Kabali

Kabali

Pa Ranjith’s Kabali is a film that could have been made in 1986 and that is not entirely a bad thing. Rajinikanth stars as Kabali, a gangster released after 20 odd years in jail. His wife and unborn child are dead, killed by rival gangs. What will he do? It’s a lumbering gangster vs gangster story on a large scale, but with a very traditional approach to conflict resolution. A less extravagant looking film than Rajini’s recent outings, it makes up in international locations what it lacks in CGI pyramids.

Rajini is such a good actor I was pleased to see him in a more pared down movie. When Kabali was speaking to foes or minions he laid on the mass mannerisms with a trowel. But when he was with friends he was more nuanced, even funny, and I could kind of see why people loved and followed him. I liked the slightly anachronistic feel, as though time took a while to get going for Kabali again so he was still acting like it was the 80s. Kabali always wore a suit, and that is explained in more detail than almost anything else in the story. I did like the outfit with the scoop necked double breasted waistcoat and hat. Sidenote – I am pretty sure I saw a guy wearing one of Kabali’s pre-transformation 1970s shirts in a 2016 scene.

Now free, Kabali has flashbacks to seeing his wife. He would see Kumudhavalli (Radhika Apte) around the house and familiar places, chiding him then breaking into a loving smile. The way he drifted back to his past or lost track of where he was during these visions made his love and the depth of loss evident. Although his future and present never quite seemed as clear or in focus.

Radhika Apte had the small but important role as Kumudhavalli. Their relationship was established back in the day when Kabali was getting started as a community leader, and she left everything to marry him regardless of their class or caste differences. Unfortunately Pa Ranjith has little idea of how to structure a narrative taking place in multiple time periods and does a lot of telling before showing a flashback, then more telling again. Their scenes together are really nice and Radhika gives her character enough spirit to make an impression even in a limited time. She is 30 playing as a contemporary of a 65 year old, but the make-up team did what they could to remove those differences and Rajini’s wig guys got to trot out some old favourites.

I liked Dhansika as Yogi, although her character went off the boil once she had established her true identity. I couldn’t quite believe an ice cold mercenary could so quickly forget how to deal with a stranger at the door, and her kill rate dropped alarmingly. But Dhansika played her with more edge than I’m used to seeing, and I liked her performance. I also liked the guy assigned to look after them in Chennai who believed there was never not enough time to flirt a bit with the hot gun toting chick.

Kabali is a leader of a gang that only did good deeds (for Tamil people only, of course), but still killed his enemies without hesitation. He was a hero to Tamilians living in Malaysia and committed to helping them stay and thrive, but his views on other races in Malaysia went way past pro-Tamil jingoism and into bigotry on a number of occasions. And how was he going to actually make any money to keep things going? He had rules about not getting into drugs or hookers, but no clear business plan.

Kabali-Winston Chao

Rival (and Evil) Gang 43 had a business plan (import ALL the drugs), and a leader who may have been auditioning to be a Bond villain. Tony Lee (Winston Chao) had an inexhaustible supply of brocade jackets and contrasting bowties (I liked the high buttoned big lapelled peacock blue ensemble best, or maybe the pink), a robust vocabulary of curse words in multiple languages, and a desk shaped like a komodo dragon. Winston Chao looks like he is having a ball and really goes for it in the big moments, while generally being cool and psychotic. He and Rajini play off each other well and despite Tony being utterly despicable I looked forward to his scenes.

Santhosh Narayan’s soundtrack is firmly of the present day, and it suits the fast and crunchingly aggressive world of the story. Also I liked the blending of hip hop and more usual blokey Tamil hero dance styles. Rajini stuck to enigmatic walking and meaningful pointing.

