Nanjupuram

Nanjupuram

Sadly Nanjupuram doesn’t actually feature a man with raised blue veins waist deep in snakes, which is rather disappointing since I did originally pick up the film on the basis of the cover.  But what it lacks in blue-veined men, it does make up for in snakes.  Bucket-loads of snakes in fact.  There are snakes everywhere in the village where the story is set, and it’s also surrounded by a snake-infested forest which ensures that no-one ever leaves.  Or at least I think that’s the reason since this was another ‘adventure without subtitles’ and personally I’d think twice before venturing anywhere near the place!

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The story starts out with some long explanation, presumably about why the neighbourhood is such a snake haven, but does manage to convey that the locals revere the snakes and worship them rather than just moving to a more congenial neighbourhood.  Despite all the snake worship, it seems to be acceptable to kill them, just as long as they get a proper burial afterwards.  However, the big bad is to injure a snake and then let it escape.  Snakes are apparently not known for their forgiving nature and (judging by the opening scenes where a snake rips out an eye in graphic detail – awesome!) they’re pretty good at the whole eye for an eye revenge scenario.

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Our hero Velu (Raaghav) doesn’t seem too bothered by the ever-present snakes and even battles through the forest to get some classic witch-doctor style attention for one of the village girls when she is bitten.  There’s no real explanation as to why he takes such a different view from his father and the rest of the village, but then again logic has no place in a snake movie anyway!

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Velu is in love with Malar but since she is lower caste their romance is frowned upon by both Velu’s father (Nareyn) and Malar’s mother.  Malar’s mother sells goat meat and their skins for a living but also moonlights as the mistress of the local headman (Thambi Ramayya).  There is general tension between the upper and lower castes in the village and while the headman is happy to have a mistress from a lower caste, in public he abuses both her and her daughter.  Velu’s father has a more charitable approach but still doesn’t want his son to have anything to do with a lower caste girl.

The first half of the film sets up the romance between Velu and Malar although the threat of the local snake population is never far away.  Raghaav is good as the young and somewhat reckless man in love, although his terrible hair makes him look more sleazy than romantic when he is chasing after Malar.  In fact I was prepared to hate Raghaav after the first dreadful song where he tries much too hard to be cool and raps his way through a number that has absolutely nothing to do with the story.  But as the film went on he actually won me over – terrible hair and all – so he seems to be a better actor than his choice of film would suggest.  Monica is also excellent as the somewhat naive Malar, and her role gives her a character with plenty to get her teeth into.

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The second half of the film changes pace from romance to suspense when Velu injures a snake, and has to face the consequences of letting it escape.  Despite his apparent disbelief in such things, Velu is sent by his family to live in a hut set on top of some long poles surrounded by a deep trench, since the local pundits have decreed that if he can stay out of reach of the snake for forty days he will be safe.  The whole village is involved with some enterprising souls even selling snacks to the crowd as Velu ascends to his temporary haven.

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The hut is an interesting concept but seems doomed to failure since Velu keeps popping back to ground level to meet up with Malar and the ever-present snake stalking the couple seems to ensure that we’re not heading for a happy ending.  One of the more entertaining aspects of the film is to spot the lurking snake which is nearly always there somewhere!

Spying Snake

Velu starts to hallucinate snakes everywhere which to be honest probably wasn’t really necessary since we’ve already seen that there actually are snakes absolutely everywhere in the village.  However Raghaav is impressive and believable as a man slowly starting to mentally disintegrate although the reason for his breakdown isn’t at all clear.  I’m assuming that the impetus was the strain of his prohibited relationship with Malar and the threat of snaky revenge which only hit when he lost his protective talisman but it seemed to be completely opposite to all the character development in the first half of the film.

