Ira (2018)

 

Ira posterIra is billed as a thriller but unfortunately it rarely manages to elicit any suspense or excitement as it plods through an investigation into the murder of a politician accused of corruption. All the elements are there, but the execution is clunky with the sort of dialogue where the characters carefully explain to each other exactly what they are doing and why. Unni Mukundan is good as the main lead, but the rest of the cast get little opportunity to make an impression while director SS Saiju seems to have let the film take its own meandering course.

The film starts with a crowd of reporters waiting outside a hospital for Minister Chandi (Alencier Ley Lopez) to quiz him on a corruption scandal within his administration. However, the mood quickly changes when the minister dies of a heart attack during his check-up and the plot thickens when junior doctor Aryan (Gokul Suresh) is accused of his murder. Right away this seems strange. Why would reporters gather for an interview at a hospital when the intended interviewee is there for a check-up? Surely this is ghoulish and unethical. Also odd is the speed with which the police decide that the death was murder and not a heart attack, since there never seems to be an autopsy or any internal investigation. The decision to blame Dr Aryan is also difficult to understand, since there are a few other potential suspects who never seem to be considered at all. However, the media are quick to follow-up with the story and move quickly to suggest Jacob Chandi (Shanker Ramakrishnan) as his father’s successor in politics.

The police torture a confession from Dr Aryan, but that’s pretty much the whole extent of their investigation and they almost vanish from proceedings to allow Special Investigator Rajeev (Unni Mukundan) free rein to carry out his own enquiry. This mainly consists of speaking to various work colleagues of Dr Aryan at the hospital while some of the other gaps in Aryan’s history are explained in a good flash-back.

However, what’s particularly annoying is the treatment of these character witnesses at the hospital. All are female and are solely defined in terms of their relationship with Aryan despite both having taken part themselves in the events on the day of the murder. Nurse Tara (Neeraja) and Kavya (Mareena Michael) go through exactly the same process of denying any romantic relationship with Aryan before carefully explaining how wonder Aryan was and how happy they were to work with him. Even his girlfriend Jenny (Niranjana Anoop) is simply seen as ‘the girlfriend’ even though she is also Jacob Chandi’s daughter and her relationship with Aryan may provide a possible motive for her grandfather’s murder.

After ignoring plenty of potential clues and viable suspects, the second half starts with an extended flashback that develops some backstory for Rajeev. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to reach the point where any of this is relevant to the main story and the central character, Karthika (Mia George), is just as poorly written as Jenny and Tara. From here the plot continues to unravel as coincidences abound, and the bad guys reveal their secrets at opportune moments for no good reason. Saiju throws in a few songs at random moments and adds key characters late in the screenplay, adding to the overall haphazard feel of the film.

Performance wise everyone is fine, although for the most part the roles are straight forward without too much emoting required. Unni Mukundan has the most to do and is generally good as a police officer investigating a crime. Niranjana Anoop and Mia George have the best female roles, but they are simply there to provide a reason for Aryan and Rajeev to act the way they do, so there is little else for them to do once that reason has been established. Gokul Suresh is fine as the rather naïve Dr Aryan, although the character is too one-dimensional to say anything more than he gets across the idea of wrongly accused innocence well.

Disappointingly, Naveen John’s story just doesn’t feel plausible and there are too many plot holes and contrivances to allow any suspense to develop. Small details are explained by the characters in blatant disregard for the cardinal rule of ‘show, don’t tell’, while other crucial points are introduced and then completely ignored. There is a really important message at the very end of the film too, but it’s glossed over so quickly that I’m not even sure if this was added intentionally or not. Ira isn’t a terrible movie and it’s even reasonably well filmed, it’s just very average without anything that stands out to mark it as sufficiently different from the great commercial sea of current Indian cinema.

