Gultoo (2018)

Gultoo

Gultoo, the debut release from director Janardhan Chikkanna couldn’t be any more topical right now given the recent revelations of data-mining from Facebook. Data theft is central to the plot, and this cyber-thriller mixes action, romance and comedy with a story that fits neatly into Bangalore and the city’s IT industry. Although at times the images are shaky and the editing could do with some polish, the dialogue is snappy and on-target while the story is novel with plenty of sneaky twists along the way. Definitely a film to look out for, and the subtitles are pretty good too!

Alok (Naveen Shankar) is a scholarship student in engineering who has a flair for hacking his way into computer systems, something which gets him out of trouble at college. After graduation he has grand plans of a start-up company that will allow him to follow his dreams, but three years out from college he’s working in a coffee shop, while his best friend and roommate Aasthi (Ram Dhanush) works at an internet café. Alok also works part-time as an instructor in a small computer teaching centre where he meets Pooja (Sonu Gowda) on her first day in the job. Although Alok is initially rather shy, eventually a romance blossoms between the two as Pooja succeeds in drawing Alok out of his shell.

Aasthi on the other hand has no such problems and is a complete flirt, which provides some excellent comedy as he chats to various women on WhatsApp while also meeting his current girlfriend of the day at her flat. The two men are a study in contrasts – Alok is a typical computer geek, quiet and shy but he’s smart and has big plans for his future. Aasthi has no ambition himself and is waiting for Alok’s success with his loud, brash persona simply a front for his inability to make his own decisions in life.

Gultoo

Things take a sinister turn when a woman is found gruesomely murdered and Aasthi may be a suspect. At the same time, Alok and Aasthi are also implicated in a major data theft and are taken in for questioning by an investigator from Delhi, even though the evidence seems largely circumstantial. The film moves back and forwards throwing glimpses of past and present together and just as it all seems to be coming together, Janardhan Chikkanna throws in another twist that ups the tension even more. He also blends the action well with some comedy, even in some of the most blood-thirsty scenes, that works well to prevent the film from becoming yet another crime flick.

What works really well here is the plausibility of the plot. The theft of information is from a Government database called Sudhaar which collates personal information for every Indian citizen, including their bank data. There are some similarities with the current Government Aadhaar identity card scheme which makes it seem quite possible that such a situation could happen.  Alok and Aasthi are typical young men, but Alok has the knowledge and ability to break into a Government system. The question is, does he have a criminal mentality too? It’s a more cerebral crime than a simple credit card scam or bank fraud, and more credible too with anonymous hackers breaking into systems where security is lax. We all know that this occurs and it seems that every day there is yet another news story about a data breach.

I did love the excellent depiction of cybercrime as a shadowy underworld where thieves run amok stealing data and selling it to the highest bidder. Like much of the screenplay, it’s funny, smart and informative all at once. Alok’s classes for example, teach the audience just as much about computer programming as they do his students. The social references are all just as topical and the dialogue has plenty of current slang that fits the characters perfectly.

The other selling point of the film is that none of the characters are simply black or white. There is plenty of ambiguity in everyone’s actions (except perhaps Aasthi who just wants to get laid), and no-one is exactly who they seem to be. This uncertainty ensures that the climax comes as a surprise and even though the film goes back to point out all the clues that were there all along, this feels like a revelation and not the writer gloating over how clever he is.

Naveen Shankar and Ram Dhanush are both appearing in their first film, but both do an excellent job with their roles and effortlessly get under the skin of their characters. Naveen is just serious and shy enough to be believable – he’s a computer nerd after all, while Ram Dhanush never lets his Aasthi get too much out of control. He’s a typical bloke, but not obnoxiously childish or patronising, and at heart he comes across as a nice guy. Sonu Gowda is also very good, especially in the second half where she gets the chance to really sink her teeth into a rather grey character indeed. Avinash is perfectly cast as the police officer determined to torture a confession out of his suspects, whoever they may be, as too is Rangayana Raghu as the ostensibly ‘honest’ Chief Minister Anantharamaiah. Pawan Kumar makes an appearance as a consultant IT specialist called Phaneesh and does just as good a job in front of the camera as he usually does from the other side.

