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.

Yevadu (2014)


It’s unfortunate that Yevadu didn’t get a cinema release in Melbourne earlier this year, as I think it would be a better watch on the big screen with a fan audience. Vamsi Paidipally’s film takes the central concept from John Woo’s Face Off as a basis for his story, but other than that it’s a fairly standard mass revenge saga with plenty of associated mayhem. Charan plays the wronged Sathya, initially out for his own revenge, but then drawn into a different battle. The ideas are good, but the execution is flawed and Yevadu is no place for any rational thought. However if mindless entertainment with plenty of fights and some great dancing is what you are after, then it could definitely fit the bill.

Yevadu starts off well with Allu Arjun in the role of Sathya and Kajal Aggarwal as his fiancée Deepthi, although it’s rather a long set-up for the main story. Deepthi has been chosen by local Vizag Don Veeru Bhai (Rahul Dev) as the latest object of his desire, and saying no is apparently not a viable option. Veeru relies on intimidation and kidnapping his victims rather than natural charm, and while Sathya is happy to take on Veeru Bhai and his gang, Deepthi is rather more sensible and persuades her fiancé that it would be safer to leave Vizag. However Veeru Bhai’s brother (an enthusiastically vicious Ajay) and his merry band of gangsters catch up with the couple and Satya is left to die on the burning bus after Deepthi is murdered in front of his eyes. It’s a fairly brutal beginning but it neatly establishes the character of Satya as an angry and potentially violent man, but also one who is passionate and prepared to do anything for Deepthi.

Miraculously, Satya manages to survive, but is so badly burned that the only hope for his survival is some rather drastic surgery. Fast forward a few months and Sathya is heavily bandaged but recovering in a hospital. The big reveal is that he has been given a new face – amazingly without any scars, and has also managed to acquire a new body and a different voice to go with his altered look. Sathya (now Ram Charan) hasn’t become any more rational or any less angry however, and he runs away from miracle worker/ surgeon Dr Sharada to find Veeru Bhai and make him pay for Deepthi’s murder.

This part of the film almost makes sense, if you ignore the dodgy medicine and coloured contact lenses.  Charan portrays the part of a driven killer with plenty of maniacal determination that naturally follows on from the perpetually angry Sathya of the opening scenes. Sathya has lost everything he ever cared about and the only thing that matters is killing the men who murdered Deepthi, so a certain amount of focused aggression works well. However no amount of cleverly constructed vengeful violence can disguise the massive plot holes or complete lack of plausibility in much of the story.  Sathya somehow finds a change of clothes after leaving the hospital, as well as his motorbike and a camera, long before he goes back to his old flat where he might conceivably have picked such things up. That is, if they were still there after his months of recovery in hospital –  rather a stretch since everyone thought Sathya was dead. Thankfully there is plenty of great dancing to distract from the flimsy story.

Sathya does what any self-respecting Telugu hero would do and goes about taking his systematic revenge. Along the way there is some comedy with Brahmi and a very out of place looking Amy Jackson, but neither of these makes much impression and both serve mainly as a distraction for Veeru Bhai and his gang. Rahul Dev does plenty of sneering and lusting after various women, but after his initial introduction he’s not particularly impressive as a gangster. His gang aren’t ever shown indulging in any typical gang-like activities either, and there is no particular menace associated with any of the heavies. Ajay even sheds his violent persona and becomes part of the comedy, which suits him just as well but also dilutes any sense of threat from the villains.

Everything follows a straightforward and suitably vengeful path until the interval, when Vamsi Paidipally attempts to justify the face transplant idea and Sathya suddenly comes under attack from a different gang of thugs. It’s a change in direction, but that’s all as the film doesn’t become any more plausible or less over-dramatic, and there are just as many plot holes and inconsistencies.

