Ranuva Veeran (1981)

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S.P Muthuraman’s 1981 epic is standard mass fare in terms of the story and style, but it did bring early-ish career Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi together as hero and villain respectively. I saw this on a dodgy unsubtitled print, and no one seems to have bothered with detailed cast lists and the like so I will mostly have to refer to characters by the actor’s name. And my usual “Adventures Without Subtitles” caveat applies – I probably made it all up!

Raghu (Rajinikanth) returns home after military service. He defeats thugs on a train, acquires a gun-obsessed child, and returns home only to find that his village has been preyed upon by bandits lead by a mysterious man with one eye (Chiranjeevi). Raghu uses a rousing training montage to equip the villagers to fight back, and tensions escalate. He also meets the lovely Bhumi (Sri Devi) and decides to make her life miserable with his approach to courtship. When Raghu finally slaps the creepy contact lens and fake beard right off Chiranjeevi’s head he realises the gang leader is in fact his old college friend. After faking an accident the gentlemen retire to a grove of trees and strike poses as they declaim their views on good and evil or plaid or something. They certainly are not the same boys who were bosom buddies. And even worse, Chiranjeevi is married to (or living in sin with) Raghu’s sister Ganga who is the mother of the gun toting tot. Raghu eventually manages to overact his way through the dramatic landscapes and to freedom. Chiru is unrepentant about his criminal life, barely blinks at his son being rehomed, and seems more motivated now his secret is out in the open. Bad guys being bad guys, he is still intent on one more heist and that leads to the knock down drag out finale.

Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth have a similar ability to inject a feeling of quality in even the silliest or most sketchy of roles. Every hero needs a strong adversary and their scenes together have dramatic impact even when things are beyond ridiculous. Both actors spend time frolicking under waterfalls, with varying results. There is a real sense of personal animosity and betrayal in their confrontations. And karate!

Sri Devi gets the rough end of the pineapple with almost no nuance to her role and the burden of steering Rajini around in the dances. Plus perching on a giant Vat 69 bottle as it revolved looked quite scary.

Rajinikanth is the typically righteous and capable hero and seems to relish the mass dramatics. He is laconic but charismatic, and his chemistry with Chiranjeevi is great. His rapport with Sri Devi is less natural but they do have some scenes where neither of them is shouting or threatening the other, and those do work quite nicely.

My favourite action sequence has Rajini kind of mummified and stolen from hospital by Chiru who thinks it is his badly burned goon. But Chiru is not fooled and pours petrol over Rajini…Anyway, the suit morphs from mummy to Ninja to fireproof welding hood and the stunt body in the suit also morphs a bit. It’s a fun and fiery sequence! And did I mention the dancing and the karate?

Chiru makes a big entrance as he tries to evade an entire state’s worth of police. He has a glassy blue eye, and a striking purple suit that I would not have chosen if I was trying to look inconspicuous. But where was he hiding the grenade? Chiru tries to extort money from the mill owner, but Raghu hires security, who work for Chiru and it’s all so much more complicated than it needs to be.

I am not sure but suspect that the gimp masks on the hired goons might not be enough of a disguise in a small community. Look, I really don’t know where Chiru is hiding his grenades but if it’s where I think it is, he is brave and not counting on having any more children.

Raghu interrupts a cockfight run by Bhumi (Sri Devi), getting a cock drunk so it wins. How dare women think they can win at a manly man’s sport like letting a chicken kill another chicken. Bhumi may be silly and loud but Raghu is so mean to her, apparently because she is strong, independent, and her spirit must be crushed so she can settle for him. In another scene Rajini throws sarees at the men who hid from a gang, which is again quite unfair on women who tolerate enough pain to keep popping out babies and putting up with their husbands. It’s not a forward thinking feminist film by any means. Sri Devi wears clothes that are far too small and minus  a chunni in that universal filmi sign of “simple to the point of checking for head injuries”, and screeches a lot.

Bhumi absolutely scandalises Raghu’s family who are quite stitched up, but Raghu is more egalitarian so I did like his complete lack of judging her on her caste or status. Sri Devi’s scenes were an uneven mix of slap happy confrontations and slapstick comedy, but she is charming in a shrill and chicken obsessed way. And someone had to know what to do in the big musical numbers.

Raghu’s family show a dedication to overacting that thankfully failed to manifest in him. The boy Iqbal is shrill and annoying, and reactions to him highlight the differences between the father (Poornam Vishwanathan) and Raghu especially where religion and social welfare are concerned. Raghu’s mother (Nalini) gets her teeth into the scenery too, and I could see why the military might offer Raghu some peace and quiet. Sister Ganga is clearly sad to be separated from her family but will not give up Chiru. She has to make some hard decisions and while she is the film’s fallen woman she is not unsympathetic or unlikeable.

The finale is epic as Chiru and gang spend what seems like DAYS riding their motorbikes towards a big festival that also requires a Rajini and Sri Devi dance number. The climax involves a lot of karate and finally Iqbal’s penchant for guns is utilised. I’m not sure what becomes of that child but I hope all of his near and dear were aware of his vengeful streak and accurate aim.

See this for the excellent pairing of Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi, for some striking visuals including Rajni prancing through giant bottle props, and because you’d never get the budget to put this cast together again today. 3 ½ stars! Would have been 4 but all that screeching…my ears are still recovering.

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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.