Aaranya Kaandam

Aaranya Kaandam should come with a warning – an excess of fake violence, actual real life violence against chickens and naked Jackie Shroff. Yes really! Jackie Shroff takes his clothes off in this film.  We have no idea why the organisers of the Indian Film Festival decided to choose this film over many other excellent Tamil releases this year. Perhaps they wanted to see Jackie with his kit off, but why we all had to suffer is a mystery!

The film is a long (too long) tale of double crosses by Pasupathy (Sampath Raj) when he is caught between two rival factions of gangsters. One gang is led by the aging Ayya (Jackie Shroff) and Pasupathy starts out as his more adventurous and able lieutenant. Ayya resents his younger henchman and when Pasupathy organises a drug deal through a corrupt cop to steal cocaine from a rival gang we know it’s all going to turn out badly. Adding to the mix are Ayya’s mistress Subbu who wants to escape, Kaalayan who manages to stumble across the drugs, his competent little son Kodukkapuli, and the other gang leaders Gajapathy (who has an impressive pair of ears) and his brother Gajendran.

Although the overall story is interesting there is too much time spent setting the scene and explaining exactly who is who.  First time writer and director Thiagarajan Kumararaja seems to have been heavily influenced by films such as Traffic and Pulp Fiction where there are a number of apparently unrelated threads which come together to form the climax of the film. But while he manages to  bring the various storylines to a more or less satisfactory conclusion, they don’t all work as well as each other. In addition to the pacing problems, there is a heavy reliance on gimmicky edits and lighting effects that lose their impact through over use. The actual cinematography was excellent, and the street and interior scenes were saturated with colour. Again, we suspect some of the highly stylised angles and use of colour filters was influenced by films like Traffic but it lacked structure so it looked a bit too try-hard.

The soundtrack is a mish mash of musical styles and sounds. We think this might have been meant to create an art house feel, but really it sounds more like someone bought a world music CD and used that instead of going to the trouble of composing anything special. Like the gimmicky editing the music became intrusive and sometimes detracted from the scenes, often simply because it was too loud.

The story of Kaalayan and his son is rather laboured and the inclusion of some rather nasty cock-fighting scenes with lots of lingering slow motion shots and buckets of gore was quite unnecessary. A lot of this could have been cut without losing any of the backstory in our opinion.  The child actor was fairly effective, and the audience certainly responded to his performance.

Sampath Raj puts in an impressive performance as the man trying to work his way out of a difficult situation. He has a good hero run, and puts it to use frequently throughout the film.

We know that traditionally anyone who is Jackie’s friend in a film seems to be marked for a horrible death or at least significant misfortune so we were expecting the wheels to fall off for Pasupathy. Jackie Shroff grunts his way through a series of inexplicable grimaces and as we mentioned decides to bare all. Thankfully there is pixilation but just not enough of it. Jackie Shroff himself may have preferred a larger area of pixilation as frankly it appears there was not all that much to be covered up! It’s not surprising that Subbu wants to escape from his early morning coughs and gurgles as well as the obvious horror of naked Jackie. Ravi Krishna is the gullible Loser who gets caught up in her plans for flight. Both he and Yasmin Ponnappa in her debut role turn in good performances despite a hackneyed plotline.

What does work is the dialogue, which seems snappy and funny despite the overuse of swearing in the subtitles. According to our Tamil language expert the characters weren’t actually swearing most of the time, so it seems strange that the subtitles decided to include as much profanity as they did. Especially when it seemed that every second word out of the kid’s mouth was something that our parents would still disapprove of. Maybe they knew there wasn’t enough plot to last the distance?

Temple says: This was a bore and a disappointment. The entertaining moments were few and far between, and the direction wasn’t focussed enough to make the incident heavy plot stay on track. I quite like Sampath Raj and if the story had been better balanced, this might have been a good gangland thriller. As it is, it’s a mess. I give it 2 stars – for Sampath Raj and so the torture of the poor roosters wasn’t in vain.

Heather says: While I didn’t find this film boring, it really wasn’t pleasant to sit through. There was a lot of really unnecessary violence of the gruesome and graphic kind, and the rooster fight scenes were totally unwarranted. Jackie Shroff was a real disappointment, although I didn’t have high expectations from him anyway. I can think of many actors who would have played this role much more convincingly – although all preferably without the nude scene! There were some good moments hidden amongst the carnage, some reasonable performances from a number of the actors, and even some good comedy. But not enough to save this film from collapsing under the weight of all the various plot threads. 2 stars from me.

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38 thoughts on “Aaranya Kaandam

  1. Well this sounds painful on a number of different levels! Though I am slightly curious to see Jackie Shroff nuding up. And your comments re pixilation piqued my interest even more (though probably not enough to make me want to see the film given the rest of your review. sigh.) Does this make me a bad person?