While the disjointedness of the film is  odd, the problem I have with Yevadu lies more in the characterisation of Sathya. The story would be more convincing if there was a greater difference between the personalities of Charan (the original owner of the face) and Sathya, and additionally if each stayed true to those personalities throughout.  Sathya’s cold, controlled fury and drive to eliminate Deepthi killers to the exclusion of all else  suits the initial story, but much of that drive and anger vanish in the second half. While a certain loss of focus can be explained by the lack of a personal connection, Sathya becomes softer and too much like the character portrayed by Charan in flashback. Equally, although the character of Charan starts off as possibly a more intellectual character, as the story unfolds and he gets involved in fighting against the takeover of an area by a gang of thugs, Charan becomes just as cold and angry as Sathya. Keeping the two personalities more separate could have enhanced the idea of a changed face while the personality was still the same, but as it is Charan and Sathya are so similar that the change in face is almost irrelevant.

The second storyline is even more predictable and clichéd than the revenge story of the first half, although Vamsi Paidipally tries to compensate by increasing the volume of the background music and by repeating every significant shot at least three times. Subbaraju, Shashank and Kota Srinivasa Rao bring their usual competence to the roles of the villains but there isn’t anything novel about either their plans to bring a community to its knees or Charan/Satha’s attempts to foil their plans. The second half also suffers from a clunky romance with Shruti Haasan, which feels shallow and contrived after the intensity and passion of the earlier romance between Sathya and Deepthi.

In spite of my reservations about the characterisation and the relatively predictable second half, Yevadu is still a film that entertains. It’s all much larger than life, but the action scenes are well done and Sathya’s inventive methods of revenge are excellent. The various villains are mainly comical rather than particularly intimidating, although some of the minions are nicely evil, while the excessive over dramatisation is just fun! If you can leave logic behind, embrace the absurdity, and revel in revenge then Yevadu could be the perfect masala watch. 3 stars.

Govindudu Andarivadele

Govindudu Andarivadele

Soaring melodrama, fantastically colourful sets and Prakash Raj are the stand-outs from GAV. Add in Charan, who has definitely improved on his emoting, and you have the bones of Krishna Vamshi’s family drama that mostly delivers what it promises. There are plenty of emotional scenes as Abhiram (Charan) attempts to reunite his family in England with the rest of his estranged relations in India, and of course there’s some local trouble and a romance thrown in for good measure. While most of the film seemed to live up to Krishna Vamshi’s preoccupation with family values, there are a few scenes here that seem to be a hold-over from a less pc era, and stand out as glaringly sexist and just plain wrong. However the rest of the film is entertaining enough despite a storyline so overused that the lack of subtitles was really never an issue!

The story opens with a déjà vu from K3G as Abhiram demonstrates just how well he can play rugby when the opposing team fail to follow the rules of the game and actually attempt to tackle. Real rugby players end up covered in mud and crushed under a few tons of Welsh full-back in my experience, but apparently not in Vamshi’s world. Abhiram lives in a very nice pad in London with his father Chandrasekhar (Rehman) and his little sister whose name I didn’t catch. Unfortunately Chandrasekhar misses out on an appointment to be Dean of Medicine at a London University and interprets this as karma due to an old rift from his own father.  No academic politics in Vamshi’s world either then, I presume!

Overnight Abhiram decides that he will be the one to make all right for his father, and heads off to India to do what he can to bring the families back together. Sadly though, he doesn’t take time to remove his rather odd pony-tail which I can only assume must have been an attempt to look ultra-hip and cool – London-ishtyle. Not my favourite look for Charan, but it did grow on me as the movie went on.

