Pattas (2020)

Anyone who visits CinemaChaat regularly will know that I’m a massive Dhanush fan. Even when a movie is bad, I can usually still enjoy his performance even if everything else is terrible. But for once I can’t even say that Dhanush’s performance saved the film. And it’s not that he’s bad here, not at all, but there is something missing. His energy that usually bursts off the screen seems muted and I just couldn’t connect to his character(s) at all. I’ve had issues with R.S. Durai Senthilkumar films before, and I suspect it’s his style of film-making that basically doesn’t work for me. Ethir Neechal started well, but didn’t sustain its early promise and Kodi was an interesting film that unfortunately didn’t have subtitles, so again I struggled. And for Pattas the subtitles are so bad as to be almost unintelligible. I mostly ignored them because the English made little sense and often didn’t seem to connect with what was happening onscreen.

So is Pattas worth watching? Well, it has some good points – the inclusion of the ancient martial art of Adimurai is interesting although it could have been better explored. It’s rare to see a female character get to take part in the action sequences, so that’s a plus. The music is great and the choreography (both fight scenes and dance moves) is excellent, but realistically, that’s just not enough to make a good movie. 

The film starts with a flashback of Kanyakumari (Sneha) fighting back against a group of men who have beaten her son. She is arrested for the death of one of the men, despite the fact that they have killed her son, and should really have been the ones on trial. The film then switches to the present day where Pattas (Dhanush) and his sidekick Puncture (Sathish) are robbing a kickboxing studio. Switch again and we move to Thailand where Nilan’s son has won a kickboxing tournament and Nilan (Naveen Chandra) announces a big MMA competition to be held in Chennai. Switch again, and we’re back to the prison where Kanyakumari is being released from prison, apparently with vengeance on her mind.

It’s a check box film. Each character has certain things they need to do to get to the next scene, so they are ticked off, and then we move on. Although this is a revenge drama, rather than focusing on Kanyakumari and her plans, the film instead drifts between characters without ever establishing a strong rapport with any of them. There is a flashback to how Kanyakumari ended up fighting for her son’s life, where Dhanush plays his father, Thiraviyam Perumal, a Adimurai fighting champion. This section is better, but there is still little to draw the viewer into Thiraviyam’s world. Obviously Dhanush has put a lot of work into the part. The slow martial arts moves required look difficult and he manages them well, but there is no real sense of the character outside of his training. We get that he’s something of a pacifist; a nice man who tries his best to help his friend and his training master Asaan (Nasser). But there isn’t much more. As the younger Pattas (aka Sakthi), Dhanush is again wonderfully athletic, but the romance with Sadhana (Mehreen Pirzada) is woeful and again his character seems underdeveloped. The focus is all on the action, but it takes more than kicks and punches to make a film, and the story behind all the fight scenes doesn’t.

Naveen Chandra does well as the protagonist and out of all the characters in the film his role has the most definition. Unfortunately, the character development means that his story is often the weakest as there is no underlying motivation given for some of his actions. There are a group of foreign actors in the flashback who play Nilan’s friends, and every single one of them is absolutely terrible! I couldn’t work out if they were foreigners to emphasise Nilan’s alienation from his home country, or just because R.S. Durai Senthilkumar didn’t want to show Indian men carrying out such dreadful atrocities as are perpetrated here. Whatever the reason, it seems to be a bad choice all round.

The finale of the film revolves around the martial arts competition, where again we have more foreign actors supposedly playing the various competitors. I’m not sure if R.S. Durai Senthilkumar has ever watching any MMA competitions, but one thing you can’t help notice is how supremely fit each competitor is. Not so at this contest, where the competition looks as if they had one biriyani too many before stepping into the ring. It might have been the dreadful subtitles, but I also couldn’t work out why Nilan’s son pulled out of the competition and instead Nilan took on Pattas outside in the parking lot. The whole thing was just so bizarre given that this takes place at a world championship that would presumably have all the usual rules and regulations banning competitors from having side spats just outside the arena. And by this stage Kanyakumari has been sidelined, Sadhana has pretty much vanished along with Puncture and their father Kolusu (Munishkanth), so there is little emotion here despite the supposed revenge for Thiraviyam Perumal’s death.

