Nandanam

Nandanam

Nandhanam is based on the King Cophetua and Penelophon story and while it’s a fairly typical tale of a rich(ish) young man falling in love with the family maid and the various dramas that ensue, there are enough novel moments to make it more involving than it first sounds. The story is simply told, the characterisations are beautifully drawn and the actors all play their parts with ease. This was Prithviraj’s debut Malayalam film and he’s ably supported by some stalwarts of the industry along with a brilliant Navya Nair as Balamani. In fact it’s her performance that really lifts this film above average and it’s worth a watch just to see her character deal with the various obstacles in her path to true love.

Balamani is a young orphan working as a cook and general helper to Unniamma (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) who has been incapacitated with a leg injury. Balamani is a devoted follower of Lord Krishna and her biggest problem is that since she started working for Unniamma she has been too busy to go to the local temple. It’s a recurring theme which becomes more and more important as the story progresses. She is kept hopping from the early hours of the morning by three older women who were brought to the house by Unniamma’s friend Kesavan Nair (Innocent) to act as servants but all three prefer to be waited on hand and foot by Balamani. The interactions between the three servants and Balamani are funny and cleverly scripted as Balamani looks after them and somehow fulfils all their ceaseless demands, but simultaneously pulls faces behind their backs and berates them as lazy to their faces.

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Balamani seems to have endless patience despite her grumbles and she is genuinely kind-hearted and caring in her dealings with Unniamma, and even with the other three servants. They bicker and complain continuously to each other about each other, although they never seem to either take any offence or mean any of it seriously. I love these three and they have some of the best lines in the film – although that might just be the English translations!

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One of the best parts of the film for me is the way Balamani talks to herself and also to the picture of Lord Krishna she keeps in her room. In fact she talks to the animals she looks after, the plants she waters in the garden and anything else that seems to catch her eye. I can totally relate to this aspect of her personality and it made her a more human and sympathetic character. Her main confident in these discussions is Lord Krishna and she complains to him about not being able to go to his temple and about the amount of work she has to do, although none of it is with any rancour.

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Added in to the story are the next door neighbour Janaki (Kalaranjini) who is a friend of Unniamma’s daughter and is waiting for her son to come home on a visit. Janaki is another confidante and she tries to minimise her exploitation by the three older servants.

Things change when Unniamma’s grandson Mano (Prithviraj) arrives for a short stay before he leaves for work in the USA. He starts to flirt with the vivacious Balamani but before long it turns into something more serious and the two fall in love. But it’s not a straight forward filmi romance and the dialogue helps keep it realistic. Balamani asks Mano if he is really serious or if this is just a brief fling to keep him amused before he leaves the country. Mano in turn seems to be quite sincere when he answers that it started out that way, but has become something more serious. Balamani is also aware of her lowly status in comparison to Mano and is wary of the relationship, although she is obviously flattered and very much in love with Mano. Prithviraj seems subdued as Mano, compared to other roles I have seen, but it suits his character and he combines an air of experience with just enough of the mama’s boy to make Mano a believable character. Mano does seem to be a bit of a wimp and most of the problems Balamani faces are due to his lack of gumption and resolve.

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Just when things seem to be going so well, Mano’s mother (Revathy) turns up and decides to arrange his marriage before he leaves for America. Pesky details such as visas are never discussed and it seems to be no trouble to organise a wedding in just a few weeks, so obviously here is where we start to depart from real life! Thankam doesn’t discuss her plans with Mano, while Mano is slow to approach his mother about his plans to marry Balamani, with the end result that he is betrothed to the daughter of one of Thankam’s friends before he can make his wishes known. Thankam is a widow who defied her family to go to work and bring up her son alone, so she’s definitely not a soft touch and has no hesitation in telling Mano that the match will go ahead no matter what he wants.

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However Thankam is also distressed to have caused her son such unhappiness, particularly since she likes Balamani, but it’s not enough for her to upset the arrangement she has made. The family dynamics are further explored when all the relatives arrive for the engagement and wedding with many complaints about the precipitous nature of the affair. Writer/director Renjith emphasizes the solitary state of the groom compared to all the family hustle and bustle with the wedding preparations and the frantic work being carried out by the servants, including Balamani.

Meanwhile Janaki’s son has arrived – or has he? Balamani meets the person she thinks is Unnikrishnan (Aravind Akash) and is soon on very friendly terms; even confiding her innermost thoughts to him while he appears to already know her hopes and dreams. I was a bit sceptical of Aravind as Guruvayurappan at first but he did seem to embody the mischievousness nature of Krishna with a singular lack of concern about the consequences of his actions. Plus he can dance!