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vlcsnap-2012-08-14-00h30m59s123NanjupuramNot content with acting in the film Raghaav was also the music director and composed some of the music.  Apart from the first song which doesn’t fit the film at all, the rest suit the village flavour and are generally well placed in the narrative, although none are particularly memorable.  The film tries to mix social commentary with psychological thriller but ultimately fails to connect with either genre, despite the best efforts of director Charles and good performances from all the cast.  The physical threat of the snakes which started off so well loses impact when they become more illusionary and conversely all the tension that builds up with the hallucinations is lost when real snakes start attacking again. It’s never particularly thrilling despite the presence of an apparently unending supply of snakes and by the end I was hoping that the injured snake would finally catch up to Velu and exact some spectacular revenge.  Sadly that wasn’t the case, but I do think that a few good snake bites and Velu turning blue-veined and snakey would have improved the climax immensely.

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The caste issue probably would have worked better if I had been able to understand the dialogue, but it seemed to be the standard rich boy, poor girl and parental opposition.  There were a few new twists, particularly in the development of Velu and Malar’s relationship that did make the romance more realistic and in particular made Malar’s character appear more natural, but the story still seems clichéd and predictable.   Even with the addition of snakes!

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Overall a film worth watching if you like your snake movies with a dash of realism (but only a small dash) and prefer to see plenty of snakes au naturel rather than morphing into human avatars to seek their revenge.  It’s not terrible, and the performances are good, but a bit more attention to the story development would have helped.  I give this film 2 ½ stars but will add an extra star just for the sheer number of snakes and the fact that writer/director Charles managed to get a snake into almost every scene! 3 ½ stars.

Nanjupuram

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Mynaa

I first saw Mynaa on a flight to the UK and loved it. Although it’s a simple and fairly unexceptional love story, it’s made appealing by excellent performances from the lead actors and by the warts and all approach to village life depicted by director and screenwriter Prabu Solomon. The film is set in the lush green hill country around Munnar and Theni to the west of Madurai and beautifully shot by cinematographer M. Sukumar to make the most of the landscape. It’s a slow-paced story but the tempo suits the rolling hills and innocence of the youthful lovers.

The story starts with Suruli in jail recounting how he first met the love of his life, Mynaa. In a flashback sequence we see how Suruli takes charge of Mynaa and her mother Kuruvamma after they are thrown out into the street, taking them to his village and finding them a place with an elderly neighbour. Mynaa considers Suruli to be her saviour and is totally devoted to him despite his ostracism from the other village kids. Suruli is just as committed to Mynaa, taking her to and from school and giving the family the money he earns as a labourer. I don’t know who the child actors are who play the young Mynaa and Suruli, but their characterisations are spot on and they are both excellent. Suruli is a bit of a thug even as a child and totally disrespectful of authority but he is completely smitten by Mynaa, while she follows Suruli’s every move with devoted puppy dog eyes.

Despite everything that Suruli does for the family, Mynaa’s mother decides to marry her to an educated man from Dubai whose family live in a nearby village. Suruli is outraged and since he’s a man with a very short fuse, the decision drives him to physically attack Kuruvamma and threaten to kill her. This leads to his 15 day jail sentence and Kuruvamma takes the opportunity of Suruli’s incarceration to arrange Mynaa’s wedding. However Suruli learns of the impending ceremony in time and uses the distraction of a Diwali function in the jail to make good his escape.

Baskar, the man in charge of the jail has his own set of problems as his wife Sudha is demanding that he takes her to Madurai to spend Diwali with her family. Baskar is a fastidious man, and I like the way he takes time with his personal grooming whenever possible.

This is such a contrast to the scruffy and unkempt Suruli and illustrates the many differences between the two men. Sudha’s family are frustrated by Baskar’s seeming indifference to his wife, although it seems to be more dedication to duty rather than deliberate disregard. Sudha is portrayed as a wilful and spoilt woman who is self-absorbed and totally uninterested in her husband’s work, while Baskar seems unable to communicate with her and doesn’t even seem to try. His difficult marriage may be just one more reason why Baskar is eager to head off into the hills to capture the escaped prisoner.

