for help when they had to. Chanakya understood her reservations and made an effort to address her concerns quite plainly to avoid further tension.

The relationship development  was all quite sensible (for a film) as well as providing fuel for some excellent  concepts for Chakravarthy’s songs.  Apart from the usual hillside prancing, the songs take place around a giant camera, a plane made of flowers with dancers dressed as airplanes, and in and out of a tray of photo developing chemicals, or even just surrounded by neon tube lights.

Yes, this is a movie that embraces the technology of 1986. And Shashi generally looks fine (for 80s filmi fashion), even in the more imaginative sequences. Vijayashanti demonstrates she has nailed the saree run with hair toss. My biggest disappointment was Chiru’s footwear which was less than spectacular and relied heavily on the monotone ankle boot. But I rarely enjoy product placement as much as I did in this film – well done Luma Lamps people, well done.

Vijayashanti is always a pleasure to watch, and I like her rapport with Chiru. They’re well matched in the choreography, and neither of them lacks energy or commitment to the role. Shashi is smart and while she wants to sort things out herself, she appreciates Chanakya’s sincerity in wanting to help her and considers his offer rationally. I liked that he had to put his cards on the table before she would accept his gift and they didn’t play silly games. Also, this is a remarkably non-rapey film for 80s mass. The villains stay on task and when they threaten Shashi it is because they need her to do something for them, not run around screaming.

 

I liked the very specific design and fit-out for some action scenes. I would never have thought to create a factory full of…exploding ice…but it came up a treat. I always enjoy a good fight in a factory full of stuff that is only there for the hell of it. More exploding ice! A statue! Things in barrels! A luge run! And a later fight on the beach uses swings. So fun! There is more than a nod to Jackie Chan and the Hong Kong school in some of the fight choreography and Chiru has the right attitude to carry it all off – he milks those bendy iron bars and flying kicks for all they’re worth, and then some.

The earlier action scenes are funny but still a bit exciting. The finale starts out with an unfortunate tendency to Comedy before the drama and action ramps up again.

I could have done without most of the last 30 minutes, well maybe except for the bit where Chanakya rocked up not only in disguise but in a lotus submarine. But then the movie redeemed itself with what may be the best use of a wheely board and improvised ski poles since Shashi Kapoor in Duniya Meri Jeb Mein.

Vijayashanti and Chiranjeevi are a delightful on screen pair, and while Chanakya Sapatham doesn’t break new ground it does what it does so very well. 4 stars!

Chanakya-Sapatham-Karate

Lingaa

Lingaa

Finally it’s here! Friday was not only the Superstar’s birthday but marked the release of his latest film with director K.S. Ravikumar. There has been plenty of hype and expectation for this film, so did the team who gave us the hits Padayappa and Muthu deliver another blockbuster? Well….. mostly. This is a Rajinikanth film so we all know what to expect, and it goes without saying that the outfits will be stupendous, the songs lavish and attention firmly focused on the star in every scene.There is nothing much new about the story, but that’s not really the point, since it’s the entire spectacle and the heroism that’s important and there is plenty of that to be getting on with. Lingaa delivers most of the Rajni ‘formula’ characteristics we’ve come to expect, and with good performances from Anushka Shetty and Sonakshi Sinha there is plenty to enjoy in full masala style.

Lingaa

The film starts with the exploits of Lingaa (Rajinikanth), a thief and con-artist who, along with his merry band of Santhanam and Karunakaran, attempts a major heist at a jewelry exhibition. His outfits are classy and his concept equally sophisticated but Lingaa is foiled in his attempt to sell the jewels on by journalist Lakshmi (Anushka Shetty). Lakshmi is in search of the grandson of Raja Lingeswaran, the only one who can re-open a temple in her village and who just happens to be our jewel thief Lingaa.  Using tricks and flattery, Laksmi manages to get Lingaa to go to the village but not before she indulges in a full blown fantasy song with Rajnikanth as the pirate king come to recue her and her backing dancers, who perpetrate crimes on the high seas against the ruffle shirt amongst other fashion crimes.

