In some ways Ozhimuri was a hard film to place. Many of the plot summaries around made it sound like a fairly dry film about legal and social change in Kerala with the cessation of matrilineal inheritance. The posters tend to position it as a cute romance, which is not the focus, or push a love = violence angle which is unpalatable and also not really the point. Ozhimuri is not a heavy message film, nor is it a simple “boy with angry dad meets girl”. It’s a beautifully engaging story of three generations of family, the tensions and unexpected similarities between family members.

Director Madhupal uses a concise montage to set the scenes with images of females, human and divine, sitting at the feet of males, then older images that show the reverse. The titles use scenes at a big religious festival (My goodness! Those children must be terrified!), and meandering through beautiful countryside to embed the story in rural and traditional culture.

Meenakshi (Mallika) files for separation, citing harassment. Despite being described as a “dead dog” at the age of 55, she wants her independence. But she wants some property of means of support, having been made to sign hers over to her husband. Thanu (Lal) doesn’t seem to want his wife but will not relinquish any property. The legal argument then hinges on whether she is entitled to get alimony. His young female lawyer Balamani (Bhavana), who you might expect to support a woman seeking independence, joins the chorus of naysayers telling Sharath (Asif Ali) to persuade his parents to stay together. He tries to persuade Balamani of his father’s cruelty, and as they spend time together their own relationship deepens. Kali Pillai (Shweta Menon), is a strong influence on all aspects of Thanu’s life, and not in the usual doting ma and son way. Described as a queen, with the gait and power of an elephant, she is a strong if remote figure.

Madhupal uses flashbacks to great effect, both filling in the past and showing different perspectives on incidents. Things that seem black and white become ambiguous, and characters also become more complex and realistic. One of the most rewarding things about watching Ozhimuri was the way more is revealed, completely changing my view without ever being untrue to the characters.

Lal plays Thanu and Thanu’s dad Sivan. Thanu is a hard case but as things are revealed the influences driving his behaviour make him if not sympathetic then relatable. Sivan is a rumbly giant of a man, sentimental and simple. Lal plays Sivan with a twinkle in his eye and Thanu with a perpetual sour twist to his mouth. There is more than just anger driving Thanu. He has mother issues, and he hates and fears strong women. What we would call a street angel and house devil, Thanu is a doting father in his own way and has his father’s softness underneath his mother’s harshness. Lal is compelling throughout. I felt sad for jolly Sivan, and for the boy who would grow up without his warm hearted dad. Lal plays Thanu in such a way that he gained my empathy without resorting to trite sentimental tricks.

Meenakshi is the unsung hero of the film for my money. Mallika brings dignity and grace to Meenakshi, showing her as a woman who endures rather than fights, but who is strong and resilient in her non-confrontational way. She genuinely sees the good in people and tries to keep that in mind. She comes to know what she wants out of life and understands finally what her mother-in-law had tried to teach her. And so she acts. Everyone asks Meenakshi why she wants a divorce but nobody seems to want to really listen, they just want to tell her what she should do. She remains calm and obdurate, using her strength for herself for once. It’s hard to see a woman apparently defending her abuser, but as things progress Meenakshi becomes less of a victim and more a complex woman who made some choices then and is making different choices now. Mallika and Lal have a volatile chemistry that take their characters from domesticity to physical violence in a heartbeat, and they never break that connection or seem out of synch.

Shweta Menon is charismatic and arrogant as Kali Pillai. You can see in Thanu that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Even if he didn’t hold a grudge about his father, they would clash and they both had violent streaks. Kali is all about tough love, showing her concern for Meenakshi by constantly picking faults and telling her what to do. She doesn’t like seeing her son overturn the natural order of things and treat his wife like a slave and her pride is wounded by his lack of respect for her. But she never gives up on him really and still tries to protect him in her own way despite their estrangement.

The obvious option would be to have Balamani (Bhavana) represent Meenakshi and go all Girl Power, but instead she is representing Thanu. She is quite socially conservative and believes divorce is bad for families regardless of the situation at home. I liked Bhavana a lot, and she nailed the characterisation of a pretty young professional who is a bit tired of the boys club around her but doesn’t feel the need to rock the boat. Her down to earth conversations with her grandmother are both funny and sad as grandma explains the role of women. Hint – it has a lot to do with breeding. She and Sharath talk about their own families and future plans, and while sometimes it comes across as clunky exposition they help draw out the subtleties of the divorce case.

Asif Ali is extremely likeable as Sharath, the good son who sees his father as Bad and his mother as a victim. As things become less clear cut, he also has to confront his own resemblance to his father and what that might mean. He gets hit with some big truths and I loved that he never made a big deal out of it or insisted anyone choose sides. He absorbed the new knowledge, struggled a bit, then moved forward. He was open to Balamani’s ideas and treated her as a valued friend as well as an eventual lover and future wife. And hurrah for a film where people can have consensual sex and not be hit by a meteor or any other form of judgement.