The addition of the divine into the narrative is cleverly done and never seems out of place, despite the generally modern feel of the rest of the story. However there is a terrible comedy side plot which is somewhat related to the main story involving Jagathis Sreekumar as a duplicitous priest. It’s never funny and most of Jagathis antics could have been left out without causing any disruption of the plot, so his inclusion does seem to be more a ‘film-making by the numbers’ rather than for any real addition to the storyline.

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Navya was perfect as Balamani and I loved her characterisation. There was enough back story to ensure that her actions reflected her personality and her mannerisms suited her youthful and innocent persona. Although the romance between Balamani and Mano doesn’t generate much heat, it is rather sweet and works in the context of their different status and the way the love story develops. There is rather more chemistry when Balamani meets Guruvayurappan, although the relationship is more one of two old friends who are comfortable with each other rather than anything romantic. Ranjith ensures that the interactions between the different characters are believable and illustrate perfectly both their personalities and their places within the hierarchy of the household. These help the film keep a sense of realism even with the addition of Lord Krishna into the mix and the rather fairy tale nature of the story
The music by Raveendran is beautiful, and of course it’s a Malayalam film so it looks stunning with wonderful cinematography by Azhagappan. Worth watching for a new take on an old story, fantastic performances, great dialogue and a scintillating performance from Navya Nair. 4 stars.

Nandanam

Kanaa Kanden

This was K.V. Anand’s directorial debut in 2005, and like his film Ayan it is based on a novel by Subha (D. Suresh and A.N. Balakrishnan). Since Subha were also scriptwriters for the excellent Ko, I had high hopes for Kanaa Kanden, and it doesn’t disappoint. Sure, there are a few flaws and Vivek’s comedy in particular feels forced and often inappropriate, but the performances from the leads are excellent and the story suspenseful and gripping right to the end. What starts out as a love story with the innocent and idealistic hero struggling to make his mark in the world, suddenly becomes a much darker thriller with unexpected twists and a climax that makes use of science as well as some good old-fashioned biffo.  It’s different, often surprising and even manages to make desalination sexy!

Srikanth is Bhaskar, a rather idealistic PhD student who has found a way to make pure water cheaply from sea-water using the rather improbably titled technique of Quantum Chromo Dynamics. It’s a work of love in many ways as his mother was a water carrier whose labours paid Bhaskar’s way through school and her daily struggles inspired him to find a better way to supply water. He’s also influenced by the water shortages in the city as he sees the people of his neighbourhood queue for the water trucks on a daily basis.

Indeed – what does Quark theory have to do with desalination?! However, it sets the scene for Bhaskar’s rather naïve idea to give his patented technique to the government as a way to provide cheap potable water for everyone, but despite the (eventual) stamp of support from his university he fails to get any government interest in his project. Bhaskar is an everyday guy with a big heart and even bigger ideas, but his innocence seems to work against him in his struggle to realise his dreams. Luckily he has plenty of support from both his glamorous college mentor Vasantha and his new wife Archana (Gopika). Srikanth suits the character of the slightly scruffy scientist and does a great job of blending the characteristics of a typical work obsessed engineer with those of an idealistic dreamer and a guy with a messy bedroom.

The film actually opens with Archana’s wedding, but it’s not Bhaskar who is the groom. Bhaskar has gone back to his village for the wedding of his childhood friend, and if he’s not totally happy about the fact that she is getting married to someone else, he doesn’t give anything away to the bride. But then Archana discovers that her groom is unfaithful and she calls off the wedding, finally leaving with Bhaskar to escape her brother’s anger. Although she moves to Chennai with Bhaskar as his friend, it’s not long before the friendship deepens into romance and the two get married. The romance is sweet and also very uninhibited with Archana just as happy as her husband to initiate kulfi moments (as she calls them).

Both Srikanth and Gopika have some great on-screen chemistry and their relationship is kept realistic with a mix of romance, friendship and just a little conflict. This is the second film I’ve seen with Gopika and she really has a very expressive face. Her reactions are also very natural and she is practical and down to earth opposite to Srikanth’s obsessive scientist.

Bhaskar decides that the only way to get his idea off the ground is to build a prototype factory and let his results speak for themselves. Vasantha has some land which she donates to Bhaskar for his project, but he still has to raise funds for the factory. At this point Archana meets up with an old college friend Madan (Prithviraj) and since he is a business consultant, he offers to help Bhaskar find funding for his project. In what seems to be the answer to Bhaskar and Archana’s prayers, Madan finally offers to lend Bhaskar the money himself, but in reality this is just the start their problems.

Prithviraj is outstanding in his role as the smooth talking Madan and his ultra-controlled and polished businessman provides a good contrast to the passionate Bhaskar. It’s hard to say much about his character without giving away too much of the story, so I’ll just say that you have to watch to find out why he makes such a good villain and why I ended up loathing Madan.

