Vishwaroopam II

Vishwaroopam 2 poster

Kamal Haasan’s sequel fills in much of the backstory from Vishwaroopam and there are flashbacks a plenty as RAW Agent Wisam (Kamal Haasan) faces off again against terrorist Omar (Rahul Bose) and his dirty bomb threats. Despite all the explanation, it’s best to have seen the first film to understand the sequel, although the few brief glimpses of key scenes – the warehouse fight, Vis in full dance-instructor mode, are enough to jog the memory so a re-watch prior is not necessary. Fleshing out the background does help put everything into perspective but sadly VII has nowhere near as much finesse and style as the first film. Along with jolting between the past and present, the sequel plot doesn’t get anything like the same attention to detail and the ‘bomb’ situation in VII is over almost before it begins. However, the flash-back sequences are good, Kamal Haasan is still impressive in the action sequences and Rahul Bose is fabulous as Omar suffering the effects of radiation poisoning.

The film starts just after the end of Part 1, with Wisam (aka Vis) taking the body of Dr Dawkins back to the UK, accompanied by his wife Nirupama (Pooja Kumar), fellow agent Ashmita (Andrea Jeremiah) and his handler Colonel Jagannath (Shekhar Kapur). Once on English soil Wisam butts heads with Eshwar Iyer (Ananth Mahadevan), in charge of Indian special operations in the UK in a side plot that is never fully developed. It feels as if there are a number of scenes missing and Eshwar is another character who is gone before he’s made any impact. Of greater urgency is the terrorist’s plot to blow up the shipwrecked SS Richard Montgomery near Sheerness, which leads to a couple of well-choreographed action sequences including one underwater. Full marks for incorporating a real historical incident (the ship sank in 1944 carrying a full load of explosives and has never been fully salvaged due to the risks involved in recovery) but marks off for the lack of suspense since the mission to retrieve the terrorists’ explosive device fails to deliver any tension, despite Nirupama having to dive through the ship’s unexploded ordinance.

And that’s the problem with much of the action this time around. The hunt for Omar and Salim is side-lined for needless scenes including several suggesting some kind of jealousy between Ashmita and Nirupama. These really didn’t work at all and I can’t decide if that was due to the bad dialogue or just the body language from the two actors which suggested that they were both uncomfortable with this angle as well. The romance between Wisam and his wife also occupies far too much screen time for an action flick, especially when it’s at the expense of developing the villains of the piece, who only appear briefly towards the end. In addition, most of the scenes set in the present day appear as set pieces – short bursts of action or dialogue which don’t relate well to each other or to the flash-back sequences. On the whole the flash-backs actually work better, perhaps because they are shedding light on characters motivations and revealing what happened to key players but also because there is more energy in these scenes.

One thread that does work well in the present day is the introduction of Waheeda Rehman as Wisam’s mother. On the wall are pictures of a young Kamal Haasan and youthful Waheeda while the beautiful song Naanagiya Nadhimoolamae plays over her reminisces of her son’s dancing skills. This scene is made all the more poignant by the fact that she has Alzheimer’s disease and doesn’t recognise Wisam as her son. Waheeda Rehman is excellent and still so incredibly elegant, and it makes perfect sense that she should have taught her son all he knows about dance.

The action moves from the UK to Delhi, where finally Omar and Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat) get time onscreen, but it’s too little too late. The film suffers from not having a clear track featuring the villain in the present day, especially when Omar has already had so much presence in the flashbacks. Instead we get various, almost faceless terrorists who are dispatched quickly without too much fanfare. While there is plenty of blood and gore, most of this seems coldly clinical although there is one nicely executed sequence where a splatter of blood turns into a map. Omar’s artificial eye gets another work-out and Rahul Bose’s harsh rasp is chillingly effective, as is the make-up departments dedication to creating slowly dissolving flesh caused by radiation sickness. However, the final showdown seems almost cartoonish in its delivery and execution, especially given that it all happens so very quickly and comes to a sudden conclusion.

After the brilliance of the first film and all the hype (and long wait) for the second it was perhaps inevitable that Vishwaroopam II would fail to fully deliver. Vishwaroopam was a sophisticated spy drama with excellent special effects and clever dialogue that broke away from the more typical masala action film, while VII seems to slip back into more standard fare. While VII does retain some of the original ideas, the dialogue seems more laboured, while the central plot is buried behind the many flashbacks and explanation scenes. Although the actors all reprise their roles well, there seems to be less energy this time round and despite their greater time onscreen, the characters of Ashmita and Nirupama aren’t as well utilised in the plot. Although VII isn’t terrible the screenplay is haphazard with the plot more of an afterthought to flesh out those extra scenes that didn’t fit into the first film – and therein lies the problem. VII isn’t a film that stands up by itself and although it works as a sequel, it really needed to be more than just that.