What does work well are the fight scenes. Dhanush looks fantastic as both Thiraviyam Perumal and Pattas, and the fighting style works well with his smaller frame. Sneha too has great action sequences and these look realistic and exciting onscreen. The songs from Vivek-Mervin are catching and the dance sequences fun and very well executed. Kudos to all the choreographers, Jaani for the dance sequences and Dhilip Subbarayan for the action, who obviously put a lot of hard work into these scenes. This could have been a really great action film, especially since the fight sequences look fantastic, but it needs more focus on the martial art, and a greater exploration of Sneha’s character. Sneha does an excellent job here, but just doesn’t have enough to work with, especially in the scenes in the modern day where she is trying to take her revenge.

One last important point. It’s crucial for an international release to have good subtitles – not the terrible attempt here that just did not make sense, and in fact ruined the story for me. Please, please producers, you need to pay attention to subtitles which really are important, especially if a film is to be successfully screened outside of Tamil Nadu. Rekhs is the best of course and there are good subtitlers out there, so why not use them? I wish I enjoyed this film more – it has all the elements that I usually enjoy, but the weak story, poor use of the actors and awful subtitles made it a bland and disappointing watch. Wait for the DVD or for streaming – the songs and fight sequences are worth it and you can FF the rest.

Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (2020)

A new year, a new Bunny film, and this one is a lot of fun. Trivikram has come up with a different slant on a traditional storyline around babies swapped at birth, and then adds in an unusual father/son dynamic on top. Murali Sharma gets to act his heart out, the support cast are terrific and Bunny is on top form throughout. Yes, Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo is a little slow to start and there are a few mis-steps initially, but there is much to enjoy in this mix of family drama, action and romance.  

The movie opens with two babies being switched immediately after birth. The rich Ramachandra (Jayaram) and his wife Yasu (Tabu) end up with the son of Valmiki (Murali Sharma) and his wife (Rohini). There is some history between the two men as they used to work together until Ramachandra married the boss’s daughter and ended up running the business. Valmiki has ended up working for his old friend and is resentful and bitter about the situation as he feels it’s luck rather than talent which has given Ramachandra his success. The only people who know about the switched children are the nurse, who meets with a tragic accident and falls into a coma, and Valmiki. Sadly no significant jewellery, birthmarks or songs, but obviously film aficionados will instantly recognise the nurse’s coma as potentially important!

The film then moves to the present day where nature has trumped nurture and Raj (Sushanth) has grown up to be quiet, hesitant and totally unable to replicate his father’s business success. Meanwhile, despite Valmiki’s antagonism, Bantu (Allu Arjun) is smart, canny and very capable, although he does have one flaw – he always has to tell the truth. There is some very well-written conflict between father and son as Valmiki treats Bantu badly, while Bantu tries everything he can to get any sign of approval at all from his father. Meanwhile, Ramachandra is desperate to get Raj involved in the business, but it’s something for which he shows no aptitude, instead demonstrating positive disinterest. Thrown into this mix is Appala Naidu (Samuthirakani) and his son (Govind Padmasoorya) who are out to grab some of Ramachandra’s company for themselves. Appala Naidu is a thug who runs the docks, while his son is more sophisticated but obsessed with the idea of taking over Ramachandra’s business.

What lifts this movie above being simply yet another masala pot-boiler, is the relationship between Bantu and his father Valmiki. The sheer nastiness of Valmiki and his determined mistreatment of Bantu is cleverly done and well contrasted with Valmiki’s servile attentiveness when working with Ramachandra. Murali Sharma is simply brilliant here and his total lack of remorse for his actions, the fate of the nurse and his treatment of Bantu is perfectly portrayed along with his innately selfish nature. And while Murali Sharma is outstanding, Bunny too is superb in these interactions, displaying nuanced emotion and plenty of depth to his character. There is a beautiful moment after Banto finds out the truth that really is emotionally perfect, and Bunny plays it brilliantly. Naturally the estranged sons and their various families need to be reunited but it’s not quite that simple. While Bantu fights his way past Valmiki and gradually charms Ramachandra and his father-in-law Aditya Radhakrishnan (Sachin Khedekar), the family is dealing with a number of problems. There is conflict between Ramachandra and his wife, his brother-in-law is cheating and stealing money from the company, and Raj’s inability to deal with Kashiram is also causing problems.

As Bantu becomes involved with the family, Trivikram tones down the comedy and OTT action for some good solid family drama that’s written for maximum emotional effect. It works because the characters are well realised and each acts true to themselves, making the emotions more real and adding to the story.