There are a few plot holes and in particular a decision made by Archana which doesn’t seem to fit into the rest of the story, but the rest is excellent. The only other problem I have with Kanaa Kanden is the comedy track with Vivek which was too long and too obtrusive. Vivek can be funny, and he did have a few one-liners which made me smile, but there was just too much of him in a side-plot which was totally irrelevant to the rest of the story. There are so many clever little touches in the rest of the film that it’s disappointing that K.V. Anand felt the need to include such clichéd comedy. The songs by Vidyasagar are pleasant but fairly forgettable and the item song seems totally unnecessary – particularly since there was very little actual dancing. This one is quite fun though with Bhaskar, Archana and Madan burning up the dance floor and generally looking like they are thoroughly enjoying themselves.

I really liked the theme of water which runs through the film, and the bid to raise awareness of an issue which is a problem in many major cities around the world. To emphasize this central theme, water appeared in some way in many scenes. This was often just in the background, such as the slum children bringing water to the men building the desalination plant, or the bottles of drinking water outside the bank where Bhaskar unsuccessfully applies for a loan. It’s a small touch but one that works very well and shows the amount of detail in the film.

The cinematography by S. Soundar Rajan is excellent and the shots are beautifully framed. There is a fight scene in the forest where the action is all slightly blurred which gives a sense of the confusion and disorientation Bhaskar experiences and is just one of the techniques used to add texture to the film. Worth watching for a more unusual storyline, an earthy and realistic romance and for Prithviraj’s quite detestable villain. 4 stars.

Mozhi

Mozhi starts with some beautifully animated music unfolding across the screen and it’s an excellent lead in to a romantic comedy that never hits a flat note. With a cast featuring Prithviraj, Jyothika, Prakash Raj and Brahmi along with very competent support actors it’s an absolute treat to watch and the story, although simple, provides plenty of scope for their combined talents.  There are plenty of genuinely funny moments along with a few tear-jerkers, but it’s the characters and in particular the bromance between Prakash Raj and Prithviraj that really stands out and makes this film something special. The two have great chemistry here and whether they’re at work together or out celebrating, their relationship feels warm and genuine, and this sincerity underlies the entire movie.

The film tells the story of the romance between Karthik (Prithviraj) and Archana (Jyothika) but woven through is the relationship between Karthik and his best friend Viji (Prakash Raj) as well as glimpses into the lives of other people in their apartment block. Karthik and Viji work in the film industry under Vidyasagar; also the name of the real-life music director and composer for the film. I love that Tamil cinema uses the film industry as part of the background setting without making it glamorous or over dramatic, but instead portrays the work as just another job - albeit rather a well-paid one. Karthik and Viji are seen adding music to a film clip and director Radha Mohan uses this opening scene to beautifully illustrate the difference when a silent scene is set to music. This becomes significant later on as the story develops and it’s a technique throughout the film to add more depth and layers to the characters.

Karthik and Viji move into an apartment together in a block of flats managed by V. Ananthakrishnan (Brahmi), and almost straight away they are at odds with the flat manager as he informs them that bachelors are strictly not welcome. This sets up some of the comedy in the film but for a change Brahmi’s role is fairly substantial and he’s not the main focus of the humour. Instead Prakash Raj and Prithviraj handle most of the comedy between them, and they do an excellent job. One of my favourite scenes is where they both repeatedly crack-up in a lift after visiting Brahmi in hospital, but there are so many funny scenes with the two together and they both seem to be having a great time. This is such a good song with both of them dancing and again, they seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Another bonus comedy moment is watching Prakash Raj wearing only a towel dancing in gay abandon to the strains of Hava Nagila,the consequence of which also gave me a new Indian idiom to add to my vocabulary! Apologies for the poor quality of the screen caps, but the film quality isn’t great and Prakash Raj just doesn’t stop!

Dismayed at the prospect of losing their flat which they have very snazzily decorated with some fantastic sculptures, the two conspire to get round Ananthakrishnan. The obvious answer is for one of the two to get married, but Karthik is a romantic and believes that he will see lights and hear bells when he finds his true love. While Viji is more sceptical he’s not in any rush to get married either so the two try various strategies to ingratiate themselves with the landlord.  Along the way they meet some of the other characters in the building and with each vignette more of their personalities are revealed. It makes for an air of realism in the film as the various other inhabitants go about their usual daily routines. The security guard (Balaji), Ananthakrishnan’s level-headed wife Janu (Sriranjani) and his gluttonous son add some more comedy along with Preethi (Neelima Rani) who has eyes only for Karthik. M.S. Bhaskar plays the role of a professor whose mind has been stuck in the eighties since experiencing a personal tragedy and his sad story is used to reveal more of Karthik’s own generous nature.  Everyone’s little idiosyncrasies are all used to good effect and each character has something to add to the story.

