Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum

Krishnam-vande-jagadgurum-poster

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum is complex, controlled, visually beautiful and highly entertaining. Taking themes ranging from corruption, environmental vandalism and the disenfranchisement of the poor to Telugu film standards of revenge and justice, director Krish keeps it all in hand, gathering momentum to the dramatic showdown.

B Tech Babu (Rana) is an actor in his grandfather’s traditional Surabhi theatre troupe, performing devotional plays as well as ones based on old films and stories. (I was delighted to recognise bits of Patala Bhairavi)  He is planning to leave the theatre and go work in the US. But Subramanyam (Kota Srinivasa Rao) dies and Babu feels compelled to ensure his final play is staged at a fair in Bellary. Devika (Nayantara) is in the region filming an expose of land grabs and illegal mining practices. She interviews workers and tracks down rural folks displaced from their lands. Boy meets girl, he is smitten, she is annoyed, but they both keep on with their work and their romantic relationship is a minor facet of the story. Their connection grows as they are thrown together under an external threat. Redappa (Milind Gunaji) is the villain of the piece. His goons threaten the theatre company and he is out to prevent any interference in his mining business so has his sights on Devika. He has a deeper tie to Babu than is initially apparent and his relationship to all the various players is gradually revealed.

It is a little complicated but I felt I followed most of the plot despite this being another Adventure Without Subtitles. I had to really concentrate on who was who, and was completely taken in by one of the plot twists until the truth was revealed. I saw this with two friends – one who dislikes seeing unsubtitled films and the other had only seen one other Telugu film – and they both found it hard going. The audience were whistling, cheering and laughing at a lot of the dialogue, real belly laughs at that, so I am looking forward to seeing this with subtitles. Hopefully the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.

KVJ backstage Babu

I think this is easily Rana’s best performance to date. When Babu’s grandfather died, there was no weeping and chest beating but a definite sadness and quiet loss. There are lighter moments and some glimpses of vulnerability as well as the heroics. Rana’s dialogue delivery and the costumes for the plays within the movie were lots of fun.

KVJ Babu takes a break

He switched between young lad about town and theatrical mode with ease. I got a sense of the character’s struggle with tradition and his fundamental sense of fair play. The fight scenes were excellent and Krish knew how to use his hero to best effect. All Rana did in one sequence was stand suddenly and the audience cheered madly as the bad guy’s knee and hip joints popped and crunched. Plus Rana has Toes of Death.

Despite his ability to carry off a choreographed fight Rana cannot do the same for the other kind of choreography. He can execute dance steps but has no timing at all. The editing was very kind, and it largely worked in Ranga Marthanda, but his shortcomings were all too evident. I wonder if now Charan and Bunny are married, they don’t have time to coach their mate. Poor Rana. But he has an excellent heroic run and he is very tall. My rowing coach used to say to me whenever I had had a disastrous training session ‘you can learn technique but you can’t learn height’.

KVJ Devika at work

Nayantara is glammed up with false lashes and shiny perfect hair, but Devika is primarily focussed on her film and the cause she hopes to help. She has some contact with the CBI and I am not sure whether they were using her to get evidence or she was informing to them. There is a tough side to her and she doesn’t just sit back and wait for the men to sort things out.

Nayantara and Rana

There is no chemistry between Babu and Devika at first as the interest is on his side and he got her offside by acting like an idiot, but it does develop. Devika described Babu to her mother on the phone but that was based on him just being in front of her and looking good so I think she was giving her mum a wishlist rather than declaring an interest. Regardless, the romance is not necessary to make the story development make sense as the characters have other motives for their actions. Nayantara conveyed a sense of purpose and resilience often lacking in filmi heroines.

KVJ Venkatesh Sameera and Rana

The music sounded too familiar at times so I wondered if Mani Sharma had recycled some of his other work. The songs pop up all over the place but they provide a timeout from the action or explain important theories like ‘media is a circus’. If you have ever wondered what Rana would look like as a dwarf, on stilts, or wearing a lilac sequinned cowboy hat ‘Spicy Spicy Girl’ will provide answers. And they solved his dancing issues by getting him to flex to the beat. Venkatesh made a guest appearance in a fun item number with Sameera Reddy and the audience went nuts. The second item was not strictly necessary (are they ever?) but Hazel Keech was just dire. Oh for the love of Helen –  hire a girl who can dance!

