K.G.F: Chapter 2 (2022)

Finally the next instalment of Rocky and his plan for world domination is here! KGF2 is more of the same as Chapter 1, but with even more guns, declarative speeches and dramatic hair tosses from the leading man. The film follows on from the events of KGF1 to show Rocky now in control of the gold fields, but with so many enemies out to get him, how long will be manage to stay in power? Needless to say the answer involves plenty of brutal, blood-soaked violence and villainous in-fighting as the various factions try to gain the upper hand. It’s a whole lot of fun to watch as Prashanth Neel delivers yet another blockbuster in his definitive style.

The film opens with a group of men unearthing a buried statue of Rocky. We knew from the start of Chapter 1 that he didn’t have a good end, but the resulting crowd that surrounds the excavation serves to remind us that even if the Indian Government wanted to wipe his legacy from the record books, his people still remember.  It’s a powerful opening and an excellent reminder that Rocky was more than just a leader for the slaves in the mine – he was a god.

The film moves back to where KGF1 finished, with Rocky having killed the mine controller Garuda and taken control of the gold fields. He moves quickly to consolidate his power, and demonstrates his ruthlessness by killing Kamal (Vasishta N. Simha) when he objects to Rocky kidnapping Reena (Srinidhi Shetty). Perhaps in keeping with the seventies vibe, this is not a film that is progressive about women. All the female characters are either mothers or ‘entertainment’ with the exception of Ramila Sen (Raveena Tandon) who ends up as the Prime Minister of India. Raveena Tandon has more screen time and makes more of an impact than Srinidhi, despite the latter’s role as Rocky’s love interest. But Rocky’s mother Shanthamma (Archana Jois) and the slave woman (Eswari Rao) who is Farmaan’s mother, also have roles with a bigger impact than Reena. It’s a shame, especially that there is no big dance number, as in the small amount of choreography we do see, Srinidhi is lovely and I would have liked to have seen more. She does well with her limited role and hopefully we get to see her in more films soon.

As part of his plans, Rocky opens up all the mines for exploration amidst rumours that he exploiting the workers for his own gain. Attacks from his rivals organised by gangster Shetty (Dinesh Mangaluru) lead him to develop his own army from the slaves in the mines. To this end he recruits former overseer Vanaram (Ayyappa P. Sharma) to train the boys and look after security. But Rocky’s efforts seem in vain when Adheera (Sanjay Dutt) returns and kidnaps Reena as bait to lure Rocky out of the KGF complex. Of course that’s not the end of it as alliances are made and broken, politician Guru Pandian (Achyuth Kumar) schemes and plots and CBI officer Raghavan (Rao Ramesh) recruits the Prime Minister in his quest to bring Rocky to justice.

I was perhaps a little less invested in this film than the first one, I think because there is less emotional impact to the story. There is less of Rocky’s ‘soft side’ and even the impact of the young slaves taking up arms to fight for Rocky, and the children idolising their hero is lessened simply because there is just so much story to get through. It does make for tighter and more effective action but I felt the lack of the emotional core that underpinned the first story. However, there are plenty of amazing action sequences choreographed by Anbariv and others, and the special effects are world class. I still enjoyed the film immensely and it’s very close to being the perfect sequel. Sanjay Dutt is actually quite brilliant as Adheera making him a maniacal Viking with an unlimited capacity for cruelty. He is suitably dramatic and OTT in a role where nothing else would work as well. There are so many epic scenes that I can’t even begin to find a favourite, although Rocky’s entrance scene to the beats of hundreds of drums is certainly up there. 

Prashanth Neel uses the music from Ravi Basrur as part of the action, as he has done previously with the BGM in Ugramm. As the action ramps up, so does the score and it helps makes the fight sequences even more adrenaline inducing. What doesn’t work so well are the black screens he interposes in the car chase sequence where Rocky is chasing after the men who have Reena. I found that this broke up the action and slowed the effect down too much. But that’s a small quibble in a film where the action choreography is outstanding, and the fight sequences are the key to everything else in the story. Yash is again awesome as Rocky and despite the small audience for the show I went to, the entire theatre was cheering and whistling at his entry scene (me too!). He owns the character of Rocky through and through and invests him with real star power. As we see more of Rocky’s back story and his mother’s instructions, his name and stoic demeanour are ever more appropriate and the reason for his drive for success is as sad as it is inspirational. He takes on the seventies fashion with as much flare as in KGF1 and looks amazing in both the action and dramatic sequences. Again, most of the dialogue is declarative and uttered with high drama, but it suits the film premise and all the actors buy into the trope so it doesn’t seem overdone. 