Once in the village, Lingaa is taken aback by the respect shown to his grandfather, but since he himself feels no obligation to the man who lost all the family money, he is content to use the situation purely for gain. However in the course of events, Lingaa learns the full story of Raja Lingeswaran and exactly how he lost his money but won the respect of the people for his life-saving dam. We see all this in flashback mode with Rajinikanth also playing the role of his grandfather, in a beautifully drawn flashback to the 1930’s with period furniture and apparently CGI elephants. No mention though if all the horses, mules and buffalos were CGI too. Back in the thirties Rajni’s love interest this time is village girl Bharathi (Sonakshi Sinha) who has just as epic an imagination as Lakshmi, although she favours a more regal theme in her fantasy.

The thirties track starts with a superb fight scene on a train that features Dev Gill as a freedom fighter and touches on the Independence movement, the corruption and cruelty of the British Collectors, and the blind neglect of the Governors, the inequities of the caste system and the struggles of rural India as the farmers battle drought and flood. It’s a bit of a mish mash of ideas, but through it all Rajnikanth walks tall in some wonderfully spiffy costumes and what must surely be the best collection of sunglasses onscreen ever.

The film looks amazing with obviously no effort spared on the sets and outstanding costuming for Rajinikanth.  There aren’t all that many fight scenes, but they are all well choreographed and fit into the main narrative. The train fight scene is undoubtably the best with Rajni stylishly eliminating a train full of bandits with effortless ease, including a one on one with Rahul Dev on top of the train. The action scenes set in and around the building of the dam are also well filmed and the effects well integrated to give the impression of a truly massive construction.  The songs by A.R. Rahman are a little less successful, but since the dance numbers are mainly dream sequences, the total switch from the story is a little less disruptive. The songs which move the story forward such as the stirring Indiane Vaa more successful and the background music, also by A.R Rahman, is suitably evocative for each era. I do like the songs and actually like them more after seeing the visual to match, even with those ridiculous costumes in Mona Gasoline!

Sonakshi Sinha and Anushka Shetty don’t have a huge amount to do other than as the romance interest for the two Lingeswaran’s, but K.S. Ravikumar does give both of them a few important scenes in their relevant story lines. Santhanam and Karunakaran are also kept mainly in the background and when Brahmi makes a brief appearance early in the film it’s over almost before you realise it’s Brahmi. Still this means the focus is firmly on Rajinikanth and he makes the best use of every moment on screen with one liners, epic speeches and that twinkling smile.

Perhaps the only problem I have with Lingaa is the relative ineffectiveness of the villains, although I did appreciate the very normality of their respected self-interest. In the present day Jagapathi Babu does the honours while in the flash-back the actor playing the British collector is suitably sneery but a little too much of a caricature for me to completely believe in the character. The finale also seems a little rushed, especially since the computer graphics don’t work quite so well here as in the rest of the film. However it’s still Rajni doing several impossible things at once while saving the day and the girl (yet again) so for me it’s fine to accept the glaring unfeasibility of it all and just enjoy the spectacle.

I really enjoyed Lingaa, and loved watching Rajinikanth in the two separate incarnations of Lingeswaran. The comedy and action in the first half is interspersed with the insanely OTT songs while the second half is more sedate in keeping with the thirties backdrop. I am a big Rajinikanth fan which undoubtably colours my opinion, but this was fun and entertaining. Definitely well worth watching for the Superstar and those wonderful sunglasses!

Just as an aside, Lingaa was showing at The Astor here in Melbourne and when I left the cinema I was confronted by a sea of Jake and Elwood Blues lookalikes who were there for the 7pm showing of The Blues Brothers. From one iconic sunglass wearing movie superstar to an iconic  movie – it made my day!

 

 

Thegidi

Thegidi

Writer and first time director P Ramesh offers something a little different in his crime drama that delves into the world of surveillance and private detection in Chennai. Despite what the subject matter might suggest, this isn’t a nail-biting thriller but instead Thegidi is a well-written and intelligently constructed mystery, that eschews car chases and fight scenes to focus on better than usual plot development and realistic characterisations. While that may not sound exciting, it’s actually an intriguing story with enough suspense to hold your attention right up to the very end, and just when you think it’s all over there is a tantalising hint of a possible sequel. P Ramesh keeps it deceptively simple while building a detailed plot and at least with the surveillance angle this time the hero really does have a legitimate excuse for stalking the heroine!

