Operation Jackpot Nalli C.I.D. 999

poster

Since I started with the last film in Dorairaj and Bhagawan’s series of James Bond inspired films, it seems fitting that the next I review should be the third in the series – Operation Jackpot Nalli CID 999. Like Operation Diamond Racket, the film stars Dr Rajkumar as the suave and sophisticated Secret Agent 999 who is called in to investigate a series of outsider wins at the Bangalore race course. Naturally there is a devious villain with a convoluted plot and in keeping with the theme, the film has many other secret agent staples including handy gadgets, a revamped car and glamorous women out to distract Agent 999 from his task. Sadly, my DVD doesn’t have subtitles which means I can only make a guess at some of the plot intricacies, but at least the main storyline is relatively easy to follow.

The film starts with the kidnap of noted scientist Professor Shekar just when he has perfected a method of vaporising objects with his highly technical plasma beam machine. The criminal gang gain Professor Shekar’s trust by telling him which horses to bet on to win at the races, which works only because gang member Mena is surreptitiously drugging the horses to ensure the winner. The gang take Professor Shekar and hold him in a secret location, but to prevent his disappearance from making headline news, they have a duplicate who can take his place. Presumably the gang want Prof Shekar to use his annihilation machine to rule the world or some such megalomaniacal plan, but before going ahead they continue to drug horses to lure other businessmen into their clutches. Or possibly not, but they don’t get moving on using the plasma beam death ray thingy straight away and Mena keeps shooting darts at horses for a little longer. Intrepid Agent 444 is on the case, but is spotted by Mena who sends henchmen No 4 and No 6 off to get rid of 444. (Bad guys apparently only get 1 number as their name). After losing one secret agent, it means that there is only one possible man who can solve the problem – Agent 999 aka Prakash!

Prakash (Dr Rajkumar) lives in luxury with a bevy of beautiful women in his pad which features a circular bed and automated chairs, tables and a truly awesome telephone answering machine. However all of this is easily left behind when Prakash hears he’s needed to avenge 444’s death and find out exactly what is the Jackpot scheme at Bangalore race course. He takes with him Agent 888, aka Baby (Narasimharaju) who provides most of the comedy in the film. Sadly, without subtitles most of this doesn’t work particularly well and the scenes between Baby and his love interest Bunny are really terrible. However, as a Secret Agent side-kick Agent 888 is fine and Narasimharaju is funniest when he is simply reacting to whichever difficult situation Prakash has left him to deal with next.

Prakash has little trouble identifying Mena and persuading her to spill the beans on her employer. However the Boss knows about Mena’s betrayal and sends his hitmen to the hotel where Prakash and Mena are indulging in a song while frolicking in the pool – as you do. Prakash stops to dispose of one of the henchmen in the middle of the song, picking back up mid-tune without ever missing a beat, but sadly Mena is less successful at dodging the bad guys. This is a perfect scene where Mena’s body is found in her hotel room with ‘Jackpot’ written on the light so that with every swing the word moves back and forth across her body. Chilling, and very effective.

The Boss then switches to Girl No 2 – Mona. Mona is played by a very young Rekha and she makes an excellent ‘Bond’ girl as she attempts to distract Agent 999 from his investigation. Rekha gets to wear some very snazzy outfits, say ‘Yes, Boss’ frequently and even has a chance to torture Agent 999 when he is captured by the bad guys. Of course Prakash manages to escape and takes Mona along with him which prompts her to thank him rather profusely in song. Particularly enjoyable is the way she tells Prakash to proceed while blocking his driving view totally by sitting on the bonnet and dancing!

There are numerous fights, plenty of car chases, frequent audacious escapes and even appropriate use of an ejector seat as Agent 999 discovers what has happened to Professor Shekar and infiltrates the gang’s hidden lair. Adding to the mystery, the Boss is hidden behind a screen or seen from behind in a chair so that his identity is not revealed until the very end. The angled lighting too helps to increase the tension, with clever use of shadows and well thought out decor. It’s all very stylish and noir with added touches such as the ropes tying up Prof Shekar aligning perfectly with the lines painted on the wall and the wonderfully atmospheric arches in the lair.

Rajkumar makes an excellent James Bond, managing to look cool and unaffected by his capture and still charming the ladies even when tied up and threatened. No matter what happens, Agent 999 is in control. I think the character works so well because Rajkumar has plays Prakash with a mix of charm and competent action but also isn’t afraid to dress up and play a part when necessary. His bewigged guitar player disguise is wonderfully OTT and made just that little better by having a giant guitar for his dancing partner to use as a stage.

This is another excellent adventure with plenty of action and great performances from the main leads. B. Dorairaj’s cinematography ensures the film looks stylish and G.K. Venkatesh adds music that suits the mood of the film well. The Dorai – Bhagawan team build suspense and anticipation throughout the movie and although there are still plenty of fight scenes, here they are sharper and less intrusive than in the follow-up Operation Diamond Racket. There is plenty for everyone to enjoy in Operation Jackpot Nalli C.I.D. 999 and while Dr Rajkumar is the absolute star of the show, Rekha also shines and provides a good partner for Agent 999. Definitely one to see if you like James Bond, noir cinema or just a rollicking good story! 4 stars

Megabirthday 2016

Chiru

Don’t look now but it’s almost Megabirthday! Again!

As usual I am struggling to choose just one research topic. So far I have:

  • Break dance, Shake dance, or Snake dance?
  • Chiru the Cowboy (aka Beth’s perennial request)
  • Where did he get that hat, where DID he get that hat?

Thoughts? Suggestions?

If you post something festive for the big day, please let me know and I will add it to the er, archive. As usual I will tweet a song a day for the month of August, so join in or follow along on the hashtag #megabirthday2016. The more the merrier!

And just because I can, and you may need the inspiration, here is some Chiru with multicoloured backing chickens and Soundarya.

 

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!