KVJ Theatre Company

This is such a beautiful production. Backstage glimpses of the theatre company are dominated by jewel tones, gilding and rich fabrics in honeyed light while the town scenes are sun bleached with harsh shadows. The fairground lights and shapes were used effectively without being overwhelming. The contrast between the forest and the mines could not be more pointed.  People were dressed appropriate to their characters and apart from the songs, the costume team only got away with one lurid shirt – Redappa’s main enforcer wore a fetching mauve satin with shiny spots. A special shout out to whoever designed the theatre costumes for Rana – his Narasimha look was quite something.

KVJ Rana as Narasimha

A lot of the violence was directed at mouths – people had their tongues cut out, their lips pulled at, were forced to swallow boiling water. It was disturbing at times but seemed to be a literal representation of power silencing the poor and unrepresented. The action scenes use a lot of wire work and different film techniques to heighten the drama. The climax fight merges the symbolism of Narasimha with the film hero style in extravagant and memorable fashion.

The support cast includes Brahmi in a pointless gig as a rival actor, Satyam Rajesh and Raghu Babu as members of Subramanyam’s troupe, Murali Krishna Posani as a comedy taxi driver, Adithya as Babu’s murdered father, Murli Sharma in a pivotal role and many others. I liked seeing Krish’s attention to detail in the background scenes. The Surabhi company members were often seen repairing costumes or organising props and makeup and it felt like a working theatre group.

I found Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum immensely satisfying and never dull. Krish balances dialogue driven and action scenes, and draws out the themes to make a cohesive and substantial narrative. Rana excels as the modern hero with traditional inspirations and Nayantara was appealing as a heroine with a brain. This is one of my favourite films in 2012.  I’m crossing my fingers the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.

Sivakasi

Let’s cut to the chase. Watch Sivakasi for the highly enjoyable songs, and you might find a few other little gems along the way. Perarasu (writer/director) has made a movie of two halves that doesn’t quite succeed in being a cohesive entertainment and is a bit too long. But likeable stars, some excellent action scenes, vigorous dances and a commitment to always choosing the silliest solution help the time pass pleasantly enough.

Vijay is the hero, Sivakasi. The police are largely useless against local thugs and he looks after the shop owners and residents of his area. His every gesture is underlined by a sound effect, he wears hideously embellished trousers and his eyes turn red whenever he is enraged.

In case that isn’t enough, a colour effect often emphasises the many (bad) moods of Sivakasi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perarasu also introduces himself by way of introducing Sivakasi, which amused me greatly (as did the spelling).

Sivakasi spends a lot of time blow-torching the same piece of perforated metal sheet so I am not sure how successful his business was. I suspect he was on commission at a local glazier as the number of window panes broken in fight scenes was HUGE. The character of Sivakasi is self-righteous and inflexible, and I could understand why he was single and stuck with a comedy gang as his only close friends. Vijay is good as a boyish prankster but once he has to deliver more serious dialogues, he is a bit lightweight and tends to overact in compensation. I can’t help comparing him with the other baby-faced killer in South Indian films and he just doesn’t stack up. But he is brilliant in the physical scenes, whether fights or dancing, and that is where I can more readily understand his star appeal.

Asin is Hema, the rich girl who sees no need to feel bad about being rich. She takes on Sivakasi at his own game. It’s a Tamil film with a big name hero so there was no danger of the story being skewed by her perspective but I enjoyed watching her challenge the hero.

Sivakasi told Hema off for dressing skanky and western and said if she wore a sari men would treat her like the goddess Laxmi rather than trying to cop a feel. So when she arrives in a sari with a gang of sari-clad aunties and hijras, Hema calls his bluff.