Of the rest of the cast, most are suitably aggressive as various gangsters and Achyuth Kumar is suitably devious as a scheming politician. The narrator for KGF1, Anand Ingalagi (Anant Nag) is ill when the story begins, and the narration is taken over by his son Vijayendra (Prakash Raj). The breaks to the narration, still to Deepa Hegde (Malavika Avinash), serve as a good contrast to the more bombastic action sequences and help to fill in the back story as villains fly across the screen briefly before being shot, decapitated or otherwise destroyed by Rocky. I am a big fan of Ayyappa so loved seeing him back in the action and also really enjoyed watching Dinesh Mangaluru’s Shetty try to stay in control.

KGF2 deserves to be a blockbuster. Prashanth Neel has created a well defined world with characters that are well drawn with clear motivations and who all act in alignment with those drivers. Nothing is left to chance and despite the cast of thousands it is always clear exactly who everyone is and their role in the plot. The end credits give a tantalising teaser that there may be a KGF3. If so, sign me up now! Highly recommended for fans of action films who don’t mind some blood and gore with a really well made story.

Kadaisi Vivasayi (2022)

I’ve enjoyed every film from M. Manikandan so far and I’m impressed by the variety of the subjects he tackles. From a reflection on globalisation in Kaakka Muttai to the thriller Kuttrame Thandanai and the very funny Aandavan Kattalai, his films have been entertaining and thought provoking, and Kadaisi Vivasayi is no exception. This time his focus is on an octogenarian farmer and preparations for a ceremony at his village temple. Mayandi (Nallandi) has lived all his life simply, used to back-breaking labour every day and farming using traditional methods. But when an incident forces an unexpected change in his life, the consequences involve everyone in the village.

What impresses me most about Kadaisi Vivasayi is the excellent cinematography and the almost documentary feel to the early part of the film as Mayandi, his life and the village are all introduced. When I worked in Tamil Nadu I stayed in small villages, one near Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) and one near Thanjavur, where I saw scenes just like this every day. My family are farmers back in Northern Ireland as well, so this felt like a real step back home for me, especially since my Great Uncle’s farm had no electricity or running water, similar to Mayandi’s house here. Mayandi and his life are introduced by the camera following him through his normal activities. His care of the land and respect for all living things is clear at every stage, while the sheer amount of hard work that he gets through each day is impressive. The slow pace also allows appreciation of the countryside; the shimmer of leaves against the sky, the lush green of new crops and the glory of peacocks, spreading their feathers against the rocks beside the fields are all featured as Mayandi makes his way to the fields.

When the village tree is struck by lightning, the elders decide that this is due to not praying at their temple and devise a festival to appease the village god. This involves an offering of rice and as the only farmer left in the village, Mayandi is tasked with producing the first grains needed for the festival. At the same time, the villagers approach the last potter to make the clay pot and horses needed for the ceremony. He too is elderly and frail, and the idea of traditional expertise being lost and time-honoured knowledge squandered as no-one takes up these customary trades underlies the plot of the film. There are caste issues in the village too and most of the villagers have sold their land to developers as the lack of water makes farming unprofitable and just too hard. Once of the villagers (Yogi Babu) has bought an elephant from the proceeds and points out that he makes more money each day from his elephant than he ever did farming. Against this backdrop, Mayandi’s decision to keep farming seems inexplicable, but he explains that without farming, he would have no reason to get out if bed each day. It’s all he has ever known, and it is his life – it is as simple as that.

But Mayandi isn’t as sanctimonious as that makes him sound and M Manikandan adds comedy though Mayandi’s interactions with the local shopkeeper who tries to sell him seedless tomatoes amongst other more modern innovations. There is comedy too with Kali Muthu as a bald man so desperate to grow back his hair that he is willing to try any outlandish remedy and a police officer (Kaalaipandiyan) who is consistently mistaken as an electrician, auto-driver and various other professions except his real job.

