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!

Maari (2015)


After watching the trailer for Maari I nearly give the film a miss, as apart from the obvious draw of Dhanush in a collection of garish shirts the film didn’t really look like my cup of tea. How wrong could I be! Maari may be a standard mass story at heart, but Balaji Mohan has thrown in a number of good ideas that, along with the star presence of Dhanush, deliver a film better than expected. There are a few misses, including a lacklustre heroine and a relatively uninspiring final fight scene but overall Maari is an easy and often very funny watch.


Maari (Dhanush) is a small time gangster who works for a local don based somewhere in Triplicane, Chennai. Along with his small gang of Sanikilamai (Robo Shankar) and Adithangi (Kalloori Vinoth), Maari extorts money from the shopkeepers in his area, forces people to dance for his entertainment and generally throws his rather insubstantial weight around. As a result everyone in the area hates Maari and his gang, so when a new sub-inspector (Vijay Yesudas) moves into the police station his attempts to arrest Maari seem to be the perfect solution for the area. There is a rumour that Maari was involved in the murder of another gangster some eight years previously and SI Arjun is determined to find a way to prove Maari’s guilt and lock him up for good.

But of course it’s not as simple as that, and once Maari is arrested the locals suddenly find out why they might have been better to stick with the devil they knew. It all ends up, as such things must, with much biffo and a few dodgy CGI effects, but thankfully Maari remains true to himself and is still the same unredeemed petty gangster at the end.

Dhanush plays Maari with plenty of swagger, bravado and a rather impressive moustache. In classic gangster ishtyle he mainly walks in slow-mo with his own personal wind machine for those moments when it’s essential to have a breeze wafting his perfectly styled hair around. Add to that those wonderfully loud shirts, a pristine white lungi, small round sunglasses and a truly terrible chain-smoking habit to make up the classic Tamil gangster package. Of course like every true gangster there has to be a chink in his armour somewhere and for Maari it’s pigeons – he’s a fanatical pigeon racer and the death of one of his pigeons is apparently the reason for his rumoured foray into murder a few years ago.

However there is more to Balaji Mohan’s gangster than first appears and he gives Maari a characterisation that is not particularly deep but does break away from the typical Tamil hero. The first indication occurs when Maari first sees Sridevi (Kajal Agarwal) who has just moved in to the area with her family to open a boutique. The action goes on around Maari as he stares at Sridevi while music swells in the background, and I fully expected there to be the usual ‘love at first sight’, bad guy reformed by good girl storyline. But instead the music stops and Maari threatens to slap Sridevi for her disrespect for him, moving into full extortion mode rather than anything even vaguely lover-like. There is none of the stalking as love aspect either – Maari is only interested in Sridevi as a source of income and even when she starts to help feed his pigeons in an effort to make him fall in love with her he is very reluctant to get involved. He even points out in an evening discussion with Sridevi that he is a safe guy to be around as “real men don’t rape”. It might be a blatant attempt to appeal to the female audience, but this scene got a round of applause from the packed house in Melbourne with even the fanboys in the front row adding their approval.

Sadly Sridevi is a more confused character. She hates Maari for his interference in her boutique but while her attempts at revenge are in character, her later change of heart is rather insipid. I’m not sure who dubbed for Kajal but the voice doesn’t match her appearance although that may be as I’m more used to seeing her in Telugu films. Kajal seems to almost sleep-walk through the part too and there is little energy in her performance with absolutely no chemistry between the lead pair. How is that even possible when Dhanush is at his charming best? Thankfully however the relationship between Maari and the members of his gang more than makes up for the lack of any romance. Robo Shankar is excellent as the wing-man for Dhanush and he mostly has the best comedy lines while Kalloori Vinoth makes an impression in a small role.  Kaali Venkat is good in his role as a police officer and the other actors playing Velu and ‘Bird’ Ravi are solid in these roles. Vijay Yesudas is an unusual choice of villain for a Tamil gangster film, but I found his portrayal of a corrupt and slimy personality quite appropriate and he did a good job in the role. It’s another one of those little departures away from more usual characterisations in commercial films and I appreciate Balaji Mohan’s attempt to do something a little different.

The film looks good with plenty of colour although there aren’t as many full-out dance numbers as I expected. A little disappointing since Dhanush is such a good dancer. Still Anirudh Ravichander’s songs fit well into the storyline, even if at times his background music is rather too loud and distracting.

Maari isn’t a perfect film by any means – the fight scenes aren’t particularly inspiring and the story wanders a little too much – but it’s still an entertaining blend of comedy and action that allows Dhanush full rein to express his ‘bad’ side. I fully enjoyed it and if you’re in the mood for mass masala that has the added benefit of fine performances from Dhanush and Robo Shankar, Maari is definitely well worth a watch.

