Thupparivaalan

Thupparivaalan

And he’s back! Mysskin has returned with a murder/mystery thriller which has more commercial elements than his previous films Yutham Sei and Anjathey, but still features plenty of his distinctive style. Thupparivaalan has more than a passing nod to the recent Sherlock Holmes films and Mysskin acknowledges these influences in his opening credits, but this is still a very Indian take on the detective genre. Vishal is excellent as the quirky investigator trying to solve the mystery of a dead dog, but Prasanna is just as good as the trusty sidekick, while the twists and turns of the story keep the film engaging right to the end. This still isn’t your standard mass fare despite some excellent fight scenes and the odd explosion or two, so expect to engage those little grey cells while enjoying the overall spectacle.

The film opens with a couple of quick deaths before switching to a frenetic Kaniyan Poongundran (Vishal) dashing around his apartment in a tizz as he hasn’t had an engrossing case for a while. Kani has a distinctive sense of style that extends from his fashion sense to the furnishing of his apartment. One wall is a huge bookshelf and there are copies of paintings by Vermeer and Degas that work their way into the narrative, while the wing chairs and comfy sofas evoke images of English country homes and roaring fireplaces. Kani himself doesn’t step outside without his cravat and jaunty cap, but it’s not just what he wears, but his movements and decisive walk that are part of his overall look. Kaniyan has principles too – he knocks back a huge fee for finding a businessman’s lost daughter as he reasons out what has happened and thinks the father will react badly to her return. Instead he accepts a commission from a young boy who brings his pocket-money to fund an investigation into the death of his pet dog.

It’s not long before Kani has linked the dead dog to the murders from the opening scenes, and along with his associate Manohar (Prasanna) he cajoles, bribes and deceives his way to the information he needs. Eventually the police invite him on to the case and with their help Kani and Mano start to find a more devious plot than they first imagined.

Mysskin still has an obsession with feet, and many of the shots are from ground level, but to add a new perspective, Kani has a height obsession and prefers to sit at the top of his bookcase ladder. As always with Mysskin films the staging and dressing of each scene are just as important as the protagonists and the action taking place. At one point Kani and Mano speak to Mrs Dhivakar (Simran) whose husband and young son were killed by a lightning strike and we see her in profile reflected in a mirror that’s reflected in a mirror and so on. It’s a poignant view of her pain that is very effective, and this is just one brief moment in a film filled with such insights. There are layers upon layers and I know it will take repeated viewings to pick up every detail Mysskin has managed to place throughout the movie.

There is a sort of romance too. Mano falls foul of some pickpockets in a subway that ends up with Kani taking them on as a kind of project. The eldest is Mallika (Anu Emmanuel) who is trying to look out for the rest of her siblings and protect them from an abusive uncle. In a shockingly brutal scene Kani employs Mallika as a housekeeper, and it’s hard to decide if her smile after being thrown to the floor is because she is accepting of the abuse or because she understands the implication of Kani’s strong reaction to her presence. However, Mallika’s green tea isn’t any more acceptable to Kani than Mano’s attempts and while Mallika obviously has feelings for Kani, he doesn’t reciprocate until it’s too late. Perhaps as compensation Mysskin adds a strong female character on the other side (Andrea Jeremiah), who is intolerant of harassment and perfectly capable of fighting her own battles, and for the most part Kani’s treatment of Mallika is no different to how he treats the rest of the world.

The villains in this case are a particularly nasty group of assassins for hire led by the uncompromising Devil (Vinay). Over breakfast it’s casually revealed that there is a body in the fridge, while Mysskin adds beautiful soaring violin music to a scene where Devil uses a chainsaw to dissect a corpse. I also wondered about the significance of Devil’s choice of beverage as coffee, which always appears drinkable, compared to Kani’s green tea which rarely seems acceptable. Such are the thoughts that go with any Mysskin film where every small detail may be important. Or possibly not – and that’s what keeps you hooked every time!

The gang’s actions are chilling, mainly due to the matter of fact and almost casual approach to their brutality, and their lack of emotion as they carry out their crimes. They kill a child with no apparent remorse, the death of Muthu (K. Bhagyaraj) is particularly grotesque and a scene that involves seppuku is frighteningly authentic. In contrast, Kani and Mano have a warm friendship despite Kani often racing ahead of Mano in the deductive process, and neither are afraid to make mistakes in their search for answers or become emotionally involved in the outcome.