In addition to being old and illiterate, Mayandi is also hearing impaired, so when he is arrested for a crime he clearly didn’t commit, he doesn’t understand what is happening or why he cannot go back to his farm. The farcical nature of the court proceedings is kept grounded by the sympathetic but punctilious judge (Raichai Rabecca Philip) who would like to release Mayandi but is bound by strict rules and has to follow procedure. One story arc follows the police officer who is tasked with looking after Mayandi’s crop and how that allows him to become a more sympathetic character. While in jail, Mayandi also shows one of the other inmates how to grow a plant from seed but despite this brief respite, Mayandi is still lost without his usual day to day routine. Poignantly he can only see the tops of the trees from his cell and is reduced to looking at the sky, waiting to be able to go back to his fields.

A side plot involves Mayandi’s son Ramaiah (Vijay Sethupathi) who is said to be mentally disturbed following the death of his girlfriend. He is a follower of Murugan and wanders the area with all his possessions in two jute bags. Ramaiah wears numerous broken watches on his arm and appears and disappears randomly, seemingly unaffected by time and the burdens of everyday living. He is a spiritual figure who stops to tell his father about Murugan and it is hinted throughout the film that he is actually the most sane character despite his mental illness. Vijay Sethupathi is excellent and his portrayal here is the main reason why the character works within the film. He conveys an other-worldly quality to Ramaiah and his relationship with the natural world creates a bond with Mayandi who also has a great respect and belief in Nature.

Nallandi was a farmer rather than an actor and here he seems to be just living his life rather than acting throughout the film. He is the archetypal farmer and has a clear connection to the land. One member of his family describes him as someone who always knows when it is going to rain, and Mayandi himself tells the judge that by keeping him in jail she is killing thousands of lives, meaning his young rice seedlings. His face is mostly expressionless which fits the type of man he is playing as does his placid acceptance of everything that happens. Even during arguments in the village square he is quiet and still, clearly seeing the village issues and problems as nothing to do with himHe clearly has no time for anything that doesn’t relate to his work, as is shown when he buys what appears to be a decoration or charm in the village. When stopped by his grandson he explains that it’s actually treatment for snake bite and each part is useful in some way. Mayandi reminds me so much of my Uncle who is similarly quiet and just gets on with things the way he has always done them, without any fuss or bother! 

For much of the film, the background noise is that of nature, the sound of birds and insects, the bells on the cattle and the sound of the wind through the grasses. Santhosh Narayanan’s music suits the film and is used sparingly making it unobtrusive but effective. M. Manikandan touches on a number of social issues but they don’t impinge too much on the film and mostly occur as a brief conversation. A man who is accused of beating his wife is released by the police without charge (it’s not serious!), while Mayandi with his less serious crime is held in jail for weeks. Corruption is the police force is touched on a number of times but the funniest is when the young village girl with dwarfism mentions that she would vote for the judge without being bribed when she scolds the police for arresting Mayandi. All small moments that are effective but don’t overshadow the main story. 

The other members of the cast are excellent and the slow pace of the film suits the storyline. I really enjoyed this film and found it a real delight to watch and a feast for the senses. Enjoyable in every aspect, Kadaisi Vivasayi is simply an excellent film and one I fully recommend watching. 4½ stars

RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt 2022)

After the pandemic, 2 years of living in one of the most locked down cities in the world and increased pressure of work, it was going to take something special to get me back to the cinema. So, a film by Rajamouli seemed like the perfect way to get back to the big screen, especially with both NTR Jr and Ram Charan starring in a plot focused on rebellion against the British. RRR is a swashbuckling adventure with plenty of action and daring do that explodes onto the screen from the very first frame. Both heroes get exciting introductions before finally meeting in another explosive (literally!) scene that mixes their two elements of fire and water in equal measure. After such a long hiatus, this was definitely worth venturing out to the cinema to watch on a cold autumn evening in Melbourne.

The film is essentially a bromance between Raju (Ram Charan) and Bheem (NTR Jr) as the two mow their way through various opposing forces until they end up facing each other on opposite sides. There are romantic interests for both, but they are mostly one dimensional and appear only to move the plot forwards to the next major point. What is important here are the two heroes and the whole masala spectacle surrounding them as Rajamouli tells the story in his inimitable style. It’s interesting that the characters are based on Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, both real revolutionary leaders at the same time in India, although they never actually met in real life. K.V. Vijayendra Prasad’s story takes some real life aspects as the basis for each character however the tale itself is pure fiction.