Massu Engira Masilamani (Masss)


Venkat Prabhu is a man of many ideas – usually very good ideas – which have resulted in a number of successful films. However for his latest release Masss, he tries to cram as many ideas as possible into the first 20 minutes, and then continues to throw in yet more new ideas throughout the rest of the film. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not all of his ideas work and it’s even difficult to decide if they work or not because the film has already moved on to the next idea! As a result the confusion of the opening scenes feels like trying to cram a year’s work into 10 minutes before the start of an exam. Situations and characters flash by without a chance to work out who is who, what they are doing and how they fit into the story, and if I did have to answer questions on what was going on, I would fail miserably! However it does get better. Suriya is amazing, and his presence holds the film together even through the odd and even more oddly placed songs. The story starts to make sense and the pace slows down to manageable levels with enough comedy and action mixed in to make Masss well worth a watch and much better than the opening sequences would suggest.

Suriya plays Masilamani aka Mass, a con-man and thief who works with his best buddy Jet (Premgi) on a number of overly complicated heists that involve as much theatricality as they do actual thievery. But they make a mistake when they decide to rob a local don who takes exception to their activities. Mass and Jet only just manage to escape, but in doing so they have a serious car crash which has more implications than they first realise.

I had no idea about the story behind Masss and I think it works better when the events that occur are completely unexpected, so I will leave the details of the story there. Up to this point Suriya works his lovable rogue persona well and Premgi is relatively low-key as his best friend. After the first twist (one of many), Premgi takes more of a back seat in the proceedings which is an advantage to the storyline since he doesn’t quite have the acting chops required for such a major role, although his comedy does work well. Suriya takes centre stage and drives the story forwards with an excellent performance and plenty of charisma. There is a double role too, which is perhaps a little clichéd but still works within the format of the story. Plus double Suriya is always a benefit in my opinion (as long as they are not conjoined twins!).

Nayantara pops up as Malini, a love interest for Masss, but she has very little to do and doesn’t even manage a duet with the hero, so her role could have been skipped without too much trouble. She does look beautiful though, if perhaps a little unconvincing as a nurse, but has surprisingly little chemistry with Suriya. However I’m going to mark that down as not having any real opportunity to develop any sparkage due to the briefness of their time spent together rather than any real problem with Nayantara. Vidyullekha Raman makes an appearance as Malini’s friend and actually makes more of an impact than Nayantara, although sadly she too quickly drops out of the story. However they both fare better than Pranitha who appears totally mis-cast, or at least inappropriately dressed with terrible make-up, for her role as flash-back Suriya’s wife.

The film has a huge cast list and there are a large number of good actors who appear as assorted villains or who are part of a group who help Mass later in the film. Brahmi has a brief role as a corrupt doctor in Malini’s hospital, while Samuthirakani has probably the best realised villain role, although even he only appears occasionally. Parthiban manages a little more screen-time as a police officer on the trail of Mass and has some good one-liners while Karunas, Riyaz Khan and many others provide excellent back-up for Suriya. It seems a long time since I’ve seen Rajendran and it’s great to see him here in a small role as a member of the gang helping Mass even if again he only appears briefly.

The second half follows a more linear storyline, even with the flashback portion and the film settles down to an easier pace. What surprises me is that the film received a U certificate given that there is some fairly extreme violence and at times the film is quite frightening for a young audience, although the kids in Melbourne seem to be made of fairly tough stuff and seemed to take it all in their stride.

Masss is a little overlong and the at times it seems that Venkat Prabhu got a little too carried away with his special effect team. There are times when less really is better and there are a few moments here where more restraint would have had a greater effect. In addition, the songs don’t really fit, apart from one during the flash-back sequence and there are perhaps a few too many nods to other films in the screenplay giving the film a more derivative feel than I think it really deserves. However Suriya is excellent and the background score from Yuvan Shankar Raja makes up for any lack in the dance numbers. This is a film to watch for Suriya, the excellent support cast and for Venkat Prabhu’s occasional flashes of brilliance which occur just often enough to give Masss sufficient unexpected twists to entertain.



I’m a big fan of Mysskin and have been slowing working my way through his earlier films whenever I can track them down on DVD. However I put Nandalala at the end of the queue, since it’s a change of direction from his more usual crime thrillers and didn’t sound like my cup of tea. But I should have known better. Nandalala is still very much a Mysskin film with a focus on the dark side of human nature, although this time there are some lighter moments scattered among the social commentary of the film. Even better, Mysskin himself makes an appearance in this film as one of the lead characters and does almost as good a job in front of the camera as he does on the other side.

Essentially Nandalala is a road-trip film with a young boy and a mental patient who has escaped from an asylum both searching for their mother, although their reasons for doing so are very different. Aside from their own journeys, both physical and metaphorical, along the way they meet up with an interesting mix of characters that serve to illustrate the joys and the difficulties of life in rural India. Although it does move at a slow pace, perhaps to go along with the walking pace of the journey, Nandalala is a beautiful film with a heartfelt screenplay and is very well worth a watch.