Hema is a smart girl with a good heart and a healthy dose of mischief so she is not overwhelmed by the domineering Sivakasi. Asin more or less holds her own in the dancing too, going for maximum energy and not overly concerned with technique. She is a good counter to Vijay in all regards.

Her romantic song fantasy puts Vijay in a vintage pink suit so perhaps she has a more vengeful streak than was immediately apparent. I don’t like the female vocals at all in that song (Deepavali), but the dancing is fun.

The relationship between Hema and Sivakasi starts as a cartoonish battle of the sexes, with each trying to put the other in their rightful place. It is fun but goes on longer than it needed to. Eventually the two declare their feelings but Sivakasi’s pride and temper keep getting in the way. Finding out he is an orphan, Hema accuses him of not knowing how to be a decent person as orphans can never understand love or affection. He then tells her his tragic backstory. Sivakasi chose his alias based on a horrible incident in his past, but he is really Muthappa, estranged from his well-off family. Hema says she can’t possibly marry someone who would desert his responsibilities over such an issue as it is likely he would do the same to her. She will only accept him if his family come to make an offer, showing that he has mended those fences.

And this is where the story takes a turn into flashback and revenge. Rather than just turning up at home, establishing his identity and setting things to rights, Muthappa embarks on a long and complex series of  manipulations.

It becomes a bit tedious but there are some highlights. Prakash Raj is in good form as evil older brother Udayappa and sports a pleasing array of colourful shiny shirts. He is a local politician/industrialist/landlord/standover merchant. Some of Muthappa’s shenanigans work quite well. Having found a bunch of vintage film star impersonators to support his sister, Muthappa discovers Udayappa has one-upped him and hired Nayantara (as herself)  for his rally. She ends up lured into a dance-off with Vijay, which is actually one of his more practical schemes.

Muthappa isn’t really that much better a person than Udayappa when you get down to it. He manipulates his sister to ensure her election win – reprehensible behaviour, but it does produce one of my favourite campaign images.

There is a large support cast but they made little impression as the action is all about Sivakasi/Muthappa. No one really goes beyond the stereotype of crying Ma, suffering wife, comedy sidekick, bad guy, poor but honest villager etc, so they could have been played by anyone. Lakshana as Muthappa’s sister had the outline of an interesting character as the wronged woman turned politician, but true to the mass hero style everything was handled by her brother.

Hema and the Chennai gang turn up to see Muthappa, drawing all the storylines into one place. The stakes escalate as there are abundant hostages for the taking and the unscrupulous methods of both sides come to light. But there is nothing that can’t be fixed with an all in brawl or a group hug. There is little substance to any of the characters or the situations, despite all the dramatics. I found the ending neat but unsatisfying and I think that sums up the movie.

The songs (by Srikanth Deva) are what I expected – upbeat, loud, with colourful picturisations and flat-out dancing in exuberant mass filmi style. I must compliment the backing dancers, especially the guys. They are great fun and really enhance the dances with their facial expressions and uninhibited prancing. I particularly like this song, which is Muthappa’s romantic fantasy about Hema and again demonstrates his terrible taste in clothes.

Speaking of clothes, when I saw this film something niggled away at my mind. And then it hit me. I know plots and songs get recycled – but costumes?

Vijay has at least 2 costumes very similar to those worn by Bunny in and as Bunny in the song Bunny – the red & white ensemble and the silver and yellow number. Surely there are enough costume designers to ensure a rich and varied wardrobe for all?

Perarasu also made the dreadful Thirupaachi – I made Heather buy me lunch as compensation for forcing me to watch it – so I had low expectations when I watched Sivakasi and I was pleasantly surprised. Vijay and Asin are likeable and Sivakasi is more light and cartoonish than the usual gloom and nastiness common in Tamil romance films. 3 stars!

