Thuppakki (2012)

Thuppakki

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thuppakki

Baadshah (2013)

Baadshah

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.

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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!

Baadshah

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?

Baadshah

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.

Baadshah

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.

Baadshah

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

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.

Naayak

Naayak Poster

Naayak is an updated masala potboiler, action packed with colourful dance numbers and an improbable but entertaining enough story. The audience last night was mostly young couples and families. I did wonder yet again at the ability of children to sleep through anything. At the end of the film the dads left with a kid slung over one shoulder, dead to the world.

To summarise the story, with mild spoilers:

Naayak opens with four men being pursued through the streets and lanes of Kolkata, and eventually tied to a pillar in the forecourt of an ornate manor. Surrounded by approximately 4962 taxis with their headlights on, the men look doomed. But a mysterious figures glides through the darkness, and rescues them in a bloody fight involving lots of pointy objects and ornate axes. Who was he and why were they in trouble? That comes later. Charan is Charan AKA Cherry, a Hyderabadi IT dude. Through some Brahmi induced comedy complications, he meets the gangster Babji (Rahul Dev) and his pretty sister Madhu (Kajal). In the background, Cherry appears to be on a killing spree from Kolkata to Hyderabad. Babji sees Cherry shoot a senior police officer and starts asking questions about who Cherry really is. At the same time the police, led by Ashish Vidyarthi, are closing in. A trip to Haridwar and a chance encounter with a lookalike prompts a long flashback introducing Siddharth (Charan). Siddharth is on a mission of revenge following Pradeep Rawat’s criminal (and insane) treatment of workers in his chemical factory (and others). Siddharth has his own love interest in Amala Paul, and a tragic back story. To quote nearly every Telugu film reviewer ever, ‘how the hero triumphs over the villain forms the rest of the story’.

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Charan has matured as an actor and his dialogue delivery has more authority. Perhaps that is because he seems really comfortable in the mass entertainer roles, and he certainly gets the style. Naayak is an updated version of the kind of films Chiranjeevi is known for. Action, dancing, flamboyant costumes, a dash of romance and a social message all add up to a good showcase for the young star. The fights are very stylised and rely on not always seamless wirework and effects. Sometimes the clunky visuals took away from the drama. Charan seems comfortable with the physicality of the fight scenes so he doesn’t let his characterisation lapse and that does help. There were few differences apparent between Cherry and Siddharth – Siddharth’s hair was a bit higher and his necklines a tad lower. But as the story turns on their similarity, that all worked nicely.

Charan’s dancing was such a highlight, especially in the very Chiru-ish Laaila O Laaila which I wanted to be replayed again right away, and Naayak which is just so pretty and colourful.

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Kajal was very likeable. Madhu is more ‘girl next door in glamourous dress-ups’ than total glamour doll, and she often had a cheeky glint in her eye. The costume designers were reasonably kind to her, with only a brief foray into shiny metallic pants. She cannot dance to save her life, so the choreographers wisely decided to go for stunning locations plus giving Charan all the actual steps and telling Kajal to either shake her butt or heave her chest.

Naayak Charan and Kajal dance

I tell a lie – in one song she had to point one hand skywards and walk, which must have been challenging.

Naayak Kajal and Charan dance

But she looks like she has fun, and she and Charan goofed around flirting rather than worrying so much about the steps.

Amala Paul made little impression apart from looking very pretty. Her role is small but she does get a couple of visually spectacular songs. Unfortunately the costume designers never really considered the implications of dancing with your hair down and wearing a chiffon sari on undulating terrain in Iceland in a stiff breeze so she didn’t always looks graceful.

Charan and Amala dance

Naayak Amala and her shoes

Particularly not as she wore brown Ugg boots  with a green sari and black shoes with bright blue laces with her diaphanous black sari during one song. Kajal wore leggings under her short shorts but apart from being greyish and a bit baggy around the knees, they weren’t as peculiar. I’m all for actresses dressing appropriately for the climate, and for workplace safety, but it was odd.