This is just a gorgeous film to watch. I had some initial concerns because of the topic but I didn’t find the violence was sensationalised or dwelt on beyond what needed to be shown. The performances are all top notch and Madhupal and writer Jeyamohan provide an excellent visual and narrative structure.

For anyone who laments the lack of strong female characters in Indian films, see this. If you’re interested in a sympathetic but not apologetic portrait of family dysfunction, see this. If you like beautifully made films with realistic characters and great production values, see this. 5 stars!

Aandavan Kattalai (2016)


M Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai was one of the best films from last year, so my expectations were high for Aandavan Kattalai, particularly since one of my favourite actors Vijay Sethupathi plays a main character. Now normally having high expectations is the worst possible scenario as it’s usually met with disappointment…. but not this time! Aandavan Kattalai delivers in every possible way. Co-writers Manikandan, Arul Chezhiyan and Anucharan have taken a simple story and imbued it with clever characterisations, entertaining diversions and a moral that’s delivered subtly enough to avoid even a hint of appearing preachy. My only gripe is that the songs and none of the written material (newspaper headlines, notes on paper etc) were translated, but otherwise this is a thoroughly  enjoyable film.

Aandavan Kattalai follows the story of Gandhi (Vijay Sethupathi) and his friend Pandi (Yogi Babu) as they attempt to fraudulently obtain tourist visas and then work illegally in England. Gandhi has incurred too much debt in his home village and has to try to pay the money back to salvage his reputation with his brother-in-law and sister. Later it is suggested that Gandhi isn’t a wastrel himself, but that his debt is partly due to raising dowry for his sister’s wedding but this part of the story isn’t explored in any great detail – at least not with subtitles. After another villager arrives back from overseas with plenty of money and shares his story, Gandhi and Pandi decide that working in the UK will be their ticket to riches too.

The pair travel to Chennai to meet with a broker, who has plenty of cons and shortcuts to circumvent the system. One of these leads Gandhi and Pandi to add a spouse’s name to their passport application. Pandi somehow manages to pass his visa interview and heads off to London with instructions on how to mimic a Sri Lankan refugee once he lands. Gandhi’s intrinsic honesty however sees him rejected for a visa and he is stuck in Chennai for at least 6 months until he can try again. Both Gandhi and Pandi are lost and bemused by the big city with Manikandan evoking thoughts on how they will possibly cope with London, where they will not only be in a large metropolis, but one where the customs and language are completely different. The little things; trying to find somewhere to stay and the vagaries of the Chennai householders, finding their way around the maze of the city and getting all their paperwork together are all shown as major struggles for the pair and serve as a way to further develop their characters.

While Vijay Sethupathi is excellent as the more aware and thoughtful of the two, his sidekick Pandi has simply the best dialogue with the funniest and most natural one-liners I’ve heard for a long time. Yogi Babu is simply superb here and his character is perfectly nuanced to be funny but also logical for his persona and completely genuine. His facial expressions are hilarious and he uses his remarkably untameable shock of hair to great effect. I don’t usually enjoy the comedy tracks in films but Yogi Babu shines here, even among the highly accomplished cast, and he really is very entertaining.

Vijay Sethupathi is excellent in a role that allows him to be at his laid-back best. He perfectly blends concern about his friend, his frustration with the system and his naivety about his visa application to give an overall realistic portrayal of an essentially honest man (at least most of the time) trying to deal with a difficult situation. The character suits him well and Vijay Sethupathi makes it look effortless as he demonstrates every possible emotion while making the audience laugh, cry and despair at the bureaucracy and limitless red tape. It really is a fantastic performance and the best role I’ve seen him play so far this year.

The rest of the cast though are just as good. Ritika Singh is great as a TV journalist named Karmeghakuzhali (the name Gandhi has given for his wife) who inadvertently gets dragged in to the divorce case. Again, her character is realistically written with genuine responses and a believable outcome, even if the coincidence of her name is just a tad too pat. I love how she is fiercely independent which helps make her suspicious of everything and everyone (with good reason in Gandhi’s case), but how she still has a kind heart.  Also excellent are the lawyers who work the divorce case, the crotchety judge who suggests marriage guidance rather than a divorce, and a genuine Sri Lankan refugee who is part of the immigration con. They’re a motley group of characters, thrown together by coincidence, corruption and fraud but Manikandan ensures that it all makes perfect sense by the end. No moment is wasted and every small detail is relevant to the final outcome – even when it seems that a scene is just to establish character, there is always something else that has relevance later on.

There are no big dance numbers in the film but there are a couple of good songs from K (Krishna Kumar) used as part of the narrative and these work well to move the story forward. The only thing missing are subtitles which really were needed in a song that includes dialogue and possibly further scene development. But really this is a small issue and overall the subtitles were excellent – easy to read and generally grammatically correct.

I really can’t find fault with Aandavan Kattalai and can’t wait to watch it again, as I’m sure there is more relevant detail I missed the first time through. This is a perfect film, a simple story expertly developed into a detailed saga of epic proportions with excellent performances from all involved and plenty of laughs along the way. Highly recommended for all the right reasons and definitely one not to miss.