Heather says: I first saw the opening song for Sivakasi on a bus in Tamil Nadu with the local health workers singing and dancing along which at least partly contributes to why I like this film.  Then I bought a song DVD featuring Vijay in that awesome pink suit which was enough of a reason for me to sit down and watch the entire film, even if none of his other outfits in the movie come close to matching it.   Sivakasi is a typical mass entertainer to Vijay’s well-tested and regular formula, but since that formula does work well for him it’s worth a watch.  The first half really is all about the comedy and is a bit more hit and miss, although I do like the way Hema takes on Sivakasi’s prejudices and at least attempts to stand up for herself before the inevitable declaration of love.  When the action takes over in the second half the film gets much better and no-one can beat Prakash Raj when he fully embraces the evil villain character.  I also liked Lakshana as Sivakasi’s sister, both for her performance and the rather better than usual way her character is used, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen her in any other films.  I do get a little annoyed by the alternate mild violence towards women followed by the worshipping of mothers in this film, but it’s all so cartoonish that a mild irritation is the most I can feel.  The dancing is excellent even if sometimes the choreography is less so and the Vijay-Asin combination works well considering they don’t actually spend a lot of time together.  Even though every character is painted with very broad strokes it’s still an entertaining film, and definitely better than Thirupaachi (I don’t think I’ll ever be forgiven for that one!). One of Vijay’s better efforts.  3 ½ stars.

Yaaradi Nee Mohini

This was my very first Dhanush film and the one that made me a fan, despite the fact that for most of the film his character is not very appealing at all. Added to that, the first half contains annoying plot points that seem to recur in Southern Indian films with disturbing regularity and it’s amazing that I enjoyed this film as much as I did! But it’s the performances, particularly by Dhanush and Raghuvaran, along with an excellent soundtrack and a better second half that made this film worth watching. It’s a remake of Selvaraghavan’s Telugu film Aadavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule which I haven’t seen, but it does seem a lighter romance than Selva’s usual fare.

Back in 2008 when this film was released, I’d never heard of Dhanush and the Tamil films I’d watched were all either Rajinikanth or Kamal Hassan starrers with the odd Vijay or Madhavan film that somehow made their way into my DVD collection. But then I saw this song on the bus heading out to work in the villages around Trichy and I was instantly intrigued. I wanted to know why the guy was wandering around in a total daze following a girl who seemed totally oblivious to his presence and since I loved the song too, I knew I had to find a copy of the film!

Dhanush plays Vasu, a rather miserable layabout who half-heartedly applies for jobs where he doesn’t really ever seem to have a hope of being employed. He has a couple of good friends, Cheenu (Karthik Kumar) and Ganesh (Karunas), who seem willing to put up with his morose disposition, and a long-suffering father (Raghuvaran) with whom he has a difficult relationship. But just when Vasu seems to be going nowhere, he sees Keerthi (Nayanthara) and falls instantly in love – although this does seem to be based solely on her appearance and enjoyment of the rain. Which is where that song comes in. We’re back to the disturbing premise that stalking = love for this part of the film, but as Vasu follows Keerthi he finally becomes motivated and manages to secure a job at the same software company. Keerthi is his boss, and although she isn’t impressed with Vasu, her irritation with him doesn’t deter Vasu’s enthusiasm or belief that she will fall in love with him too.

Despite never having shown any previous signs of genius or diligence, Vasu turns out to be a computer whizz-kid and manages to single-handedly save a project by working all night. The power of love I presume since he also has to teach himself basic programming along the way!  As a result he is sent to Australia with Keerthi and a few others from their team for a short-term contract. I have no idea why Selvaraghavan’s screenplay demanded that the job should be in Australia since these scenes are quite clearly shot in Thailand with Thai extras, even though director Mithran Jawahar has tried to add an Australian flavour with the addition of surfboards and a song on the beach. It’s still not very Aussie though.

The best part about the first half is the developing relationship between Vasu and his father. Raghuvaran is excellent as Vasu’s father although his illness at the time is apparent in his frail appearance, and sadly Yaaradi Nee Mohini was his last film released before his death. He complements Dhanush in their scenes together and their relationship feels very genuine as a result. As Vasu gains maturity through his job he becomes better able to relate to his father and there are some great moments between the two as they explore their new rapport. Dhanush is very believable as the young man gradually discovering his self-worth and makes Vasu’s developing confidence seem very natural.