The action too is well executed. There are a number of fight scenes that mainly feature hand to hand fighting but here again Mysskin veers away from the norm. In a restaurant brawl, none of the tables or chairs are broken despite the knife-wielding assassins being thrown around the room. Another in an abandoned room with hanging shreds of fabric is as beautiful as any choreographed ballet with clever use of the space. The final scenes though are gory enough for any SI film aficionado, but here too Mysskin ensures there is a puzzle that needs to be solved before we can reach the final climax.

The film focuses heavily on the lead pair of Vishal and Prasanna and they work brilliantly together – just as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional Holmes and Watson. Mysskin has caught the nuances of Holmes/Watson relationship perfectly here and the two actors buy into it superbly. There is emotion, comedy, drama and plenty of excitement as they work together, with Kani always that ten steps ahead of his friend. Vinay is an effective antagonist too, and he delivers an excellent performance as a heartless killer for hire. The rest of the cast, including such veterans as Jayaprakash and Thalaivasal Vijay, all fit well into their roles with John Vijay particularly good as the sleazy Kamalesh. Anu Emmanuel doesn’t have a big role to play but she manages to give her character a reasonable presence in the limited amount of screen time she has and generally does a good job. Everything else is as meticulously crafted as expected with excellent cinematography from Karthik Venkatraman showing a keen eye for the detail of each scene. There are no songs in the film but the background music from Arrol Corelli is evocative and fits well with the narrative without overpowering the action.

Thupparivaalan is an excellent return to form for Mysskin and I’m really hoping that it’s the start of a franchise of Kani and Mano films as recently reported. Although Vishal produced the film, this is definitely Mysskin’s show and he’s managed to deliver a rather more commercial film without losing any of his trademark style. This is stylish, clever and packed full of detail while still remaining a visual feast. I really enjoyed Thupparivaalan and thoroughly recommend watching for Vishal, Prasanna and trademark Mysskin style.

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Magalir Mattum (2017)

Bramma’s female centric film has a lot going for it, from the fantastic cast to the gentle mood of nostalgia and friendships that transcend time. But if you’re expecting a robust feminist statement, look elsewhere.

Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Prabhavati (Jyothika) arrives on the scene like a hero. She rides a motorbike, wears jeans and t-shirts, calls all the shots with her film crew, abbreviates her elders’ names and speaks casually to all. This is how we know she is a modern, empowered woman. She has a close relationship with her soon to be mother-in-law Gomatha a.k.a Goms (Urvashi). Prabha comes to know that Goms had a couple of very close friends at school but when one of the girls was expelled, the trio went their separate ways and haven’t seen each other in close to 40 years. She decides to use Facebook to track down the ladies, and get the gang back together. Rani (Bhanupriya) is married to a chauvinistic politician (Nasser) and describes herself as a glorified servant, looking after the family in return for food, lodging, and a little bit of affection. Subbu (Saranya Ponavannan) is married to a drunk (Livingston) and stuck at home with his ailing mother, cleaning bedpans and listening to endless complaints. Prabha coerces them all into taking a road trip for just 3 days, time to be themselves.

Bramma uses flashbacks to the friends’ college days and the three young actresses who play Rani, Goma and Subbu are delightful. The dynamic between the women hasn’t really changed, even though their circumstances and lives have forced them into different shapes. They quickly fall back into Rani being the firecracker, Subbu being daring, and Gomathi being timid but refusing to be left out. The links between timelines serve to remind the ladies who they used to be as well as showing the audience.

Prabhavaty eggs them on, wanting these women to live for themselves and stop holding back, to have the freedom she has. She is effusively informal, persuasive, and persistent. I had a bit of a chuckle at her being “like a hero” as, like many male stars, she is only about 10 years younger than her screen mother. I like Jyothika and she looks great and delivers a well-modulated performance as part of the ensemble.

Prabha says “men aren’t the problem, the system is the problem” which neatly overlooks that “the system” is largely constructed and maintained by men for their own benefit. But baby steps. Mainstream Tamil films tend to congregate at the rapey and misogynistic end of the spectrum so this is quite a departure and I’m grateful to the heavy duty star cast for getting this off the ground. Maybe that is the real feminist statement – Jyothika’s continuing film career that doesn’t require her to play Suriya’s mother!

