Vedalam (2015)


Vedalam opens with a woeful assassination attempt in Milan where a team of supposedly crack soldiers are trying to rid the world of top Tamil crime boss Ratna Bhai (Rahul Dev) and end up failing miserably. It’s not a good start, and what makes it so terrible is a mixture of the ridiculousness of the scenario, bad dubbing, bad acting and a nonsensical dénouement. Thankfully though, with the exception of a few comedy scenes, the rest of Vedalam is miles better than the opening few minutes would suggest and Ajith scores another hit – mainly due to the force of his personality and considerable charisma on-screen. Siva adds special effects, a good story and plenty of action to make Vedalam an entertaining watch despite the dodgy start.

As an antidote to the opening scene, the film immediately moves to Kolkata and Rajendran as local gangster Kolkata Kaali. Rajendran is one of my favourite actors and I love that he’s moving more into comedy alongside his usual gangster roles. He is very funny here as he menaces and then befriends new arrival to the city Ganesh (Ajith Kumar) and his sister Thamizh (Lakshmi Menon). Thamizh is applying to study in a prestigious art college in the city and Ganesh appears as the perfect older brother – supportive and encouraging in every way, while maintaining an unruffled and happily smiling exterior no matter what the circumstances.  While Thamizh gets accepted into the art college, Ganesh manages to get a job driving a taxi, despite not speaking a word of Bengali or knowing anything about the city – sounds like your typical taxi driver really!

Siva adds more humour with Soori as the manager of the taxi company, but his brand of comedy only works part of the time and it reaches a nadir when the tired out trope of philandering husband is rolled out yet again. Shruti Haasan also shows up in a comedy role as an unscrupulous lawyer, Swetha, who ends up with a grudge against Ganesh. None of her intense overacting in her initial scenes is funny and her wardrobe choices are equally atrocious, but her character does have a few redeeming moments later on in the film. In one of those typical film coincidences, Swetha’s brother Arjun (Ashwin Kakumanu) falls in love with Thamizh which adds romance into the film and gives Ganesh the opportunity to deliver a good ‘big brother’ speech about women’s safety. It’s a shame that such a good message about how stalking ≠ love and men should respect women is immediately followed by a song featuring Shruti and backing dancers in skimpy outfits and terrible choreography, but at least the speech did get a cheer in Melbourne.

Just before the break Ganesh reveals his true persona, first in an excellent fight scene and then in a genuinely frightening exchange with Swetha that sets up a flashback sequence in the second half. All of the smiling and the ‘always cheery’ disposition starts to grate by then, so the switch to bad-ass fighter Ganesh (aka Vedalam) comes as a welcome change. No-one does the switch from happy smile to scary psychotic grimace as well as Ajith – it really is disturbing and Siva uses the transformation sparingly but to very good effect throughout the film.

The reason for Ganesh’s outburst of violence goes back to the gangster seen in the opening scene. Ratna Bhai and his two brothers Abhinay (Kabir Duhan Singh) and Aniket (Aniket Chouhan) control the skin trade out of India amongst various other criminal activities and Ganesh has come up against them in the past. The flash-back sequence is well done, generating an emotional reason for Ganesh to seek revenge but without becoming overly sentimental or clichéd. The villains do what villains in these films usually do, while there is really never any doubt that Ganesh will defeat them all in the end. However the lead up to the final fight scene is very well written with a few good surprises to build the suspense. The last fight is also brilliantly done and the film is worth watching for this last sequence alone.

Anirudh’s music is good and fits the screenplay well, with Aaluma Doluma standing out as the best track.  The background score is occasionally distractingly loud, but I like the theme and it suits the schizophrenic nature of Ajith’s character. Mostly the songs are well pictured too apart from the previously mentioned ‘Don’t You Mess With Me’, which really deserved better and isn’t helped by the skanky choreography. Technically the film is slick and well-edited with good effects and novel fight choreography. There isn’t too much blood and gore either, although it’s always surprising how quickly the bad guys run out of bullets and resort to fist fights when they really should know better!