Thodari (2016)


It’s hard to decide exactly what Prabhu Solomon was aiming for with his latest release Thodari. Perhaps he wanted to make an old-style masala movie with a dash of everything as seasoning for an adventure storyline set on a speeding train?  Or maybe he wanted to create a spoof of a disaster movie along the lines of Airplane! It’s hard to say, since instead of any of these he’s made a film with too much of everything except plot and plausibility. The film has a surplus of comedy, romance, action and even social commentary, and yet none of it works together at all, resulting in a lumbering fiasco of a film that slows grinds though its full 168 minutes of run time. The only saving grace is Dhaunsh, who somehow manages to make his scenes watchable despite the ludicrousness of his character’s actions, and Keerthi Suresh who has a little more to do than the average heroine.

The first half of the film is a jumble of scenes set in a train running from Delhi to Chennai. The pantry staff is introduced, including supervisor and manager Chandrakanth (Thambi Ramaiah) who claims to be ex-military and tries to run his kitchen as if it’s an army platoon. Chandrakanth is responsible for a loud and intrusive comedy track that reaches its nadir when he is accused of being a terrorist and responsible for sending the train out of control. It’s anything but amusing.

Then there is pantry assistant Poochiyappan (Dhanush) and his friend Vairam (Karunakaran) who are vying with the rest of the team to serve refreshments to a Malayalam actress travelling in first class. Again, I think most of this is supposed to be funny, with Chandrakanth using Poochi as a surrogate to romance the actress, and instead only managing to charm her gluttonous mother, but it’s tired, cliché-ridden and basically not comical at all.

Poochi manages to win through to first class but rather than falling for the actress, instead he’s smitten with her make-up girl and immediately decides he’s in love with her in typical Tamil cinema style. Saroja (Keerthi Suresh) has reservations, but a quick song and dance on top of the train and the unlikely hope that Poochi can further her dreams of becoming a famous singer, and she’s happy to melt into his arms. There is also an odd feud that develops between Poochi and a security guard (Harish Uthaman) who is travelling with a government minister (Radha Ravi). There is no apparent reason for the guard’s enmity, although there are suggestions that he has an anger management problem and may even be on medication, but apart from being an excuse to add a couple of fight scenes this entire thread seems completely pointless and superfluous.

The action starts in the second half when the train ends up speeding out of control with no way to bring it to a safe halt. There are all sorts of technical reasons behind why no-one can stop the train, but the media become obsessed with the idea that the engine has been taken over by terrorists. The passengers on the train are able to watch the news of their hostage situation and imminent demise on their mobile phones as they hurtle along the track but despite all this disinformation, they don’t come up with any great ideas to save the day. Instead, their only possible salvation is a make-up girl stuck on the engine with no idea what is actually happening and whose main concern is her developing romance with the train pantry assistant.

The action of the second half is disrupted by the songs and by frequent switches between the different characters. Rather than focusing on the drama, Prabhu Solomon adds more ‘comedy’ involving Chandrakanth, another fight scene with the security guard and shots of the TV crews chasing the train. There are long dialogues supposedly set on a panel discussion with politicians behaving like school children while army personnel who board the train become embroiled in petty  feuds and disputes amongst the staff and passengers instead of doing anything to stop the speeding train. Even the scenes in the control room, which should have been tense and full of anticipation, are watered down by attempts at comedy and yet more digs at the government.  None of it is credible or even feasible but it’s all irrelevant anyway. What really matters, and what the TV audience want to see happening on the out-of-control train, is the success of Poochi’s romance with Saroja before the train runs out of track and the couple run out of time.

Thodari could have been much better if Prabhu Solomon had kept to the basics and put a simple love affair together with the drama of a runaway train. There are some good ideas here although they are almost buried under the huge cast list and wreckage of a plot. I like that it’s the heroine who has the best chance of saving the day and that the hero leaves it all up to her. Keerthi’s Saroja has some good lines too (although the abysmal subtitles meant I didn’t understand everything) and mostly behaves as any normal person would when faced with similar situations. Some of the suspense with the runaway train works, although it is only a small amount, and the romance between Poochi and Saroja is mostly engaging, despite the difficulties thrown up by when Saroja is stuck at the front of the train and Poochi is reduced to mouthing sweet nothings over a walkie-talkie with the entire nation looking on. The scenery too makes a spectacular backdrop for the songs as Dhanush and Keerthi shuffle along the top of the train and D. Imman’s music is catchy, even if the songs do act as major speed-humps for the screenplay and are unnecessary in this style of movie.

Overall the film suffers from too much going on at a superficial level, but not enough of  a plot to give a firm foundation. Dhanush is as good as always but even his performance isn’t enough to stop the film running out of steam long before the train reaches its destination. Worth a one-time watch in the cinema for the scenery and Dhanush but disappointingly that’s about all.