 

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Ohm Shanthi Oshaana

Ohm Shanthi Oshaana

Ohm Shanthi Oshaana is a rather sweet love story that follows the exploits of tomboy Pooja (Nazriya Nazim) as she searches for a suitable groom to marry. The entire romance is told from a female viewpoint but with many of the usual Southern Indian romance tropes, so it’s Pooja who stalks potential grooms (literally!) and also makes the first moves. It’s not just about the romance either. Pooja also has career ambitions and plans for her future, making the film refreshingly different while still retaining all the charm needed for a successful love story.

The film starts with Dr Mathew Devasya (Renji Panicker) anxiously waiting the birth of his child at the hospital. After being initially misinformed that the child was a boy, he nonetheless is happy to learn that he has a daughter and the opening credits show Pooja growing up through a series of photographs. She narrates her own story, and perhaps there is some influence from the midwife’s mistake since, with hobbies including archery and riding a motorbike, Pooja is definitely a bit of a tomboy. Nazriya Nazim gets the balance just right here as she blends enough femininity in with her non-conformist and feminist attitude to ensure that Pooja appears to be a normal, well-adjusted teenager. Her two school friends, Neetu (Akshaya Premnath) and Donna (Oshein Mertil) both have their own personality quirks and these relationships are used to add more depth and colour to Pooja’s character. Another important relationship in Pooja’s life is with Rachel Aunty (Vinaya Prasad), a winemaker who dispenses worldly wisdom along with samples of her art.

After attending her cousin Julie (Poojitha Menon) arranged marriage to a balding suitor from the USA, Pooja decides that an arranged marriage is not for her, and instead she will choose her own husband. Immediately putting her idea into practice, she looks for the best possible option at her school – and she thinks she’s found the ideal choice in Yardley (Hari Krishnan), a popular boy who also seems interested in her. But before any match can be finalised, Pooja meets Giri (Nivin Pauly) and she instantly realises that this is the man for her.

There are however a few potential problems. To start with, there is a significant age difference as Giri is 7 years older than Pooja. Secondly, there is the problem of status since Giri is a farmer while Pooja’s father is a doctor. Finally, and most problematic of all, Giri was apparently left heart-broken after being jilted by Pooja’s cousin Julie, creating a potential reluctance to be further involved with Pooja’s family. However, Pooja isn’t one to shy from a challenge and after finding out that Giri seems to like more conventional girls, she learns how to cook, changes her casual clothes for saris and takes an interest in current affairs. But it’s all to no avail as finally Giri rejects her on Palm Sunday (the Oshaana of the title) and tells her to go and concentrate on her studies.

Being a sensible girl, Pooja does just that. She heads off to medical school and the film catches up with her in her 4th year when she is working as a medical resident. Actually working too – she’s shown carrying out ward rounds and dealing with patients, rather than the usual shots of the heroine simply looking studious in a white coat with a stethoscope around her neck. She’s still friends with Neetu and becomes friendly with one of her tutors, Dr Prasad Varkey (Vineeth Srinivasan), who could be another potential life partner if Pooja could just forget about Giri. But just when this seems to be a real possibility, Giri comes back into Pooja’s life when his mother ends up in the hospital where Pooja is working.

What I really like about this film is that Pooja is a regular, normal teenager with the usual issues with school, her parents and typical teenager mood swings. Although she is portrayed as a tomboy, she can still be girly when she wants to be and rather than going for the more usual crazy airhead or too-good-to-be-true heroine, writers Midhun Manuel Thomas and Jude Anthany Joseph have kept her as a down-to-earth and believable character. Also well done is the change when she attends college. This isn’t shown as a type of ‘make-over’ where Pooja suddenly becomes glamorous or more feminine, but instead  is a genuine coming of age as all Pooja’s beliefs and mannerisms are retained but just with a more mature perspective. The only reason she dons a sari for instance, is to try and impress Giri’s mother. It’s all part of her campaign, and she doesn’t try to sugarcoat or hide her intentions in any way.

