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.

3

I’m a big Dhanush fan and since Shruti Haasan had impressed me in her last Telugu film, I was excited with the prospect of seeing them together in 3. In addition I wanted to see how Aishwarya Dhanush would approach her first film considering she had worked with one of my favourite directors, Dhanush’s brother Selvaraghavan on Aayirathil Oruvan a few years ago. The hype surrounding 3 since Kolaveri Di became such a hit seems likely to have been the reason that this was the fourth Tamil film to be shown here in Melbourne with subtitles and I really do hope that this trend continues. So it was with high expectations that I headed in to watch 3 and while the film as a whole didn’t quite meet them, the first half surpassed them easily.

3 follows the lives of Ram and Janani who first meet while they are both at school and relates their romance through three stages of their life together. The two leads somewhat surprisingly don’t look too out of place in school uniforms and certainly with their attitudes and mannerisms they are convincing as high school students. But the real star of this part of the story is Siva Karthikeyan as Ram’s friend Kumaran.  The interactions between the two friends are very natural and the dialogues between the two as Kumaran deals with Ram’s sudden infatuation are snappy and very funny. They had the whole cinema in stitches and it was fantastic to be able to understand and laugh along with the audience for a change.

The love story progresses with the usual hurdles in the form of parents and familial expectation. Janani’s family are preparing to move to the USA and she has to deal with the prospect of leaving Ram just as she has realised her feelings for him.  Shruti Haasan excels here as the young girl infatuated with her lover but struggling to conform to her family’s wishes and she finally makes a decision in spectacular style. The young actor playing her sister is also very impressive and overall the romance is beautifully developed. Shruti and Dhanush have great chemistry together onscreen and their relationship progresses very naturally. The interactions between Ram and his father (Prabhu) were also very genuine and well written with plenty of humour and a real sense of the sincere relationship between father and son.

However the promise of the first half doesn’t carry through to the rest of the film. I can appreciate that Aishwarya wanted to show a total contrast in the second half but it gets carried to extremes and the screenplay starts to drag as the melodrama goes into overdrive. The film starts with a dead body and Janani in mourning before moving into flashback mode, so we all know that there isn’t going to be a happy ending – well this is a Tamil movie after all, but the story just doesn’t make sense.

Janini spends most of the second half crying and Shruti Haasan is not an actor who can cry prettily, so the excessive amounts of sobbing become wearing very quickly. The assured and determined young woman of the first half totally disappears and while it is likely a much more realistic reaction it doesn’t make for such interesting watching. Kumaran has also vanished from the story and Senthil takes over as the concerned friend trying to help. While Sunder Ramu puts in a good performance his character is generally less convincing as most of his actions aren’t consistent with the family relationships shown in the first half. Dhanush puts in another amazing performance but it’s a role he has done shades of before in Mayakkam Enna and Kadhal Kondein so while impressive, it does feel a little overdone in the last scene. The general idea of the twist in the story is good but it seems let down by the over the top screenplay and some very dodgy medicine and ethics.

What does work well is the music. Anirudh Ravichander’s background score fits the screenplay very well and the songs are well placed within framework of the film. Kolaveri Di is certainly not as expected and although there are a few odd moments, specifically with a blonde tourist, it generally succeeds and adds a bright moment to the otherwise very heavy second half.

The first half of 3 is a delight to watch and for that reason alone I think it is worth seeing in the cinema. The support cast are all excellent and while Shruti Haasan does overact later on, Dhanush is as impressive as ever with a very convincing performance. The film is let down by an unconvincing and over dramatic second half but there is still much to enjoy. As a friend remarked on twitter, if only the second half had matched the first this would have been a perfect film. It’s still good, and an impressive debut by Aishwarya Dhanush, but it could have been even better.

Ayan

It took me a couple of films before I started to appreciate Suriya but after Pithamagan and Vaaranam Aayirami, I began to understand why so many people raved about him. The lovely Dolce recommended this film in a comment and after watching I am indeed a complete Suriya convert! Although the film is standard masala action fare with a paper-thin storyline, what makes it stand out are excellent performances from the lead actors and good well-rounded characterisations. In particular the scene-stealing Jagan Ayan is a surprise bonus in his role as a friend to Suriya’s character Deva.

The story follows a bad guys vs. good guys format although the good guys are smugglers and not exactly on the side of law and order. Suriya is Deva, an MSc graduate in computer engineering who works as a smuggler for his deceased father’s friend Dass (Prabhu). Despite his criminal activities, Dass has principles and refuses to smuggle drugs, preferring to deal in pirate DVD’s and diamonds. Now these seem to be at opposite ends of the smuggling scale to me, and I can’t imagine anyone being involved in both, but it’s not the most glaringly hard to swallow plot point, so it’s probably best not to dwell on it.

Dass is at the top of his game and apparently ranks as the number one smuggler in Chennai, a fact which does not go down well with his rival Kamalesh (Akashdeep Saigal). Kamalesh is a fairly pathetic villain, who has plenty of ambition but not much else going for him. Rather incongruously for a wannabe tough guy, he has very long hair, which he tosses back at every available opportunity and looks more like an aspiring supermodel than gangster. As far as criminal activities go he’s inept and bungling and, since Kamalesh looks like someone who wouldn’t manage to get an extra bottle of wine through customs let alone diamonds, his attempts to be top smuggler appear to be doomed to failure.

