Operation Alamelamma

Operation Alamelamma

I really enjoyed Suni’s Simple Agi Ondh Love Story, which had a refreshingly different approach to romance so I was hoping to see him work similar magic with Operation Alamelamma – and I’m happy to say he does. At heart it’s another love story, but this time mixed in with a kidnapping drama, seasoned with plenty of comedy and perfectly served with a dash of suspense on the side. The characters are great, the situations well thought out and the dialogue very funny, ensuring Operation Alamelamma is an entertaining and thoroughly satisfying watch.

Purmy (Rishi) is an orphan who falls foul of the law when he stops to pick up a designer bag that has been left in the middle of a roundabout in Bangalore. Unbeknownst to Purmy, the bag contains the ransom for rich businessman son who has been kidnapped, and the roundabout is the drop site. As soon as Purmy approaches the money, he is set upon by the police and despite his protestations, he’s arrested and taken to the police station. It seems clear that Purmy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and is guilty only of an obsession with designer and branded goods, however Inspector Ashok (Rajesh Nataranga) is still suspicious, and since Purmy is the only suspect the police have, Ashok decides to keep him in custody.

Ashok is also suspicious of the kidnapped boy’s father, Kennedy who is a crook and is suspected of being involved in a number of shady business deals. Kennedy seems distressed by his son John’s disappearance, but Ashok isn’t convinced and wonders, could it all be a front? As the kidnappers call and arrange a new ransom drop Ashok realises they must have someone on the inside – but is it Kennedy, or Purmy, or some other suspect they haven’t yet identified? As the suspense builds and Ashok is under pressure from his superiors to come up with a suspect, the chances for Purmy to prove his innocence seem to be fading.

During the interrogation, Purmy uses the excuse that he is getting married in a few days to try and garner some sympathy, and perhaps even help get him released.  His romance with Ananya is shown in flash-back in between interviews with Ashok as the police search through Purmy’s social media accounts trying to find a link to Kennedy and the kidnapping.

Ananya is a teacher while Purmy sells vegetables by auction at the local market, but despite this disparity in their social status the two gradually become friends. However, the path to true love doesn’t run smooth and despite enjoying an apparently good relationship with Purmy, Anaya ends up engaged to someone else.  This seems to spell the end for Purmy’s chances, but he inadvertently becomes friends with Ananya’s mother (Aruna Balaraj) which potentially could give him a second opportunity to steal Ananya’s heart. Suni ensures there is suspense in the romance track as well as the crime drama since it’s not clear if Purmy is telling the truth when he talks about his wedding or just fabricating a story to hide his involvement in the kidnapping case. While during the flashback sequences it seems very hit and miss if Purmy will end up with the girl. The two different threads of crime drama and romance work individually to build anticipation, while together they keep the audience guessing what the real story is and just who is behind the kidnapping.

Part of the reason that Operation Alamelamma works so well is the cast, who are all brilliant in their roles. Suni has a good eye for picking a more unusual leading man and Rishi steps up to the challenge of his role well. He geeky and awkward enough to be convincing as the innocent bystander, but as the story goes on he gradually starts to reveal unsuspected depths and this is where he starts to shine. It’s an excellent performance in a quirky and unusual role that does keep the audience guessing throughout. Shradda Srinath has already shown what a good actor she is in U-turn, and she is effortlessly good here as Purmy’s love interest. Ananya has plenty of personality and Shradda ensures she remains a sympathetic character, even when she make some obviously bad decisions. I love the easy camaraderie Ananya has with her mother which compares to the prickly persona she shows to the rest of the world. Aruna Balaraj is superb as Ananya’s mother and the rest of the cast are all excellent, and perfect in their roles.

The other reason for Operation Alamelamma’s success is good writing. The characters are all well developed with detailed personalities and the twists in the storyline all seem to arise naturally as a result of the characters’ actions. The truth behind the kidnapping isn’t apparent until last moment and even then, it’s cleverly revealed. Suni has put together an interesting story and added quirky characters that engage right to the end. The music too is good, with Judah Sandy supplying a couple of excellent songs and effective background score. Operation Alamelamma is another one to add to the growing list of excellent films from Kannada cinema this year and is well worth catching on the big screen if you can. Highly recommended.