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Junga (2018)

Junga

A Vijay Sethupathi film never fails to be entertaining even when, as in this case, the story fails to impress. Gokul’s latest is a comedy that alternates between some hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments and scenes that fall conspicuously flat, mainly due to the ridiculous plot. When the comedy is good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad it’s pretty meh and not helped at all by the glaring plot holes. Still, Junga is not meant to be taken seriously, and Vijay Sethupathi strolls through all the mayhem raising laughs with his take on a parsimonious criminal out to win back his family fortune.

The film starts with Junga (Vijay Sethupathi) being removed from jail by two policemen who plan to kill him in an encounter. Sadly, despite the presence of Rajendran as one of the officers, these are some of the least successful scenes in the film where the dialogue seems forced and not remotely amusing. Luckily this is only a brief introduction to allow Junga to begin relating his life story, which is where all the action happens.

The flashback shows Junga as a small-town bus conductor (all comparisons with Baasha are deliberate) whose love for a Telugu girl (Madonna Sebastian) leads to him taking on a persistent and unwanted stalker and his gang of friends. This foray into fighting shocks his mother who reveals that he is genetically predisposed to violence as he is actually the son of Don Ranga and the grandson of Don Lingaa; gangsters who lost all their money due to their extravagant celebrations and poor accounting skills. Junga’s mother (Saranya Ponvannan) and grandmother (Vijaya) bewail the loss of the family fortune, particularly a picture hall in Chennai which was Junga’s mother’s dowry. Junga vows to be a money conscious Don and heads back to Chennai to restore his inheritance along with his best mate YoYo (Yogi Babu).

Junga quickly builds up a reputation as a cheap option for those seeking intimidation or assassination skills, but fails in his attempts to buy back Cinema Paradise from its new owner, Chettiyar (Suresh Chandra Menon).  Plan B involves heading to Paris to kidnap Chettiyar’s daughter Yazhini (Sayyeshaa) and thus force him to hand over the theatre. Naturally all does not go to plan and Junga’s kidnap scheme is foiled by the Italian mafia who have their own plans for Yazhini.

The first half has plenty of excellent comedy, mainly based around Junga’s miserly tendencies and extreme economies to save money. The film is irreverently tongue in cheek and pokes fun at classic Tamil films as well as modern-day tropes and even at the actors themselves, most of which works well. Radha Ravi channels Marlon Brando as the head of the Committee of Dons who are morally outraged by Junga’s discounted thuggery while Yogi Babu provides solid back-up as Junga’s chief henchman.  The first half has some good fight scenes too along with the best of the songs, including the wonderfully colourful Amma Mela Sathiyam.

The second half falters when the action moves to Paris and the Italian mafia muscle in. What does work is Junga’s obvious pain when he realises just how much money he has spent and the various jokes around the confusion between Parry’s (in Chennai) and Paris (in France). Best of all are Saranya Ponvannan and Vijaya who swagger around as a brilliant double act and completely steal the show as Gangster Amma and Gangster Patti. They have the best lines as they try to shake down Chettiyar and it’s great to see Saranya Ponvannan have a chance to step out of her usual standard mother role, albeit in a small way.

What doesn’t work is the whole storyline with the Italian mafia and French police, although we do get a great fight scene with an umbrella and some good car chases. But there are just too many silly plot holes that stop some of the comedy dead in its tracks while the rather contrived romance between Junga and Yazhini doesn’t work at all. After good chemistry with Madonna Sebastian and an amusing end to that whole episode, the love story with Sayyeshaa is limp and anaemic without even the benefit of any comedy to lighten the romance.

As with Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren, Vijay Sethupathi gets to wear some outlandish costumes as part of his trip to France and when he plays the roles of his father and grandfather. There is plenty of moustache twirling along with flamboyant gestures which have become Vijay’s signature comedy style, but he is very funny in this persona and his charm and charisma are almost enough to carry the film through the problematic second half. Almost, but not quite. Thankfully, Vijay is ably supported by Yogi Babu and the double act of Saranya Ponvannan and Vijaya who ensure their scenes are funny and help to keep the plot (such as it is) moving along.

Junga is a film that works when the action is kept close to home with the comedy centred on Vijay Sethupathi and his Don Amma and Don Patti. The more action-based sequences disrupt the flow and don’t fit into the overall pace of the film, even though the fight sequences are well choreographed. They also drag out the film which is already overly long by the time Yazhini is kidnapped. However the songs are good, the comedy for the most part is very funny and Vijay Sethupathi is excellent in the title role. Junga isn’t consistent, but it is hilarious in parts and that, along with the enthusiastic cast make it worth at least a one-time watch.

 

Kadaikutty Singam (2018)

 

Kadaikutty Singam

Pandiraj’s latest film is a village-based family drama with an extended cast and surfeit of relationships that ends up feeling more like an over-stretched soap opera. The story focuses on the only son of Ranasingam (Sathyaraj) but it’s his various sisters, their husbands and Ranasingam’s two wives that make the most impact in the rather wandering screenplay. The film includes a number of social messages and the story tends to disappear under the requirements to include the benefits of a career in farming and a myriad of moral issues associated with ‘traditional’ village life. However, Karthik does a good job with his role, the support cast are excellent and the film is full of colour and light, even if it does have an overly melodramatic finale.