Rani (Bhanupriya) is living a life of determined fortitude. Through the flashbacks we see Rani was the leader, always getting in trouble and loving it. Her husband (Nasser) and son Karthik (Pavel Naganeethan) see her as a fixture, nothing you need to consult or consider. When their ward is designated a ladies ward, Karthik’s political ambition is thwarted and his dad cautions him against letting his wife step out of the house to run for office. They put Rani up as their candidate as they are so confident she will never have an opinion of her own. It’s such a sad waste of Rani’s sharp mind and good heart. She blossoms on the trip away, but is resigned to going back to the status quo. But does she? There are signs that at least her kids learn to see Rani as a human being, and she does take the wheel again. Bhanupriya is elegant but also mischievous and I really wanted to see more of Rani’s story.

Subbu (Saranya) projects a polished and controlled exterior. Her life behind the veneer of her beauty channel set is far less appealing. Her husband drinks constantly, and sprawls around the house singing old love songs until he bursts into pathetic tears in a never ending cycle. While Subbu is immaculate, the house is verging on squalid and there is no sign of pride in her surroundings. Subbu eventually reveals the reason for her disillusionment and anger, and there is nothing that can really fix that. It’s just heartbreak after heartbreak as the women reveal the decisions made for them and how they live with the aftermath. One of the highlights is a sequence where all the ladies tell their story of first love, with the results ranging from tragic to wryly amusing. Saranya plays Subbu as outspoken but with an increasingly warm twinkle in her eye as she casts off the grinding routine. She and Bhanupriya dance and joke around, fire up at each other and then gang up on Urvashi.

Gomatha’s life is not explored as thoroughly as the others, and Urvashi doesn’t have the same complexity of material to work with. Goma was less well off than her friends and struggled to keep up appearances at college. She was more conservative but would follow Rani and Subbu into the fire. She loves her son who works overseas, and worries about her life after the wedding when Prabha will go to live with him. The rapport between Prabha and Goms seems a little forced initially as Urvashi overreacts constantly, but she eases off once the ensemble is in place.

The supporting cast is excellent but the roles are sketches with minimal detail or depth. The men are either jerks or SNAGs, nothing much in between. I was delighted to see Maddy as Suri, Prabha’s fiancé. I quite like slightly unkempt and stubbly Maddy and liked that Suri wasn’t a manscaped picture of perfection. He’s a nice bloke who appreciates Prabhavati, and that is perfect. Nasser, (who Goms describes as looking like an eagle with diarrhoea), and Pavel Naganeethan are very effective at being horrid, and Livingston as Subbu’s husband Mangalamurthy is the kind of man who is nice but such a deadweight that he has the same effect as a total bastard.

Bramma gets a bit bogged down in a sub plot, and doesn’t really carry all the good ideas through into action. But the film looks great, the acting is generally top notch, and it’s a rarity to see female friendships celebrated on screen.

See this to enjoy the presence and fine acting of some wonderful female actors, and for the emotional resonance of their friendship and shared memories.

Dus Lakh (1966)

What happens when a vain and money hungry old man inherits millions? He alienates his family and hooks up with ne’er-do-wells who intend to part him from the money. Is this entertaining? Yes, surprisingly so. It’s the 60s so the design is of the more is more school, the songs are brought to life by Asha Bhosle and Rafi among others, and the cast is spot on. Devendra Goel keeps it all moving along despite the actors sometimes lapsing into melodramatic wallowing and scenery chewing.

Gokulchand (Om Prakash) is a widower, living comfortably with his married son and daughter-in-law (Ramesh Deo and Seema Deo), younger son (Sanjay Khan) and grandchildren (Master Ripple and Baby Sonia aka Neetu Singh). He is obsessed with money and feels that anyone else’s good fortune has somehow been at his expense. But finally his prayers are answered when his reviled brother dies and leaves him everything. Gokulchand tells Manohar to quit working, buys a big fancy house, and goes to a hill station to practice being rich and snobby. He meets Jerry (Pran!) and Dolly (Manorama), con artists who see him as easy pickings once they get his kids out of the picture. Is blood thicker than whisky and soda?

Om Prakash and Manorama get the bulk of screen time. While I have no patience with a vain, horny old man and his poor decision making I did quite like seeing the story develop around an older less glam pairing. But it is both funny and infuriating to see Gokulchand preening as Jerry and Dolly manipulate him so easily. Om Prakash is at his best when Gokulchand is very angry or very sad, and his moods permeate the whole family.