    I also have to agree with your comments asking the question about the choice to include this in the film festival, given the other films that could have been shown to showcase Tamil cinema.

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    • Oh Jenni – you really don’t ever want to see that much of Jackie Shroff. I know I didn’t!!
      Although to be honest the naked scenes weren’t the worst 🙂

      I’m guessing they chose this film because it won best Film at the South Asian International Film Festival – but they really should have watched it first!
      Heather

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  2. OH DEAR LORD. I read “naked Jackie Shroff” and then I think my brain spasmed a little. You guys took one for the team on this one – I wonder – like you – who picked it for the film festival and how they justify it, because it does sound…not good.

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    • Hi Ness,
      It really wasn’t! And yet there were flashes of a better film hidden in there (OK, well hidden!) and some good actors. So there was potential. It was just never got there 😦
      I guess if they warned everyone about the nudity, no-one would watch!
      Heather

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  3. I’ve become a little bit enamoured of Sampath Raj, so I might have to check this out, if only to see him in a larger role. (Although I see he’s also in Bhavani IPS, which looks like cracktastic fun.)

    I’m trying to decide which is worse: a pixelated Jackie Shroff in this film, or a speedo-wearing Jackie Shroff in Rangeela.

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  4. Interesting. You sound like you know enough but at the same time I loved the trailer, so hmm… Interesting.

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    • Hi Rohit. I didn’t see a trailer, just saw the film with little expectation. For me, the biggest problem was that there were too many different influences and ideas and they just didn’t work as a whole. Sampath Raj is very good, as is Yasmin Ponnappa, but every plot twist was visible a mile off so there was little suspense. Let us know what you think once you’ve seen it! As for needing to see it multiple times to appreciate it, I honestly don’t think there is enough depth to warrant that. There are lots of tricky visuals, and nice detail in the sets, but the story just wasn’t strong enough. Thanks for your comment 🙂 Temple

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      • Hi Rohit 🙂 Thanks for coming back with the link to your excellent review. I don’t see the same brilliance in the first half that you do, but I agree the ending was just out of control and, for me, too contrived to work. It’s a pity as a I think more restraint and less ‘borrowing’ inspiration would have made some difference. Still, Jackie Shroff was a major negative in my opinion and I don’t think anything other than different casting was the answer there. I do agree with you that Master Vasanth was more than holding his own among the adult actors and his performance gave the father/son story the emotion and edginess it needed. I’ve only seen Sampath Raj in this and Saroja and both times, I thought he was good in a flawed film. (I did quite like Saroja but the comedy track drove me INSANE.) I’m glad we can agree to disagree in a civil manner 🙂 Temple

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      • Hi Rohit,

        Thanks for the link to your review, which I agree is excellent 🙂
        I’m not sure that I agree with you about multiple viewings to fully appreciate the film. I tend to rewatch Tarantino or Guy Ritchie movies because the films are entertaining and I just didn’t enjoy Aaranya Kaandam enough to want to see it again. But I do appreciate some of the performances in this film and thought that Master Vasanth was a stand-out. There are good elements to the story but for me it didn’t cohesive well enough to make up for the excessive violence. I enjoyed reading your opinion about the film though – thanks!
        Heather

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      • I’m not sure if multiple viewings are going to make the movie better. But understanding the allusions that the scenes make to religious texts as well as understanding the lyrics of the songs in the sound track will help a lot.

        At some points the links between the songs and the scenes are fleeting… In some ways its a pretty smart film almost to the point of being pretentious.

        I still like your review though because it gives an understanding of what people who don’t understand Tamil get from the film. In many ways this film makes more references to Ramayanam than Raavanaa (directed by Mani Ratnam). I think its the failure of the film if it can’t stand on its own. So your review stands for individuals who don’t understand the language and the cultural references.

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      • Hi Jay. I am glad you said that the film should be able to stand on it’s own as I think that is the basic test. There are always additional layers and complexity that can be enjoyed or analysed when the viewer has either the language or knowledge to appreciate them, but I do think a film has to work at the basic level of telling a story. There are a lot of Australian films that rely heavily on cultural references and slang and wouldn’t travel all that well despite getting rave reviews here. I have to say my problem with the soundtrack was the mish mash of musical styles which didn’t always suit the scenes it was used in than any issue with lyrics. It was all a bit too clever at times, and felt derivative of other films I’ve seen. So I am glad you enjoyed it a lot more than I did, and thank you for your thoughtful comments. It’s always good to hear what we have missed either through no subtitles, subtitles that don’t quite capture the essence of the dialogue, or the cultural context. Temple

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  5. I just watched this movie. I just think this movie is far better than what we get to see off late from tamil cinema. I would there is a huge influence of tarantino and kurosawa (esp the way shroff acted, just reminded me off toshiro mifune in rashomon). On a whole this movie is very much watchable. Was disappointed with the background music though. i think it deserves 3 stars..

