For The Love of a Man

Film poster

For The Love of a Man is a documentary primarily about Rajinikanth’s fans, directed by Rinku Kalsy, produced by Joyojeet Pal and partly funded through crowd-funding. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the obsessive world of the fans, and the extremes to which they go to show their devotion. Here we see the packed out fan shows at 1am in the morning on the day of a new Rajinikanth film release, 12 day long celebrations for the actor’s birthday and word-perfect recall of the dialogue from his films just as a taste of some of the extreme fandom on display. There are apparently 150,000 Rajinikanth fan clubs in India and the film looks at a couple of the clubs and a few of the fans in detail while trying to explain the phenomena that is Rajinikanth.

It is assumed that everyone has at least some idea of who Rajinikanth is, and while that is likely true for Cinemachaat readers, for most Westerners Rajinikanth is unlikely to be a household name. There is some discussion of the Superstar but it is minimal and I would have liked to see a little more of the background rather than just the bare tale of a bus conductor turned actor, turned Superstar. While there are a few excerpts from the Rajini’s films, these tend to occur when a particular movie is mentioned by one of the fans rather than in any chronological order and his rise to stardom is only briefly discussed. The other missing element is any input from the man himself which is understandable, but could possibly have given more context into the reasons why the fans behave the way they do.

Giant cut out

Rinku Kalsy has picked an interesting group of people who all have in common their total passion about the Superstar or as they all call Rajini – Thalaivar. There is G. Mani, an ex-gangster who changed his ways after watching Rajinikanth and is now a peanut seller, N. Ravi and his brother N. Murugan who run sweet shops in a small Tamil Nadu town and started life as uneducated orphans but followed the principles espoused by Rajini in his films to turn their lives around, and Kamal Anand, a mimicry artist who earns a living by impersonating the superstar for various functions and gatherings. There is also an auto driver who keeps pictures of Rajini in the front of his auto where most other drivers have pictures of the gods and an online fan club called Superstar Rajinikanth or SSRK for short.

Here there is fanatical devotion at its most extreme but although the film shows the lengths these people will go to for their Thalaivar, there is little insight into why Rajinikanth fans are so obsessed with their idol. There are a few academics who talk about the Dravidian movement and secularism as ways to explain the deification of movie stars such as Rajinikanth, but these discussions are rather superficial and don’t delve into ‘why Rajinikanth?’ in any detail. There is no discussion of his acting skills or even of his many philanthropic acts that the fans are so keen to emulate. Rinku Kalsy and her experts refer to his scruffy appearance, darker skin colour and roles as a common man that were so different to those undertaken by previous movie stars such as MGR or Gemini Ganesan. The fans however refer to Rajinikanth as simply a good man and try to follow his altruistic principles as much as they can; often despite their own, frequently quite poor circumstances. The feelings here are deep and emotions run high. Even when simply recounting the period of time when Rajinikanth was ill and admitted into a hospital in Singapore, N. Ravi can hardly contain his tears as he speaks of his distress. He even sent his brother to Singapore to report back directly and describes this period as the worst time of his life.

Film celebrations

Interestingly all the fans shown are men. There are a few women seen in the cinema watching Rajinikanth films, but for the most part the groups organising events for Rajinikanth film openings are exclusively male. G Mani’s long suffering wife Suganthi seems to take his fandom in her stride, including the revelation that he has pawned her jewellery to obtain money for another celebration and she doesn’t even seem to mind that he spends all of his income on his fan club rather than on their family. However the best line comes from the mimic artist who explains that despite making his living impersonating Rajinikanth, he himself is actually a Kamal Hassan fan!

It’s not all good works and birthday celebrations though. There is violence too, with a fans’ show resulting in broken windows at a cinema and G Mani’s mention of a long drawn out court case after a screen was destroyed at one of his fans-only screenings. It’s hard to understand even though I’ve seen the first night first show mania at first hand here in Melbourne, but the extreme reaction in Tamil Nadu suggests more than simple fandom. This is serious fanaticism with the followers believing that their hero can do no wrong and in many cases literally worshiping Rajini. One of the frequently expressed desires from many of the fans is that Rajinikanth should enter politics, not so unexpected given that many politicians in Tamil Nadu were movie stars but there is an absolute belief that he would bring better times for all in such a role.

For The Love of a Man is fascinating, at times disturbing and occasionally uplifting but does illustrate the intensity of fans in India. Like the banners and Rajinikanth cut-outs, the hero-worship is larger than life and really needs to be seen to be believed. The film was screened in Melbourne as part of the Indian Film festival and has been shown at a number of other festivals around the world but hopefully will get a wider release – well worth catching it if you can.