Vedalam is Ajith’s film all the way and he does a superb job as a dangerous and scary man while still conveying kindness and sympathy in the scenes with Thamizh. The support cast are all just that – support for Ajith, but Lakshmi Menon is good as his oblivious sister while Sudha and Thambi Ramaiah make an impression in their small roles in the flashback sequence.  Vedalam isn’t a perfect film, the comedy isn’t great and the villains are standard caricatures with predictable habits, but Ajith is very watchable and the story works well with some unexpected twists, especially at the end.  Worth watching for Ajith and the excellent final fight scene – plus Rajendran of course!

Thiruda Thiruda

thiruda thiruda poster

Thiruda Thiruda is a 1993 action film from Mani Ratnam that follows the exploits of two thieves when they inadvertently become involved in a major bank robbery. It’s a real ‘action’ film as almost every scene involves either a fight or a chase of some kind (using nearly every single kind of transport you can imagine), and the heroes are always on the move. At almost 3 hours, the film is rather long, but there is so much happening on screen that it’s an entertaining if not completely edge-of-your-seat watch. However the real reason to watch the film is the excellent music from A.R. Rahman which mixes opera, disco and electronic music with more traditional themes to give one of his best and most interesting movie soundtracks.

The film starts with the printing of new bank notes, destined to be sent all over India in specialised containers that require a computer card to gain access. For added security the containers also require a password, but since this is printed on the computer card, there may not be quite the level of protection the Finance Department think they’ve achieved. The card looks more like a plastic credit card than the key to a sophisticated locking system, but maybe it looked like modern technology back in 1993 and does mean it’s easily transferred between the various thieves. The card is also amazingly impervious to damage and works even after prolonged submersion in water – that does also apply to the truck carrying the money and the container full of money too though so perhaps it’s the water that has the special properties!

Criminal mastermind T. T. Vikram (Salim Ghouse) has various lackeys in India who steal the money for him, but his chief accomplice Ashok (Ajay Ratnam) is quickly apprehended and arrested by CBI chief Laxminarayana (S. P. Balasubramaniam), prompting a rather juvenile temper tantrum from the boss. However after an unpromising start, Salim Ghouse settles into the role of evil mastermind and enjoys himself immensely as he executes people who displease him after he heads to India to find his money. I like that his gang mange to arrange themselves artistically before starting to menace their targets and even the initial robbery is carried off with precise timing and a pleasing display of acrobatic moves on a moving train.

Before his arrest, Ashok manages to send the vital computer card and a cryptic message to singer Chandralekha (Anu Agarwal) who skips out before the CBI manage to arrest her too. Meanwhile petty crooks Kathir (Anand) and Azhagu(Prashanth) are on the run from the police after looting a safe belonging to one of the rich men in their village. During the robbery they stop Rasathi (Heera Rajagopal) from committing suicide, but rather than being grateful she decides to go with them to reclaim her share of the jewellery they have stolen.  Kathir and Azhagu don’t want to be burdened with a village girl so they unsuccessfully try to dump Rasathi, until they learn that she is escaping from an unwanted marriage with her uncle and become sympathetic to her plight.

The unlikely trio cross paths with Chandralekha and get drawn into the race to find the money while trying to stay one step ahead of the law and simultaneously avoid T.T. Vikram and his merry band of thugs. Things move along quickly with a little romance and some attempt at comedy, but mainly there are chase sequences (many, many chase sequences), as Kathir, Azhagu and Rasathi escape from the police, Rasathi’s uncle and his henchmen, the CBI and Vikram and his gang, although not all at the same time. Mostly these are well choreographed with bicycles, motorbikes, cars, horses, buses, trucks, trains and even elephants being used at some point or another, while the art of disguise and misdirection are also used to good effect.

The action sequences ensure that the film keeps moving along at a fast pace, which may be why the various characters are relatively under developed and the script somewhat lacking at times. Kathir and Azhagu should have had an easy camaraderie given that they are two thieves who have been working together since childhood, but here their relationship is clunky. This is particularly noticeable when a love triangle develops between the two thieves and Rasathi and there is little rapport or emotion during their scenes together. It may be the fault of the subtitles but the dialogue between the two is also awkward and fails to deliver the idea of two great buddies out to con the world together.

