Kendasampige (Part II Ginimari Case)

Kendasampige

Soori’s 2015 release is an excellent thriller that skilfully blends a romance, a police investigation and a road trip into a gripping story. Newcomers Vikky Varun and Manvitha Harish are excellent as the young couple on the run from the law, but everyone in this fast-paced crime drama performs perfectly, aided by the clever screenplay and superb cinematography. It’s clever, well-written and has realistic characters that generally behave as expected – all points that ensure this is a film I thoroughly enjoyed.

The story is written by Surendranath and there are three distinct threads with a couple of side incidents that together make up the plot of Kendasampige. This film is called part 2, although Kendasampige is complete in its own right, but there are a number of hints throughout that it is part of a much greater whole. If Part 1 (which is yet to release) and the subsequent Part 3 are anywhere near as good, then this promises to be an excellent trilogy indeed.

The first thread deals with a group of corrupt cops, Narayanaswamy, Chandrasekhar, Govindaraju and their boss DCP Suryakanth (Prakash Belawadi). The film begins with three of them stashing money they have stolen from a drug raid in a well, although one of them appears unhappy with the proposed split of their ill-gotten gains. While these cold-hearted and mercenary police officers are important to the main story, this is where I presume the prequel will clear up some loose ends since Kendasampige starts after the group have stolen the drug money and DCP Suryakanth has executed the gang members involved. Soori paints a bleak picture of corruption in the police force with just a few short snippets of conversation and this perfectly sets the background for the rest of the story to unfold.

The second thread follows the romance between rich girl Gowri (Manvitha Harish) and working class Ravi (Vikky Varun) who are very much in love despite their social differences and the objection of Gowri’s stylish mother Shakuntala (Chandrika). One of the corrupt police officers, DCP Suryakanth, happens to be in a relationship with Shakuntala, so naturally she turns to him to solve her problem with Gowri’s unwelcome suitor. Suryakanth fakes a drug dealing case on Ravi but on the way from the court to jail, Ravi somehow manages to escape, shooting the police driver in the process. With the police on his tail, Ravi naturally turns to Gowri for help, asking for money in his attempt to escape. However, Gowri is determined to support her man despite his claim to have shot a police officer, and decides to run away with him to ensure they can stay together.

Ravi’s shooting of a police officer starts the third thread – a murder investigation by ACP Purandar (Rajesh Nataranga). Purandar is in charge of the inquiry into Officer Govindaraju’s apparent death but as he delves deeper into the case he realises that all is not as it seems. His first task is to find Ravi but as he is starting his search, Shakuntala discovers that Gowri has run away with Ravi and pleads with DCP Suryakanth to get her daughter back. Ravi and Gowri have to evade ACP Purander and DCP Suryakanth’s two corrupt cops Narayanaswamy and Chandrasekhar if they are to have any chance of a life together. Adding to the tension, the two groups searching have very different plans for the couple and it’s a race to see who will get to them first.

The screenplay by Soori and Rajesh Nataranga (presumably the same Rajesh who plays ACP Purandar) weaves these different threads together perfectly and step by step the whole story is gradually revealed. As with any good crime drama, major events only become clear to the audience once the police investigation reveals the truth, while each action causes a reaction that allows the story to move forward. The different relationships between characters are developed naturally and although the back story for most is brief, there is enough to ensure they appear to act realistically as the plot unfolds. ACP Purander is shown discussing the case with his wife, who also appears to work for the police force and this gives more depth and understanding to his character while providing a good contrast to the more selfish DCP Suryakanth, who is having an affair with Shakuntala but lying to her about her daughter.

The chase is thrilling, although there are no car chases or scenes of Gowri and Ravi running through the streets, at least not until right near the end. Throughout there is a sense of suspense which increases as the net closes in on the young couple and the final outcome becomes ever more uncertain. Soori adds in a few twists which help increase the tension while Satya Hegde’s use of the camera to contrast the light and space evoked by overhead drone shots of each city with the confining spaces inhabited by Gowri and Ravi as they attempt to hide adds further anxiety.

