Mail

I recently watched Mail while travelling back to Ireland and was pleasantly surprised by this gentle comedy/drama. The film is set in a small village in Telangana in the early 2000’s and follows the story of Ravi as he discovers computers and email. Debut director Uday Gurrala has crafted an engaging story and peopled his tale with interesting characters who don’t always behave as expected. While the plot revolves around their naivety with computers and the internet, this never becomes condescending or disrespectful and Uday keeps the film empathetic and genuinely funny.


The story opens with Ravi ( Harshith Malgireddy) and his friend Subbu (Mani Aeguria) getting their school exams results. While Ravi has passed, Subbu has not cleared his final exams and this leads to tension and a rift between the two friends. When deciding on what course to take at college, Ravi wants to study IT, but a lack of local courses and his poor grades mean that he eventually settles on a degree in BComm, which I assume means commerce. In Ravi’s class is Roja (Gouri Priya) another student from the village who Ravi finds attractive. This romance provides a competing interest to Ravi’s love of computers with Roja mainly coming second, adding to the charm of the story.


Meanwhile, Hybath (Priyadarshi) arrives in the village to set up his computer centre. Ravi immediately sees the possibilities and annoys Hybath until he agrees to teach him how to use the computer. As part of his instruction, Hybath sets up a gmail account for Ravi, explaining that he can get mail from anyone from anywhere in the world. Ravi is completely hooked by the idea of mail from anyone, anywhere and tries to check his email account every day. He is hampered by his lack of funds and by his rival Sunil who is also asking Hybath for tuition. But when Ravi finally gets an email, its a notification that he has won 2 crores in a lottery competition. The catch is he needs to send 1 lakh to get the funds. Unaware that this is a spoof email, Ravi approaches an unscrupulous moneylender in the village for funds. Shivanna (Ravinder Bommakanti) has lent money all over the village and is known for his ruthlessness, but even he is sucked in by Ravi’s promise of wealth. All seems lost when Hybath sees the email and reveals that it’s a scam, but there is still plenty of opportunity for Ravi to save the day.

The film works well because the story is kept simple, and Uday Gurrala keeps each character true to the traits he has developed. Ravi may be naive but when he finds out he has won money he wants to pay off his fathers debts and help a schoolfriend with her college fees. Harshith Malgireddy’s performance helps keeps Ravi a sympathetic character and he juggles the drama and comedy of the story well. The romance is dealt with lightly, but the interactions with Gouri Priya and particularly Mani Aeguria are excellently portrayed. Mani is primarily used for comedy, but his relationship with his father and grandfather is strained which gives some further drama to this part of the story.

Although Gouri doesn’t have a lot of screentime, she uses it well, and her Roja is well able to stand up to Ravi and his computer obsession. She looks lovely too, and her smile lights up the whole screen.
Although essentially a ‘slice-of-life’ drama, the film is also funny throughout with a number of threads that are each well played for comedy. Although Hybath has opened the computer centre, he really doesn’t know anything about computers and mainly uses his machine to play games. His conviction that wearing shoes into his shop will make the computer catch a virus is brilliantly dealt with since he has no real idea what a virus actually is, and as a scene dealing with the computer ‘repair’ is very well done too. Priyadarshi is excellent throughout and switches between aostly assumed experienced and knowledgeable facade to a more realistic opportunistic persona. His idiosyncrasies are well developed, with Ravi paying for his so-called lessons (but really just computer time) with bottles of whiskey and revalations throughout the film about his past life. It’s a lovely performance and helps to keep the film moving when not much else is happening.

The thread with Ravi and Subbu is also excellent, with Subbu refriending Ravi once he learns of his big win. Despite this obviously mercenary decision, Subbu still works to help Ravi find the required 1 lakh and stands by him when he finds out that the email is fake. The friendship between the two is a real strength of the film and feels very natural throughout. The romance with Roja is also sweet and innocent. She tries to help as well by giving Ravi her anklet to sell for cash, but essentially Ravi will always put his computers first, which leads to conflict between the two.

Village issues are also briefly touched on with the problems each family faces due to lack of money and dependence on Shivanna and his money lending business. The complex hierarchy of exam results and the pressures of college are also brought into the story to illustrate how status and pride are important to everyone, not just the parents and elders of the village.


Uday Gurrala and Shyam Dupati are credited as the cinematographers and the film looks beautiful without dwelling too much on the village scenery. There are no song and dance numbers but Kamran’s background music is lovely and suits the feel of the film. I really enjoyed Mail and the balance of the story bodes well for Uday Gurrala’s next project. Well worth watching for a captivating cast and simple but effective storyline. 4 stars.