 

 

Tirugu Leni Manishi (1981)

Tirugu Leni Manishi poster

The early eighties gave us so much in India cinema – psychedelic titles, crazy costumes, extreme décor and disco to name but a few – and they all turn up in Thirugu Leni Manishi! Chiranjeevi shares the limelight here with none other than N.T. Rama Rao and as far as I can find out seems to be the only film where they appeared together. Providing excellent support are Rati Agnihoti, Jayalakshmi and Jaggayya, with the unexpected pleasure of Bob Christo who pops up towards the end of the film.

Some of those amazing titles.

And almost immediately afterwards Chiru is introduced as up and coming singing sensation Kishore Kumar.

Oh yes!

Naturally Padma (Jayalakshmi) is seduced by Kishore’s smooth skills with a guitar and his excellent prancing prowess. Padma is the daughter of multimillionaire Sasibhushan Rao (Jaggayya) so it’s pretty much guaranteed that the romance is going to be an uphill battle. Raja (N.T. Rama Rao) is Sasibhushan’s son and in a nice contrast to Chiru’s tight trousers, Raja has a collection of very wide flares teamed with natty multi-coloured shirts, as befitting a successful lawyer and young man about the town. I’m not sure why they decided to portray Raja as a newly qualified young lawyer as he does look more his real age for most of the film, although no more so than watching an ageing Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson playing a younger hero in Hollywood, but as he has plenty of energy and dashes around saving everyone in sight his youthful on-screen age doesn’t really matter.

Sasibhushan has no intention of allowing his daughter to be married to a penniless singer and instead arranges Padma’s marriage to the son of one of his rich friends. Padma follows standard filmi heroine behaviour and decides to commit suicide as that’s much easier than standing up to her father or even running away with Kishore. Well, it is the Eighties after all, and she does make sure to call her brother and explain in precise detail exactly what she is doing.

Raja turns up in the nick of time to save Padma and decides to get her married to Kishore despite his father’s orders. At the same time, Raja keeps running into a con man (Allu Ramalingaiah) and his niece Seeta (Rati Agnihoti).To begin with Rama tries to turn Seeta over to the police, but when he realises she’s a good person struggling to makes ends meet as she looks after her dead sister’s children, he has a change of heart and gives her a job instead.

Naturally the two get to dance together so that Raja can have his love story too.

Things turn darker once Raja discovers his father was involved with a criminal gang of smugglers and even worse when he finds out that Kishore has been corrupted by the same gang. In an attempt to live up to Sasibhushan’s standards for his daughter, Kishore became involved with the gang as a way to make a lot of money quickly but soon realises the error of his ways. As Sashibhushan is murdered and Kishore’s son kidnapped things quickly come to a head leading to Raja and Kishore teaming up to overcome the gang.

N.T.Rama Rao is the man who no-one can oppose of the title. He is successful in court, in love and in rehabilitating Ramudu and Seeta so naturally it falls to him to deal with the smuggling gang once he discovers their activities. While N.T Rama Rao is the out and out hero, Chiranjeevi has a more shaded and probably the more interesting role to play. His singer is initially carefree and very much the man in love, but as he struggles to win over Padma’s father, his pride and determination to give her the life she has been used to lead to his downfall. Chiru excels as a man under pressure especially when his child is kidnapped to force him to comply with the smuggler’s orders. Although most of the film is relatively light-hearted, the scenes where Kishore struggles with his conscience are much darker and a tribute to his acting skills to be able to pull such a character off without derailing the story.

The cast are all excellent and K. Raghavendra Rao ensures that each plays to their strengths. N.T Rama Rao is charming and debonair as Raja but does get the chance to beat up the bad guys and indulge in a few disguises too, while Chiranjeevi starts off very cool and groovy but changes into a conscientious husband and father – at least until his secret dealing catch up with him and he has to fight to win back his son. Jayalakshmi doesn’t have too much to do after she falls in love with Kishore, but Seeta gets a chance to dress up and fight against the smugglers, and does a good job of it too. Chiru and N.T.Rama Rao still get the most dazzling costumes though!

The film is amazingly colourful and cinematographer K.S. Prakash goes for some interesting angles and unusual framing to keep everything looking sharp too. The decor in Sasibhushan’s house is incredibly lavish, but much more to my taste is a totally awesome lamp on Raja’s desk, and I love the Village People poster on the wall of Kishore’s living room . Naturally the smuggling gang also have style, and their hideout features a number of gigantic masks on the wall, while their criminal mastermind (Satyanarayana) has two large china cat statues on either side of his chair. The giant birdcage where they stow Kishore’s son for safe keeping is perhaps just a tad over the top though!

Thirugu Leni Manishi has a more complex storyline than I was expecting and is a lot more fun too. Chiranjeevi is in his element as a flamboyant singer and his shift to family man and gang member is beautifully done, while N. T. Rama Rao is a solid and righteous hero who knows how to make things right. It’s fantastic to see the two together and the film is definitely well worth watching for that alone although the costumes, décor and screenplay are awesome added bonuses. Drama, action, comedy, Chiru and NTR all add up to an excellent film and one that shouldn’t be missed. 4 stars.