Although I enjoyed the soundtrack, for the most part the dance sequences look awkward and more like the sort of routines you’d do in front of your bedroom mirror. The placing of some of the songs is also a little off, although this could partly be due to the clunky choreography which makes these sequences rather amateurish. Also initially confusing are the switches between past and present at the start of the film, since there is no timeline at this point, or any explanation of who the different characters are who only appear briefly and aren’t mentioned again until much later in the film. However, apart from these issues (mainly those dodgy dance sequences), the rest of the film really is excellent, with some very clever ideas and smart thinking behind an intelligent and carefully plotted thriller. Kudos too for the ‘loading’ symbol before the opening credits and the clever use of a film within a film idea that ensures the name of the movie is frequently repeated. Gultoo = Log Out for anyone who wants to know what the title means and hasn’t seen the movie’s FB page.

There is a freshness and vitality about this film and with great performances, a clever and realistic plot and very funny dialogue this is one not to miss. Highly recommended.

 

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Kaddipudi

Kaddipudi

Kaddipudi is a journey into the underworld of Bangalore as the film follows the exploits of Anand, aka Kaddipudi (Shiva Rajkumar) as he tries to leave the world of rowdyism behind. As expected there are corrupt cops and dodgy politicians, but the gangsters too have few redeeming features, being violent and intent on committing the vilest of crimes whenever possible. Against this backdrop, Kaddipudi stands out as a lone honest man, along with his friend Jinke (Rangayana Raghu) and a few of the police officers. It’s an interesting film that isn’t quite as successful as Kendasampige but still entertains thanks to good performances and a reasonably well-developed story.

ACP Satyamurthy (Anant Nag) narrates the story of Kaddipudi’s early life to new police officer Tejasu who is on a mission to clean up the city and remove its gangster element. Satyamurthy explains that it’s not the gangsters who are the problem, but rather the rapists and thieves that he wants to get off the streets. It turns out that Kaddipudi is the one helping Satyamurthy in his endeavours and the rest of the first half explains the reasons.

The story starts with political rivalry between Kaddipudi’s local candidate Renukaji (Renuka Prasad) and Shankarappa (Sharath Lohitashwa). Shankarappa arranges for an accident in an attempt to kill Renukaji but instead manages to paralyse the popular politician and alienate his son Gaali (Rajesh Nataranga) and Gaali’s friend Kaddipudi. Incensed by Galli and Kaddipudi’s threats, Shankarappa pays one of their friends to kill Gaali, but this too fails as Kaddipudi saves his friend’s life. However, this sparks off rivalry between Manja’s family and Kaddipudi which draws him further into violence. Since he turns out to be quite good at it, Kaddipudi gains a reputation as a gangster, but when a friend’s sister is attacked and more people die, he vows to give up his life of violence to avoid drawing his friends into the crossfire.

This first part of the film is rather confusing as various people pop up and are killed without there being any real explanation of who they are. However, once the relationships start to become clear (and many of the cast have already been killed off) it becomes easier to follow as it boils down more simply to Shankarappa and Manja against Renukaji, Gaali and Kaddipudi.

ACP Satyamurthy acts as a mentor to Kaddipudi who seems to be doing quite well as a police informer and general helper to Renukaji. He turns in some of his own men who have been guilty of raping and murdering women in the area, but although this is appreciated by the police it earns him yet more enemies. Just when it looks as if Kaddipudi will manage to turn his life around, Shankarappa arranges for Satyamurthy to be transferred and his own man, ACP Vijaya Prasad (Avinash) to be installed in his place with instructions to get rid of Kaddipudi.

The second half moves into more familiar territory as Kaddipudi has to deal with corrupt cops as well as his gangster rivals and the machinations of Shankarappa. To break up the violence there is a love story with Uma (Radhika Pandit) and some comedy added by Jinke which is generally successful. Kaddipudi also adds to his do-gooder persona by saving a brothel worker, although this part of the story seems to be rather hurriedly tacked on and doesn’t gel with the rest of the screenplay. What does work better is the romance, and Soori allows Uma to have a good back story and believable personality. Perhaps rather less credible is her election as a politician, but it’s good to see a female character, who starts off with a relatively minor role, develop throughout the film to become one of the major characters by the end.