What doesn’t work quite as well is the romance angle. Mainly this comes from the odd introduction of Amulya (Pooja Hegde) as Bantu’s boss in a new job. When he first meets Amulya, Bantu can only see her legs and is unable to lift his eyes above her skirt level for much of the first half of the movie. For a film that then goes on to talk about it is wrong to fight with women and then treats Yasu’s character so well, this is a significant step back to outdated ideas of ‘comedy’ and ‘romance’. With the odd start, despite good chemistry between Bunny and Pooja Hegde, the love story always feels just a little off, not helped by Pooja’s initially ‘strong business woman’ persona fading into the background as Bantu starts to work for Ramachandra and she is relegated to being simply ‘the love interest’. The film really didn’t need a love track for both Raj and Bantu, especially when Trivikram tries to muddy the waters here too and just succeeds in making both Pooja Hegde and Nivetha Pethuraj appear insipid. 

Even with the incredibly strong performance from Murali Sharma, this is Bunny’s film from start to finish and he really is superb throughout. The stylish star manages to pull off a mullet (just) and despite a distinct lack of hair continuity in the film, he does look very good indeed, especially in the songs. As always Bunny’s dancing is outstanding, but his acting matches up to his footwork skills, and he does an excellent job in the more emotional moments. His comedic timing is also very good, while a scene in the boardroom where he pays tribute to a number of Telugu films heroes is just brilliant! Bunny’s acting has definitely matured, even in comparison to his last hit with Trivikram, S/O  Satyamurthy, which I feel was his previous best performance to date. Here Bunny shows good emotional depth, well-executed action and a real sense of commitment to the character that pays off and makes Bantu appear a genuine and appealing person, rather than just a filmi character.

The dance sequences are excellent, and I loved the attention to detail in many of the songs, like the random background dancers in Butta Bomma who pop up hula-hooping from time to time. The music from S. Thaman is also great and suits the film too. The songs are really catchy even if the lyrics are occasionally a bit odd (maybe a subtitling issue?) and the background score helps lift the emotional moments in the film. There is a real who’s who of support cast as well. Naturally Brahmi pops up, just in a song this time, but we also get Navdeep and the sadly underused Rahul Ramakrishna as workmates of Bantu, Cinemachaat favourite Ajay as one of Appala Naidu’s thugs, Rajendra Prasad as a police officer and Brahmaji as a businessman trying to buy Amulya’s business. Tabu is beautiful and grace personified as Yasu, while Jayaram and Sachin Khedekar are both excellent. Unfortunately, Rohini doesn’t have very much to do as Bantu’s mother and his sister (Vaishnavi Chaitanya) also has a very limited role, which is a shame as it would have been interesting to see their family dynamic developed more. However, there is already a lot happening in this film, and perhaps it’s just as well that the drama is mostly limited to Ramachandra’s family.

Although the basic story is nothing new, the way Trivikram has developed the characters of Bantu and Valmiki is different, especially when mixed in with the family drama of Bantu’s real father. While all the necessary components are here – songs, drama, action sequences and even the luke-warm romance, it’s having a good story that really makes Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo such a worthwhile and entertaining watch. I really enjoyed this film and would recommend it as a fun film, perfect for the holiday season.

Darbar (2020)

It’s always a major event when a new Rajinikanth film releases and even though I didn’t get to watch Darbar until the second day, the cinema was still packed for the evening show. But the initial excitement, whistles and cheers quickly faded as Darbar failed to engage the audience. I guess for every hit like Kaala, there has to be balance of a Lingaa and despite the star cast, Darbar ends up as a big miss. Individually each member of the cast is good, but the story just isn’t there, and when you add in some dodgy subtitles Darbar is simply very disappointing indeed.

The basic story is that widower and top police officer Aadhithya Arunachalam (Rajinikanth) is appointed as Commissioner of Police in Mumbai and sent to clean up the city. Why Mumbai? I couldn’t see any reason why this wasn’t set in Chennai, unless it was fear that people wouldn’t like the city being a hive of criminal activity. The opening scenes are of gangland style executions as Aadhithya personally rids the city of various gangsters but each of these seems overly simplistic. When we finally get to see Aadhithya it’s in a standard South-hero-introduction-scene™ where he is completely bullet proof, villains only attack either individually or in small groups, and where the sword proves mightier than the gun. It’s all just very meh, and not even the Rajni factor can elevate this into anything cheer-worthy.