Baskar sets off with another policeman Ramaiah and discovers that finding and recapturing Suruli is the just the start of his problems. On the way back to the jail they undergo various mishaps including being chased by elephants and losing their way to such an extent that they end up in Kerala. To add to Baskar’s woes, Mynaa has eloped with Suruli and her presence is a distraction plus he has to deal with constant phone calls and threats from his increasingly shrill wife and her angry brothers.

The journey deals with the evolving relationship between the young couple and the jailers as the romance lets Baskar and Ramaiah see Suruli in a new light. Of course it’s a Tamil film, so you know it’s not going to end well, but the climax has a twist which isn’t quite the one I was expecting. There is time for a light-hearted song on the bus though.

Apart from the excellent performances, what I really like about this film is the realistic depiction of village life. It’s certainly not a rural idyll. Prabhu Solomon seems to take an almost casual approach to the violence which occurs frequently throughout and is often directed against the women in the film.  Suruli is not a nice person at all despite his obvious adoration of Mynaa, and he beats his father and anyone else he thinks has been disrespectful about Mynaa or their relationship. His attacks on Kuruvamma are disturbingly brutal and her willingness to kill her daughter to avoid the stigma of a marriage to Suruli is equally shocking. Ramaiah and Baskar are just as casual about beating the prisoners and have no compunction against terrorising Mynaa to get to Suruli. There is quite a contrast between these violent scenes and the sweetly romantic moments between Suruli and Mynaa.

The intimacy of life in the village is well captured and I enjoyed the ceremony surrounding Mynaa’s coming of age when she reaches puberty. Every aspect of village life is captured and I love the framing of the shot below which includes the villagers getting ready for the Diwali celebration as well as the action between Maayi and his son. Prabhu Solomon keeps these celebrations firmly in our minds as there are fireworks and crackers everywhere the travellers stop, fuelling the frustration and anger felt by Baskar and Ramaiah as they are missing out on their own family celebrations. The interplay between Ramaiah and Suruli as they are handcuffed together is excellent and Thambi Ramayya excels in his portrayal of the hapless policeman. His character provides the comedy relief in the film and he’s although the humour is generally funny and doesn’t intrude into the action sequences, some of it could quite easily have been skipped without losing any of his character’s appeal.

Newcomer Sethu is steady as Baskar and plays his character very straight, which makes it more effective when he does break out and lose his temper with Suruli. It also provides some basis for the very final scenes of the film where Baskar seems to lose control again, although I don’t think his actions there are quite as believable as earlier in the film.

Amala Paul appears to be almost make-up free and really does look the part of a young village girl. Her eyes are incredibly expressive and she gives a convincing portrayal of an adolescent girl in love. Mynaa’s scenes with her mother are full of emotion and Amala ably conveys her character’s idealistic hopes and dreams as well as her doubts and confusion over her future with Suruli. It’s a very impressive performance, and from seeing her in other films I think she’s an actor to look out for.

Vidharth is also excellent as Suruli. He has apparently appeared in a few earlier films as a thug, and he does have that definite rowdy look with his tousled hair and scruffy beard. He excels in the scenes where he is angry and violent; however he is just as good in his romantic scenes and totally believable as an obsessed lover. As well as the great performances from the four leads, the support actors are all very good. Poovitha in particular is well cast as Mynaa’s mother and Sevvalai is excellent as Suruli’s malicious father Maayi. The performances add depth and layers to the simple story and are very effective in portraying a slice of village life.

The film has a lovely soundtrack with songs and music by D. Imman who has worked with Prabhu Solomon on his previous films. My favourite is the beautiful title track  which also has some stunning location shots.

Although it’s not a novel story, the presentation and rural setting are more unusual and while there may be some shades of other village based dramas like Paruthiveeran, the story here has a simpler feel with more naive characters. Overall it’s a well made film although I do think it would have benefitted from a little more editing and possibly one less song. Having worked in rural villages just like this in India and traveled along some very similar tracks, I felt very much at home with the characters and their surroundings which probably enhanced the appeal of the film for me. It’s worth watching for a realistic slice of village life, beautiful scenery and excellent performances. 4 stars.