But after such promising character development, the next few scenes are just awful as Vasu declares his love for Keerthi and is rejected. There is some completely inexcusable dialogue as Vasu threatens Keerthi for insulting his father, and his immature and aggressive behaviour here is disappointing after an hour of watching his character supposedly grow up. Keerthi also seems to act out of character but thankfully the screenplay quickly moves on and things do improve for the rest of the film.

The action moves to a rural village in the second half as Vasu is persuaded to visit his friend Cheenu after Vasu’s father dies suddenly. Cheenu is getting married to his cousin who of course turns out to be Keerthi, and Vasu is forced to confront his unresolved feelings for her as well as deal with Cheenu’s large and very traditional family. The strangeness of village life for a city-bred boy provides some comedy, and Vasu lurches from disaster to disaster as he tries to cope with the lack of sanitation and contend with Cheenu’s tyrannical grandfather (K. Vishwanath) and Keerthi’s eccentric grandmother (Sukumari). Keerthi’s younger sister Pooja also presents a complication as she falls in love with Vasu and stalks him relentlessly. I was waiting for some realisation from Vasu that Pooja’s obsession for him was similar to his own for Keerthi but sadly this never happens. Still, Pooja’s character is very entertaining and Saranya Mohan is excellent in the role. Her attempts to get Vasu to notice her are amusing and I love her fantasy as she imagines them together in this remix of Palakkattu Pakkathile from the Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini starrer Vietnam Veedu

Although Vasu still mopes around miserably for most of the second half, his interactions with the children and Keerthi’s grandmother are charming and the development of his relationship with Keerthi seems natural and sweet. There are some funny moments as Vasu struggles to adapt and since the comedy is integrated into the story it flows well without disrupting the romance. The one fight scene is rather less successful since the only reason for a gang of rowdies threatening Cheenu’s grandfather seems to be just so that Vasu can defeat them single-handedly, and as such it doesn’t add anything to the plot.

While the story is fairly routine, there are a number of reasons why this film appeals to me as much as it does. Firstly the performances are excellent and there is good chemistry between Dhanush and Nayantara as their relationship develops. Dhanush really is impressive and fits well into the role of a rather ordinary young man while still capable of displaying a wide range of emotions without veering into melodrama. His attempts to do the right thing and keep Keerthi at arm’s length are very well portrayed and he gets the facial expressions just right to portray his inner turmoil. Plus he is funny and can dance – that’s pretty much everything I need.

Nayantara has a role with a reasonable amount of depth and she does a good job in making Keerthi more than just an average Tamil heroine, while Karthik Kumar makes Cheenu an interesting and likeable alternative to the hero. All the other cast members are excellent in their roles and I love Sukumari’s grumpy and fractious grandmother and Saranya Mohan’s determined younger sister.

Another plus for the film is the soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja which has some great songs and in general they are well pictured. This is my favourite,  and it’s still one I watch regularly. I love the way the backing dancers are added in to the choreography and I think it’s  just a beautiful song that fits into the development of the romance perfectly.

There are also lots of little touches that keep the film feeling realistic such as the general clutter and disarray in Vasu’s house and the organised chaos of the family house in the village, while a shopping trip to buy sari’s is scarily familiar! These very normal scenes contrast nicely with the really quite wonderful dream landscape where Vasu dances with Keerthi which seems to be the only place where their romance can possibly happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the issues I have with the first half of the film, I love the second half and Yaaradi Nee Mohini will always be special as the film that introduced me to Dhanush. It’s not just for Dhanush fans though as all the cast are good and it’s nice to see Nayantara in a role with a bit more substance. I give the first half 2 stars, but the second half 5 which comes to a probably just about right average of 3 ½ stars.

Sivaji (2007)

Sivaji is a wonderfully over-the-top film celebrating all things Rajinikanth. There are references to the superstar’s previous films and to his own life, plenty of classic Rajni style and he’s present in almost every frame. Sivaji also features stunning sets for the songs and a myriad of different looks for Rajinikanth throughout the film. While the story has an interesting plot involving corruption, the screenplay gets somewhat tangled in the numerous set-ups to introduce the next song or fight scene.  But in the face of so much else that is fantastic, the disjointed nature of the story doesn’t seem to matter. When the first song is as much fun as this, then the film is already a winner for me. This features Nayantara in a cameo role along with an incredible number of  men with round, jiggling painted bellies – I love it!