Nazriya Nazim is excellent here and suits the role perfectly, keeping her portrayal of Pooja quirky and sassy but without ever veering into annoyingly manic. She’s good as both an obsessed teenager and as a more self-assured medical student, but also impresses with her comedy, particularly in the scenes with her cousin David Kaanjani (Aju Varghese).  I liked her in Bangalore Days and I think she is even better here in a role that gives her plenty of opportunity to show a range of different emotions.

Nivin Pauly has the unusual position (for a hero) of not having much to do in a romance where he also has little say in the proceedings. He only appears as Pooja’s love interest and apart from appearing in her fantasies, periodically appears working in the fields or driving around the local area. Overall, Giri seems too good to be true, but as the character is only seen through Pooja’s eyes, this perhaps isn’t surprising – after all, she considers Giri to be perfect husband material. The few interactions he has with Pooja are characterised by his lack of dialogue, since Pooja usually has plenty to say for both of them, but despite these limitations there is still good development of their relationship as time passes. The romance is completely one-sided, but still very relatable as Pooja pines from afar for someone who seems unattainable despite all her best efforts.

Jude Anthony Joseph has crafted an enjoyable love story with a novel approach and memorable characters. The mix of romance and comedy works well, and there are  plenty of snappy dialogues that complement the engaging storyline. Some of the ideas are a little strange, for example Giri’s passion for Kung fu, Rachel’s winemaking and Dr Matthew’s attempts to manufacture a new drug, but they fit into the overall unconventional nature of the story and Giri’s Kung fu does at least provide a reason for his disappearance. While the idea is simple, the execution is detailed and with good performances, a beautiful soundtrack and clever dialogue Ohm Shanthi Oshaana is well worth a watch. 4 stars.

Udaharanam Sujatha

Udaharanam Sujatha

Udaharanam Sujatha tells the story of Sujatha, a hard-working single mother, and her attempts to ensure her daughter Athira studies and passes her year 10 school exams. Sujatha has big plans for her daughter, but the problem is that Athira isn’t interested in studying and rather than thinking about her future, her dreams involve movie stars instead. Phantom Praveen has directed this Malayalam remake of Hindi film Nil Battey Sannata by Ashwini Iyer Tiwari (who has also remade the film herself in Tamil), with a more Kerala-centric screenplay from Naveen Bhaskar and a few changes to the lead characters. It’s a simple story that focuses on the mother-daughter relationship and features excellent performances from both Manju Warrier and Anaswara Rajan as her somewhat rebellious daughter. I did have a few issues with some parts of the film, but the overall feel good factor and balanced mix of drama and humour ensures Udaharanam Sujatha is well worth a trip to the cinema.

Sujatha (Manju Warrier) gets up well before dawn to start her seemingly endless round of jobs to raise enough money to pay for her daughters education. Sujatha herself left school after 9th standard which she feels has severely limited her choice of occupation, and as a result, she resolves that her daughter needs to do well at school. However Athira (Anaswara Rajan) doesn’t care at all about her studies and has no thought for her future. She lives in the present, watching music videos on TV, playing with her friends and day-dreaming about Dulquer Salmaan. Athira doesn’t appreciate the long hours that her mother works to fund her education and even tells Sujatha that a doctor’s daughter will be a doctor and an engineer’s daughter will be an engineer, so since she is the daughter of a kitchen maid, that is all that she will become. Since Athira also regularly and quite spectacularly fails her tests at her school it seems unlikely that Sujatha’s grand plans will succeed no matter how hard she pushes Athira.

For one of her jobs, Sujatha works for prominent script writer George Paul (Nedumudi Venu) who listens to her daily recitation of her worries and fears about Athira with a surprising amount of tolerance. He finds a friend (Alencier Ley Lopez) who runs a tutoring service and who is willing to offer Sujatha a substantial discount, but only if Athira scores more than 50% in her maths exam. When Sujatha complains to George about the unlikeliness of Athira reaching this target, he suggests that Athira needs some competition and persuades Sujatha to go back to school herself and complete her Year 10 education.