Pa. Ranjith didn’t quite solve the problem of how to reveal the various twists so he had a crack at everything multiple times. Rajini did most of his acting sitting down, which made this quite a talky gangster flick. And these two things combined to make this a bit slow, and not as suspenseful as it should have been. There is a distinct lack of logic that means people and things are there or not there just because. I gave up wondering if the school actually did anything education related! All any student seemed to learn was The Free Life Salute which I don’t believe would be very useful. The fight scenes felt quite slow and sometimes repetitive. A better fight director or sharper editing might have made the difference, and at least given more variety of ways to splash the fake blood around.

The supporting cast is almost a who’s who. Nasser, John Vijay, Kalaiyarasan and hyperactive Dinesh Ravi are among the ranks of the notional “goodies”. The baddies boast Kishore, Mime Gopi (yes he was a mime) and a host of others. But remember this is a Tamil gangster movie so don’t go getting attached to anyone. That’s all I’m saying.

The subtitle team did a great job (thanks rekhs and harini!). Maybe because there wasn’t much challenge in the dialogues, there were also some descriptive captions of all the many types of laughter Kabali had at his disposal. Some of my favourites were: “Smug chuckle”, “Sarcastic laughter” and “Tickled pink laughter”. Yours?

If the film was a little shorter, and some of the show and tell had been show OR tell, Kabali could have been very good indeed. See it if you miss the mid 80s gangster genre, or you enjoy watching a larger than life on screen superstar. When it’s good it’s good, and when it isn’t you still have Rajini and Winston Chao…and those natty outfits. Magizhchi!

Yaadein (1964)

1964-Yaadein-poster

There is something almost hilariously over the top about the set up for Yaadein, as the title credits declare this a “one actor only film”. But it is Sunil Dutt at the helm and in front of the camera, and he made some very interesting films and film choices over the years. Yaadein is neither as bombastic nor simple as it seems at first glance, and doesn’t come across as a vanity project.

The camera tracks through an empty house with a lovely romantic melody accompanying the fluttering draperies and stylish interiors. A man comes home on this dark stormy night and finds the house empty, his wife and children gone. Being a Hindi film hero, Anil (Sunil Dutt) assumes the worst.

He wanders around calling for his wife Priya but the place is deserted. He looked quite terrified when he wandered into the kitchen and there was no dinner left for him. What on earth!

He gets a phone call and spends a few minutes chatting with someone and seems to be cheered up after the call. But his game of manic hide and seek around the house soon turns to melancholy as he flirts and declares his love for…a statue. And then through phone calls, a note, and a lot of talking to himself we learn that he and Priya had a huge row recently, that she is good as gold and he is not so much and there seems to be another woman in his life.

Dutt uses lots of tricky camera angles, shifting perspectives, lots of sound effects, and uses objects to trigger more of Anil’s introspection and reactions. It’s appropriately noir-ish when Anil’s thoughts turn dark. Akhtar ul-Iman wrote the script and I wish that I’d had subtitles as I missed a lot of detail, but think I got the gist of it. Anil is demanding, pleading, bargaining and eventually depressed as he works through something akin to the Kübler-Ross model.

He is full of bravado when he yells at the empty house that he can cook with his own hands and straps on an apron. Then he moves on to trying to boil a kettle. Well. He is going to need building maintenance to sort out the flood in the kitchen. He is useless, especially when distracted by memories of Priya.

He relives their early relationship when he was first bowled over by Priya, wandering around extolling her virtues and mumbling “Kya Ladki Hai!”. Anil is a sensual man who appreciates the heady days of new love and physical passion. He was overjoyed at the birth of his son but hadn’t stopped to think about actually raising a child and what that might mean to his lifestyle. Especially the no late nights rule, which he breaks almost immediately, and the separate beds. At one stage Anil does a very cheesy striptease, and although there is no Priya in the scene I could feel her total lack of interest.

Despite this being a One Actor Film, there are other actors involved. There are phone calls, party guests and other characters heard but not seen in flashbacks. I couldn’t recognise all the voices and caricatures though. We see Shyama, the probable other woman as one of many airy gas filled guests at a party. I love the stylised caricatures and balloon people that stand in for other characters. A party scene is filmed in front of a very 60s cartoon panel depicting a jazzy party. Vasant Desai’s music is lush and melancholy, a perfect match. And Sunil Dutt really doesn’t miss a beat no matter what he is acting at.

