The first half of Sye is director SS Rajamouli’s take on West Side Story - except that instead of knives two rival college gangs fight it out on the rugby field in a reasonable facsimile of Rugby Union. There is romance but no Romeo and Juliet inspired tragedy and by the second half the film has morphed into a fairly standard sports film, underdogs and inspirational speech included. Sye is Rajamouli’s third film and was another hit, proving that no matter what the subject matter he manages to tell a good story.
The film begins with a very violent over throw of local don Narayana by Bikshu Yadhav; the wonderfully evil Pradeep Rawat in totally over-the-top villain mode. This all becomes very relevant later on, but initially seems quite disconnected from what follows. As a bonus though, there is Ajay as one of the gang.
Next we move on to the MK College of Arts and Sciences or, as the film helpfully points out, Arts vs. Sciences. The college is split into two factions; one led by the son of the headmaster, Prithvi (Nitin)and the other by Shashank (Shashank). Science students have taken on the name of Wings and are self-confessed less disciplined than the Arts students: the Claws. I thought this was a little strange as most science students in my experience tend to be the nerdy conformist types – terrible generalisation I know but I was a science student which probably explains a lot! The hero Prithvi and his rival Shashank do a lot of taunting and grimacing at each other but there is very little actual violence – everything is settled on the rugby pitch.
Genelia plays Indu, an Arts student who acts as another point of contention between Prithvi and Shashank. Her introduction starts well enough as this rather cute song where the lyrics are made up of signs and posters Prithvi and Indu see along their route.
This pleasant introduction is totally ruined by the next scene which is probably the most ridiculous and stupid in the entire film. Getting onto the wrong bus, Indu is pursued and then forcibly tattooed by the rival Wings gang. Yes, tattooed! Never mind the difficulty of tattooing someone against their will when they are struggling, or that it would take more time than the few minutes shown to actual achieve such an intricate design, but then this act of outrage is NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN!!!! This really bothered me as I just couldn’t see that something as permanent and potentially disfiguring as a tattoo wouldn’t cause more of a reaction, but it didn’t seem to bother Indu much at all.
Moving quickly on, since everyone else in the film does, the two gangs take their rivalry onto the rugby field which is where I had my next ‘what the?’ moment. Now I’m a big fan of Rugby Union. It was the sport of choice for the guys at my school in Northern Ireland and I grew up watching the game. My husband also played for many years and it’s still my favourite sport, which was one of the reasons why I wanted to watch this film. But in all my years of watching Union games, I have never seen anything like the scoring system used here. Unless there is a strange form of the game in India (which I really do doubt), I suspect Rajamouli totally made it up. The rest of the game however did seem to mainly follow the usual rules and was fun to watch.
In another plot point that is never totally resolved, the headmaster Satyam pits the two gangs against each other to develop land behind the school as a rugby field, telling them that he will name the ground for whoever finishes first. They must have both finished together as the ground seems to end up as the MK Arts and Colleges ground. Despite Satyam’s good intentions, this accomplishment doesn’t manage to unite the two sides and with Indu rapidly becoming a bone of contention between the two gang leaders, the situation deteriorates further. I’m not entirely sure why Nitin is wearing a vest underneath a see-through shirt here, but it really doesn’t work. Especially not with the puffy sleeves and a cap.
It all culminates in a huge fight between the two sides which the police try unsuccessfully to break up. Strangely they are about to do this by firing at the limbs of people in the crowd. Really? Whatever happened to other perhaps less potentially fatal options like water cannons or tear gas? Anyway, they don’t get the chance, as Bikshu Yadav (remember him?) shows up asserting his rights to the land, in a rather skilful display of coordinated 4-wheel drive manoeuvring.
It’s never very clear exactly why Bikshu Yadav wants this land so much, but he tortures and kills the legal owner to get it. There is a very unpleasant scene where he threatens a pregnant woman, which was really quite nauseating, but thankfully threats is as far as he goes.
The appearance of an enemy finally gets the Wings and Claws start to work together. You add together wings and claws, and you get Eagles – of course!