Temple says

I agree with Heather that it is a nice film to look at with a pleasant soundtrack, but Mynaa isn’t a travelogue or documentary about rural custom, so I wanted more on the story and character front. Spoilers ahead so do the needful if you don’t want to know.

Film makers run a risk when they kill off the central characters at the end of the movie, especially when the genre is romance and the whole story hinges on that relationship. Will I feel the journey was worth it once I get to the end and they’re all dead?

The romantic tragedies I feel succeed fall into two broad categories. There are ‘doomed due to external forces, family or history’ films like Reshma Aur Shera or Maro Charithra (1978 version). These love stories carry a sense of inevitability and it is clear that at some point love will intersect with fate. There is heightened tension as the viewer knows the probable outcome, often before the characters seem to. Then there is the ‘I hope they make it’ type of film like Paruthiveeran. People may be at odds with family or society, but there is no mandatory death sentence. There are well realised characters that evoke affection or antipathy and have some shades of grey. In each of those examples the characters and relationships developed over the course of the story, drawing me closer, and I found the conclusions harrowing.

There are rare glimpses of something between Mynaa and Suruli but not enough to make it work as a romantic love. The relationship seemed more the obsession of a dim-witted man for a passive girl, and nothing that made me want them succeed against the odds. Amala Paul has pretty eyes but, since Mynaa spends at least 80% of her time snivelling and waiting for someone else to save her, I can’t say she had much acting scope. Suruli only has capacity for one idea in his head at a time. The writing seems to have only given Vidharth that one dimension, and he didn’t do a lot to develop the role. The settings looked natural and it was a shame that so many of the supporting characters were cardboard cut-outs, stamped ‘good’ or ‘bad’ with little else to define them as it undermined that realism. I stopped caring about what was going to happen, despite a high level of random incident and disaster.

Prabu Solomon’s direction is as clunky and clichéd as his writing. There is often little reason for things to happen or people to react (or overreact) as they do. The final scenes are rushed and gratuitously graphic. I felt that the ‘everyone dies’ climax was lazy writing and there could have been many other equally unhappy endings instead.

For my money, there is much more value and emotional insight to be found in films like Ala Modalaindi and Avakai Biryani that are entertaining and still tug the heartstrings. Seeing a woman kicked and stomped to death doesn’t qualify this as a sweet but pointless love story, and the writing overall fails to make the characters memorable or engaging enough for it to be a gripping romantic tragedy. 2 stars.

Vettai

After a lot of confusion about the date Vettai would actually release in Melbourne, the film finally made it onto a screen in one of the chain theatres on Saturday night. And it was well worth the wait! For anyone a little unsure, there are at least 3 reasons to see this film.

  1. Madhavan and Arya onscreen together (surely the perfect pairing!).
  2. English subtitles – even the songs (something that not even every Hindi film can manage).
  3. And the absolute winner – there are no comedy uncles!

It’s a really funny film with great one-liners but no separate comedy track since the humour comes from the two main leads. From some of their previous films I knew that both actors were good in comedic roles, but the two of them together make for some of the best and funniest comedy I’ve seen in a Tamil film. Add in two very strong female characters and an assortment of stalwarts in the support cast, and it all adds up to some great masala entertainment.

It’s a tale of two brothers. Madhavan is Thirumurthi, the elder of the two, and basically a wuss. He is upset by violence and is unable to stand up for himself in a fight. Luckily he has his younger brother Gurumurthi (Arya) to do this for him. No matter what the situation, Guru will come running to his rescue at the call of ‘Thambi’ but especially if it involves the chance to be involved in a major punch up. It’s a twist on the more usual story where the elder brother rescues the younger, and their relationship forms part of the comedy in the film. Although Madhavan could have played Thiru as a total coward, he makes him more timid and sensitive rather than just frightened, while Arya’s Guru is more caring and perceptive than first appearances would seem.