Chitti (Jagan Ayan) turns up as a hopeful member of the gang and after he does Dass a favour, is accepted into the group. He rapidly becomes an indispensable part of the team and Deva’s best friend, and the two have some excellent chemistry together. Jagan Ayan is brilliant as Chitti and I love the way his character is well developed and detailed for a non-hero role. Chitti has many shades of grey and this, along with the fact that his motivation is simply to make more money and enjoy life, makes him a more realistic character than expected from his first appearance.

Although Chitti’s character provides most of the comedy in the film, he does have a more serious part to play in the proceedings later and is just as good in the more dramatic moments. There isn’t a separate comedy track thankfully, and all of the comedy is integrated well into the main story. Deva also gets his fair share and this song features a number of ‘disguises’ worn by Deva – many of which are actually characters from his previous films. While I think he disproves the stereotype of heroes in drag and actually makes a passable woman, the long shaggy hair here is a definite no!

The other full time member of the group is Dilli (Karunas) who has a minor, but still vital, role to play and acts mainly as a driver for the others. There are a few other gang members who come and go, but the secret of Dass’s success seems to be in keeping his operation small and well hidden behind the front of a garbage disposal company. However in spite of all his precautions, the gang is continually raided by the police and Dass begins to suspect that one of the group is selling them out to Kamalesh.

The diamonds storyline means that the action shifts to ‘The Congo’ in Africa although the filming apparently took place in Tanzania and Namibia. It does make a change from various European locations at any rate and director K. V. Anand seems to have involved quite a few locals to good effect. Although all of the film is very well shot, this section in particular features some excellent cinematography from M. S Prabhu. It also includes possibly the best chase sequence I’ve seen in a Tamil film so far. After Deva collects the diamonds via an inexplicably convoluted system of torn banknotes and secret codes, they are stolen from his hotel room. He chases after the thief who has a very large circle of friends available who keep passing the diamonds to each other and keep Deva always just one step behind. The chase has a number of parkour-inspired sequences and is cleverly directed by South African stunt co-ordinator Franz Spilhaus to look fast, slick and very convincing.

After all the action, time for some romance. Chitti has a sister, Yamuna (Tamanna) and everyone seems just as baffled as I was that they are actually siblings.

They look nothing alike, and the difference is mentioned quite a few times in Yamuna’s introduction. However Yamuna does appear to have rather good taste in men, considering that her room has a number of Shah Rukh Khan pictures on the wall (I approve!) and of course she falls in love with Deva. She’s not a shrinking violet either and is quite happy to pounce on Deva at every available opportunity. And really, who can blame her!

The love story is fairly straight forward without any major obstacles although Chitti has some of the best lines as he teases his sister and friend about their relationship. Suriya and Tamanna make a sweet and reasonably credible couple even if they fall in love rather quickly and the romance only makes fleeting appearances in the second half of the film. Tamanna looks beautiful and her character has plenty of personality which she conveys by some excellent facial expressions. I really like Tamanna as an actress and she manages to be more than just the love interest, which is always an achievement in such a very hero-centric film.

Just before the interval the traitor in the gang is revealed and once the plot twist is exposed the rest of the film loses most of the suspense and tension and becomes just another action flick. At least until near the end, where everything picks up again until the rather OTT climax fight.  The second half does tend to drag in parts and it’s not helped by the rather odd placement of the songs which mostly just disrupt the story. There is one terrible item song with Koena Mitra featuring a noticeable lack of dancing and dreadful lyrics which is used during a scene in a club and could very easily have been replaced with random dancing bodies for a more watchable effect. However a rather graphic depiction of the realities and consequences of becoming a drug mule is excellently done, and there are some great car chase sequences and explosions in the second half which almost make up for the meandering plot.

The film seems designed mainly to allow Suriya to show off his action hero persona and on that level it works well. He looks fit and capable and perfectly plays the action, romantic and comedy scenes, easily switching between the different moods and illustrating his versatility. The other characters are also well developed with both Chitti and Dass having plenty of input into the storyline and their presence also helps to define Deva’s character. Prabhas is excellent as Dass and injects a surprising amount of dignity into his role as a smuggler. The relationship between Dass and Deva is also nicely portrayed and there is genuine warmth between the characters. Renuka is good as Surya’s mother Kaveri and the other support actors all seem to fit well into their parts. Ponvannan also makes an appearance as Partiban, the harrassed Police officer in charge of customs at Chennai Airport who searches Deva on a fairly regular schedule. It’s really only Akashdeep Saigal who disappoints in both characterisation and dialogue.

Despite the unconvincing criminal Kamalesh, I really enjoy watching this film. There is plenty of action, good chemistry between Suriya and Tamanna, (although better between Suriya and Jagan) and the movie looks slick and polished. It just needs a snappier script and tighter story to make better use of the clever twists in the plot.  Still well worth a watch if you are a Suriya fan or enjoy a mass action film which keeps the action coming. 3 ½ stars for the action, story and overall film but 5 stars for Suriya!