A scene where Athira discovers her mother’s plans and attempts to cajole her mother with promises of improved study interspersed with pleas and general teenager angst is brilliantly written and perfectly performed by Anaswara. Her mother’s response is just as good and gets to the heart of the relationship between the two. Sujatha is determined to make her daughter succeed in life and is willing to go through the humiliation of going back to school to force her daughter to study. Athira’s subsequent tantrums and her refusal to acknowledge her mother’s presence in the classroom are also well handled, while Sujatha’s gradual acceptance by the other students seems plausible given her ability to cook! The good points though are mixed up with some terrible clichés such as the bespectacled nerd of the class who helps Sujatha understand maths, and the horribly abusive teachers who seem out of place in a film about the benefits of education.

Also problematical is the inference that doing a job such as working in a factory or as a maid is somehow shameful and to be avoided at all costs. While I can sympathise with Sujatha’s desire that Athira gets a good education and has options to choose from, it doesn’t follow that working in these jobs is wrong. Every parent wants the best for their child and particularly would prefer to see that they have a comfortable life, but this doesn’t mean that a house maid should be looked down on, just because of her occupation. However, aside from these points, the rest of the story is a heartening tale of the importance of a good education and how Sujatha manages to change her daughter’s attitude. It’s surprising that Sujatha manages to attend school at all, given her busy schedule of work but Naveen Bhaskar doesn’t let logic get in the way of a good story and after all, perhaps Sujatha has a time-turner hidden away somewhere.

The star here is undoubtedly Manju Warrier who is excellent as the harried mother desperate to wake some ambition in her daughter. Her work ethic is amazing and well portrayed, but what really stands out is the love she has for her daughter and her strength of will to make sure that nothing will get in the way of her dreams. She is fantastic as a concerned mother and completely inhabits the character of a cook/pickle-maker/house-maid/cleaner from a slum area of the city. Anaswara Rajan is also excellent as the bratty and ungrateful Athira who resents her mother’s interference in her life. Her whining is brilliantly irritating and her self-absorption typical of a teenager who naturally knows better than her mother. Together the two actors make a formidable team and it’s the warmth of their relationship that takes the film up a level to make it more than a simple moral tale about the value of education.

Udaharanam Sujatha

The other characters all have a small but significant part to play in the drama, and do it well. Joju George is excellent as Sreekumar, the headmaster and maths teacher who reluctantly agrees to take Sujatha on as a student. His role provides much of the humour, but he also succeeds in making his eccentric character more sympathetic than first appears and he plays a part in assisting Sujatha to further her own dreams. Nedumudi Venu is excellent throughout and he also adds some more light-hearted moments as does Sujatha’s potential suitor while Abhija Sivakala provides drama as a coconut seller who has lent Sujatha money and wants it paid back. Mamta Mohandas is also good in a small role as the local collector who takes on the task of bringing a supply of drinking water to Sujatha’s area and acts as the inspiration for Sujatha’s dreams.

The songs from Gopi Sundar are generally upbeat and suit the mood of the film, but one or two in the second half slow down the narrative and could have been excluded without losing anything from the story. Technically the film looks good, although Manju Warrier’s face is distractingly shiny at times, presumably due to the lack of make-up to give her character more authenticity. The moral message is hammered home a little too heavy-handedly at the end, but for the most part it’s the drama between mother and daughter that takes centre stage and gives the film its appeal. I like that Sujatha has the confidence to go back to school to improve her prospects and that she sees education as vitally important to secure her daughters future. It’s also heartening that she doesn’t need a man to prove her worth and prefers to manage alone despite having a suitor with a good job who could make her life easier. There are enough good points here to balance out the few negatives, and even if the dialogue is occasionally a tad shaky the performances are excellent and the story captivating. Recommended for Manju Warrier, Anaswara Rajan and a reminder that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.