The reason for the bloodbath is revealed and then there is a long flashback that follows Aadhithya’s arrival in the city showing the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of the top criminal Ajay Malhotra (Prateik Babbar). Because of course it’s just one man who controls 90% of the drugs in Mumbai, and naturally no-one else steps in to help the hundreds of addicts seen pleading for help in a ridiculously tone-deaf montage. It’s over-simplified to the extreme with absolutely no depth to the story at all. I seem to say this frequently about A.R. Murugadoss films, but there are good ideas here, it’s just that the execution is very sloppy. Too often there seems to be an assumption that the audience will accept anything just to see their hero in action, but no matter how amazing Rajinikanth is (and he is!) there needs to be a story.  With all the slick production values put into the film, it doesn’t make sense that the narrative is badly under-developed with minimal research into some key plot points. Don’t get me started on the medical mis-information here!

Along with all the usual action sequences, there is a sort-of romance track with Nayanthara, which has some promise but never delivers. Aadhithya wants his daughter Valli (an excellent Nivetha Thomas) to get married, but she doesn’t want him to be left alone and even teases him because he can’t talk to women. So Valli points out this random woman – Lily (Nayanthara) and asks her father to tell her she is beautiful. As the start of a relationship it has to be one of the lamest I’ve seen, and from this unpromising start, the whole romance never gets any better. There is an interesting arc though where Lily reports the creepy man who is following her (Aadhithya), and then later Lily’s cousin (Sriman) has a frank conversation with Aadhithya about the age difference. This is actually well done, but sadly doesn’t evolve any further which I think is a real missed opportunity. For her part, Nayanthara glides through the film looking stunning but also a bit of a fish out of water as her character doesn’t fit well into the storyline at all. 

Nivetha Thomas has the better role as Aadhithya’s daughter, and she brings personality and warmth to the role. Her interactions with Aadhithya feel genuinely those of a father and daughter, and she ensures that Valli’s part in the story does make sense. I really like her here and the scenes between Nivetha and Rajinikanth develop their relationship and bring a human face to the otherwise formulaic action-hero-cop persona of Aadhithya. Rajni too is great in these scenes, and I would have liked more of these emotional moments which could have been used to develop the story, instead of adding the pointless romance.

Also problematic is the villain, Hari Chopra (Suniel Shetty). Suniel Shetty is usually a pretty good villain – he has the sneer down pat and I’ve seen him generate a convincing aura of evil even if he doesn’t have the sheer physicality of some of the other classic bad guys. But he is totally wasted here. His introduction scene is pathetic and seems to be out of a gangster film for kids. I have no idea why he was supposed to be such a big shot, apart from the repeated reference to burning a police station some 20 years previously. Again, there are some good ideas thrown in when Hari first gets back to India and starts his campaign against the police, but all of this is weakened by some nonsense byplay with a knife and then completely destroyed by the ridiculous finale. Nawab Shah is reasonably good as Vijay Malhotra, the father of Ajay who is willing to go to any lengths to save his son, but the rest of the villains are faceless and are mostly of the rent-a-thug variety. Interestingly, they all seem to prefer loudly patterned shiny synthetic shirts which I did appreciate as a distinctive style choice for crooks.

The best part of the film is undoubtedly Rajinikanth, and he strides across the (many) plot-holes with panache, charisma and charm. He’s wonderfully engaging to watch and his supreme confidence is always fun, but there is too much reliance on his hand gestures, sunglasses and winning smile. Yes, he’s excellent, but without good dialogue and a convincing narrative, the film is simply a series of set pieces that could be slotted into any other Rajinikanth film. Still, the action sequences are beautifully shot by Santosh Sivan, Rajinikanth looks awesome throughout and the music is good, although Anirudh’s background score is more memorable than most of the songs. I did enjoy the choreography for these but the subtitles for the songs were dreadful! Some are totally incomprehensible (I suspect too literal translations) and I’m looking forward to the film streaming to screencap a few for Paagal Subtitle. It’s baffling to me how such a big production can fail to deal with essential basics like subtitles for an OS release.

I didn’t have great expectations from Darbar, but the film turned out to be more disappointing than expected. I’m glad I watched it in the cinema with a room full of like-minded fans, but I am frustrated by the apparently careless approach to the story. Come on Tamil cinema, Rajinikanth fans expect better!