The film starts with some excellent opening titles which are evocative of American comic strips and are a great way to set the scene. From this I was expecting a classic ‘lone gumshoe against the rest of the world’ detective story, and allowing for some modern updates that’s pretty much what I got.

Vetri (Ashok Selvan) is a new criminology graduate who accepts a job offer to work for a private detective agency in Chennai. He’s very wet behind the ears and it’s this inexperience and naiveté that play a large role in the events that follow. Vetri’s bosses at the Radical Detective Agency, Sadagoppan (Pradeep Nair) and Sailash (Jayakumar) set him the task of finding out about some  apparently ordinary people with the implication that they are being investigated by their employers.  As the star pupil from his class, Vetri appears to have little difficulty in carrying out his assignments despite hanging around rather conspicuously in stairwells and spending time observing from his car. Ashok Selvan is generally believable as a nerdy and overly idealistic private detective, although he relies heavily on the same two expressions throughout. He’s still quite wooden and inexpressive, but compared to his previous role in Soodhu Kavvum, his lack of expression here is at least more in keeping with the reserved nature of his character. And he does seem to be trying – there are some good moments between Vetri and his mentor, Govardhanan (Rajan Iyer) which help establish Vetri’s character early on and later on between Vetri and his friend Nambi (Kaali Venkat).

Vetri slips up one night while trying to break into an apartment and is spotted by Madhu (Janani Iyer) who suspects that he is a thief. One brief glance has intrigued Vetri and before long he has managed to meet Madhu, convince her of his innocence and the two are well on their way to falling in love. Only in the movies! Of course things get more complicated when Madhu turns out to be one of the people on Vetri’s list of surveillance subjects, especially since getting close to the target is contrary to one of the cardinal rules of his job. The romance here is beautifully handled with Vetri doing the best he can to mess things up and Madhu keeping everything on an even keel. It works because it does feel true to life and there is some good chemistry between the two leads. Janani Iyer is lovely here and she imbues Madhu with plenty of joyfulness and grace while keeping her as an essentially well grounded character. She perfectly conveys her initial suspicions, gradual acceptance and final mistrust and is very convincing in the romance scenes. P Ramesh does give her a relatively substantial role and uses Madhu as a means of further developing Vetri’s personality and making him rather more vulnerable than he first appears.

Around the same time Vetri realises that the people he has been shadowing are dying from a variety of seemingly unrelated causes. Given that Madhu is on his surveillance list Vetri suddenly has a very pressing reason to work out exactly what is going on before she becomes a target too. He’s helped in these endeavours by Nambi who has a more realistic view of the situation and acts decisively while Vetri gets somewhat bogged down in the investigative detail. Kaali Venkat is excellent and has totally nailed the role of best friend and ‘the sensible one’ who unfortunately doesn’t manage to convince Vetri to follow his advice. However, mainly through a series of mistakes, Vetri manages to bring the case to the attention of Inspector Raghuram (V. Jayaprakash) who is astonishingly tolerant of Vetri’s meddling and unusually receptive to his ideas, while competently managing a police investigation into the suspicious deaths. This is where the story starts to get a little more unrealistic, but that’s not a major issue given that the characters themselves stay true to their initial characterisations. P. Ramesh works on building up suspense but the story is relatively simple and we know by the interval exactly who is responsible for the deaths.  There is still a minor build up of tension around Vetri’s impulsive actions and the uncertainty surrounding Madhu and the fledgling romance which could be over before it’s begun due to Vetri’s uncommunicative nature. P. Ramesh also works on fleshing out the motivations for the crime which is well written but again a little predictable given the nature of the people involved.

In addition to the well written screenplay and good performances the film also looks fantastic due to the combination of excellent cinematography from Dinseh Krishnan and some rather nifty set design. I love the clocks on the wall, the pipe and magnifying glass on the shelf and the ibis sculptures in the detective office and there are more intriguing sculptures and decor in almost every room. Many of the shots are beautifully framed with good use of the external environment and quite a few actually serve to increase the tension by isolating Vetri’s eyes and increasing his intensity. It’s clever thinking since his eyes are Ashok Selvan’s best resource and he does manage to convey more emotion through these shots than in his otherwise rather static expressions.