19 (1) (a)

This début film from Indhu VS is beautifully shot, but takes a long time to ultimately say not very much. I’m aware that as someone who does not live in India and does not follow Indian politics closely, I have probably missed many of the nuances here, but regardless, the message of freedom of speech and expression seems to be lost by the end of the film. While Nithya Menon and Vijay Sethupathi put in excellent performances, as do the rest of the cast, this was a disappointing watch that promised so much, but ultimately failed to deliver.

The film follows Nithya Menon’s character as she deals with a manuscript left by a customer at the printing shop where she works. The shop is owned by her father but since the death of their mother some years ago, he has become distant and disengaged from day-to-day business. Each day Nithya rides her scooter to work and spends the day coaxing her elderly computer to work and dealing with random power cuts that prevent her from using the photocopier. Meanwhile her father (Srikant Murali) spends his days lazing around, talking to his friend Allen and watching TV. Nithya seems to rarely speak to her father and their relationship seems strained and difficult.

When Gauri Shankar (Vijay Sethupathi) leaves his manuscript to be copied he asks Nithya what time she closes. But then goes on to ask her if she will wait for him, as he may be a little late. Nithya doesn’t object to this despite not knowing the man’s name, contact number or what time he will actually return. And she does stay very late, falling asleep at her desk, but Gauri does not return. Indhu seems to be suggesting that Nithya has so little control over her own life that she cannot do anything else but wait for Gauri to return. But earlier, when she asks Gauri if she should bind the copy, he answers that she should do as she wishes. This simple reply makes Nithya smile, and when she remembers this response in the days that follow, it seems to give her licence to move beyond her usual routine.

The opening credits show what has happened to Gauri, so we already know why he has not returned. When Nithya sees the news that Gauri has been killed, she is shocked and then, when the reporter explains further, she becomes worried about the work he has left with her. Gauri Shankar is a political writer and his murder appears to be linked to his latest manuscript, of which Nithya has the only hand-written copy. As she struggles to decide what to do, she begins to make decisions for herself and moves out of her usual daily pattern, which changes her relationship with her father and her friends.

19 (1) (a) refers to an article in the Indian Constitution which states “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. At the start of the film Nithya appears to have no freedom as she has given up college to come home to look after her father when her mother died. She spends her days copying other people’s words, but has no way to express her own individuality. But when a stranger gives her the option to choose, this brief interaction allows Nithiya to develop freedom of expression. While the idea is good, Nithya doesn’t become more assertive or expressive. She still keeps to herself, dresses the same and by the end of the film doesn’t seem to have changed. What she does do is try to find out what to do with Gauri’s manuscript but even then she meets people who help her by chance, and doesn’t seem able to tell the key people she meets about Gauri’s work. There is a real lack of purpose in Nithya’s attempts to decide what to do and the film fails to give a final outcome to the story with many of the threads left hanging. One involves Nithya’s friend Fathima (Athulya Ashadam) who works in a clothing store beside Nithya’s printing shop. Fathima is upset by her arranged marriage which she feels will put significant constraints on her life and destroy her freedom. But although the story is explored briefly, there is no resolution of Fathima’s concerns and this lack of any sort of conclusion is frustrating, especially when Nithya and Gauri’s stories are also left unfinished.

Nithya Menon is the main lead here and she does an excellent job with a role that relies on her facial expressions to get her emotions across. For the most part her character is thoughtful and considered, but she comes alive in the moments when she is speaking with her friends. Her gradually developing confidence is also handled well, although this does waver at the end. Vijay Sethupathi is also very good and in his conversations with his publisher, gets across the political ideas that underpin the film. But these didn’t always make sense and I found it difficult to understand exactly what Gauri’s views were that were so dangerous. While metaphors and analogies can work well to get across a subtle meaning, here the message seems buried beneath too much innuendo and obfuscation.

The film does look beautiful with Manesh Madhavan ensuring each frame is perfectly composed. I love the attention to detail and the framing used when Nithya is preparing fish and throwing the fish heads to her cat. Scenes of Nithya and Fathima eating their lunch together in the shop where Fathima works are also well done and Manesh also captures the stifling atmosphere inside the printing shop well. The music too is good and seems to suit the slow development of the story well. Subtitles by Vivek Ranjith seem fine (there isn’t much dialogue and what there is appears stilted) but irritatingly none of the written documents are translated. I’m not sure how relevant to the story this is, but it is frustrating not to be able to see how the words Nithya reads impact her actions. As the camera frequently lingers on the pages, I am sure there must have been some relevance, given that much is not directly said about gauri’s political beliefs. Although perhaps not, since the final excerpt, read over the closing scene, doesn’t shed any more light on Gauri either.