The film opens with Sivaji returning from the USA with truck-loads of money and deciding to set up a University and Hospital where everything will be available to the poor for free. His grand plans are opposed by local businessman Adisheshan (Suman) who blocks him at every turn. To make Sivaji’s life more difficult there is the practice of bribes and kick-backs that seems to be built in to the system at every stage. Despite his unwillingness to play along, Sivaji has no choice but to fall in line and pay everyone off if he wants to get his hospital and university built. I’m quite sure that all these people in yellow hats were the inspiration for minions in Despicable Me – or at least they should have been.

Ultimately this works to Adisheshan’s advantage when he contrives to have Sivaji arrested and charged in court. There Sivaji admits that he paid bribes to get permission to build and ends up losing everything. This might have been the end of the Sivaji foundation, but Adisheshan is the one person in Tamil Nadu who has no idea who he’s really dealing with and he rashly mocks his defeated enemy.  This sparks Sivaji’s quest for revenge, and the 1 rupee coin Adisheshan tosses at him to start his begging career becomes a talisman and also funds the start of the fight back. Sivaji devises a cunning plan to restore his finances and bring about Adisheshan’s downfall at the same time.

Rajinikanth is truly in his element here as the crusading Sivaji. He still has his trademark tricks, but this new  health conscious Sivaji spruiks the ‘cigarettes are bad for you’ message, catching mints and tossing his sunglasses instead of cigarettes. It’s all a little contrived, but the tricks are so much a part of any Rajni film that Sivaji would seem incomplete without them. There areplenty of fight scenes, and these are well choreographed by Peter Hein. The final showdown features some Matrix style action and Rajinikanth pulls it off with great style. If he has slowed down a little in some of the fight scenes and songs, well, that’s understandable but it’s barely noticeable. As well as the romantic songs, there is a fabulous sequence where Rajinikanth impersonates Sivaji Ganesan, MGR and Kamal Hassan and he gets really gets the mannerisms of the different stars very well.

During the course of his crusade against corruption, Sivaji meets and falls in love with Tamizhselvi (Shriya) and despite her family’s initial reluctance and dire predictions of disaster from the priest, the two go ahead and get married. Thankfully Shriya is much less annoying than usual, perhaps because she is totally overshadowed by Rajinikanth, but I stand by my previous observations that the more clothes she wears the less irritating she is. Her main raison d’être here is to look pretty in the songs which she does very well.

Other than her presence in the songs, Tamizhselvi is the ‘perfect Tamil girl’ of Sivaji’s dreams and that ensures plenty of traditional outfits and a fairly restrained performance, making her more tolerable than usual. Someone in wardrobe really does have a grudge against her though because she does appear in some of the worst outfits I’ve seen in the song ‘Style’.  I’m not quite sure what to make of this song for many reasons. As a song extoling style it has some truly dreadful costumes and the whole white-skinned Rajni just seems very wrong. I’m always perplexed by the quest for paler skin in India, but then I’m equally as baffled by the drive for tanned skin among Europeans. I don’t like the melody or the lyrics of this song at all, but it does feature an incredible selection of amazing wigs for Rajni and is worth watching for that alone. Pick your favourite style!

And the contrasting faces of Shriya.

While the film deals with the theme of corruption, there is still plenty of comedy along the way. Although much of the humour comes from Rajinikanth and his various mannerisms, Vivek is excellent in his role as Sivaji’s uncle Arivu and provides many funny moments. Even though I’d normally cringe at Arivu’s match-making technique of parading girls in front of Sivaji, Arivu’s character is self-aware enough to make this funny rather than crass.  There is more slapstick comedy in the scenes with Tamizhselvi’s family who disapprove of Sivaji and his exuberant family. The actor playing Tamizhselvi’s father (Pattimandram Raja) has some excellent expressions and I love the way he looks as if he smells something bad every time he sees Sivaji.