Heera Rajagopal is much better as Rasathi and even manages a bonding session with the sophisticated Chandralekha which gives Anu Agarwal the chance to make her character more sympathetic than she first appears. Despite her overdone entry scene, I really liked Heera and her portrayal of Rasathi. Every time I felt she was in danger of becoming a typical heroine, moping around and waiting for someone else to save the day, she actually got up and did something about her situation instead. Anu’s Chandraleka was also a much stronger character than anticipated and although the two female leads have less to do than the men, they give the film some much needed shading and depth. S.P Balasubramaniam is in fine form as the CBI officer chasing after the thieves, and fares better than the leads as far as characterisation goes. He has more of a back story and shows good rapport with his co-workers while showing off his excellent interviewing skills. His Laxminarayanan is one of the more interesting characters along with Malaysia Vasudevan as the police inspector, while Ajay Ratnam, Madan Bob and the rest all provide good solid support throughout.

The music really is the stand out performer in Thiruda Thiruda and A.R. Rahman changes from full chorus and orchestral score for the big production numbers to the evocative and very effective a capella song Rasathi, and pretty much everything in between. The mixture of Western and Indian music works well here and it’s probably my favourite Rahman soundtrack just because it is so varied. The accompanying cinematography from P.C. Sreeram is also excellent and the staging of the songs ensures each fits fluidly into the storyline. This is probably my favourite though – a lovely song, beautifully sung by Shahul Hameed with simple but powerful picturisation.

While there are a many Indian films that feature bank robberies, I haven’t seen many that follow this style of heist caper more typical of Hollywood films. It doesn’t work as well as it should due to the lack of rapport between the two male leads, but the various chase sequences are fun to watch and the storyline does have a few reasonable plot twists. For a film that does have so much action, there isn’t much suspense but the characters are likeable, the songs enjoyable and overall the film does entertain. Worth watching for the songs, Heera Rajagopal and S.P Balasubramaniam. 3 ½ stars.

Thiruda Thiruda

Naanum Rowdy Dhaan

Naanum Rowdy Dhaan

I’m loving the recent ‘new wave’ in Tamil comedy that seems to be producing hit after hit and some very funny films. Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is the latest release from writer/director Vignesh Shivan and it’s a perfect example of the genre, mixing a good story with great dialogue and brilliant performances from a very competent cast. As an added bonus the film even has grammatically correct English subtitles (I’m going to assume that they were accurate too), ensuring I was laughing at the right moments – or at least along with everyone else.

The story is set in Pondicherry, which is another plus for me since it’s only a few years since I visited and quite a few of the locations were familiar. Pandi (Vijay Sethupathi) first appears onscreen as a young boy (Surya Vijay Sethupathi – Vijay’s son?) sitting in a jail, occupied with filling in the front of a school notebook with his interesting ambition (given his current location) of joining the police force. However all is not as it seems. Pandi is the son of the police inspector (Raadhika Sarathkumar) and the real occupant of the cell is Raja, played by one of my favourite ‘bad guys’, Rajendran. Yay! While waiting for his lawyer and get-out-of-jail-free card, Raja tells the young Pandi a story about a rowdy and a cop, when Pandi asked which is the better job prospect. The subsequent tale has the effect of changing Pandi’s mind about his career choice and he carefully changes the word in his notebook from police to rowdy.

So it’s a little surprising then when we see grown up Pandi to find he is going through a battery of tests to become a police officer, although he spends most of his time telling others how much better rowdyism is compared to law enforcement. But once away from the testing area Pandi is indeed a rowdy. Well, kind of.

Because Pandi isn’t a very rowdy-like rowdy.

Along with his gang of friends he has a lair painted with fluorescent paint on the walls that lists fees for various acts of violence, but when it comes down to it he doesn’t actually do any of these things. Instead the gang enacts a drama, getting people to pretend to have been beaten up or injured and then sending a photo of the ‘injury’ to the client. Pandi’s biggest success is arbitrating in a schoolboy squabble and most of his ‘swagger’ is an elaborate act without any real substance.

But then he meets Kadambari and gets involved in the search for her missing father. Kadambari is hearing impaired after an injury and her father is a police officer on the cusp of retirement. It turns out that the story Raja told at the start of the film was based in fact with the rowdy, Killivalavan (Parthiban) getting the better of police officer Ravikumar (Azhagam Perumal). Kadambari wants her revenge and since true love means killing your girlfriends enemy, Pandi takes on the job. Or at least offers to hold Killivalavan while Kadambari stabs him to death. A true gentleman!

