Khaidi No 150

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I thought the original film (Kaththi) was mediocre so I had low expectations. And I was honestly happy at seeing Big Chiru on screen, my first ever Megastar FDFS, and the bonus of subtitles. The audience went nuts when Chiru’s foot first appeared. Apparently I am not the only one who takes a keen interest in Mega Footwear. And the screaming and paper throwing erupted at the start of every song and every fight. It felt so good to be among my people.

The story goes like this. Escaped convict Seenu (Chiranjeevi) witnesses an attempted hit on a stranger, Sankar (Chiranjeevi). He takes Sankar to hospital but swaps over their ID so he can remain free, assuming that the police will let the other man go once they realise the error. Seenu then impersonates Sankar, and acquires a nursing home full of old men from the village of Neeru. As he understand their story, and gets to watch a handy documentary on Sankar’s crusade against the evil corporates, Seenu takes up the fight as his own.

In many ways this is a perfect comeback vehicle for Chiranjeevi. The dual role and the breadth of the action means no matter what his fans want from him, they’re likely to get it. He delivers action, big speeches, garish outfits, and some of his trademark dance moves (the veena step!), all with minor modification to suit a gentleman of a certain age. And most of that is done in the initial prologue section. The dual role means he can play both mass and class aspects of the standard hero, and even asks Lakshmi (Kajal) which she prefers before telling her his name. Sankar wears brainy glasses (HOT. Just saying) where Seenu has a more flamboyant style. There are references both in the script and the background music to his previous films, some of them drawing roars of appreciation from a very vocal crowd. He has a sidekick (Ali), an enemy (Tarun Arora), a frenemy (Brahmanandam as Doberman), and many comedy uncles and familiar actors as supports, dependants, and thugs. He also has an irrelevant love interest. See? Everything!

I was wondering how they would deal with the age gap between Chiru and Kajal and the answer is that Seenu thinks Lakshmi is a childhood sweetheart, but then realises they just look alike. So I decided that young at heart Seenu always thinks of himself as that twenty-something dude about town rather than thinking we’d believe they were actually the same age. I really should be on the payroll to find far-fetched solutions to ill-conceived plot devices…And the fight scenes are grand and full of energy, even though Chiru has long since left his limber acrobatic years behind. The songs also work to cover over the years because they are more a platform for people to worship the Megastar not a display of romance. The lyrics are mostly about how great he is, the choreo is very peacock-esque as he and the backing dudes strut their stuff, and the ladies just wiggle when in shot.

“Ammadu lets do Kummudu” is probably the worst song I will hear this year but as soon as it was over I would have hit replay if I could have. It has all the visuals I could ask for – prancing, colourful outfits, bedazzled Mega-shoes, and a guest appearance by Charan. Father and son look so chuffed to be dancing together. The backing dancer costumes are a wonder throughout. From drapey chiffon to see through plastic jackets, you name it, they had to wear it.

Kajal’s character is irrelevant, and she can hardly dance, so I really paid little attention to her. However. In every song picturisation she wears extremely sensible walking shoes regardless of her dress. So I was mildly diverted and wondered if it was due to her height compared to Chiru, perhaps she had an injury and couldn’t wear the usual ugly strappy sandals, was it some kind of statement. I don’t know. I doubt that this is what she wants to be remembered for but it really is the most interesting thing about Lakshmi.

Farmer suicide is a real issue given pretty superficial treatment by V.V Vinayak, although I appreciate he tried to show the effects of the ever shortening media cycle on long running issues. But the main components of the story felt off kilter. Farming life was overly romanticised, described as a necessary fate, and condemned as too harsh, often in the same grand speech. The speech that got a really big response was one about people being forced out of their villages and having to take crappy jobs in the big cities to earn some money. But the film seemed adamant that people should stay on the land, which I think is a bit simplistic as country kids may want or need to pursue other careers and they should have those opportunities. Sankar was supposed to be a man of principle but didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond when offered a deal to let some thugs kill Seenu if they got him out of jail. It was OK to throw in a tasteless joke that Doberman (Brahmi) had raped 100 women. And Ali in drag is never necessary to any movie ever. And the Megastar presence really dominates so that the reliable and accomplished guys like Nasser had little opportunity to make much of their roles. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to anyone but Chiru!