The music by Nivas K Prasanna is mainly sweet and melodic, fitting the romantic mood of the songs but also evoking some suspense in the background score. There are no big song and dance numbers and the songs are used to move the story forward, which works well for the screenplay. Keeping it simple seems to be the guiding force behind everything in Thegidi, from the music to the fight scenes to the story itself and it works a treat.

Director P. Ramesh is another winner of Nalaya Iyakunar, the TV show which going by their recent ‘graduates’ seems to be doing a great job of identifying new talent in Tamil cinema. His experience in short films has stood him in good stead as he shows understanding of the benefit of a good storyline and the importance of believable dialogue, something that many filmmakers never seem to grasp. Thegidi isn’t a fantastic thriller but it is a good story and just as importantly, one which is well told. A little more suspense would not have gone amiss but I really liked the fact that the bad guys (and the hero and his friend too) were really so very ordinary. Definitely worth watching for a different take on a detective story and some good interior design ideas! 4 stars.

Baghdad Thirudan (1960)

Baghdad_Thirudan

The opening credits play over an orchestral overture, jaunty and melodic, setting the scene for an adventure in the magical land of exotic fairytale cliche. Baghdad Thirudan is in the style of a Hollywood swashbuckler, and T.P Sundaram directs this rollicking yarn written by A.S. Muthu.

The film is on Youtube in pretty poor quality and without subtitles. There is no shortage of plot, but once you identify the Goodies and the Baddies (not hard) the story is easy enough to follow and bounds from incident to episode with great spirit. There is the kingdom that must be restored to rights, justice for the oppressed masses (maybe), a love triangle of sorts, DIY special effects and stunts, abundant songs and lots of excellent outfits.

Baghdad-Thirudan-Helen probably

The action opens with HELEN! Or someone who looks a lot like HELEN! She dances and a gaudily dressed man (T.S. Balaiah) can barely keep his hands off her. He and his wife scheme to depose the king and queen and take over the kingdom. He really has no impulse control.

Baghdad-Thirudan-S N Lakshmi

The king and queen are captured and the maid taking their baby son to safety has to get past…a leopard! She actually fights and kills a leopard barehanded. Without mussing up her outfit. But that’s not all. She duels with soldiers with the baby still tucked under her arm – finally being stabbed in the back and dropping the baby from a tower into the waiting arms of a fellow retainer who completed the rescue and drew the pursuit away. Awesome stuff. I read that actress S.N. Lakshmi was afraid of the leopard (and of cats in general) but still had to get in there without the luxury of a stunt double.  The baby (who never stops screaming, making stealth next to impossible) is eventually discovered and adopted by a group of people who are either forest dwelling thieves or a socialist dairy farming collective.

Baghdad-Thirudan-birthmark

They thoughtfully provide a clear view of his significant birthmark. Meanwhile baddies, assisted by their mole in the palace (S.A. Asokan) obtain an imposter baby to raise as the prince and legitimise their takeover as regents who will never retire.

The baby grows up to become Ali (MGR), a Robin Hood figure of laconic charm. He crosses paths with Zarina who is also a thief. Hijinks ensue as he tries to steal back his takings and Zarina matches him move for move in a game of wits. While trying to evade Ali’s pursuit she is mistaken for a dancing girl by the Pretend Prince, leading to a flimsy excuse for Zarina to dance for her life.  Which is absolutely excellent since she is played by Vyjayanthimala.  Not a purist classical number by any stretch of the imagination – but Vyjayanthimala dances with her customary precision and strength. MGR confines himself to comedic fumbling, posing as her backing musician along with his sidekick (T.R Ramachandran).

Ali sets up an accident so he can rescue the Pretend Princess (M.N Rajan). She is quite full of herself and the wrong kind of sparks fly.  But when he duels his way to freedom she is so impressed by his swordsmanship that the other kinds of sparks are evident, at least on her side.

Zarina seems to be living with a thief master type who demands she hand over money each day or else. He sells her at auction and Ali (in a bad disguise) buys her.  She doesn’t see through the face putty and tries to escape but is foiled – luckily his moustache falls off during a song and she realises she is not unhappy at all. However there are other baddies at large and one day, she is taken prisoner and used as a target for axe throwing practice. Zarina often gets herself out of trouble, but when she can’t she is fortunate to have the ever vigilant Ali.