Rahul Dev is Babji, and he plays a more sympathetic gangster than his usual psycho villain. Indeed, there is quite a sweet bromance developing between him and Cherry until things start to get crazy. Raghu Babu and Jayaprakash Reddy are on comedy duty in his gang and, judging by the audience reaction, knocked it out of the park. MS Narayana is a drunk lip reading expert and his timing and droll expressions are really quite amusing. (As was the misspelled ‘Drinking is injurious to your HEATLH’ warning.) Brahmi has an actual character to play. When he can be dissuaded from just repeating his usual shtick he is so much more bearable. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of his scenes when normally I would be sighing so either I’ve had a head injury or he was good. Dev Gill made an appearance as a psycho baddie with impressive (that’s not the right word but they are very in your face) moobs.

Naayak Charan and Amala

SS Thaman’s music is OK but sounds like every other film. You know, there’s the upbeat hero song, the item (featuring Charmme), the duet, the other duet, the remake of a better song. Nothing wrong with it, but I sit here now and I can picture the sets and the fancy costumes, but can’t recall the music as clearly. One thing I loved in Charmme’s item was Siddharth imaging joining in. His cheesy expressions and Chiru-esque mannerisms were really amusing. That was all his own character’s vision so I liked that glimpse of his inner life.

Despite this being an adventure without subtitles the only thing I feel I really missed was the comedy dialogue. People around me were weeping with laughter and a couple of guys said it is one of the funniest films they’d seen in ages. I’ll be buying the DVD regardless, and am interested to see how well that laugh riot translates. I liked spotting the Pawan Kalyan and Chiranjeevi references in the visuals and dialogues and was pleased to see Shah Rukh smirking from the back of a Significant Magazine.

See it if you like films with clearly defined heroes and villains, action, drama, colour and movement. You’ll need some tolerance for dismemberments, gore and a lot of comedy uncles but it pays off with an explosive climax.

Darling

Darling

My motivation for watching Darling was less in the expectation of experiencing an enthralling story (although I always live in hope) and much more based on being a Prabhas fan – which in hindsight was the right attitude to take.  Although the underlying themes of friendship and father-son relationships are reasonably well dealt with, the romance between the two leads follows a fairly dull and predictable path despite the attempt at a twist at the interval.  However Prabhas and Kajal are both entertaining to watch in spite of the inevitability of the storyline and for a romantic comedy, what it lacks in passion it more than makes up for in the humour.  Especially since for a change, the comedy is part and parcel of the story rather than a separate unfunny and irrelevant track.  Best of all, there is not even a sniff of Ali or Brahmi anywhere in the proceedings. There is plenty of Prabhas instead and really, that’s enough right there to make this a film worth watching!

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Prabhas is Prabha (why not just stick with Prabhas I wonder?), who is the devoted son of a loving father Hanumanthu (Prabhu).  The film opens with the last day of Hanumanthu’s time at college and the pledge of all the friends to meet up every 5 or 10 years to renew their friendship.  This opening section is all shot in black and white and the lack of colour ensures this section features some of the most conservative and tasteful outfits the men wear for the entire film, despite the fact that it’s set in the eighties.

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These reunions give the various families a chance to get to know each other too, and a young Prabha is smitten by Vishwanath’s daughter, Nandini.  However before love gets a chance to bloom, Nandini and her family move to Switzerland while Prabha grows up to celebrate his own last day at college with a similarly dedicated group of friends.  Although rather than vowing to meet up every few years, Prabha’s friends seem to be permanently welded to his side since they all come along for Hanumanthu’s latest big college reunion.  They all also play in a band together and seem to share Prabha’s (lack of) fashion sense (the manband!), although perhaps there is a rule that states if you are performing in a band scarves are obligatory.  The first half involves a side trip to Switzerland where amazingly everyone seems to speak Telugu, although given Dharmavarapu Subramanyam’s pronouncements that may not be quite so surprising.