Despite my frustration with parts of the film, I did enjoy watching Nithya Menon gradually begin her journey towards self-expression, and Vijay Sethupathi is always engaging on screen. The idea of the story is good, but the execution seems too sloppy despite the care taken with the cinematography. I am sure that some of my dissatisfaction is due to not being able to understand the language, but I wish that the story had a clearer message and a better resolution. Still worth a watch for the main leads and the excellent cinematography. 3 stars.

The Gray Man (2022)

I don’t watch many Hollywood films and haven’t seen any of the Russo Brothers previous works, but with Dhanush in the cast I decided to watch their latest film: The Gray Man. While the film was an okay watch, it hasn’t changed my view that USA action films rely too heavily on firepower and heavy-handed morality while skipping essential elements like characterisation and storyline. While there is plenty of action, most of this relies on gun fights and blowing things up, making the few physical fights scenes stand out in comparison. Thankfully these mostly feature Dhanush too, but otherwise, the film consists of a series of action sequences, loosely bound together by a vague storyline that’s full of clichés. It’s not a bad film, but it’s also not particularly memorable and slots neatly into the standard US action mould that’s a reasonable timepass but not much more.

Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) is recruited from prison by Donald Fitzroy aka Fitz (Billy Bob Thornton) to become a black ops agent for the CIA. In exchange for his freedom, he becomes the nameless Sierra Six who carries out assassinations for the organisation as directed – no questions asked. The film opens with Sierra Six in Bangkok to remove a target, later revealed to be another Sierra agent who passes on details of corruption within the agency. Six escapes with the information but CIA boss Denny Carmichael (Rége-Jean Page) sets private contractor and ex-agent Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) on his trail to eliminate Six and retrieve the information. Lloyd is a psychopath with no boundaries, which ensures plenty of collateral damage as he chases after Six. This includes kidnapping Fitz and his niece Claire (Julia Butters) to try and flush out Six, leading of course to a rescue mission by Six. Lloyd has numerous teams of assassins who attempt to kill Six in various locations across Europe while causing mayhem, carnage, and destruction in the process, but completely failing to succeed in their mission.

Dhanush appears well over an hour into the film as Avik San (aka Lone Wolf), an assassin also hired by Lloyd to eliminate Six. While the other mercenaries are all faceless teams, Avik San works alone and relies on his wits and fighting skills rather than weapons and gunpowder. This means that Avik has a few lines of dialogue and a couple of well-choreographed fight scenes that look awesome and stand out compared to the rest of the repetitive bloodshed. In comparison to Lloyd’s other mercenaries, Avik San also has a strong sense of morality which leads him to break with Lloyd, when he discovers his reckless methodology. This leaves Six and another CIA agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) free to finish Lloyd if they can.

The film has a great cast, but most have thinly sketched characters who appear, either help or hinder Six, and are then disposed of. Six is also a caricature of a man on the run and despite flashbacks explaining his crime and his childhood, there is never any real sense of who he actually is and what he thinks of his whole situation. If his enemies weren’t so bat-shit crazy, it would be difficult to care whether he wins or not given how little empathy is given to the character. Chris Evans fares somewhat better as Lloyd, who has several character traits (mostly all psychopathic), which at least make him a more interesting character, even if it is one we are meant to hate. With so many one-dimensional characters and a continuous turnover as they are shot, beaten to death or blown-up, the only real interest in the film are the locations and the overall appearance of the scenes. But even then it’s only the title on screen that explains where the scene is set, since little of the location is shown onscreen. While an action sequence in Prague is beautifully staged and well shot, most of the other action set pieces are so dark it is difficult to see what is going on. Even the best fight scene, with Dhanush and Ana de Armas, is hard to follow due to the low lightening and smoke that hides the action. Since there isn’t much happening in between action sequences it seems strange that these aren’t shot more clearly so that the choreography can be better appreciated. For a film that is all about the action, it seems an odd choice. 

The story itself is generic and the dialogue mostly consists of a series of one-liners and off-hand quips that may have read well on paper but don’t translate well on screen. Alfre Woodard as Margaret Cahill, the former head of the CIA London branch, has some of the best and most effective dialogue, but Lloyd generally sounds petulant and seems to be trying too hard, while Six has little to say for much of the film. I’m not the target audience for this kind of film and while I enjoyed the brief appearance by Dhanush, this entire film seemed to waste so many good opportunities to be more than just another action movie. I missed the masala mix of Southern Indian cinema and the heavy reliance on guns and explosives here rather than fight sequences became boring by the end. 2 ½ stars.