The story opens with Akhilesh, commonly known as Agi (Ashwath Ram), waiting outside his school. There are 15 seconds of silence while other pupils and their parents’ stream past his downcast head, which is an incredibly effective way to describe his isolation and give a general idea of his circumstances. When Agi does walk home, it’s to a greedy servant and his blind grandmother, both of whom need him for their own reasons. While it’s obvious he doesn’t live in abject poverty, there is little affection and no joy in Agi’s life. His most precious possession is a photograph of himself with his mother as a baby and he takes advantage of a school trip to set off on a journey to find her. Agi seems well prepared with his mother’s address, her photograph and a relatively full wallet, but he doesn’t have any real idea about how to find her. Just to make matters worse he is robbed in the local town and left without the means to buy anything let alone a bus ticket to Annaivayal. His journey seems to be over before it has started but he chances to meet up with Bhaskar Mani (Mysskin), a mentally disabled man who has escaped from an asylum and is trying to find his own mother. Bhaskar is searching for answers, wanting to know why his mother abandoned him to the mercies of the hospital staff and has never visited or contacted him. Despite their many differences, they make a good team as they travel together to find their respective mothers.

In many ways Agi is a typical young boy from a small town. He’s had a sheltered existence and his innocence and loving nature colour his approach to everyone he meets on the road. He is accepting of Bhaskar and his mannerisms, but still manages to become exasperated when Bhaskar does something particularly unhelpful, although this doesn’t change the easy partnership the two share. Ashwath Ram is excellent and plays his part perfectly throughout. His eagerness and excitement as he runs around the village searching for his mother is infectious, while his emotional ups and downs are natural and feel very honest. Agi’s guileless approach to life and his innate practicality are perhaps a little unlikely given his upbringing, but they do mirror a similar innocence and matter-of-fact abruptness in his companion.

Mysskin is surprisingly good as Bhaskar, although he does have a tendency to overact and occasionally over-emphasise some of Bhaskar’s obsessive mannerisms. Initially when in the asylum he continually runs his hand along the wall or the bars beside him in a behaviour pattern that fits well with his character’s mental disabilities, but some of his later actions seem more contrived and don’t fit as well with his mental health issues. However, he does an excellent job of portraying a child-like innocence that has an effect on everyone he meets, and if his sudden rationality at some points seems rather opportune, his moments of insanity never become too over-the-top.

The film is at it’s best when it relies on the situations the two companions find themselves in to drive the narrative, ably assisted by Ilayaraaja’s absolutely beautiful background music. There is little dialogue to draw attention away from the body language, which is much more expressive than any long speeches could ever be, and the songs are equally effective in adding depth and emotion to the film. This is a beautifully sad song that contrasts with the happy attitude of Agi and Bhaskar’s mood swings and general instability. Just perfect.

Snigdha Akolkar appears in the second half as a working prostitute whose presence adds rationality to the story. Initially she is understandably annoyed with Bhaskar and Agi when they drive away her paying customer but later events lead to Anjali accompanying the two on their quest. Her presence allows a glimpse of a softer side to Bhaskar, and gives Agi the opportunity to be just a little boy searching for his mother. It’s a powerful role despite the short screen time and Snigdha is excellent, particularly when she allows glimpses of her characters emotional fragility to escape her seemingly strong and confident presence. Nasser and Rohini also appear in small but very effective roles, and the rest of the supporting cast are all uniformly excellent and perfectly understated.

As with most Mysskin films, there are plenty of odd angles and shots of feet. This is very effective during Agi’s desperate search for his mother but also works to draw attention to the journey itself and the miles walked by Agi and Bhaskar. Mahesh Muthuswami adds his expert touch to make the countryside look sumptuous, whether it’s the plants along the roadside, the luscious green fields or the buildings and villages along the route. It is a beautiful part of the countryside, although Mysskin also points out the shady characters and quick violence that lurks amongst the idyllic scenery.

Nandalala is much better than I expected from the brief description on the DVD. It’s difficult to describe just how emotive the film is without revealing too much of the plot, but as it’s a Tamil film it’s probably obvious that there is no happy ending – or at least not completely. However the film is all about the journey and the relationship between Bhaskar and Agi, and from that point of view it is a resounding success. Mysskin excels in adding small details, such as Bhaskar’s stolen shoes that he wears back to front, that add depth and interest to his story and characters. I love this film just as much as his thrillers and am impressed that Bhaskar can turn his hand to such a different style of story so competently. It’s also commendable that he has not only written and directed the film but also acted in a major role without stealing the limelight or making it all about ‘Bhaskar’s story’. It’s probably not for everyone; there is no ‘action’, no comedy track and no big dance number, but the simple emotions and finely nuanced performances make this one for fans of more character driven cinema. 4½ stars.