GAV - Charan

Things definitely look up once Abhiram makes it to India, does all the usual touristy things, and then heads off to his grandfather’s village. Following the standard family reconciliation template, Abhiram makes contact with the rest of his family anonymously by pretending to be a visiting agricultural student who wants to learn from family patriarch Balaraju (Prakash Raj). Balaraju runs his family and the village with a benevolent but very traditional hand while stopping his brother (Kota Srinivasa Rao) from clearing and developing the area. Living in the wonderfully pink and majorly over-decorated mansion is also Chandrasekhar’s wastrel brother Bangari (Srikanth): a man with an unfortunate propensity for mesh singlets and garish shirts. Oh, and he drinks, gambles and tries to kidnap and rape his potential bride, Chitra (Kamalinee Mukherjee). This is one of those scenes that really should never have made it in to a film in this day and age, and it does feel completely anachronistic with the rest of the story. Equally disturbing is Abhiram’s use of some photographs he has taken of his cousin Satya (Kajal Agarwal) dancing in Western clothes as a way to blackmail her. This is straight out bullying and sexual abuse, and I find it hard to believe this got past the censors in an otherwise ‘family-friendly’ film. Thankfully Satya does manage to effectively deal with Abhiram’s harassment, but it makes their subsequent romance initially less believable and Abhiram appear as a bit of a prat.

The rest of the film is much better, and that’s mainly due to excellent performances from Prakash Raj and Charan. Prakash Raj is perfect as Balaraju and he knows exactly how to play the strict but compassionate head of a large family. He never puts a foot wrong and wrings every possible drop of emotion out of his time on screen. He even manages to make stick fighting and motorbike riding emotional events, as he unknowingly bonds with his grandson. Jayasudha is just as good as Abhiram’s grandmother, and again she manages to take her overly emotional scenes and tame them down to something more realistic and believable.

Charan gets a chance to show that he can play more than just an action hero and he definitely rises to the challenge. His Abhiram has more shading than other characters I’ve seen Charan play, and he conveys plenty of emotion and feeling in his speeches, even though I couldn’t understand a word! Despite the initially rocky start, there is plenty of chemistry and some major sparkage in the romance between Abhiram and Satya. Charan is one of the few actors that interacts well with Kajal in this respect and their romance really does light up the screen. Charan does manage to stick close to his real love though, as seen in this song mainly set in and around Petra. I wonder if it’s written into every contract that he must get at least one scene with horses? Kajal gets rather short-changed in the choreography here, although Charan doesn’t actually get to dance much either and sadly most of the songs have more emoting than dancing.

The rest of the cast are all capable and fit well into their roles. Rao Ramesh, Posani Krishna Murali and Adarsh Balakrishna are part of Kota Srinivasa Rao’s opposing family but never feel terribly menacing. Adarsh’s character is mainly just very shouty and aggressive, and the various fight scenes, which appear to have been structured around rugby tactics, aren’t up to Peter Hein’s usual high standard. The film looks gorgeous though. The pink palace is amazing – Satya has a stunning peacock painting on her wall, and most of the other rooms are similarly adorned with fantastical artwork and gorgeous furniture. I would live there!

GAV - the pink palace

The emotional quotient does head into overload at times and the ending is particularly excessive, but that doesn’t really seem to matter since the whole point of the story is overblown sentiment. As a straightforward family drama GAV works well enough despite the cliché-ridden storyline and the strong performances help push it over the line. Well worth watching for Prakash Raj and Charan, particularly when you can marvel at the wonders of the pink palace as a bonus.

Thuppakki (2012)


After the disappointment of 7 Aum Arivu, thankfully A. R. Murugadoss takes a step back in the right direction with Thuppakki.  With a story based on terrorist sleeper cells in Mumbai, the action is well written and cleverly plotted to build suspense and there are a number of surprising twists towards the end.  The resolution relies more on the hero’s intellect rather than the usual wham bam of most hero-centric Tamil films (although there are a few of those moments too), and Vijay is at home and comfortable in the role of a special operative in the Indian army.  I could have done without the rather dull romance track which didn’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the film, but essentially Thuppakki is one of the better Vijay films of recent times and is definitely well worth a look.  Great opening credits too.


Vijay’ character Jagdish starts off well by proving that he can fight and dance during an unscheduled train stop on the way back to Mumbai to meet up with his family.  While most of the songs are forgettable with fairly dull choreography, this one is much more fun, although that may just be my preference for songs that allow everyone to join in.