Karthik first sees Archana in the street beating up a vegetable seller for abusing his wife. It’s an unusual introduction and as well as being the only fight in the whole movie, it’s a pleasant change for the hero to admire the heroine’s dishooming capabilities. Karthik gets his lights and bells and immediately falls in love with Archana which is one of the few totally filmi moments.

After the delight of finding that Archana lives in his block of flats, Karthik discovers that she is a deaf-mute who has a major chip on her shoulder after her parents’ marriage fell apart. In an effort to learn more, Karthik meets Archana’s friend Sheela and learns sign language to be able to communicate. However the path of true love doesn’t run smoothly and Karthik is left teary and broken-hearted as Archana firmly refuses to entertain the thought of marriage.

This was Jyothik’s last role before she retired from acting and it really seems such a loss when she brings such a rich characterisation to her role as here. Jyothika uses her incredibly expressive eyes and various facial expressions to convey her feelings and nicely avoids the temptation to overdramatise to get her message across clearly. It’s impressive to watch Archana’s character develop as she doesn’t have any dialogue in the film and everything is communicated by expressions and gestures. And yet it’s clear to see Archana slowly evolves from a very angry and bitter young woman into someone who learns to see past her own insecurities. Karthik tries to understand her world and help her understand his, but since he goes about this by having Viji stuff his ears full of cotton wool it’s perhaps not surprising that he ends up totally misunderstanding her.

Apart from her ever present anger and commitment issues, Archana is portrayed as a very normal young woman with a steady job who just happens to be deaf and dumb. It’s a different take on disability and Archana’s perception that she is just a person who ‘speaks’ silence rather than a language of words is interesting.  Karthik’s acceptance of Archana with all her flaws and prickly nature is a measure of his maturity and common sense and if his enthusiasm leads him to make mistakes in their relationship, he is able to rethink and change his approach. All of which makes them seem like any typical young couple which makes it easy to understand and connect with their feelings. While Prakash Raj is excellent as Karthik’s friend, Swarnamalya is perfect as Sheela. Her character’s practicality and common sense serve as a contrast to Archana’s more emotional responses but she is still very sweet and looks beautiful as the romance between her and Viji develops.

There is so much I love about this film. The characters are wonderful and there are so many well-written scenes with clever and snappy dialogue. The songs are beautiful and this is probably my favourite melody while the picturisation neatly sums up the relationship bewteen Archana and Karthik.

Despite only recently having acquired the DVD with subtitles (and a very big thank-you to Temple and Suja for the recommendation), Mozhi has quickly become one of my favourite films and I’ve watched it numerous times already. It’s very funny and it makes me laugh time after time, but there are plenty of poignant moments too which keep the film very balanced. Excellent performances from all involved and an interesting storyline make this a very watchable film that I highly recommend. 5 stars!

Temple says:

There are many things I really like about Mozhi, and one is the very appropriate theme of language and communication. Jyothika in particular is wonderful at conveying so much by expression and sign, showing that language isn’t just about words.  So there are lots of really nice moments of communication and understanding or misunderstanding.

Prakash Raj is a delight, and I always like to see him do a bit more than his usual Prakash Dad or Prakash Bad roles. But this is Jyothika’s film in my opinion. She owns every moment she is on screen, and Archana is such a vivid character as result of her seemingly effortless performance. I was almost annoyed when Archana started to ‘speak’ via voiceover when Karthik found he understood her as she was so good at communicating without words. I’m not convinced by Prithviraj – I find he ranges from bland to adequate, and he only seemed to shift gears in a couple of scenes in this film.  Some of my reservations are down to the writing as everything is a bit too neat and too easy for Karthik. He adapts to people’s quirks and differences with barely a pause for breath, everyone instantly believes him and helps him with Archana, he learns sign language very quickly and with few errors, and almost turns into Mother Teresa. Archana’s personality was so complex and real that Karthik was flimsy in comparison, and he didn’t show much depth until quite late in the film.  Archana’s friend and colleague, Sheela (Swarnamalya) was a much more interesting character. Archana and Sheela were both bright capable women, and were a good balance for each other. The bromance between Viji and Karthik was a bit hit and miss due to me not finding Karthik particularly believable but has its moments. I was much happier when Viji found someone else to love (even if her wedding outfit was completely hideous)!

Unfortunately most of the comedy is dire. I found myself speculating, quite against my will, as to what Brahmi could have seen when Prakash Raj’s towel dropped that would have him almost hospitalised with conniptions. There are fat jokes, Prithviraj hamming it up in a wheelchair and other really dumb schoolboy stuff that was tedious and unnecessary.

See it for an interesting story idea, Jyothika in brilliant form, and Prakash Raj kicking his heels up in a fun role. 3 1/2 stars.