On the other hand, Suman’s Adisheshan is a very mild mannered villain without any real evil tendencies. Although I’m sure this is meant to make sure that all eyes are firmly on Sivaji, he still seems rather unimpressive in comparison. His demeanour however is quite realistic as a businessman with political leanings and his reasons for opposing Sivaji are understandable considering how much the free hospital and university will cut into his profits. His methods of opposition are also consistent with his character and perhaps S. Shankar is trying to point out that corruption can be present in even the most reasonable appearing businessman.

The second half of the film relies more heavily on the effects and gimmicks, and it’s disappointing that Vivek’s character gets more sidelined. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch mainly due to Rajinikanth’s performance. The music by A. R Rahman is excellent apart from the Style song mentioned previously, and the high budget of the film is easily explained by the song picturisations. The sets and costumes are totally fabulous and both Thotta Tharani as art director and K. V. Anand as cinematographer deserve the awards they received for their work. There are guest appearances by a number of established Tamil stars including Raghuvaran and Manivannan and  the support cast are all very competent, although generally overshadowed by the superstar.

Although Endhiran (S. Shankar’s latest film with Rajinikanth), had a bigger budget and even more special effects, I prefer Sivaji. The story is engaging despite the way it jumps around and Shankar shows corruption within government systems in a way that seems quite plausible. Even though the one man crusade requires a leap of faith, it is after all Rajni and so anything is possible. It’s one to watch for the lavishness of the sets and the larger than life presence of Rajinikanth. And for all those wigs! 4 stars.

Temple says: Sivaji is what I have come to think of as a typical Shankar blockbuster in that it is all spectacle and very little plot. I think Heather is being overly kind in saying there is a theme to the story as I see it more as a collection of ideas that never really develops. Shankar introduces statements about corruption, the brain drain overseas as bright graduates pursue careers outside of India, the returning NRI and how they navigate between worlds, the obsession with all things American being seen as ‘better’ than local, the clash between tradition and modern living and the nostalgic ideals that may no longer exist. All interesting, and yet there is no real exploration of these notions as there is too much else happening. We move from fight to song to comedy to spectacular song and rarely pause for breath. It’s hugely entertaining, but it doesn’t really bear analysis.

Rajnikanth is in excellent form and this is his film from go to whoa. Sure he is way older than his character, but it somehow works as he deadpans his youthful dialogues, daring you to not believe,  and throws himself into the action with gusto. The fights have been tailored to suit him, and the music shop sequence is one of my all time favourites from any film industry. Shriya can range from terrible (e.g. Kanthaswamy) to pretty good,  and this is one of her better performances. She handles the comedy really well  (I love her expressions in the “Chandramuhki” sequence), isn’t completely overshadowed by Rajni, and does justice to the massive song sets and costumes. And she manages to look like she isn’t staring intently at Rajni’s wigs in the romantic moments so I decided Shriya may be a better actress than I had previously thought.

See this for the spectacular sets and design, for a Superstar who can dominate the hyperactive pace and attention grabbing visuals, for the music (except Style) and for the filmi equivalent of a crazy amusement park ride. You’ll be dizzy and none the wiser at the end, but it was so much fun while it lasted. 4 stars!

Boss Engira Baskaran

Tamil comedy is not my usual choice of film. I think comedy is the hardest genre to understand in a foreign language and often doesn’t translate well unless it’s purely physical. Even then, cultural differences often mean that what is funny to the writer just leaves me baffled. But Boss Engira Baskaran was recommended to me by my local Tamil DVD store as an entertaining film and I have to say – it’s actually pretty funny!

Arya plays Baskaran, commonly known to his friends and associates as Boss. He’s a happy go lucky guy who has never managed to pass his final school exams and has no gainful employment. Although he goes back each year to re-sit along with a group of other regular ‘failures’, he would have passed years ago if he only put as much energy into actual learning as he does into his attempts at cheating. His best friend, Nallathambi (Santhanam) runs a barbers salon which he acquired as a result of his rather unconventional marriage. Baskaran spends most of his time hanging out with his friend at the salon and generally making a nuisance of himself. In the course of his latest attempt to pass his final English exam he meets Chandrika who coincidentally is the sister of the girl his sensible veterinary brother Saravanam is trying to marry.