Jinke too has more to offer than just Kaddipudi’s comical friend, while Gaali is interestingly written as a selfish and demanding character who uses Kaddipudi in spite of their good friendship. I’m assuming that the actor playing this role is the same Rajesh Nataranga who wrote the screenplay along with Soori, and it’s interesting that he gave himself a more ambivalent role, which he does an excellent job in portraying too.

The story starts off rather slowly and isn’t helped by Shiva Rajkumar looking rather too old and tired for the role of an upstart young gangster. However, his performance is first class and time moves on and Kaddipudi becomes more jaded with the gangster life, Shiva’s appearance suits the character more. He does an excellent job throughout of portraying Kaddipudi’s conflicting desires; on the one hand he wants to settle down and live a normal life, but on the other, he can’t bear to see injustice and he is quick to respond to defend his friends and adopted family of Gaali and Renukaji.

Also good are Renuka Prasad, Anant Nag and Sharath Lohitashwa, but I really enjoyed watching Radhika Pandit as Uma. The growth of her character was very well written and her development of Uma from scared young girl to confident wife and politician excellent, making Uma a realistic persona who could fall for a reformed gangster and develop the confidence to enter politics. After all she was an actor, and what is a politician if not a performer? Radhika does a fantastic job of bringing her character to life and making her much more than the romantic interest for the hero.

There is a lot of violence in this film, and it’s of the bloody and realistic sort rather than theatrical herocentric acrobatics. There is violence against women and plenty of police brutality, but Soori keeps the film moving, ensuring that there is a reason for all the fight scenes and drives home the precariousness of life as a rowdy in the underworld. Soori has crafted a thought-provoking story that has a lot to offer once you get past the rather slow start and a few side-plots that don’t lead anywhere. Not one for the fainthearted but definitely worth a watch if you enjoy gritty gangster films and don’t mind the bloodshed. 3 ½ stars.

Kasturi Nivasa

Kasturi_Nivasa

I keep an eye out for any early Dr Rajkumar films with subtitles, and was lucky enough to find this 1971 classic on DVD. It’s a simple story, but one that’s beautifully told with mesmerising performances from the main leads. The film was written and directed by Dorairaj and Bhagawan, who were also responsible for the excellent CID 999 films, Operation Jackpot Nalli and Operation Diamond Racket, also with Dr Rajkumar. Although quite dissimilar in terms of content, Kasturi Nivasa has the same attention to detail as these movies, with creative cinematography and memorable songs and music from G.K. Venkatesh. The film was re-released in colour in 2014 and is available (but without subtitles) on YouTube in both versions.

Kasturi Nivasa is the ancestral home of Ravi Varma (Rajkumar), an industrialist who runs a successful match factory. Ravi is a widower whose only daughter also died in an accident, which has left him alone in the large house except for his servant Ramaiah (K.S. Ashwath). At the factory, Ravi notices new employee Chandru (Rajashankar) because he doesn’t laugh at Ravi’s jokes. Appreciating his honesty, Ravi makes Chandru the Chief Foreman and decides to send him to America for further training. But Chandru is also a widower and has a young daughter, so he is reluctant to make the trip and leave Rani behind. However, Chandru’s situation is so similar to Ravi’s that he offers to look after Rani until Chandru returns.

The early part of the film sets up the character of Ravi as a rich but philanthropic businessman. He has inherited wealth and knows that his place in society is to function as a role model while also helping others who are less fortunate. Ravi is very aware of his lofty status but attempts to bridge the gap between himself and his workers by telling jokes and by generally treating them well, although he still seems himself as being of a higher class than his workers. In contrast Bhojarajaiah (Balakrishna) is a terrible owner and suffers financial loss due to his poor treatment of his workers. While that sounds potentially revolutionary and egalitarian, Balakrishna forms part of the comedy track, so his loss of money and face is more about his poor attitude rather than any real concern about workers’ rights – although to be fair, at least there is acknowledgement that everyone deserves a living wage.