Dolly has a son, William (Brahmachari), to her Indian husband and a daughter, Kitty (Helen) to her English husband. Jerry fancies Kitty and money, Dolly likes booze and money, and Gokulchand takes to drinking and wearing shorty shorts like a duck to water. There is a lot made of English versus Indian manners and morals, with Dolly and Kitty representing the corrupting influence of Westernised women and Jerry as a Goan of convenient morality, and William as a simple lad who can’t afford long pants. Manorama does her usual shtick and her expressions are priceless. I really loathe Dolly as a character though, and not because she was a con. I allow that women had limited options and not everyone can be a builder’s labourer. But the way she pimped Kitty out was appalling, and William wasn’t treated much better.

Ramesh Deo and Seema Deo are charming as Manohar and Devki. Devki borrowed a diamond necklace from a friend to give to Rita as an engagement gift, promising to return it. Losing the necklace on top of being kicked out of the family home drove the little family to the brink. And while there was much agonising over loss of honour and standing, Manohar simply rolled up his sleeves and went to work as a labourer to make the money they needed. And so did Devki. I realised while watching the film again that their story reminded me a little of stories my Nan told me about how she and Poppy got through the Depression. I love a battler!

Manohar and Devki are too good to be true but even when the acting gets dialled up too many notches the actors stay connected to their characters and each other. Manohar slaps Devki in one scene but in context it was understandable while not being at all acceptable. And none of the bystanders held back on telling him off. So I was pleased to see the social rules in the film were anti wife-beating. They also had some really nice scenes talking about the family or their own relationship. And that is something that the film does well. People have to sort out their own problems, they need to talk about things, and then come up with a plan. And all that goes on in between everyone else erupting into dances, fights, and silly outfits.

Kishore (Sanjay Khan) is the youngest son, indulged by his older brother and sister-in-law, and the hope of his father. He’s an engineering student and like so many filmi heroes, appears to have been studying for a long long long time. He is in love with girl next door Rita (Babita). Rita seems to understand that Jerry is a crook and that Gokulchand is an idiot well before Kishore does. Kishore is both annoying and impractical without her influence. I don’t like Babita but he is a sap.

Rita is a bit of a drama queen and doesn’t mind a mock fight for the fun of making up afterwards. But essentially she is quite pragmatic and gets things done. When she sees an opportunity to get the necklace back, she bargains hard with Kitty. Rita did look like she’d rather lick a slug but she lets Jerry hold her hand and then executes her plan perfectly. Babita faced Helen in a dance-off and then again in a collaborative dance of pre-nuptial snark so I give her points for trying.

Kitty (Helen) is not happy at being raffled off like the meat tray at an RSL, but she can’t just up and leave her family so she treads a line. She steals the necklace from Jerry, which Dolly thinks is brilliant. Kitty agrees to help Rita in exchange for Rita winning Jerry’s dubious affections and thus freeing her up for a more salubrious affair with Kishore.

While the kids are crooks, they look out for each other and try to help Kishore as they know he is being unfairly accused. Her brother William is probably the most decent of this bunch. He might steal but he doesn’t like to lie. Kishore apologises to Kitty at one point for misleading her and while she is too quick to forgive, I liked that he still felt she deserved an apology despite the taint of association with Dolly and Jerry.

Pran plays the reprehensible Jerry for laughs, and the occasional flashes of menace don’t quite land. He speaks a Yoda-esque English, saying things like “Leave not father rich” and wears loud checked suits. His expressions are even less subtle than Manorama.

I realise this doesn’t sound all that entertaining or comedic. But if you know that the finale takes place during Gokulchand and Dolly’s wedding which is also a costume party complete with a man in a giraffe suit, Helen and Babita playing keepings off with a bag of money, a duel between Kishore and Jerry, and Manohar languishing in hospital being transfused with what looks like a bottle of tomato sauce, then all is indeed well that ends well.

I have a lot of affection for Dus Lakh despite feeling that watching a family torn apart because of greed is not comedy gold. Babita and Sanjay do nothing for me but luckily they are not the main event. See it for excellent use of Helen and a whole lot of decent character actors getting more than just a comedy subplot. 4 stars!