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There are also some genuinely funny moments. I think my favourite was  when Posani Krishna Murali’s men all pretended to pick up phone calls as he was blustering and wandered off looking busy rather than face Seenu. Or maybe when Brahmi lost his religion during a huge fight scene. I also liked the thinking behind one fight scene that progressed through corporate thugs, oiled up baldy muscle men who looked like an angry pack of Maltesers, and finally the bad hair gang.

Lest you think I am completely superficial and only looked at the shoes, there was an interesting moment regarding justice in this film world. The judge (played by Naga Babu) says that if a single person kills that is murder, but if society kills it’s a revolution. It’s a problematic statement once you get thinking about the mob and riots but it did mean someone notionally good avoided jail time, and the person they killed was bad news anyway. No biggie.

Will Khaidi No 150 make a fan of anyone who isn’t? Probably not. Does any of that matter if you are a fan? No way!

Pssst  – Make sure you stay for the end credits for some glimpses of the famous visitors on set, and Lawrence closely monitoring a dance and giving someone the stinkeye.

Guppy (2016)

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Guppy is the beautifully filmed début from writer/ director Johnpaul George featuring Chethan Lal and Tovino Thomas in the lead roles. The story is set in a small sea-side community in Kerala, and the scenery is stunning with vibrancy of colour in every frame. Cinematographer Girish Gangadharan makes the most of the beautiful location and with excellent music from Vishnu Vijay the film appears magical even before the wonderfully iridescent CGI guppies appear on-screen. The story follows the day-to-day life of Michael (Chethan Lal) aka Guppy and the problems that develop when an engineer comes to the colony, but mainly it’s the story of a young boy, his struggles to help his disabled mother and his relationships with the various people he interacts with on a routine basis.

Michael is known to everyone in his community as Guppy after the small fish he sells to supplement his income. He also works at a tea stall beside the local school where the owner Pappan (Alancier Ley) seems to be something of a father figure for Guppy as his own father is dead. His mother (Rohini) had a stroke after her husband died which left her paralysed from the waist down and Guppy looks after her as well as he can. His major goal is to buy an automated wheelchair for her so that she can get around when he is not there – and his fish sales are a vital part of that plan. The guppies are bought by local government officer Lalichan (Sudheer Karamana) as part of an initiative to help reduce the mosquito population by placing the fish in areas of standing water in the hope that they will devour the mosquito larvae. Despite knowing all about Guppy’s home situation and the plans for his earnings, Lalichan keeps half of the money for himself and only pays Guppy a small amount for each fish – a petty corruption but a common theme in his various deals with pretty much everyone throughout the film. It’s not just Lalichan either. Everyone in the community seems to inflate prices and expect bribes suggesting such corruption is normal and expected, even in such a small and remote village. Most disturbing is the acceptance of the practice as normal – shocking from my perspective that this is perceived as common practice and that no-one is even remotely bothered by it.

The first part of the film paints the picture of Guppy’s life – looking after his mother, working to raise money for her new wheelchair, breeding and selling guppies and hanging out with his friends.

There is a romantic interest in local schoolgirl Aamina (Nandhana) who wears a veil and is kept close to home by her grandfather Upooppa (Sreenivasan) which means all the local boys hang around at every available opportunity, trying to catch a glimpse of her. The other members of the community all have a role to play too and each slice of community life adds depth to the depiction of life in a small seaside village in Kerala.

Guppy’s relationship with his mother is beautifully depicted and there are some great moments, such as how he deals with his mother’s snoring, the way she prepares his fish food for him every morning, and the care Guppy takes each day in giving his mother her bath. Chethan Lal is excellent here, his emotions are perfectly displayed and the mix of joy and wonder when he feeds his fish, and excitement as he nears his goal of buying the wheelchair are superb. This is my favourite part of the film as each interaction gradually weaves the pattern of Guppy’s life, and although there are difficulties, there are also moments of happiness and camaraderie with his mother and friends.