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Prabha is hopeful that a meeting with Nandini will be enough to restart their love story, but there is a minor complication in the form of Nisha (Shradha Das in a very brief cameo) who is in love with Prabha.  Her father (Mukesh Rishi) is a local don and he is determined to ensure that his daughter gets whatever she wants even if that means forcing Prabha at gunpoint to marry his daughter.  Despite his threatening persona, Mukesh Rishi mainly plays his character for laughs and it’s fun to see him in this type of role blending mayhem with merriment and revealing a surprisingly sensitive soul.

While the main feature of the film is the romance between Prabha and Nandini, the relationships between the various older men are actually more interesting and appear more genuine.  Sure they’re cheesy, over-simplified and even a little too dramatic at times, but these moments give the film some much needed warmth.

DarlingDarling Stalwarts including Aahuthi Prasad, Chandra Mohan, Dharmavarapu Subrahmanyam and M. S. Narayana all work together naturally, so that they really do all seem to be old friends catching up over a few glasses of whiskey and a cricket match.  The relationship between Prabha and his father is also nicely portrayed and both Prabhas and Prabhu bring a realistic camaraderie to their interactions.  In fact throughout Prabhas is effortlessly charming despite the succession of ridiculously baggy and shapeless t-shirts he wears.  Nothing seems to fit and he’s much too tall to look anything but scruffy in wide-necked and voluminous shirts – plus the dual layered hats, inexplicable scarves and worn-off-one-shoulder bespangled jacket.

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Prabhas seems to have been lumbered with a stylist that hates him, and in a complete reversal of normal, Kajal is the one who gets to wear much more reasonable outfits.  There are a few misses, after all this is Tollywood where apparently giving someone fairy wings means they are wearing a ‘holy dress’, but overall Kajal looks fantastic.  She also puts in a convincing performance although it would perhaps have made the story a little more interesting if there had been a difference in character between the dream Nadini of the first half, and the real Nandini in the second half.   Kajal throws herself into the dancing, and apart from one bizarre attempt at what I think was supposed to be Bharatanatyam (what were they thinking!!) the choreographer has stuck to her strengths and put her enthusiasm to good use.  There is plenty of hip shaking and arm waving but less actual dancing, so she looks more co-ordinated than usual.  The choreography is a little less successful for Prabhas, but then again I may just have been distracted by those hideous outfits.  This is a beautifully shot song that features the scenery of Switzerland morphing into Hyderabad and also some beautiful CGI scenes of snow, along with some of the better outfits worn by Prabhas.

Added in to the mix is an attempted suicide by Nisha which infuriated me (completely unnecessary), a side story involving Hanumanthu’s adopted father and brother and a rival for Nandini’s affections in the form of Appala Naidu’s son Rishi (Santosh).  There are a limited number of fight scenes but with Peter Hein choreographing, they all look good and generally fit into the flow of the film.  The music by G. V. Prakash is unremarkable but Andrew’s cinematography makes the most of the settings in Switzerland – if only the costumes had matched.

Overall Darling is a film that’s not too taxing to watch and is certainly less gory and more family friendly than the recent Rebel.  Director A. Karunakaran ensures good performances from all but a sharper story would have made for a better film.  Worth it for Prabhas, Kajal and the gang of older actors who looked to be having a great time. 3 stars.

Maattrraan

I’m a big fan and I expect a lot from K.V. Anand and his writing team of Subha but sadly Maattrraan fails to deliver despite the presence of two Suriya’s, the hint of a good story and the best efforts of all the cast.  I was expecting the worst when I read about that the plot involved conjoined twins since anything even vaguely medical in Indian cinema is always replete with the totally impossible and that’s exactly the case here.  As if the ridiculous medical themes weren’t enough to deal with, the second half also has plot holes and inconsistencies big enough to swallow a small asteroid while it treads a well-worn path without any real excitement or tension. Just to cap it all off, Maattrraan also has one of the most ridiculous and unsatisfactory endings I’ve ever seen in a Tamil film!