But Ali is still wooing Pretend Princess, a woman of nasty temperament and a love of hats (even her maid is suitably bedizened). She shows him a secret treasure box hidden behind a door of spears and concealed in a fireplace. With all that security it must be something good! He ties her up – maybe just for fun – but then seems to tell her who he really is and gags her as she screams for guards and he escapes. Theirs is a crazy mixed up kind of relationship thing. The box contained the antidote for poison that had been spread into the water supply. So rather than being a duplicitous flirt it seems Ali was taking one for the team. He saves the people! And marries Zarina! So much to be happy about, and yet so much time left for things to go wrong.

I liked Ali and Zarina. They had a nice dynamic in their relationship, and while Ali was clearly The Hero who would save the day, Zarina wasn’t dumbed down. She wasn’t very skilled with a sword, but she would still have a go at hacking her way through guards and other obstacles. It was nice to see the couple so playful and happy to be together, and the actors’ rapport came through in their less fraught scenes. I think the secret of their happiness might just have been that MGR refrains from much dancing and wisely lets Vyjayanthimala do the choreographic  heavy lifting. MGR has a nonchalance that makes Ali likeable and not too overbearing. He does leap onto the soapbox and speechify a bit, which suits Ali’s character as the man of the people, but he isn’t too pompous. Vyjayanthimala gives Zarina feisty energy with a resilient core, a good match for MGR.

Baghdad-Thirudan-bloomers

In the latter part of the film he changes his look and gives up the fez and harem pants in favour of jolly little Elizabethan style breeches so that was amusing.

The Pretend Princess allows herself to be kidnapped with an eye to getting her claws on Zarina. Zarina ends up in the dungeon but Ali gets wind of her situation. There is much plotting, and a wonderful Batman-esque wall ‘climb’ to rescue Zarina that has MGR using all his overacting skills.

Not to be out-emoted,  Zarina paints his portrait in blood as she sings a dirge. And the baddies celebrate I’m not sure what exactly with a big tribal production number featuring Gopi Krishna.

The final action sequence takes place in almost every room of the palace.

Baghdad-Thirudan-clockwork thingie

There is an excellent pointless clockwork contraption that can have no function other than being a Masala Death Trap.

Baghdad-Thirudan-Princess and Zarina

The Pretend Princess is delighted to find out that Ali is the real prince, and fancies she is in with a chance at keeping her tiara and getting her man. Will he forget Zarina? As if!

See this for the vintage charm, the ripping story that requires little analysis, and the pleasure of seeing MGR and Vyjayanthimala take on all comers and emerge victorious. 3 1/2 stars!

Baghdad-Thirudan-the end

Kaaviya Thalaivan (2014)

Kaaviya Thalaivan

Kaaviya Thalaivan sounded promising. A character driven drama set in the world of Tamil theatre in the 1920’s should have been exactly my kind of film, but despite excellent performances from all the  actors and A.R.Rahman’s expressive  soundtrack, the story is frustratingly predictable with little of the expected melodrama. The beautiful costumes and period sets cannot compensate for a very pedestrian telling of the rivalry between two actors and the ups and downs of a theatre company in the years before Indian Independence.  However, at least there are great costumes and stunning sets, and even if the story is disappointingly flat there are plenty of moments of brilliance from the individual actors which do make Kaaviya Thalaivan worth a watch.

The film is semi-narrated by Gomathi Nayagam Pillai (Prithviraj) who is sent as a young boy to train as an actor with Thavathiru Sivadas Swamigal (Nasser). During their travels, Sivadas Swamigal takes in a young orphan beggar called Kaali – later to rejoice in the name of Thalaivankottai Kaliappa Bhagavathar (Siddharth). Gomathi and Kaali become friends in a fairly standard ‘protecting from bullies, blah blah blah heard a million times before’ storyline. Now that familiar track wouldn’t matter if their developing relationship was told with any supporting emotion, but Gomathi runs through the story as if it’s a reading exercise in class and the identity of the protagonists is a matter of great indifference to him. Naturally then, it doesn’t matter to the audience, and Gomathi’s attitude appears more as boastful self-importance rather than genuine compassion for a young orphan.

