Goli Soda

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Goli Soda is a masala movie with a difference – there is the usual mixture of action, comedy and romance, but this time the protagonists are four adolescents from Koyambedu market in Chennai and the action mainly takes place within the confines of the marketplace. The four are all orphans who have grown up in Koyambedu and Goli Soda follows their struggle to discover their own identities and what happens when their livelihood and self-respect is threatened. While the scale of the story may be small, the theme of teenagers trying to fit in and develop their own self-worth is universal, even if most don’t have to face quite the same obstacles or start with quite so little. S.D. Vijay Milton’s film has engaging characters and an interesting and rather different story to tell, making Goli Soda well worth a watch.

Saetu (Sree Raam), Kuttimani (Murugesh), Pulli (Kishore) and Sitthappa (Pakoda Pandi) are all friends who live and work together in the market. They unload produce during the early hours of the morning, working for Aachi (Sujatha Sivakumar) who pays them according to the amount of bags they have carried into her business. The boys live rough in the market and spend the rest of their time running amuck, ogling the local girls on their way to school and wasting time with market porter Manthiravan (Imman Annachi). The relationship between the four is well depicted with the expected amount of teasing and banter in any group of young men, but there is also plenty of support for each other and together they form a tightly knit family. This is perfectly illustrated when they all share the same ‘best’ t-shirt to wear as they wave at their chosen girl from the safety of the building roof. Regardless of the fact that none of the girls can probably see exactly what they are wearing, they swap the t-shirt so that each feels he looks his best with the limited resources they have. It’s a brief moment but shows their easy camaraderie and how much they rely on each other.

When Aachi finds out that one of the girls they are chasing is her own daughter Yamini (Chandhini) she convinces the four that they ned to do something more with their lives and approaches market kingpin Naidu (Madhusudhan Rao) for a loan. Naidu gives them the use of an unused godown which the boys turn into a small restaurant, named Aachi’s mess in honour of their mentor. They are surprisingly successful too, and take everything very seriously, even down to selecting the right covering for their makeshift tables. They’re helped in their endeavours by Aachi and Yamini and also by Vanmathi (Seetha) another friend who has her own share of problems but manages to take a glass half full approach to life. However Vanmathi is quite committed to her philosophy of one plant, one flower in relationships and only being willing to help if it is definitely true love and not just time-pass!

Problems arise when Naidu’s brother-in-law Mayil (Vijay Murugan) starts to frequent Aachi’s mess, demanding alcohol and non-veg dishes, even spending the night there with his cronies. The subsequent fall-out when the boys turn on Mayil threatens Naidu’s hold over the market and it seems as if Saetu, Kuttimani, Pulli and Sitthappa will lose everything, including possibly their lives as they battle to hold on to the little they have. Aachi, Yamini and Vanmathi are also all affected and in a departure from the normal masala formula, the two girls end up taking part in the fights with Naidu’s men and help the boys in their campaign to regain their restaurant.

What Goli Soda does is take the usual masala issues of bad guys vs good guy and translate them into the world of four adolescents. Instead of land grabbing politicians and gangsters we get petty criminals who take over the boys’ space and take away their sense of self in the process. That space is important as it’s the first Saetu, Kuttimani, Pulli and Sitthappa have had that is theirs to do with as they please – or at least as much as they can in a rented shop. Their insistence on choosing the tablecloths and making tables and benches for the restaurant becomes significant as it’s the first time they have ever had any say in their surroundings. The restaurant becomes their space and defines how they appear to the rest of the market – they are no longer simply nameless coolies, but instead are Aachi’s mess boys.  The successful business confers a sense of self-worth they did not have before and makes each someone rather than just another orphan. Loss of their space means they are back to being nothing – and that’s not something they are going to let happen if at all possible.

The film has a number of fight scenes where the four adolescents take on Mayil and his gang. This could have been ridiculously unbelievable, although perhaps not any more so than in the usual mass film where the hero is able to fling villains around without too much effort, but the choreography here is better than that. There is a lot of slapping and basic survival tactics which makes it seem less incredible that the boys could take on grown men and not suffer horrendous injuries, while the casual brutality of the gang seems plausible. The story overall works as the boys are all typical young men with the usual wants and desires – new clothes to look cool in front of the girls for example, but they also have a sense of responsibility which comes from having something which is theirs alone. All the young actors are fantastic in their roles and each is completely believable – even down to the blubbering and pleading when they are first faced with the prospect of being beaten up by Mayil and his gang. Sujatha Sivakumar is also excellent in her role as Aachi, giving the boys a constant in their lives and imbuing discipline without losing their respect.

Although it’s a simple story, Goli Soda packs a lot into 2 hours. All the masala elements are there, but trimmed of any excess to suit the younger protagonists, making for a neat and crisp narrative that easily pulls the viewer into the world of Koyambedu market. The dialogue is fun, snappy and suits the characters while the documentary-style of the camera makes the scenes in the market feel very natural. Goli Soda is something just a little bit different and recommended viewing for a movie with a message that avoids being preachy or overly sentimental. 4 stars.

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