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    • Hi. I agree with you that there are clear influences from Kurosawa and Tarantino on many modern film makers, and not just in the Tamil industry, but I don’t think that necessarily makes a film better or worse, just that it has a particular flavour or style. But I absolutely cannot agree that Jackie Shroff”s performance has anything in common with the brilliant Toshiro Mifune in Rashomon! I thought Jackie Shroff was terrible. The acting honours go to Sampath Raj in my opinion, and I would love to see him in a great film. There are some good elements to the film, but I don’ think they got the mix quite right. I really couldn’t understand all the rave reviews I heard for the music so I am glad someone else was disappointed. Do you have any recommendations for recent Tamil films you do think are good? Thanks for your comment 🙂 Temple

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  6. To me, this is strikingly fresh in Tamil cinema. I accept the gimmicks applied in editing and saturation of colors was a bit too much to me. It had some superficial feel to the pictures. But the dialogues are the best in this film. Its of top notch. For instance, when Sampath asks whether you like your dad much to the kid, the kid without any thinking replies back saying nothing as such. But he is my dad. You don’t hear those kind of profound dialogues very often in a movie. To me, it delivered what it promised. It didn’t have a great story to back however it was entertaining.

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    • Hi Ram,
      Thanks for your comment 🙂 Perhaps not understanding Tamil and having to rely on subtitles was part of the problem, but I would still agree that the dialogues were generally good. The story just didn’t hold together well though for me. There were parts that were very good, but also parts that just didn’t work at all. Better editing to shorten some of the scenes where the action dragged would have helped.I can see that there is the idea for a good film in there – I just don’t think that the execution was as good as it could have been. Its interesting to read about the reasons why other people have enjoyed the film and I wish I could have got the same enjoyment from it 🙂
      Heather

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      • The problem may be more than not understanding Tamil. What you have to realize is that there is a whole lot of references being made to culturally significant stories that you may not be aware of… The title itself (Aaranya Kaandam) refers to the ‘Jungle Chapter’ from an old religious text. And there are quite a few scenes that pay tribute to the Hindu religious texts.

        I personally think it was the best Tamil movie in recent history. Of course I don’t watch all the Tamil films but if you have any suggestions that are better than AK I would like to watch them.

        I do agree with the review in some cases about the funky lighting being too much. But the music works for Tamil audiences, especially because the lyrics respond to the scenes in question. Its a very nuanced film and when the lyrics of the song isn’t being sub-titled you miss out on the full experience.

        I personally would have given it 3.5 stars out of 4. That’s with respect to other Tamil cinema.

        And watching the different trailers made the movie work for me better. One of the trailers (the long one) is a work of art in itself. Best trailer I’ve seen to date. Better than a whole lot of Hollywood trailers in fact. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBJ_UpyQw_s

        Watching the trailer beforehand made the twist at the end harder to predict.

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  7. both temple and Heather ur review is shit!! Complete shit.. Does Traffic is the only movie u have watched with that kind of color tone??? Losers!! Review wat u feel , dnt say “Especially when it seemed that every second word out of the kid’s mouth was something that our parents would still disapprove of.” did anyone ask u about the social value of the film. Ur review is in Imdb critic section. someone from other countries who wants see the movie wil drop the idea after reading ur review. Damn……

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  8. A bunch of ladies reviewing this movie is a mismatch. Before reviewing the movie it has to be understood that

    a) The movie is not intended for family audience
    b) The movie has no social value
    c) It is not for the soft ones who hate violence or dark comedy or gangster movies

    It is a pure entertainer of a different kind and a bold step from tamil cinema.

    The movie does not for a moment tend to disinterest the viewer. The plots have been interestingly set up. Yuvan’s back ground score is top notch and may be even though not 100% original, apt for the movie.

    The movie at no point becomes more serious than it should.. Nor does it lose its tempo and become a comedy movie trying hard to make u laugh. Everyone has performed to the dot. No one overacts or tries to take the centerstage. Its hard to find movies like this in indian cinema, dear reviewer.. open your eyes..

    Also ,I am not sure if Jackie shroff’s nudity needed to be mentioned in the first two lines of a nearly 10000 word review. Were you so desperate? Instead of taking on a few flip sides like showing shroff’s nudity for a couple of minutes in the film, you could have complemented various acting performances, music, direction, editing and a tons of other things that have made this movie great.