His longing for Priya is palpable but when she refuses to have sex he pokes her with a hairpin and has a childish tantrum. He was a spoilt manchild himself and while he loved his kids he resented the way they forced new priorities and demands that aren’t all about him into his blissful life.

The emotional waves seem to flood in a bit suddenly. I mean, he could have just called her parents and asked if they knew where she was, or gone out to have a look. He seems so utterly sure they are gone forever despite all the things she has left in the house – her hairbrush, clothes, jewellery, her lipstick that he tastes as though he is kissing her again. But the emotions do ring true even if I think the person having them might be overdoing it. He does go a bit over the top but we are not seeing Anil’s physical reality, more his remembered events and emotions with all the distortions of time and memory, and with himself firmly at the centre.

He passes out after a particularly energetic flashback to his kids tormenting him. Finally he is attacked by toys. The snarling mechanical lion is not all that terrifying but Dutt emotes fiercely enough for both of them. His disturbance turns into a full blown breakdown, and he becomes suicidal partly because he has been abandoned and partly because he knows he doesn’t deserve another chance.

Sidenote: There is a very silly game based on the actor William Shatner. The rules are simple. If someone shouts “SHATNER” at you, you have to overact whatever you are doing at that moment. And at times I wondered if there was a prototype of that game called “DUTT”.

Despite her absence, it is the woman who shapes the movie. The gap she leaves in Anil’s life, the way he has taken her for granted, the infidelities and inconsiderate behaviour he regrets. He realises he was incredibly lucky to have her and it is devastating to him, who has always been so suave and devil may care, that losing her may be all his own doing. Everything that is good and real in his life is represented by his unseen but ever present wife. But will she return? And what will she do if she sees the mess he has made of their home? I’d have turned around and walked back out if it was me!

Despite the heavy subject and the intense focus on Anil, Yaadein is not a chore to watch and it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. There is suspense, humour, some facepalm moments, and some beautifully sensual and romantic scenes. I’m not sure I’d watch it over and over, but I certainly recommend it as an engaging artistic project made by an interesting director who had a clear and individual vision. 4 stars! (a little upgrade from my original thought of 3 ½ for the sheer vision and commitment)

Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu

GBSM poster

The past few years have seen a number of promising new directors appear in the Kannada film industry and Hemanth Rao is another to add to the list. His début film Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu has the benefit of an excellent cast, but the well-written story is beautifully developed and the blend of emotional drama, suspense and humour is perfect. At first glance it may appear rather dark as Anant Nag plays an Alzheimer’s patient who goes missing, with Rakshit Shetty as his increasingly desperate son, but there is plenty of joy in the film too and the emotional highs and lows are cleverly balanced. This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far, and as icing on the cake, it even has grammatically correct English subtitles!

What makes Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu such a good film is that Hemanth Rao tells a simple story exceptionally well. It’s just a bonus that the characterisations are superbly done and the dialogue is moving and funny while still sounding realistic and plausible. Venkob Rao (Anant Nag) is a widower who has developed Alzheimer’s and although he can remember his long ago past, his short-term memory is gone. Venkob’s son Shiva (Rakshit Shetty) has moved to Mumbai to work and placed his father in a nursing home since Venkob can no longer live by himself. The pressures of work and the distance that separates them mean Shiva rarely sees his father but when he comes back to Bangalore to seal a business deal he takes Venkob shopping for new clothes. The frustrations of dealing with an elderly and confused man while trying to buy him clothes and simultaneously talk business on the phone is eloquently portrayed here in just a few short scenes and Siva’s impatience is just as authentically portrayed. It’s nicely done and while Shiva comes across as an angry and harried man, Anant Nag gives Venkob dignity and occasionally lets a hint of mischievousness peek through that gives an insight into his personality before the Alzheimer’s disease took over.