The jokes come thick and fast from the numerous attempts to kill Killivalavan (or at least get him to apologise) to Raja’s gun that has a silencer that mews like a cat. The dialogue is very funny and the cast all do a good job in delivering their lines for maximum effect. Even Nayantara, who has a brilliantly comedic scene when she is kidnapped by another rowdy (Anandaraj) which had everyone in the cinema in stitches. Generally Nayantara is much better here than she was in Masss, giving her character plenty of personality and managing good chemistry with her co-star. She does well with the comedy too, and shows just what a good actress she can be when given the chance.

Vijay Sethupathi looks amazingly different here from his previous roles such as Soodhu Kavvum or Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara. Without his beard he appears years younger and seems to have shed some bulkiness along with the age which suits his character well. He still has the same great timing and flair for comedy though, working well with RJ Balaji in the role of Pandi’s long suffering friend. Balaji plays it straight but has plenty of witty comments and his delivery is perfectly timed. Together the two make a great pair and the dialogue between them is written so well as to appear natural and unforced – something which is rare in most comedies. Pandi tries very hard to be a tough guy, and when push comes to shove he proves he can hold his own, but he’d much rather just show the ‘tude rather than court any confrontation, while Balaji wants nothing to do with ‘real’ rowdyism at all.

Anirudh Ravichander provides the music and the soundtrack fits into the mood of the story well. Vijay Sethupathi skilfully avoids any actual dancing, and the songs themselves work well to move the romance story forward. George C Williams is the man behind the cinematography and as in his earlier films, he has a sure touch with the camera ensuring the film looks perfect too. Overall Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is an excellent entertainer combining action and comedy with a dash of romance. Recommended for Vijay Sethupathi, Nayantara and a very funny screenplay.

Puli (2015)


Chimbu Deven’s latest film may be set in a fantasy world of strange creatures and magical beings, but the story itself is mundane without any of the epic sweep required for such a tale. It’s also slow going, with most of the first half a dreary romance between Marudheeran (Vijay) and Pavazhamani (Shruti Haasan), although it does improve post interval once Sridevi and Sudeep appear onscreen. Despite the numerous fight scenes and explicit violence, the simplistic plot seems to be aimed more at children, with every obstacle easily overcome and the obvious outcome never in any doubt. That may also explain the relatively bloodless scenes of dismemberment and general carnage that would more usually be awash with gallons of fake blood, but instead the fight scenes here are frequently lacklustre, dull and repetitive. However there are a few reasons to watch, mainly down to Sridevi in her extravagantly evil queen avatar, good special effects and the always reliable Sudeep and Vijay.

Puli tells the story of a land which has been invaded and settled by a race of demons, who have enslaved the native humans. These Vedalam are easily recognisable by their blue eyes, tendency to sprout fangs when annoyed and ability to fly though the air, although their spiky armour and general arrogant grumpiness are a more distant and therefore safer method of identification. The young Marudheeran arrives in one of the subjugated villages as a baby, floating in a basket on the river, along with a mysterious egg that hatches into a talking bird. The talking bird is pretty well done as far as special effects go, and I was expecting it to be important to the plot in some way, but it really isn’t. Even though there is a sort of reason for the bird’s inclusion at the end, basically it’s a very under-utilized special effect that didn’t need to be able to talk and doesn’t get much chance to do so anyway. Overall this illustrates the problem with most of the special effects in the film. Although they are well done, the effects dazzle for a moment but are then relegated to background noise and ultimately have little to add to the plot. It’s a shame as the film looks fantastical but the uninspired story keeps it earthbound.