    Relating the movie to Kurosawa and Tarantino is just plain innocence and i would say childish. Just because tendulkar plays the on drive elegantly, and later vijay tends to play the same on drive elegantly doesnt mean that dravid has an influence on him, and even if it did have an influence on him, it shouldnt take any credit away from him.

    Frankly i dont see whats “hackneyed” or boring or disappointing in this movie..

    P.S I should retract my above statements if you found any one fo the following movies interesting : Siruthai, paiya, Sura, kaavalan,
    .
    My mind

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    • Venkatesh Babu While I am happy you took the time to write your thoughts, your opening statement is just ridiculous. Women shouldn’t discuss this film? We do represent a hefty percentage of the world population, and like all human beings will represent a diverse range of perspectives and preferences so a statement like that is laughable. And I am sure the producers are happy to have the ticket sales even from a ‘bunch of ladies’. Heather & I have given our reasons for our opinion of the film and I think in your zeal to promote it as a masterpiece you are dismissing some of the points raised and discussed by other commenters. I’m glad you enjoyed it more than I did but if you just want to read your own opinions reflected back at you, you should write your own blog. Temple

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    • Well said dude….. QT and Kurasowa thats a great point….. This movie is not normal film goer….

      @temple: Will u accept a normal guy saying Carnatic music is shit…

      Dont say this is Business… Box office success and U rating does means the movie is great…… Kubrick, bergman, fellini, rosselini, Travosky etc., movies never achieved this…..

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  9. may be the movie is not good but that does not make all heroes in film bad . sorry jackie shroff is really super star but he is human too so make mistake so what we all do we are not angel .and i still fan of jackie shroff . he is really good actor and good man too

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  10. I watched this movie and the review doesnt reflect what I saw. I used to see lot of European movies of this kind and previously used to think that ‘ y dont our cinema make movies like this”. The review what you say is only for chickens 🙂

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  11. I am with you Venkatesh, the background score mesmerized me. It was so nice. The character in which the village boy and his father is priceless. And the final knockout punch is the herioine, I regret watching this first on youtube. But I have already booked it on theatres, such a mind blowing movie. ( I was a victim of Vijay and other masala movie, so ppl rubbishing a gem of a moive like this is difficult to digest for me )

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  12. Dear Cinema Chaat ,
    I read ur review on aaranya kaandam and also many other movies discussed by you.
    It has ome to my notice that u have given a 4 1/2 star rating for Dabaang (just an example) and whining about Aaranya Kaandam.
    this is just ridiculously biased , one might say.

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  13. This is absolute trashy review.4 and a half stars for Dabbang.
    May be the guy who wrote this is new to movies.
    stick to your Dabang and Ready

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  14. Dear CinemaChaat, Heather, Temple,

    Please don’t be put-off/offended by the negative comments to your reviews. They are just being human!

    I just saw the trailer (from Jay’s link above). Great ad/Trailer. Now I am even more eager to see the film. (& expect it to be good. (encouraged by the comments from Tamil people who’ve commented here) I got to this page after doing a search on the film after this movie was mentioned on tamilmovie website as one of the best movies /best-new-talent -director.)

    couple of points that have been made by other comments, are true:

    1. You do need to understand Tamil Language / Culture to truly appreciate/understand Tamil movies.

    2. Gender does make a difference. Girls react differently to certain movies when compared to boys. I’ve seen this in people I know personally…

    PLEASE don’t be put off by ‘our’ criticism.
    I hope that you’ll continue to watch Tamil films.

    Keep up your good work!

    We do enjoy your great reviews (even if we don’t agree with it 🙂

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    🙂

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    • Hi Tamil,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not offended- this is purely our opinion about the film and since even we don’t always agree about some films, I know that plenty of people will have a different view. All are valid and it’s been interesting to read what others thought about Aaranya Kaandam.
      However I disagree with you that you have to understand Tamil language and culture to understand the films. Cinema is a global medium that frequently transcends language and country borders and I think it’s possible to appreciate films without knowing anything at all about the society they refer to.
      You are right that I don’t get all the subtle nuances without understanding the culture, but that shouldn’t be necessary to enjoy a film. I know much less about Japan and Brazil for example but still enjoy many of the films from these countries.
      I really don’t think that gender makes much difference unless you are talking about children. We all react differently to different movies for many reasons – it’s what makes life interesting 🙂
      I have seen Naan Kadavul and I think it’s a good film. It has an interesting storyline, excellent performances from the actors and Bala develops his plot convincingly. I know very little about Aghori but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the film! I don’t think Aaranya Kaandam compares, but I will be interested to read your views after you’ve seen it.
      Heather

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