From children to young men in the theatre company is a matter of a few moments and the two seem to be at least notionally friends at this point. Their different personalities are defined by a moment in the wings as they watch the hero Bhairavan (Ponvannan). Gomathi voices his desire to be just like Bhairavan while Kaali recognises the flaw’s in both the performance and the man, and instead aspires to be like their guru – Sivadas Swamigal.  It’s not unexpected then when Sivadas Swamigal chooses Kaali to be the hero for the company’s next production, or that this sews the seeds of resentment in Gomathi for his ‘humiliation’ which is really all in his own mind.

Gomathi  seems to take it as inevitable that he should resent Kaali for his success, without having any better reason to do so  than his own sense of self-importance. That could have worked as motivation if it had been developed in any way, but instead the rivalry is treated as a given and no further explanation is necessary. While Gomathi is silently angry, Kaali is blithely oblivious and embarks on a ridiculously straightforward romance with Rangamma (Anaika Soti), the local lord’s daughter. Kaali has little difficulty accessing Rangamma’s rooms, which should realistically been a little more heavily guarded, and no-one other than Gomathi seems to suspect anything, despite the heavy-handed flirting that goes on between the two during stage performances.  At least finally there is some passion and vitality to the characters, although not so much between Kaali and Rangamma but rather in an excellent scene where Sivadas Swamigal confronts Kaali about his love affair. Both Nasser and Siddharth are over-emotional and sufficiently melodramatic to suit the story at this point, while Prithviraj gets a chance to be nastily spiteful. However it’s a small oasis of theatricality, and the story quickly reverts back to a more plodding pace once Rangamma is out of the picture. That’s actually a shame since Anaika Soti does well with the limited role and looks beautiful in the songs. I would have liked to see more of her, but Kaali needs to have a reason for his life to turn pear-shaped and losing Rangamma works relatively well.

The final character in the drama is Ganakokilam Vadivambal, aka Vadivu (Vedika), a dancer and singer who joins the company and replaces the more traditional male actors in the female roles. Vadivu is in love with Kaali, but he only has eyes for Rangamma, while Gomathi pines in the wings for Vadivu who barely seems to notice him. It’s a situation that should be full of jealousy and passion but is instead treated clinically without any of the emotional drama that would have made the characters more effective. Again there is no justification for Vadivu’s ever more extreme devotion to Kaali, and although there is a little more substance behind Gomathi unrequited love, it doesn’t seem realistically likely to survive in the face of Vadivu’s determined rejection. However both Vedika and Prithviraj are good enough actors to generate some plausibility in their relationship and the tension between the two does become somewhat more palpable as the story develops. Without Prithviraj this really wouldn’t have had anything like the same impact, but he really does do a good job with very limited dialogue and little opportunity to demonstrate exactly why he feels the way he does.

Vasanthabalan also adds in a Nationalist thread to the plot which seems to be an unnecessary complication when more detailed development of the story and more in-depth characterisations of the three protagonists would have worked just as well, if not better. Once Kaali becomes a Nationalist, that too in a matter of moments while in prison, his fate is sealed and the ending is as predictable as expected. As Kaali, Siddharth comes away looking the best of the cast, partly because his character has more scope and inherent drama, but mainly because he really does an excellent job with the role. His performance is flawless and particularly in his scenes with Nasser there is a definite sense of the arrogance and self-confidence that underlies Kaali. Siddharth also nails the hurt and despair when Kaali is let alone in the world and his scenes with Nasser are superb. More of these and less of the bland romance would have been much better. Prithviraj and Vedika do as best as they can  within their limited roles and there are times in the second half where both get more of an opportunity to show more depth, but they are hampered by a lack of motivation for their characters actions which makes them too one-dimensional to be truly effective.

It’s perplexing that a film set in and all about theatre could end up so lifeless and devoid of melodrama, but that is exactly the problem with Kaaviya Thalaivan. I really wanted to like this film as I appreciate the attempt by Vasanthabalan to tackle something different,  but I just couldn’t engage with the characters and was completely frustrated by the lack of any reasonable justification for their actions. I know that’s my usual rant but it is so very noticeable here in a film where the motivation really should be key to developing the drama. However, the film looks amazing, Siddharth is fantastic and the music and songs are excellent. It’s a visual feast even if there is no substance to the spectacle and for that alone the film deserves to be seen and at least once.