After the death of their father, Thiru allows himself to be ‘persuaded’ to become a police officer and thus follow in the family tradition. After his training, he is posted to Thoothukudi district where two gangs of rowdies are feuding with each other and generally terrorising the town. As the newest police officer, Thiru gets roped into dealing with Annachi (Ashutosh Rana) and Mari (Gaurav) although in reality it’s Guru who takes care of his assignments while Thiru basks in the praise of his fellow officers.

Sisters Vasanthi (Sameera Reddy) and Jayanthi (Amala Paul) are introduced by an excellent song where they discuss the ideal husband – no pencil thin moustaches and no big bushy historical ones either seems to be quite a reasonable requirement to me. It’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Nirav Shah and it’s great to have a song with just the two lead actresses by themselves. Vasanthi meets Guru after an incident in the street and despite their initial clashes Guru advises his brother that she would make him the ideal wife. Meanwhile Guru falls in love with the rather less acerbic Jayanthi although the two have to negotiate the obstacle of a potential NRI groom (Rajeev Ravindranathan) picked out by Vasanthi for her sister.

The second half is a little darker and the fight scenes become more intense and threatening as Annachi and Mari try everything they can to get rid of Thiru. Annachi attempts to terrorise Vasanthi which doesn’t work at all, and his next ploy to kidnap Guru and force Thiru into submission backfires as spectacularly as expected. The final showdown is brilliantly executed and it’s great to see the two heroines with important roles to play in the climax rather than being shuffled off or used solely as victims.

Although the story itself is fairly predictable and there are some rather large plot holes, overall Vettai is great fun. Madhavan and Arya have fantastic chemistry together as the on-screen brothers and both seem perfectly cast. Madhavan looks slightly over-weight and’ soft’ which befits his character although later on in the film he does buff up a bit as he starts to fight back. And yes, I did enjoy those scenes! Madhavan has some great expressions as he shows how flattered Thiru is by the respect he gets purely as a result of his uniform and contrasts it with his horror at the violence he sees around town. He gets it just right to make Thiru a sympathetic character rather than solely a figure of fun as he tries to dodge the rowdies and accept the lavish praise from his boss.  Nasser is hilarious here in a cameo role as Thiru’s over enthusiastic superior officer and makes the most of his short time onscreen.

Arya is literally a one-man army and looks amazing as he punches his way through entire gangs of rowdies, but still has time to rescue an injured dog. What style! He keeps his facial expression very deadpan during some of his funniest dialogues, but there is a gleam in his eye and he totally looks the part of the ultimate bad boy. He’s a force to be reckoned with in every respect. Guru’s protectiveness of his older brother is really very sweet and underneath the tough exterior it’s obvious that he really cares. The brothers’ relationship is very well written by Lingusamy, but it’s the performances that make it come to life and give the film such a solid base to build the story.

Sameera Reddy and Amala Paul are both very good in their roles. Sameera’s Vasanthi is a very strong and forceful character and she manages both the comedy and the drama equally well while establishing good chemistry with Madhavan. Amala Paul was very impressive in Mynaa (the only other film I’ve seen with her) and she’s equally good here. Her character has excellent rapport with Guru and there is plenty of sensuality in her portrayal without resorting to skimpy outfits. There is one song where she had Western clothes but the hemlines are kept reasonable and the outfits fairly respectable (by film standards at least!). Other than that, both sisters have some stunning outfits and look absolutely beautiful throughout.

I really like the songs by Yuvan Shankar Raja and they seem to suit the overall feel of the film. Sadly Madhavan really only dances in the first song, but Arya more than makes up for that with some great moves in the others.  Amala Paul just manages to keep up with him. The fight scenes are well choreographed, and although Ashutosh Rana isn’t a very villainous villain, his various side-kicks and henchmen are plenty vicious and nasty instead. Vettai is a film that balances the action, comedy and romance very well, and the star power of the leads makes it a step above a standard masala flick. I loved it and thoroughly recommend watching!