Marudheeran is adopted by one of the villagers and is trained by his stepfather in fighting and disguise as part of a general communal wish to overthrow the demons. However once Pavalamalli (Shruti Haasan) returns to the village, Marudheeran spends his time chasing after his childhood friend, much to the displeasure of her parents. Just as Marudheeran and Pavalamalli get married in secret, she is stolen by the demons and Marudheeran sets out with his trusty friends Thambi Ramaiah and Sathyan to rescue her from the impregnable city of Vedalakottai. They plan to disguise themselves as demons to get into the city and then hope they can find Pavalamalli and get out again, but that’s it in terms of preparation. There is no attempt to deal with the epic scale of such an endeavour and make the journey and planning part of the adventure. This means there isn’t any sense of danger or excitement, just a pedestrian slog to find the city and rescue the girl. Nothing new, and could just as easily have been set in the present time anywhere in India with much the same plot and ending.

Still, there are plenty of good ideas in Puli, it’s just that they get such short shrift and don’t have as much impact as they should. For example, Marudheeran and colleagues meet a race of miniature people where there is a brief ‘we can show you the way’ moment and then the little people are used mainly for comedy. However the effects and the cinematography are once again very good, with clever use of seeds and leaves as clothing, and wonderful peanut shell blouses that are simply inspired!

Unusually, Vijay doesn’t fit as the hero of the film as well as he should, at least initially. His introduction and the subsequent fight scenes establish his character as more of a trickster and comedian while his pursuit of Pavalamalli is pedestrian and lacking animation. It’s not until the second half of the film where he comes up against his nemesis General Jalatharangam (Sudeep) that Marudheeran starts to properly fill the role of the warrior hero and Vijay gets a chance to throw his energy fully into the part. Just about at this time though there is a flashback sequence where Vijay plays his father – a man born to be in a shampoo commercial and doomed by his reliance on slow-mo fighting and accompanying wind-machine. I did appreciate Vijay’s mastery of the hair toss though and once he gets into full warrior mode, there is no stopping him.

Sudeep is good in a role that lets him convey volumes with just a look and a sneer, although he really needed more time onscreen being evil to make his character thoroughly despicable. Jalatharangam is a fairly standard villain but Sudeep imbues him with an arrogant coldness that works well and there’s just enough sliminess added for good measure. Sridevi too makes the most of her role as an evil queen and shows what a fantastic actor she is even with her limited time onscreen. She totally owns each scene when she appears and her sweeping presence lifts the energy of the film. She has the best costumes and stunning make-up but these go almost unnoticed beside her commanding presence and expressive eyes. And she plays a harp – perfect! I hope this, and her recent appearance in English Vinglish mean that we will get to see more Sridevi films in the future – she is the best thing about Puli for sure.

Hansika Motwani plays Queen Yamanadevi’s daughter and at least Chimbu Deven doesn’t make the mistake of trying to get her to actually dance in any of her songs. Hansika looks good and has an amazing peacock outfit at the end but doesn’t do much else of note in the film, although she does manage better chemistry in a few brief moments with Vijay than Shruti does in an entire romantic song. Overall Devi Sri Prasad’s songs are fairly uninspiring and the choreography rather repetitive, but Vijay is energetic and the backing dancers are enthusiastic in a range of diverse costumes.

Except for Sridevi, Puli mostly disappoints with a weak story and fairly nondescript songs. Sudeep and Vijay are fine but both characters need better definition and depth rather than simply relying on the ability and star power of the actors. Both do what they can, but the film could have been so much better with just a little more complexity. Good cinematography from Natarajan Subramaniam and great visual effects make Puli worth watching on the big screen but probably only for fans. Otherwise probably best to wait for the DVD where the fast forward button will make Puli a more enjoyable watch.

Ethir Neechal (2013)

Ethir Neechal

Ethir Neechal is one of those films I’ve been meaning to watch for ages, mainly because I loved the soundtrack when it first came out, but also because I’d seen the video for Local Boys and thought it looked fantastic.  It also sounded unusual, with a story combining an attempt to run the Chennai marathon with a romance and some comedy, plus a reference to real-life track athlete Santhi Soundarajan added in to the mix.  Unfortunately though, despite a good beginning, the film loses its way in the second half where the light and breezy romance is suddenly pushed to one side by the trials and tribulations of a serious sports story and it never quite recovers.  Still, Siva Karthikeyan is a likeable hero and there is that excellent soundtrack which makes Ethir Neechal worth at least a one-time watch.