Rather sensibly advised by Prithvi, the Eagles decide to fight their enemy by subterfuge rather than by direct opposition. They use a variety of techniques to ruin his drug and alcohol businesses, derail his political career and even manage to stop his nights of passion with his mistress.
However they are too clever for their own good and are ratted out to Bikshu Yadav by Venu Madhav, who appears periodically throughout the film in a rather silly comedy role. This leads to a final show down rugby match which is attended by a huge crowd and is also televised. Not only that but they even have a third umpire and there’s even a hakka. I loved the drums and team mascot for the Bulls and the half-time inspirational speech by the Eagles coach. Even if it was a mish-mash from the classics, political speeches and other sporting films – but then again aren’t they all?
The film improves a lot in the second half where there are fewer totally ridiculous moments, and the story is more engaging. There are some clever ideas but overall the film is quite patchy and jumps around between the two different themes. The violence perpetrated by Bikshu Yadav is an abrupt contrast to the college story and for me this keeps disrupting the flow. Genelia really doesn’t have much to do in this film other than be the love interest and the reason for the two gangs to finally fight it out. Her character is annoyingly complacent with the antics of Prithvi and Shashank and finally is almost totally sidelined in the second half of the film. Nitin and Shashank do well as the two college kids, but are totally overshadowed by Pradeep Rawat who revels in as much violence as possible. I am a fan of Ajay and I love to see him turn up as one of the villains, since he always seems to be having such a great time being one of the bad guys. The various actors playing the students do a good job of creating a typical college atmosphere and stalwarts of Telugu cinema Tanikella Bharani and Nassar provide good support for the younger cast. I was somewhat surprised that one of the songs Chantaina Bujjaina is a remix of the classic Hindi song Duniya Mein Logon Ko from Apna Desh but it didn’t work here quite as well as it might have.
Overall Sye is not a bad film, but it’s not a particularly good film either. Worth watching for the final rugby game which really is the high point and just bumps the film up to 3 stars for me.
I didn’t see any West Side story qualities in Sye, just a bunch of college boys with nothing better to do. Had there been stronger dramatic tension or real animosity between the school factions in the first half this would have been a better film. The rivalry between Arts & Sciences was childish and not terribly interesting as basically, the group members were pretty interchangeable. And to Heather’s point about the Science geeks being the quiet good kids…well, I was an Arts student and the Engineering parties at Melbourne Uni back in the day were legendary. The first half meandered from silly pranks to macho posturing and back again. It wasn’t until the rowdies became the common enemy uniting the college that there was any drama.
One of many problems I had with Indu’s character was the supposed love triangle. It didn’t work as Shashank and Prithvi were pretty much the same so it didn’t matter which one got the girl. I actually really liked Genelia’s performance in this – Indu was energetic and engaging, not crazy bubbly. And she tried to dance which is always fun. Unfortunately her character is one of the most stupid I have ever endured. I was glad when Indu stuck to cheerleading in the second half as I was in danger of tearing an eye-rolling muscle. Prithvi constantly tricked her into inappropriate behaviour and it made me dislike the pair of them intensely (her for being so dumb and him for being an arsehole). Nitin and Shashank were, as I said, virtually the same in terms of their characters. Neither of them really stood out, apart from Nitin’s hideous song outfits. Certainly when Pradeep Rawat is in full throttle, I think you need a hero with a bit more testosterone.
And back to the dancing – a friend of ours once tried to teach a dance step with the instruction ‘sit into it lower and try and move like a really sexy duck’. I think perhaps someone said the same to Genelia in the ‘Duniya Mein’ remake but it turned out more funky chicken than sexy duck. I will never forget the look on Jag’s face when she saw the results and I think the choreographer for this may have felt a bit the same.
I have issues with a rugby try that was clearly not a try (especially when it is called a touchdown and is under the Chicago Bulls basketball team logo), as well as the bizarre scoring and some other things which were at odds with the bits they got right. I guess a proper college team played most of the games, which did make it more enjoyable and realistic, although the actors’ rugby scenes were noticeably less believable. The haka was both impressive and so very wrong.
Despite the woeful story Rajamouli has an eye for great set shots and action sequences, and really understands the tempo of a story. This was surprisingly enjoyable at times, but the good bits are few and far between. I give this 2 ½ stars.