Once back in Mumbai, Jagdish’s parents rush him off to a meeting with a potential bride Nisha (Kajal Agarwal), but Jagdish is initially not impressed by the traditional sari-clad and demure girl he sees.  However, it turns out that Nisha is in fact an athletic sportswoman with a mind of her own and a completely modern attitude.  Although this sounds promising, in reality Nisha’s love of sports is only explored in one unconvincing boxing match and in a song.  Her character is almost immediately submerged into a rather pointless comedy side plot involving Jagdish’s superior officer V. Ravichandran (Jayaram) and otherwise she remains firmly in the background.  The romance fizzles and after a terrible song in a nightclub it’s not surprising that Jagdish makes a run for it back to the terrorist in his closet.  The curse of the costume designer hits Nisha too, so it’s not all Kajal’s fault, but the whole romance track feels very much out of place with the rest of the film and doesn’t add anything at all to the plot.


By chance Jagdish is involved in the capture of a sleeper cell operative who detonates a bomb on a bus.  Finding out that a senior police officer has been corrupted leads Jagdish to interrogate the terrorist himself, which reveals that our hero is not as clean cut as might be expected.  Jagdish has no qualms about torturing his captive and quickly learns of a plot to simultaneously detonate 12 bombs around Mumbai.    With the help of some army friends who just happen to be in town for a wedding, he takes out the 12 sleeper cells in a surprisingly tense chase sequence.  Needless to say this ensures that the leader of the terrorist group retaliates and heads to Mumbai to deal with the threat to his next plan – plan B having failed!

ThuppakkiThuppakkiThuppakkiThuppakkiVidyut Jamwal is excellent as the charismatic leader of the terrorists and his subsequent cat and mouse plot and counter-plot with Jagdish works well even if some of the set-ups are rather far-fetched.  Both Vidyut Jamwal and Vijay put in excellent performances and the dynamic between the two works well, although the final fight scene feels staged in comparison to the rest of the film.  There are also some odd moments where sometimes a Tamil track overlies Vidyut Jamwal’s dialogue in Hindi, while at other times subtitles are used to translate the Hindi and English words.  The Tamil voice-over seemed odd as I could still hear the Hindi words underneath and found that rather distracting, however it made much more sense that the terrorists and their sleeper cells in Mumbai would speak Hindi rather than be able to converse fluently in Tamil. The other problem I had with the film was the poor placement of songs, particularly in the second half.  This is the only other song where I enjoyed the picturisation, but it just pops up in the middle of the action and feels very out of place.

Jagdish isn’t a conventional movie hero and has shades of grey that make him a more interesting character.  He is cold and calculating in his dealings with not only the terrorists, but with his family and friends as well.  For instance, he thinks nothing of including his sister in the group of women kidnapped by the terrorists and is just as callous in his treatment of his fiancée.  But on the other hand he has a genuine affection for his friend, the long-suffering Police Inspector Balaji (Sathyan), and has an obvious passionate loyalty to his country.  In some ways he is no different to the terrorists he is fighting and the parallels between the two men provide another layer to the action.


As seems to be his trademark, A. R. Murugadoss includes a message, and this time it’s a reminder of the sacrifice made by Indian soldiers at the front line.  He includes a group of soldiers disabled by their injuries as part of the cast, and the final song is dedicated to the Indian Army.  As an outsider it seems a little manipulative at times, but overall the sentiment is one I can share despite the sentimentality of the final scene.

Thuppakki combines a good screenplay with excellent performances from the main leads ably baked up by a competent support cast.  The cinematography by Santosh Sivan is up to his usual high standard and enhances the mood of the film.  A little less reliance on the standard formula (action + romance + comedy x 6 songs) would have made this a better film, but as it stands it’s still an enjoyable watch.  4 stars.


Baadshah (2013)


Time for another adventure without subtitles – this time the latest Jr NTR release Baadshah.  There was a surprising new innovation at the cinema too – the addition of a queuing system! No free-for-all crush to get in and grab a seat!  This meant less conversation outside, but more time for discussions inside as it took quite a while for the trickle of people to slowly fill up the cinema.  Needless to say there were still plenty of chants and cheers (and a lot of seat swapping) as the cinema was full for the first night show.