Bhojarajaiah also tries to set Ravi up with his daughter Prabhu, but she prefers Bhojarajaiah’s brother-in-law Sampath (Narasimharaju) and the various contortions the couple go through to avoid Bhojarajaiah make up the rest of the comedy track. While Balakrishna and Narasimharaju are acknowledged comedic actors, their performances here seem somewhat flat in comparison to other films I’ve seen, while the comedy track doesn’t fit well with the rest of the narrative. I’m guessing that it was added because there ‘has’ to be a comedy track, since otherwise there seems to be added value to the characters of Bhojarajaiah and Sampath.

Ravi looks after Rani and recruits his secretary Neela (Jayanthi) to be a substitute mother for the little girl. (My subtitles say Leela, but Ravi seems to be saying Neela which is the name given on most character lists that I’ve seen.) The child actress here is excellent and very sweet, although she’s a fair way towards being spoiled given that Ravi caters to her every whim. Neela too sets Rani up as the sole purpose for her existence, so it’s hardly surprising that Rani throws tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wishes. When Chandru comes back, Rani is so used to Neela as her mother that she insists Chandru and Neela sleep with her together in their bed. This leads to Neela and Chandru getting married, which devastates Ravi as he was in love with Neela, but never actually approached her about his feelings.

Things continue to go wrong for Ravi as he loses business when Chandru starts up his own factory using more modern manufacturing methods. As Ravi’s situation deteriorates further, Chandru buys Kasturi Nivasa and to his credit tries to help his former boss. However, Ravi’s pride leads him to refuse all offers of help, which in turn seriously affects Neela who still has feelings for her ‘boss’. Jayanthi looks stunning and she does a fantastic job of portraying Neela’s conflicting emotions and loyalties as she is torn between her former employer and her husband. The situation leads to problems between Chandru and Neela, and eventually Ravi succumbs to a suitably dramatic and tragic end, symbolising the end of an era.

Dr Rajkumar is simply wonderful here and imbues his character with dignity and charm that suits his rather old-fashioned persona. Ravi is wealthy and generous, seeing himself as a benefactor for the poor and as someone who upholds traditional values. Chandru in contrast is more modern and practical, and Rajashankar plays him as intelligent and hard-working but impatient with the old order. Chandru is the one who sees the potential in upgrading the factory and on moving with the times, ending up successful as a result of his own hard work. Both actors excel in their roles and work well together to accentuate these differences which lie at the heart of the story. Ravi is old money and the class system, Chandru is equality and success based on personal achievement. Kasturi Nivasa then is a lament for the old order, for rich landlords who looked after their poor tenants and for an opulent lifestyle that few can continue to afford. It charts the rise of the new order– modern manufacturing techniques, the loss of a class divide as workers rise up to become equal with their former bosses, but with an associated loss of morals, seen here by Chandru’s addiction to alcohol and his violent behaviour.

What I find most interesting here is the large amount of symbolism used throughout to convey the message. The way Ravi and Chandru are contrasted with each other is also cleverly done to enhance the story. Both men run match factories and believe in treating their workers well, but while Ravi sells Dove matches, Chandru has branded his product with an Eagle, presumably to signify his more aggressive nature. As Chandru comes up in the world he starts wearing suits like Ravi, while Ravi wears the same suit for long enough that it starts to develop visible holes. The transfer of power is seen by their appearance as well as by the changes in the living standards of the two men, but it’s also interesting how they are both affected by having money and prestige. Dorairaj and Bhagawan seem to be suggesting that you need to be born with money to know how to use it properly – wealth corrupts those who come into money later in life.

The songs too continue the symbolism, particularly this one about a doll that always gets back up and cannot be knocked down. Sadly for Ravi, although this may have been his philosophy, he appeared to be getting less able to get back up again after each successive set-back

Kasturi Nivasa is deservedly called a classic, with stirring dialogue and the captivating and powerful combination of Rajkumar, Rajashankar and Jayanthi. G.K. Venkatesh’s songs are wonderful and beautifully pictured, while there is a socially important message underlying the excellent screenplay. Although I watched the black and white version, the richness of the house comes thought well, and the contrast between Kasturi Nivasa and Chandru’s house is perfectly set out. Although the concepts addressed here are rather dated and some of the beliefs now seem quaint and old-fashioned, there is still a powerful message here, and regardless of the date, the film has an ageless quality due in part to the spellbinding performance from Dr Rajkumar. Highly recommended, this is one of those films that should be on everyone’s checklist – 5 stars.