The performances too are all outstanding, particularly by the newcomers Vikky (aka Santhosh) and Manvitha although Rajesh Nataranga is also excellent. Vikky ensures Ravi appears as a typical working class guy who rarely thinks outside of his own small world. His panic and confusion as he is arrested and charged are realistic and his descent into stunned acceptance is also well portrayed. Vikky does an excellent job of portraying a man so far out of his depth that just keeping his head above water is the most he can manage. His life has taught him that he has to endure, and that is what he does, completely allowing someone else to take charge of his life when he is no longer able to cope. Vikky is to be commended on allowing his character to fully display his nervousness and fear, rather than simply devolving to standard hero behaviour when faced with a dilemma and he really is fantastic in the role.

Manvitha is also superb as the confident and more worldly Gowri who is able to deal with every problem and takes control of each situation. Gowri is made of sterner stuff than Ravi and it’s her determination that keeps them on the road and one step ahead of the cops. When she does break down it’s entirely appropriate and it’s only after she is separated from Ravi that she loses her self-control. Gowri is an assured and very positive character and it’s great to see such a strong female role in a film genre that is usually much more male dominated. However, Soori ensures that the duo definitely are a couple – each has their own strengths and weaknesses and despite Gowri’s outward confidence she needs Ravi’s dependence on her in order to keep her own anxieties at bay. It’s a more mature and realistic relationship than I was expecting from the opening scenes and it’s well developed and portrayed by the two young actors.

The music from V. Harikrishna is mainly used as background to portions of the road trip and generally fits well into the narrative. Nenape Nithya Mallige is used to show Ravi’s memories of meeting Gowri but it’s also a great song and the sequence sums up their relationship well.

Everything in Kendasampige works to deliver a well-developed story in a convincing screenplay. The performances are excellent and each character skilfully used to further develop the plot. This is one of the best police dramas I’ve seen from the Kannada film industry and it’s made even better by the inclusion of a road trip through cities I’ve never heard of, but which look interesting to visit, and a romance that’s more realistic and better developed than usual. It’s a short film too, little over an hour and a half, which makes it even more impressive that Soori fits so much into the time including enough character and plot back stories and ensuring plenty of plot development too. I loved this film and can’t wait to see the rest of the trilogy when it does release. But even without the prequel, Kendasampige is not to be missed and I highly recommend it as a complete edge-of-your-seat thriller that impresses on every level. A full 5 stars.

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Si3 (Singam III)

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Si3 is the third film in the Singam franchise from writer/director Hari and team, and it follows the same basic formula as the previous two films. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the problem here is that Hari sticks rigidly to the format and includes far too much lacklustre comedy and insipid songs that do nothing but distract from the main plot. That is rather less than expected too, although there is plenty of fast-paced action and blistering fight scenes, the story is scantily developed while characters some and go without ever establishing any sense of who they are and what their relationship is to the story. Suriya also seems to be on overdrive – every dialogue is delivered in either a hoarse snarl or a loud shout and the character of Durai Singam even less plausible than usual, having moved on from portraying a one-man army to more elemental unstoppable force that slams villains into the ground so hard that they almost ricochet into orbit. It’s excessive and overdone but the fight scenes are still fun to watch – if only the rest of the movie had been anywhere near as entertaining.

As the film begins, Durai Singam is seconded to the CBI and sent to Vizag in Andhra Pradesh to investigate the murder of Police Commissioner Ramakrishna (Jayaprakash). The local police are surprisingly grateful to have Singam foisted onto them but the local villains, headed up by the enterprising M.S. Reddy (Sarath Saxena) are rather less thrilled by his arrival. Cue major fight at the train station that’s over almost before it begins as Singam throws his opponents through anything remotely breakable before leaving for Vizag police station. Vidhya (Shruti Haasan) spots Singam’s thug annihilation program at the station and instantly decides to follow and harass him by declaring her undying love at every opportunity. Vidhya’s attempts to entice Singam to reciprocate her love are mainly used as comedy, although there is nothing remotely funny about any of these scenes and Vidhya’s character is painfully immature and brattish. Vidhya is an investigative reporter and does have a minor part to play in the plot as well, but Shruti is completely wasted here in a role that requires her to do little more than pout at appropriate places and dance in a few oddly placed songs.

Although Singam is now married to Kavya (Anushka Shetty), he decides that for security reasons she shouldn’t accompany him to Andhra. However, Kavya decides to come along incognito using working for her father as an excuse, managing a few brief meetings with Singam and suffering through some appallingly bad wardrobe choices during an awkward song in the snow. Like the rest of Singam’s family back in TN, Anushka only appears as a means to link the previous movies to Si3 and otherwise her presence is completely superfluous to the plot.