 

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Railway Children (2016)

Montage

Railway Children is a docudrama from writer/director Prithvi Konanur that is partly inspired from the book Rescuing Railway Children by Lalita Iyer and Malcolm Harper. The subject matter isn’t pretty – the film looks at the fate of young runaways in India who end up living on or near the railway station, but the story is told using a documentary style and the kids are simply awesome, making Railway Children an excellent film with a message of hope at the end. Railway Children was shown in Melbourne as part of the Indian Film Festival and has been shown at various other festivals including Mumbai International Film Festival and Zlin Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

The film starts with Raju (Pari) hiding from ticket inspectors on a train as he makes his way to Bangalore without a ticket. Arriving at the railway station, he’s immediately singled out by various people who prey on the new arrivals. First is ‘the Mongoose’ who works for an NGO that tries to reunite the children with their parents. However Raju suspects her motives and when she goes to buy him food is then picked up by Solution (Yash Shetty) who runs a gang of children based at the station. The children sleep in concrete pipes and spend their days collecting discarded water bottles which are then refilled and sold by more of Solution’s gang. The older and more trusted children such as Pappu (Syed Pervez) sell water, while Jollu (Manohara) is instructed to show Raju where to find water bottles and anything else that Solution can use.

Like most of the children, Jollu is addicted to glue-sniffing and he forces Raju to inhale the fumes too. The kids call the glue ‘solution’ and (presumably this is where Solution got his nickname), they buy it at the end of the day after Solution has paid them their wages for their work. Initially Solution seems to be a petty criminal who looks after the children by feeding them and giving them shelter, but selling them glue is just one of the ways he keeps the children under control. Solution is also a paedophile, and he drags the children off individually to abuse them whenever he feels they need disciplining. He also threatens to sell them to the beedi makers, where they will be kept in a factory all day and die from the chemicals, a threat that along with refusing to give them ‘solution’ keeps everyone in line.

Raju is smarter than the average kid though, and he has managed to run away with some money which he hides as soon as possible. He also regularly calls home to his girlfriend Usha, asking her to run away to Bangalore as he feels the freedom there is worth the rough living. Despite the harshness of the life, it seems to be better than Raju’s experiences at home and he starts to make the most of what he has. Although Jollu initially shows Raju the ropes, Raju quickly realises that they won’t make any money by selling bottles to Solution, and with the aid of Karthik (Karthik) and Jollu he sets up a scheme to sell water himself. However, his success is short-lived when Pappu finds out what he is doing, and Raju and Jollu eventually end up in the care of the Mongoose (Divya) in the NGO shelter.

According to the website, most of the characters are played by non-actors and Pari is actually a rescue child being looked after by an NGO. Given this background, Pari’s performance is outstanding, particularly in the way emotions such as helplessness and hope are portrayed. Manohara too is excellent as Jollu, and his scenes where he enacts the violence and despair of an addict being deprived of his fix are very well done. Yash Shetty is also good in an interesting role that explores the contradictions of the railway gangs. There is the predatory nature of using the children to make money, but Solution is telling the truth when he explains to Raju that the NGO will simply give him back to his parents, and his descriptions of the government homes seem chillingly true. Solution does provide the kids with an alternative and although much of what he does is self-serving, he does give them food, water and shelter and protect them from the other predators around the station. There is another thread to the story which adds an unusual twist at the end. I don’t want to reveal too much, but one of the highlights of the film for me was Divya’s reaction when she learns the truth about Raju – this was unexpected as I really thought she would be intolerant of the situation given her usually dour demeanour, but her compassion and understanding did bring a tear to my eye!

 

Life for these children is difficult and dangerous. As well as the predators like Solution, there is violence from other gangs, drug addiction, the ever-present danger of the trains and the risk of being caught by the police or social workers. The stories they tell of their home lives explain why many prefer to live rough rather than return home, and there is some happiness in the shared camaraderie of the gang. The documentary style of the film keeps it simple and works well to distance the film from the emotional impact of many of the scenes, although they still make a considerable and lasting impression. Railway Children is a fascinating look at an underside of Indian society and despite the bleakness of the children’s lives it does end with hope that there can be a different outcome.