Despite the way in which Baskaran meets Chandrika and his subsequent idiotic antics, Chandrika seems fine with the idea of marriage. Perhaps she sees something in Baskaran that I don’t but he doesn’t seem like much of a catch for a well educated girl with a good job and excellent matrimonial prospects. It could be that this is part of the comedy that I just don’t get, but for whatever reason she encourages him in his quest to win her hand.

To get the girl Baskaran has to try and persuade her father that he would be an acceptable husband, despite the fact that her father obviously despises him. His sister in law and the rest of his family point out that as he is unemployed and has no qualifications he has no chance of getting her father to approve.  He leaves home determined that within 6 months he will have enough money to organise his sister’s wedding, an endeavour which he feels will demonstrate to his potential father in law that he is a responsible person who can support his daughter.

Baskaran hits of the idea to run a tutoring college for students who are re-sitting their school exams. After all, it’s a topic he feels he knows a lot about. To start the business he borrows money from the local loan shark Velpandi – Rajendaran in bad guy persona. Needless to say things don’t exactly go to plan with the college and Baskaran runs around trying various ploys to make his project a success. 

The film slows considerably in the second half and although there are some amusing moments, I don’t find most of the scenes in the school funny. The pace picks up again towards the end, although the final scenes fail to match the comedy in the rest of the film. The ending feels tacked on more as an afterthought to tie up all the loose ends. Jiiva has a special guest appearance as Chandrika’s fiancée and its possible that I may have found this funnier if I’d seen M Rajesh’s previous film Siva Manasula Shakthi and had an idea about the previous relationship between the two actors – but then again maybe not.

Most of the comedy is based on the dialogue with the best lines reserved for Nallathambi.  Santhanam does an excellent job in the delivery of these as far as I can tell and he steals the show when he appears. There were quite a few references to old films and older film songs which I’m sure were all very significant.  I think I felt much the same as a Bollywood virgin must have when watching Om Shanti Om! However, it was still funny even if I only caught a few of these – such as the salon being called Thala and Thalapathy, and the appearance of Rajnikanth’s Annamalai at a significant point in the story. I appreciate that unlike many recent Hindi films, or the often relatively unfunny comedy track, none of the humour is based on bodily functions or toilet humour. M Rajesh wrote as well as directed the film and deserves praise for his funny script and screenplay.

Arya is surprisingly good as Baskaran. Having seen him in more serious roles in Varudu and Madrasipattinam I wasn’t sure how he would deal with a much more light-hearted character but he manages to impress.  His facial expressions are more animated than I remember from previous films, his comedic timing is mostly good, and overall he strikes the right balance between ineptitude and stupidity for his character. Nayantara on the other hand is a bit of a disappointment. I expected more from her after her performance in Yarada Nee Mohini, but she seems very lifeless and there is no chemistry between her and Arya. Some of this may be due to the rather one-dimensional characterisation of Chandrika who just seems to be there as the love interest and nothing else.

While Saravanam mainly plays the straight man to his brother there is still a lot of comedy in his role and Panchu Subbu is believable as the respectable vetinarian. Vijayalakshmi looks beautiful in her role as his wife Nandhini and brings a touch of grace and dignity to the film. I must look out for her in more films as she had such a lovely presence on screen.  Chitra Lakshmanan as the father of Nandhini and Chandrika is a little too over the top, but his character is in keeping with the more typical Tamil comedy style for the father of the bride and he does well enough with this role. 

What works best is the first half of the film and the interactions between Bhaskaran, his brother and his friend.  A better end would have helped, but I was impressed at just how well the comedy did translate to a non Tamil speaker. A film worth watching as a funnier than usual comedy with an excellent performance by Santhanam and a totally different side to Arya. 3 ½ stars.