It’s not all bad though.  The first half is generally entertaining and the interaction between the twins is engaging, but when the best chemistry in the whole film is between Suriya and himself then you know things aren’t looking good.

Suriya plays conjoined twins Akilan and Vimalan, who are almost separate, but can’t actually be separated because they only have one heart between them – which is only the start of the questionable medical statements.  Vimalan is intelligent, quiet and studious and completely different from his drinking, smoking and music-loving brother. They tend to overlook the fact that only having one heart means they share the same blood supply so if one twin was blind drunk, the other one would be intoxicated too, but logic never really intrudes on their relationship.  The differences between the two would have worked well for two fifteen years olds but seemed a little out of place in two grown men, especially since Akilan seems to be channeling late seventies Rod Stewart most of the time.

But the relationship between the brothers is the best part of the film and Suriya convincingly plays the part of the conjoined twins making them seem real rather than the product of a special effects team.  The twins are the offspring of Ramachandran (Sachin Khedekar), a genetic scientist who was forced out of Russia by the end of the cold war.  After some financial difficulties he set up the increasingly successful business of Energion, an energy drink for kids which consistently outsells and out performs all its competitors.  Add in a suspected Russian spy who is actually a journalist reporting on the connection between Energion and a health supplement which had serious side effects in a group of young Russian athletes and the scene is set for some dodgy chemistry and dubious genetic manipulation.

The film tries to ramp up into an action thriller, but since we know the villain is the rather mild-mannered Ramachandran along with his faithful side-kick Dinesh (Ravi Prakash) there aren’t many thrills to be had.  The fight scenes, especially one at the end of the first half between the twins and an assortment of thugs in an amusement park, seem to drag on forever. Perhaps it’s the challenge of the conjoined twins but even in the later fights, Peter Hein’s choreography isn’t as effective as usual.

There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for Akilan and Vimalan to be conjoined twins other than a gimmick to grab our attention.  It’s difficult to tell without understanding the dialogue, but there wasn’t enough in their relationship to fully explain why most of the budget had to be spent on creating the duplicate Suriya effect.  Especially since the rest of the film seems to have suffered as a result.  K. V. Anand films usually have great explosions, thrilling chase scenes and innovative fight sequences, but here the best of them are muted and the helicopter crash in particular is a rather damp squib.  Two brothers would have worked just as well, and although I get the nod to the fact that their father was a genetic scientist and the sequences with Akilan missing Vimalan in the second half were good, it wasn’t enough for me to justify the conjoined aspect.

Kajol Agarwal plays the role of Anjali, who starts off interested in Vimalan but then seems to change her allegiance to Akilan without too much distress in the second half.  Rather more believably, Anjali is a Russian interpreter which at least allows her to feature occasionally in the action and Kajol is fine in her role. Since the other female protagonist is the rather stilted and uncomfortable-looking Russian journalist, Kajol is also the better dancer which gives you a clue that the dance sequences aren’t anything too great either.  Even Suriya appears awkward for most of the choreography and the best thing about the songs are Kajol’s beautiful saris and skirts.  One song appears to have been shot in the Fjords in Norway and the scenery is absolutely stunning but also totally overshadows any hint of romance between Suriya and Kajol.

The basic story could have worked well, but it’s buried underneath all the CGI and far too many irrelevant trimmings that work against building excitement or tension as the plot unfolds.  Suriya is excellent and worth watching but that’s not enough to hold Maattrraan together. If you can watch with a willingness to completely suspend disbelief and don’t mind the constant clichés then this is probably a film that you will enjoy.  Otherwise wait for the DVD where judicious use of the FF button will likely make Maattrraan more watchable.