Sarath Saxena is good as the don in charge of the criminal element in Vizag, but he doesn’t appear on-screen enough to develop much of a presence. He’s also not the main villain either, which is a shame since he would have been a much better choice than Thakur Anoop Singh. Singh’s Vittal is the son of the Central Home Minister but despite his parentage is an Australian citizen based in Sydney. His company is involved in the illegal dumping of Australian waste in India, with the Vizag part of the operation under the control of Reddy and his gang, which provides the connection back to the murder of the police commissioner. Sadly Vittal is an ineffectual villain who looks as if he has just stepped out of a shampoo commercial and spends most of his time pumping weights and channelling his inner Salman Khan. He is also horrifically violent to women, using this as a tactic to force other men to follow his commands. It seems oddly cowardly for a Tamil villain and I presume that Hari was ensuring that Singam’s opponent appeared as vile as possible, although I don’t think this was the best approach. Vittal is childish and indecisive and it’s hard to believe that he has built up a criminal empire given his whingeing and temper tantrums whenever things don’t go his way.

Without a strong villain, the story collapses into a series of frenetic fight scenes, punch dialogues from Singam and puerile comedy from Soori as police officer Veeram. There are some excellent actors in the support cast but they are given little to do and have very limited screen time. As in the previous Singam films, the focus is all on Suriya and the wafer-thin plot is purely an excuse to add in more fight scenes and shots of Suriya morphing into a lion or confidently striding around Vizag in his police uniform. Thankfully, Suriya is up to the challenge with his presence almost enough to hold the entire film together despite the hectic pace and general lack of a coherent storyline.

Harris Jayaraj provides the music but the songs are not memorable and the best, an item song featuring Neetu Chandra, is completely overpowered by the action taking place around the dancers. The rest are insipid love songs which are erratically pictured in various foreign locations, although I was happy to see Suriya in a Rishi Kapoor-style jumper at one point.

The best parts of the film are undoubtedly the fight scenes (despite the insane tossing around of villains like confetti), and Hari makes sure there are plenty including a variety of locations and items-to-be-smashed too. While Suriya is excellent as Durai Singam no-one else in the film has a chance to appear as anything other than as a bystander to events, although Krish does just manage to be noticed as Singam’s trusty assistant Sreenivas. Si3 suffers from the success of the previous Singam films as Hari has tried to make the third outing bigger, louder and even more action-packed but without a coherent plot, all the special effects, super-speed action and fight choreography aren’t enough to make a good film. Si3 is watchable, entertaining in parts and occasionally thrilling, but it could have been so much better.

Sethupathi (2016)

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After the excellent Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, S.U. Arun Kumar and Vijay Sethupathi are back together with a masala cop film, Sethupathi. But this isn’t your typical story with a hero police officer busting heads right, left and centre on the tail of some desperate villain. Although the police officer in question is as rough and tough as they come when he’s out on the streets, once he makes it back home it’s a different story. The film spends almost as much time looking at the home life of police inspector Sethupathi as it does following his investigation into the murder of fellow officer Subburaj. The glimpses of Sethupathi with his wife and children make him a more human hero, giving an insight into his thought processes and ensuring the otherwise routine story has plenty of depth and interest. He may be a violent and argumentative man at work, but at home he is in love with his wife and a good father to his young kids. Sethupathi has the usual chase sequences, fight scenes and general rowdyism expected of a police thriller, but it also has heart and that what makes it such a watchable film.

The film opening sequences give an indication that the police are the good guys. Here are the men you hope to meet when you have a problem – compassionate, caring and protective and doing the best they can in an often difficult job. The victim, SI Subburaj, is one such police officer. After stopping when he witnessed an argument between a husband and wife, he’s set upon by a gang of thugs and burnt to death on a bridge. Although the police officer belonged to another police station, the job of investigating his death falls to Inspector Sethupathi (Vijay Sethupathi), a man whose colleagues describe as a psycho but also 100% honest and incorruptible.