Not understanding Telugu turned out to be not too much of a problem this time since Baadshah closely resembles director Srinu Vaitla’s last venture, Dookudu – even including a similar convoluted scam as the comedy track.  Despite the air of déjà vu, there was still plenty to enjoy with well-choreographed action scenes, awesome dancing from Tarak and (judging from the audience response anyway) some entertaining dialogue.


The film opens with a voice-over from Mahesh Babu, who is the first of a number of guest artists to appear in the film, although there is a large and impressive support cast too.   Tarak is Baadshah, the son of gangster Ranjan (Mukesh Rishi) who successfully runs a casino in Macau.  Ranjan works for international crime lord Sadhu Bhai (Kelly Dorji) and the first half sets up the inevitable struggle between young upstart Baadshah and the established boss.  Sadhu Bhai does have a rather swish Asian inspired lair, with a very shiny black table but otherwise Kelly Dorji’s villain is fairly routine.  I do wish he would cut his hair though – it’s too wispy to be effective as an evil crime lord look!  Sadhu Bhai has the assistance of Crazy Robert (Ashish Vidardhi) and Violent Victor (Pradeep Rawal) who both do their best to eliminate Baadshah and his father which keeps the body count relatively high in the first half.  There is also some painfully bad violin playing, which even Kajal attempts to my horror!


Baadshaah ends up in Milan in time for the first excellent dance number, and this gives him the opportunity to meet Janaki (Kajal Agarwal).  After the usual misunderstandings – she thinks he’s trying to commit suicide while he fails to mention any of his gangster affiliations – the two get together for a romantic song in the snow.  This would have been much better without the addition of some dreadful female backing dancers who looked out of place and uncomfortable wearing jeans under their saris and clomping around in Ugg boots while sliding around in the snow.  They did make Kajal look like a professional dancer in comparison though, so perhaps that was the whole point?


Janaki just happens to be the daughter of the Commissioner of Police Jai Krishna Simha (Nasser) and once back in Hyderabad is supposed to be getting married to another police officer Aadi (Navadeep).  I’m not sure if Navadeep was trying to portray angry and forceful for his character here, but he didn’t make it past mildly petulant and mainly just looked as if he had smelt something bad.  Siddharth on the other hand puts in a good performance in his brief guest appearance as Baadshah’s brother.  By the start of the second half, not only does Baadshah have to deal with the threat of Sadhu Bhai and his evil plans to blow up most of India, but he also has to get rid of Aadi and deal with the police if he wants to get the girl.


While the comedy in the first half comes from M. S. Narayana as a spoof film director, Brahmi appears in the second half and his character Padmanabha Simha takes over the comedy proceedings, and most of the action as well. Although the humour was mainly dialogue based there was plenty that made me laugh even as a non-Telugu speaker.  The audience loved it judging by the response, but the biggest cheer of the night went to a dance by Janaki’s female relatives at the Sangeet ceremony.


The film depends heavily on Tarak’s screen presence and thankfully he delivers on every scene, whether it’s action, comedy or in the dance sequences, although he is somewhat side-lined by Brahmi in the second half.  It was great to see some better choreography, without so much emphasis on ‘trick’ steps, although the item numbers weren’t up to the same level.

Kajal is good as Janaki, but she looks almost subdued in a number of sensible outfits and I thought her make-up made her look tired.  However she did seem to get some good dialogue, and at least she had a meatier role than usual for a ‘love interest’ character.  The support actors in general were reprising roles they have done many times in the past although most didn’t have a lot to do.  I was delighted to see Ajay back on screen as a gang member, even if only for a short time!


Baadshah follows a predictable path, but it’s entertaining with plenty of variety and it’s not quite as gore-soaked as Dhammu or Oosaravelli.  I loved the action sequences and Tarak’s dancing was an absolute stand-out in the first half, but for me the second half dragged due to the more dialogue driven comedy scenes.  The film could also have done without two item numbers, neither of which were particularly impressive. But overall this was a fun film to watch and I’m looking forward to the DVD where I can work out all those references to old NTR films.