The film starts with the woes of a young man with an unfortunate name. Kunjithapatham (Siva Karthikeyan) has endured sniggers and laughter for years as the short form of his name is apparently a rude word in Tamil. His one childhood rebellion to try to change his name resulted in his mother falling ill, so he decides to put up with his name and just get on with life. He’s fairly successful too, but the combination of an insensitive boss and a romance that falls through when the girl hears his name means that finally Kunjithapatham decides to takes his friend Peter’s (Sathish) advice and change his name. Naturally this can’t be a simple decision and requires a visit to numerologist Gunasekara Raja (Manobala) to finally come up with the new name of Harish.

No sooner has he changed his name than good things start to happen for Harish. He meets up with teacher Geetha (Priya Anand) and falls in love straight away when she compliments him on his name. Harish also gets a new job and makes a clean break with his old name and old life. Everything seems to be going along fantastically well until Geetha finds out that he lied to her to hide his old name. She’s unimpressed and Harish resolves to achieve something that will allow him to make a name for himself and make Geetha proud of him.

Harish decides to run the Chennai marathon, and not just in an attempt to finish. Oh no – nothing that basic. Harish wants to win the race, despite only starting to train when he signs up a few months out from the event. This is where Valli (Nandita) enters the story as a trainer for Harish and the story suddenly turns serious.

After a run in with corrupt coach Raja Singh (Ravi Prakash), Valli was stripped of her medal at the Asian games when she failed a gender test. Harish learns of her story and this gives him another reason to win the marathon and beat Raja Singh’s current top runner. The problem is that there is an extended flashback showing Valli’s struggles as a young athlete and the issues she faced in trying to compete. While I appreciate R. S. Durai Senthilkumar’s attempt to raise awareness of the difficulties athletes in India face, Valli’s story acts as a road block and completely changes the mood of the film.

Valli is based on the athlete Santhi Soundarajan, whose real-life story is compelling enough to be a film in its own right rather than just as a brief add-on as seen here. It’s not just that Valli’s struggles don’t fit well with the rest of the film but her story doesn’t add anything to Harish’s attempts to be accepted – despite both characters having an ‘invisible handicap’ to overcome. Valli is also fairly unlikeable as portrayed here and with her prickly and antagonistic nature it’s difficult to warm to the character. Nandita seems dull and lifeless in the role, although she is better in the flashback in the scenes with her father (Sharath Lohitashwa), so I presume her grumpy attitude was due to the director. The happy romance of the earlier scenes is completely overshadowed by her serious and dour attitude, so it’s a relief when the film does move on to the actual race and the mental and physical struggle faced by Harish. Even though the film stays serious, Siva Karthikeyan is a personable hero and the marathon is well filmed with just enough tension in the race to keep it entertaining right to the end.

Siva Karthikeyan does a good job with his role and fits well into the boy-next-door type of romantic hero. He’s in his element in the comedy scenes and has a good partnership with Sathish as the two play off each other perfectly. There are some very good moments in the early scenes with Geetha too and Priya Anand is perfectly suited to her role as a primary school teacher. She has a wonderfully expressive face and makes a good partner for Siva Karthikeyan as the two slowly develop their relationship with a few misunderstandings along the way. They make a realistic couple and it would have been good to see more of their relationship and the effect of Harish’s new determination as he  started training rather than the shift in focus to a different story with Valli.

The best part of the film is undoubtedly the upbeat soundtrack from Anirudh, and thankfully the song picturisations are complementary to the music. In addition to producing the film and his guest appearance in the movie, Dhanush has collaborated in writing lyrics and by singing a few of the songs, while Anirudh also makes a brief appearance as a bar owner. Most of the early songs have a classic flash-mob feel as various apparently random members of the public join in, and the backing dancers range from obviously fit professionals to chubby lunghi-clad uncles in Local Boys.  Boomi Enna Suthudhe  has a particularly random and accident prone start that seems to perfectly fit Harish’s character.

R. S. Durai Senthilkumar seems unsure if he wants to make a romantic comedy or a serious sports film, and really should have picked one and stuck to it. The first half of the film works much better for me and I’d give it 4 stars, but the slow pace and sharp change in mood means that overall I give the film 3 stars. Worth a watch for Priya Anand, Siva Karthikeyan and for a chance to sing along to the songs!