After reaching breaking point, Shiva bad-temperedly drops Venkob off outside the nursing home and speeds away for a business dinner, but in the time it takes for the security guard to reach the front gate Venkob vanishes. Shiva immediately takes his frustrations out on his father’s doctor at the home, Dr Sahana (Sruthi Hariharan) threatening to ruin her career and sue the home although he was the one who didn’t take proper care of his father.  Dr Sahana is no pushover and hits back with Shiva’s abandonment of Venkob and his lack of egagement despite her calls and emails about his father’s progress. The dialogue is perfect, the reactions genuince and both Rakshit Shetty and Sruthi Hariharan are completely believable in their roles as they start the search for Shiva’s missing father.

Elsewhere a government official has been murdered and Ranga (Vasishta N. Simha) and his assistant Manja (Ravikiran Rajendran) have been given the job of disposing of the body. However their path crosses with Venkob when a brief stop along the way allows to slip into the back of their truck. Unfortunately the truck crashes and when a good Samaritan Kumar (Achyuth Kumar) stops to help, Ranga and Manja steal his car and haul both Kumar and Venkob along as hostages. With Kumar and his family locked up in their house with Venkob and the two villains, tension starts to rise as Ranga’s boss tells him to kill everyone and move on. Meanwhile Shiva is still searching for his father with the help of Dr Sahana and through her eyes Shiva starts to see his father in a new light. The physical search becomes a way to reconnect with his past and possibly his father too if he can ever manage to find him.

Anand Nag is absolutely brilliant as a 66 year old man with Alzheimer’s, but the rest of the cast are just as good. Vasishta Simha is superb as a career criminal who is fine with disposing of bodies but struggles with the idea of cold-blooded murder. Since his potential victims include Kumar’s wife and young son as well as the effectively harmless Venkob, his reluctance is perhaps rather understandable. Ranga is not a killer and his emotional turmoil is perfectly shown, particularly when Venkob starts to confuse Ranga with his son Shiva and tries to give him advice. His memory may be gone, but Venkob can recognise a soul in distress and his attempts to console the man who is trying to kill him are heart wrenching. Despite this, Hemanth Rao keeps everything from getting too emotionally bogged down by including small moments of perfectly nuanced humour that fit surprisingly well into the story. It would be easy to use Venkob’s condition to generate some cheap laughs, but instead we are laughing with Venkob rather than at him, and it makes all the difference to the mood of the film. As well as the sudden lapses back into confusion by Venkob, the excellent performance by Achyuth Kumar makes this part of the film memorable for all the right reasons and the mix of tension, drama and humour created is spell-binding.

Although some of the scenarios are rather far-fetched (it’s hard to believe for example that Sahana has time to go jauntering off searching for a patient and abandoning her case load at the home), nothing about the film feels too contrived and the story moves smoothly between the search for Venkob and  the cooped up criminals. Rakshit Shetty puts in another commendable performance after Simple Agi Ondh Love Story, with an accurate portrayal of a man searching for his father and finding himself along the way. Sruthi Hariharan is just as good here as she was in Lucia and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance here as the down to earth and practical Dr Sahana.

The music was a little too loud at times in the cinema, but the songs from Charan Raj are all lovely and at the right volume suit the mood of the film perfectly. The cinematography too by Nanda Kishore is good with some great visualisations of the mental distance between Venkob and Shiva. This is one of those rare gems where everything just comes together, with story, cast, characterisations and all the technical aspects flawless and perfectly executed. It works because Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu is quirky and different but at heart is a tale that will resonate with audiences. The story jumps between father and son and between present and past. There is the contrast between one man’s search for his father and a relationship that appears to be lost, and another’s search for his conscience and a way out of a bad situation. This is film-making at its best and I can’t wait to see what Hemanth Rao comes up with next. Highly recommended – you don’t want to miss this one!