Karvva (2016)

Karvva poster

Karvva released earlier this year in India, and we finally got a chance to see the film here in Melbourne last weekend. I’m not usually a fan of horror films but the blurb about Karvva suggested that it was a combination thriller/ghost story, so I ventured out to the cinema in the hope that it may be another RangiTaranga. However Karvva turned out to be a fairly formulaic and not particularly frightening (or even thrilling) film, but despite the inevitability of the storyline there are a few good features that make it worth a one-time watch.

The film is a mix of two separate but related stories, one based on a documentary film crew out to debunk a rumour about a haunted house and the other recounting the kidnap of a rich businessman’s daughter. The connection between the two is the house; is a classic ‘renovator’s delight/fixer-upper’ mansion located somewhere in the Karnataka countryside.

When an NRI attempts to sell his ancestral property he finds that it has a nasty reputation as a haunted house, and in an attempt to improve his chances of a sale he enlists the help of a documentary filmmaker specialising in investigations of supernatural events. The TV crew has some kind of spiritual advisor and a boffin with a machine that measures ghost activity so obviously they’re the right people for the job. However despite all their gadgets and scepticism, the TV crew find more than they bargained for in the abandoned house which lives up to its reputation. Naturally they have to wait for an auspicious time to go back and try to exorcise the spirit which leaves the scene set for the next reckless visitors to the mansion.

The second part of the story focuses on Thilak, a spoilt, rich kid who lives the high life but who is brought down to earth when he loses a lot of money at a casino. He tries to get some money out of his father (Devaraj) by pretending he needs cash for a business deal, but his father decides that enough is enough and refuses to bail Thilak out. Anisha Ambrose is Thilak’s sister, who tries to persuade her dad to cough up some money for her brother, but before she can achieve very much she is kidnapped and a ransom note sent to Devaraj. The kidnappers choose Thilak to deliver the ransom money and the directions he follows take him to an abandoned mansion somewhere in the Karnataka countryside. Yes – this is the same Raja bungalow that we’ve already seen is haunted by a vengeful ghost, but Thilak is only concerned about finding his sister and isn’t too concerned by his surroundings. He also approaches the house from the back which looks much less creepy and isn’t quite as festooned with cobwebs as the front of the house either.

Events conspire to leave Thilak, his sister and three friends stuck in the house overnight. As the ectoplasm starts to swirl and the friends find out the history behind Raja bungalow it’s clear that they’re not going to have a peaceful night and indeed may not even last until morning.

The basic plot is a fairly standard ghost story but there are a few twists, particularly in the second half which make the film more interesting. Unfortunately, although the visual effects are good, each even remotely spooky moment is accompanied by loud screechy music and distorted screams that quickly remove any suspense from the scene. There are numerous points where one of the characters is shown from behind with the suggestion that someone (i.e. the ghost) is creeping up behind them. It would have been so much more effective to cut out all the noise altogether, or even go for some slightly more clichéd breathing rather than the loud cacophony that occurs every time someone turns their back on the camera. More effective are the shots where a vague figure appears when the lights go out, and where there are half seen flickers in the periphery, but as the film goes on the effects get more and more obvious and subsequently less and less frightening. The inclusion of a comedy track of sorts with Vijay Chendur reduces any suspense that might have built up with the initial ghostly effects while the loud soundtrack and OTT make-up towards the end mean that the final scenes are funnier than I think they were meant to be.

The actors are occasionally overshadowed by the effects, but Thilak is fine as the sceptical and stalwart hero of the hour. Mostly he just has to ignore all the odd happenings and boldly go forward to investigate the latest black-out, noise or other unusual occurrence, but he does so with a reasonable amount of attitude and is good at the end when everything is explained. However RJ Rohith as one of Thilak’s friends is rather wooden and inexpressive although some of this may be due to his rather dour character, which doesn’t give him scope to do much else. Anisha Ambrose and Anu Poovamma are both good and escape the usual fate of female characters in a horror movie by being braver than seems plausible, while Vijay Chendur is funnier than expected and makes an impact despite only having a short time on-screen.

Navaneeth wrote and directed the film and there are some good ideas in there, even if the ghost story and horror element is somewhat formulaic. The NRI desperate to sell his house works well and there are some satisfyingly scary moments with the TV crew as they search for clues. The initial kidnap scenes are also well thought out and the events when the friends first find themselves stuck in the house are effectively written. However as the horror part of the story kicks in the film starts to lose its novelty and the final explanation can even be partly anticipated given the events of the night in Raja bungalow. Still, the cinematography by Mohan is excellent, there are a few good spooky scenes and I like that the female characters are braver than some of the men! Worth watching for the set-up in the first half, the twists in the second and a good performance from Thilak Shekar.