Sethupathi rules his police station with a heavy hand, but although many of his officers seem terrified of him, he has the respect and loyalty of his right-hand man Murthy (Linga). Despite all his bluster, Sethupathi has very clear ideas about what is expected from a police officer and is determined that everyone should follow his line. He tells his men that they should not upset the public unnecessarily although he isn’t slow to react when he thinks a crowd is being disrespectful outside the hospital. He’s infuriated that someone has dared to kill a police officer and expects that everyone will be as enthusiastic about tracking down the killer as he is himself, and when that isn’t the case he’s quick to anger and lets everyone have the sharp edge of his tongue. But for all his barely contained violence, even at work Sethupathi is more caring than first appears. When a man comes in looking for his missing wife, Sethupathi sends the couple’s young daughter away so that she does not have to hear her father speaking ill of her mother. It’s clear that he’s thinking of the bigger picture and hoping for a good outcome for the family.

Sethupathi quickly discovers that SI Subburaj has been killed by mistake and the real target was another police officer, SI Kanagavel. Kanagavel is married to the daughter of local king-pin Vaathiyar (Vela Ramamoorthy) and by all accounts it isn’t a happy marriage. Rather than letting his daughter divorce Kanagavel, Vaathiyar decides to murder him instead – effective but perhaps not the best solution to the problem. While investigating, Sethupathi arrests Vaathiyar who immediately swears vengeance for the insult. At the same time, something goes wrong during an interrogation of two schoolboys, resulting in Sethupathi’s suspension and an investigation into his actions. While Sethupathi desperately tries to work out what happened and prove his innocence, Vaathiyar is out for blood and determined that Sethupathi will pay for his embarrassment – one way or another.

Vijay Sethupathi does masala cop brilliantly here, twirling his moustache and barking orders while displaying all the tenacious enthusiasm of a bulldog on the scent as he chases down criminals. He’s determined, ferocious and heroic – exactly as required for a mass action film. The brilliance lies in the other side of Sethupathi. The man who goes home to romance his wife and play with his children, call home when he’s away on business and send selfies to his wife to let her know how much he misses her. I always appreciate some good white board pondering – used here as Sethupathi tries to figure out why a gun fired when it shouldn’t have, and the many little touches that A.R. Arun Kumar adds in to illustrate the family dynamic. Vijay Sethupathi changes body language, demeanour and his language once he gets home and I love how realistic he appears as he deals with the doubts and problems that he faces every day. Plus of course he’s great in the fight sequences and completely nails the tough cop persona in every way.

Remya Nambeesan is also fantastic as Sethupathi’s wife as are the two child actors who play his children. There is lovely chemistry between the two actors, and their relationship feels comfortable and enduring – exactly as you’d expect for a couple who had been together for a while. This is a much better thread to the story than the more usual ‘romantic interest’ and the relationship provides a structure and a focus to Sethupathi’s actions that makes them appear logical and inevitable. There are hints that there are some troubles in the marriage and issues with Sethupathi’s in-laws that are never fully revealed. I can’t decide if the film would be better with a little more detail or if the hints should have been removed but regardless the relationship itself is so well done that in the end it doesn’t really matter.

Vela Ramamoorthy is a rather pedestrian villain, but then again he’s not really the focus of the film. His attempts to remove Sethupathi are inconveniences rather than obstacles in Sethupathi’s path and the Inspector makes it clear that if Vaathiyar would leave him alone, Sethupathi has no further interest in him. Amusingly the various thugs are rather less eager to jump into battle than usual and with Sethupathi’s reputation their reluctance makes sense, but once they do attack the choreography is well executed.

The film looks good too with some clever framing shots from cinematographer Dinesh Krishnan who uses mirrors and reflections beautifully throughout the film. The music from Nivas K Prasanna works well in the film and is mainly used to further develop the relationship between Sethupathi and his wife or as background music for the action scenes. There are no big song and dance numbers and the film doesn’t need anything so commercial to detract from the actors’ performances. It’s also short, at only 2 hours the screenplay is kept tight and the pace generally fast. I thought there might be some long drawn out revenge at the end, but instead it’s kept short and sweet, totally fitting the character and his approach to his job.

Sethupathi is an excellent mix of action and drama. The crime element of the story works well and Vijay Sethupathi is charismatic and engaging as the lead character. Adding in the domestic scenes is a clever idea that pays off superbly, giving more interest to the central character and a human touch to the whole story. I love that the romance is between a husband and wife rather than a token heroine who only turns up for the songs, and too that the relationship is so comfortable and warm. Definitely a cut above the usual police thriller and highly recommended. 4 stars.