Ondu Motteya Kathe

OMKRaj B. Shetty is not your typical leading man material. His character Janardhana is 28 years old, thin, shy, and, according to the marriage broker, has two major problems. One: losing his hair and two: working as a lecturer in Kannada. Despite these apparently significant drawbacks, Janardhana is determined to find his perfect bride, although for most of the film he seems to have set his sights unrealistically high. Ondu Motteya Kathe (Story of an Egghead) is an amusing and well-written rom-com that follows Janardhana’s quest to find the woman of his dreams and all the ups and downs associated with his search.

Although it’s the name bestowed upon him by his students at college, Janardhana isn’t really an egghead as he does still have hair, but he is definitely thinning on top. It’s noticeable enough that when he visits a potential bride she rejects him based on his developing baldness, leading to Janardhana’s decision to ditch the broker and find a wife himself. The problem is that although Janardhana himself isn’t top husband material in the looks department, he still wants his wife to be beautiful and that gives him a greatly reduced chance of success.

His gaze initially settles on the economics teacher (Amrutha Naik) but despite her friendliness towards him, Janardhana is too shy to approach her himself and enlists the help of the college odd-job-man, Sreenivas (Prakash Thuminad). When the arrival of a new English teacher destroys Janardhana’s chances, and another potential romance turns out badly, Janardhana reconnects with an old friend on Facebook. Sarala (Shailashree Mulki) has recently been ditched by her fiancé, so she too is on the look-out for a potential husband. However, when the two meet, it’s definitely not a case of love at first sight. Sarala thinks Janardhana is ugly and bald, while Janardhana instantly dismisses Sarala as she is (in his words) fat.

Just like Janardhana isn’t really ‘bald’, Sarala isn’t ‘fat’, rather she’s just a little overweight and not Janardhana’s idea of the perfect partner. However, she is very pretty and has a lovely personality which Janardhana can’t see as he’s focused more on her physical shape. Unfortunately for both, although they are resigned to remaining friends, Janardhana’s family believe that they have a love match and immediately start to arrange their wedding.

This a comedy that works partly due to the excellent writing but also because the characters are all relatable and generally sympathetic. Janardhana evokes sympathy with his male pattern baldness but in reality he is a typical nerd, and it’s inevitable that he is ridiculed by his students and further embarrassed when he goes to the college principal to complain. The dialogue is natural and even subtitled is laugh-out-loud funny while the situations are routine day-to-day events that are easy to relate back to personal experiences. Despite his determination to only look for a beautiful bride, Janardhana isn’t arrogant, rather he’s just clueless and totally inept in social situations, while being continually frustrated by his well-meaning but equally awkward family. His mother (Usha Bhandary) is overbearing and overly protective, his father (Vishwanath) keeps the peace by agreeing with everything his wife says and his younger brother (Vineet) spends all his time talking to his girlfriend on the phone to Janardhana’s continual frustration.

What makes it even better is that as the film progresses, our initial sympathy for Janardhana starts to wane when he rejects Sarala purely on the basis of her looks and is cruel and hurtful into the bargain. It’s a bold move to make the lead character so unattractive as the story develops, and it’s successful because we know the rejection and despair that Janardhana has had to deal with, making his own rejection of Sarala more poignant and thought-proving as a result. Although it is a very funny film there is an undercurrent of sadness too as both Janardhana and Sarala struggle with rejection based purely on their physical appearances.

Another clever touch is the inclusion of Dr Rajkumar as a character in the film through Janardhana’s obsession with the actor and by dialogues and film snippets that crop up throughout, at times inspiring Janardhana to act rather more impetuously than expected.

Raj B. Shetty not only acts in the lead role, but he is also the writer and director of the film; an impressive feat given that it’s his first film and his character doesn’t hog all the limelight as can happen when the director is also the ‘star’. Shailashree Mulki is wonderful as Sarala, while Prakash Thuminad is excellent as an unlikely confidante and relationship advisor, with the rest of the support cast equally impressive and genuinely funny. Midhun Mukundan’s music is put to good use and this is a very funny song with some great clothing choreography and a poignant plea to potential partners.

Ondu Motteya Kathe is a great début and Raj B. Shetty joins the growing number of Kannada directors who are producing films that are just that little bit quirky and different, but still appeal to a large audience. The comedy is good, the romance believable and the characters appealing despite their many flaws. Recommended watching for the clever concept, intelligent writing, excellent dialogue and wonderful performances from the entire cast.