Guppy is well liked in the community. His initiative in breeding the guppies is admired and his devotion to his mother is also appreciated by everyone who knows him, so it’s a shock when newly arrived engineer Thejus Varky seems to immediately take a dislike to Guppy. The engineer has been brought to the village by aspiring politician Onachan (Noby Marcose) and village officer Krishnan (Dileesh Pothan) to build a bridge over the railway but he doesn’t appear in time for the grand celebration prepared for his arrival. Which is a pity since it is rather special! Who could resist Michael Jackson, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajinikanth singing a Christmas song together?

Thejus is an odd character who immediately stands out from the rest of the village due to his motorcycle, his unusual dress sense and his bushy beard. Although Tovino Thomas is excellent in his portrayal of an egotistical and rather arrogant engineer, the character of Thejus doesn’t seem totally plausible – even after his full story is revealed later in the film. Thejus can be charming, as when he meets with his friend Krishnan or in his dealings with his landlord in the village, but all too often he is haughty and appears to look down on the villagers he has come to help. He is easily frustrated by the railway crossing supervisor Upoppa and rudely snubs his offers of tea and a place to sit, while his vendetta against Guppy is strangely childish and immature. Guppy’s reaction is a little more believable, given that an adolescent may be expected to act in an occasionally irrational manner, but this part of the film seems rather more contrived and filmy. However, the tension between the two is well-developed and despite a few unrealistic twists, the conflict between Thejus and Guppy becomes compelling.

What works well in the film is the story of Guppy and his mother. Guppy’s struggles to raise enough money for a wheelchair are realistically dealt with. I love that he first sees a fully automated wheelchair when watching the film Bangalore Days – up until that point he has no idea that such things existed. The love between Guppy and his mother is beautifully depicted and blends seamlessly into the general warmth of the whole community. The conflict between Guppy and the engineer is less successful but there are still some excellent scenes, particularly between Thejus Varky and Chinappa (Poojappura Ravi), the older man who runs the guest house where he has set up his tent, and his interactions with both Onachan and Krishnan. All the actors are good in their roles and their performances ensure that the occasionally convoluted storyline doesn’t get too bogged down with all the detail.

The excellent cinematography is another reason to watch the film. Even though the CGI fish are obviously not real, they are still wonderful to look at, and Johnpaul George weaves guppies into the story in many ways. The fish appear as painting on the walls, in lightbulbs in Guppy’s house and as decorations on his friend’s vehicle as well as swimming around in the drainage canal behind the school. The whole look of the film is just as colourful – whether it’s the brightly painted village, the stunning seascapes or the vibrant villagers, it all looks beautiful and instantly makes you want to move to a seaside village in Southern India!

What doesn’t work quite so well is the sheer number of characters and some of the extraneous plotlines that don’t really add anything to the main story. Each character seems to have to have their own small story and while some are quite fun, most only serve to divert attention away from Guppy and his story. However it’s hard to quibble too much, since the characters are generally fascinating and it gives even more of an opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery.

This is a lovely little film that takes a different look at adolescence, neatly giving Guppy rural innocence but enough street-smart knowledge to ensure that he can match wits with the likes of an engineer. Well worth watching for Chethan Lal and Tovino Thomas, plus the excellent support cast, and to savour yet more stunning images of Kerala. 4 stars.

Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu

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Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu is a beautifully filmed adaptation of a novella by acclaimed Kannada writer Poornachandra Tejaswi. Director Sumana Kittur has teamed up with screenwriter Agni Shridhar (responsible for the excellent Aa Dinagalu) to give a colourful look at village life in rural Karnataka from the recent past. Various small incidents illustrate the relationships between the different groups in the village, but the usual routine is thrown into disorder when there is a plot to con the villagers out of their land. The situation escalates until it’s up to the ‘rowdy women’ of the title to restore order and deal with the corrupt officials behind the scam. I haven’t read the original story but the film is charming with a balanced blend of drama and comedy that still manages to address a number of social issues, albeit in a light-hearted way.

The film starts by showcasing the differences between the men and women of the village. While the women are out working, the men are lounging around the village, playing dice and utilising the services of the village barber. The women from different castes all work together without any issues but it’s a different story for the men of the village who are more inclined to take notice of someone’s place in society. The higher caste Gowdas negotiate the cheapest price they can for any work done for them by the lower caste Kulavadis although the men all congregate to drink together in the village arrack shop at the end of the day. The arrack shop is a point of contention for the women as they feel that this is the reason their husbands have become lazy and argumentative. All in all, Kiragooru seems to be a typical village with the usual colourful characters, petty disputes and plenty of potential for mischief.