The story is set in 1920 and starts with Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) and his wife Catherine (Alison Doody) visiting a Gond tribe and forcefully taking a young girl, Malli (Twinkle Sharma) back to Delhi with them. But even in this opening scene, Rajamouli adds more to immediately fills in some background and set the tone of the characters. The Governor’s Chief of Staff Edward (Edward Sonnenblick) contemptuously throws a few coins in the dirt as Malli is dragged away and when her mother throws herself at the Buxton’s car to save her daughter, Buxton tells his soldiers not to waste expensive British bullets on brown trash. So right from the start we know the Buxton’s are evil, Edward is a nasty character and we assume that they will all get their comeuppance before the end of the film.

Raju is a police officer in Delhi but is introduced defending a police station from a hoard of protestors somewhere outside the city. When his superior officer calls out for a man who threw a stone to be arrested, Raju throws himself into the howling mob to find the culprit. Much machismo action later, he drags the offender back to the police station but is later disappointed not to be promoted as a result. Much of Raju’s behaviour is explained later but from the start he appears cold, ruthless and driven to reach the top in his chosen profession. The only warmth we see comes from his friendship with Bheem, at least until his backstory is revealed. The enduring image of Raju from the first part of the film is his stoic demeanour while on duty followed by relentless pummelling of a boxing bag in the privacy of his quarters.

Bheem is the Gond tribe protector and we meet him during a hunt where he inadvertently ends up taking on a tiger. When the trap fails and the tiger roars at Beem, he immediately roars back before demonstrating that he truly is the king of the jungle. With a few trusted men, Bheem heads to Delhi to find Malli and bring her back to the tribe. He poses as a Muslim working as a mechanic while he searches for a way to get into the Governor’s palace with Lacchu (Rahul Ramakrishna) and Peddanna (Makarand Deshpande). During his time in the city, Bheem meets Raju when the two work together to rescue a small boy caught on the river after a train bursts into flame on the bridge above and falls into the water. The two have instant rapport, communicating at a distance via a series of signals and finally clasping hands under the bridge in a symbolic moment that foreshadows later events. It’s over the top, wonderfully cinematic and simply splendid as the two Telugu heroes meet amidst the roar of flames and again under water.

Tarak and Ram Charan have amazing chemistry together and the energy they share makes it easy to get engrossed in their story, without caring about how excessively extravagant and spectacular the entire plot actually is. Their action sequences are incredible, totally over the top with cartoonish violence, but it all works beautifully in the environment that Rajamouli has created. Tarak’s stockier frame is perfectly suited to his role as the Gond protector, but even with all the crazy action scenes, there are moments where a softer side is allowed to break through. What I love is the effort taken to show Bheem’s respect for the forest and wild-life, and I also really appreciate the emotion Tarak adds to the song Komuram Bheemudo. Ram Charan’s back story is also a tearjerker, and while Ajay Devgan makes an appearance as Raju’s father, the actor who stands out for me is Shriya Saran as Raju’s mother Sarojini. She only has a few brief moments onscreen but makes a mark with her performance, despite her limited role. The actor playing young Raju (Varun Buddhadev) is also excellent in this sequence and for a change, Ajay Devgan is not as annoying as usual even with his repeated ‘load, aim, shoot’ dialogue. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Alia Bhatt as Raju’s fiancée Sita. She has very little to do and quickly fades into the background as soon as her lines are delivered. I don’t feel that either of the two love interests were necessary for the story but of the two, Olivia Morris as Jennifer is the more memorable.

Everything in the film is completely over the top, the action, the dances sequences and even Bheem and Raju’s friendship. When Raju transforms into Ram, complete with bow and arrow, and Bhhem picks up a motorcycle to use as a weapon, it doesn’t seem overblown at all after the excesses of the previous action scenes. Naturally the British are all horrible, with the exception of Jennifer although she has little to do once she provides the way for Bheem to access the palace. Buxton and his wife are caricatures of villains, both completely vile, with Catherine revelling in the blood and gore during torture sequences and Buxton showing disdain for anyone and anything not British at every possible opportunity. I totally love how absolutely horrible they all are and it really seems as if the actors enjoyed their roles thoroughly. Ray Stevenson, Alison Doody and Edward Sonnenblick are all good and make their exaggerated roles fit into the screenplay much better than expected although I would have liked to see Edward have more of an action role in the final sequences with all the explosions and carnage.

RRR is riotous, extravagant and totally mind-blowing. The action sequences are fabulously staged and spectacular while the two main leads are outstanding. There are just not enough superlatives to describe just how totally over the top this film is, and all I can say is do not miss this experience at the cinema! RRR is masala entertainment as it should be. After the last few difficult years this really was a triumphant return to a theatrical experience, and I loved every minute. 5 stars!