The film starts with the story of Ranasingam and his quest for a son. His first wife Vanamadevi (Viji Chandrasekhar) has four daughters which leads to Ranagingham casting his eye about for a second wife. He ends up marrying Vanamadevi’s sister, Panchamadevi (Bhanupriya) who promptly also has a daughter, but before Ranasingam can marry for a third time, Vanamadevi falls pregnant again, and this time the baby is a boy. By the time Gunasingam (Karthi) has grown up, his five sisters have all married and two have grown up daughters of their own. The expectation is that Gunasingam will marry one of his two nieces, but when he sees Kannukiniyal aka Iniya (Sayyeshaa) he is immediately smitten, making a family marriage seem unlikely. Luckily for Gunasingam, Iniya reciprocates his feelings and the two happily embark on a relationship. However, there are a few obstacles to overcome, such as Iniya’s politician uncle Kodiyarasu (Shatru) and Gunasingam’s sisters who all vociferously object to the match.

What works well here are the relationships between Gunasingam and his sisters, and between his sisters and their various husbands. Mounika, Yuvarani, Indhumathi, Deepa and Jeevitha play the five sisters who all have distinctly different personalities, and are all convinced that they know what is best for their younger brother – that’s marriage to either Aandal (Arthana Binu) or Poompozhil (Priya Bhavani Shankar) and a life spent running the family farm. Gunasingam has no problem with the latter half of that plan as he’s proud to be a farmer, and makes a point of announcing his monthly salary (1.5 lakhs) and giving expensive gifts to his family. However, Gunasingam only thinks of his nieces as ‘family’ and he’s determined to marry ‘soda-girl’ Iniya, so-called because she runs a soda business. These parts of the story are well nuanced and I like that Iniya has a successful life by herself and isn’t just on the look-out for a husband to take the place of her Uncle Kodiyarasu. Apparently Iniya’s family follows the same uncle/niece marriage idea, but that’s mainly a method for Kodiyarasu to irritate Gunasingam. Kodiyarasu is a politician, but he’s firm on the idea of caste and involved in an honour killing which leads Gunasingam to report him to the police. The feud between the two men seems mainly to be an excuse to include the message that casteism is bad, and of course, the obligatory masala fight scenes.

While the arguments with Kodiyarasu go on in the background, Gunasingam attempts to deal with his sisters who try everything in their power to break his relationship with Iniya. Being family, they know exactly where to attack for the most impact, and eventually the argument leads to a schism in the family. Added to the rift between the sisters, Panchamadevi leaves Ranasingam, but unfortunately, despite being potentially the most interesting thread in the drama, this gets only brief screen time and isn’t fully developed, presumably because there is so much else going on at the same time. Much of the writing here is excellent, and it’s a shame that the rather more predictable ‘villain’ thread keeps intruding into the more compelling family drama.

The romance between Iniya and Gunasingam mainly takes place during a song, which is probably enough time given that it’s the fall-out from their relationship that is more interesting. Although Sayyeshaa looks somewhat out-of-place in a Tamil village drama, she is otherwise fine in the role. Her Iniya has plenty of charm and personality despite limited time on-screen, and her romance with Karthik is plausible. Karthik too is good as a confident and dedicated farmer who buckles under pressure from his family. He’s energetic in the fight scenes and dance numbers, and his various speeches about how wonderful it is to be a farmer aren’t as pompous and patronising as expected. He also has good rapport with the various members of his family and gets his inner conflict across well. His best relationship is with his nephew (who is roughly the same age) Sivagamiyin Selvan (Soori), which is used to add light-hearted comedy that’s mostly relevant to the story. Soori is actually very good here and he handles the role intelligently which helps add more depth to Karthik’s character.

I enjoyed the songs from D. Imman which are catchy enough in the cinema, although not particularly memorable. The film looks good too, and cinematographer Velraj captures both the colours of the countryside and the warmth of the community. A word too about the subtitles from Rekhs and team, which are easy to read and in proper grammatical English – yay! Rekhs has also subtitled any significant written signs which is a delight and really does help with understanding the story.

Overall Kadaikutty Singam has too much going on to be truly successful. It’s also let down by an overly dramatic finale that fizzles just when it should be starting to heat up. However, the family relationships are well done and I love the realistic interactions between the sisters and their husbands. There are a few too many moral messages too, although it’s hard to complain given that they fall into the – ‘girls can do anything’ and ‘caste isn’t a barrier to relationships’ baskets that still need more promotion in cinema. It’s also good to see farming portrayed in a more positive light with a nod to the importance of the people who feed the nation. Worth a one-time watch for Karthik, Soori, the excellent support cast and the well-written family relationships.