Daanamma (Shwetha Srivatsav) is an outsider from a different village who is married to Subbaiah (Rahul Madhav), one of the Gowdas in the village. Despite being a relative newcomer, the other women look to her for support and she’s the one they ask to break up a fight between Kaali (Sukrutha Wagle) and Rudri (Manasa Joshi) when tempers flare. She’s just as competent at home, refusing to let Subbaiah leave when everyone else runs from a police jeep in the village and ensuring the household runs to her satisfaction, although she does seem to have a genuinely happy relationship with her husband. Daanamma also provides support to Nagamma (Sonu Gowda) whose husband Kaale Gowde (Kishore) is abusing her for failing to provide him with children. Kaale is desperate to marry for a second time and has fallen for Bhagya (Karunya Ram), a vegetable seller in the local market but doesn’t tell her the truth about his marriage to Nagamma. Rounding out the village are the Kulavadi farmers who include Maara (Nikhil Manjoo), Kariya (Sampath Kumar) and their families.

Shankrappa (Achyuth Kumar) is the government welfare officer for the village, but he also runs the arrack shop and is plotting with Bhootha Swamy (Sharath Lohitashwa) to con the villagers out of their land. When Daanamma threatens the visiting Tahsildar and runs him out of the village, Shankrappa files a complaint against her with the police that also accuses the Gowdas of cheating the Kulavadis out of their rightful wages. This results in the Gowda men being taken away to the police station where they endure a humiliating experience at the hands of the drunken Inspector. They immediately turn to Bhootha Swamy for help, but he lies and tells the men that it was the Kulavadis who filed the complaint. This widens the divide between the two groups, further fuelled when Bhootha Swamy lies to the Kuavadis too and the Gowdas fan the flames by employing an outsider to chop up the tree. No reconciliation seems possible until Daanamma takes matters into her own hands and enlists the rowdy women of the village to sort out the problem once and for all.

It’s a well told story with plenty of quirky characters, but the appeal of the film lies in the excellent performances from all the actors. No matter if the character is only on screen for a few moments such as the unethical Dr Appanna (S Narayan), everyone seems to fit their role perfectly. Shwetha Srivatsav has most time onscreen and is brilliant as Daanamma with her perfect mix of compassion, bravery and common sense making compelling viewing. This is very different to her role in Simple Agi Ondh Love Story but she again makes excellent use of her facial expressions and both looks and sounds the part of a rural villager. Sukrutha Wagle is appropriately shrill and combative as one of the Kulavadi rowdy women, while Sonu Gowda provides contrast as the silent but still expressive Nagamma. The scenes between the different female characters also ring true with plausible discussions of their routine chores and complaints about their husbands with the occasional small rivalry thrown in to demonstrate how they got their reputation. Their support for each other is also realistically portrayed along with their determined reactions which are a good contrast to the men’s vacillations and indecision when faced with a problem.

The men all suit their various roles too. Rahul Madhav, Sunder and Anathavelu are all good as the overly trusting Gowda men, while Kishore is excellent as the abusive Kaale. Although the character is mainly comedic, there is a serious side in the abuse he deals out to his wife and it’s a credit to the film that this is dealt with sensibly, both highlighting the abuse itself and giving a solution that shows Kaale to be the one at fault rather than his long-suffering wife. The film also raises the issues of drunkenness and caste division and although these are used to some extent for comedy, there is a serious side as these are shown to be real issues for the community. Naturally the women are the ones to solve these issues too with their practicality and common sense winning the day.

Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu is a film where everything just comes together perfectly. Manohar Joshi’s cinematography is complemented by Saadhu Kokila’s music and Sumana Kittur evokes a village atmosphere through colourful dialogue and fantastic attention to detail. The language is often beeped out but the subtitles are hilarious with the women not afraid to air their graphic opinions publicly and loudly! Each scene is complete in itself but also serves to establish and evolve the different characters and situations. Added together they all build up to a captivating story and satisfying finale. One I highly recommend for the excellent performances, well-written screenplay and some of the best female characters I’ve seen in Indian cinema. 4 ½ stars.