Kaththi

Kaththi

AR Murugadoss and Vijay last got together for the excellent action adventure Thuppakki, but although Kaththi has a good storyline and Vijay is at his best, it doesn’t quite manage to re-create the same magic. This time Vijay appears in a double role that allows him to explore a more restrained character as well as his more usual action hero, and he manages both with aplomb. However the film suffers from variable pacing and odd song placement, while the inclusion of a poorly developed romance adds to the general unevenness.  Still, double the amount of Vijay, the absolutely brilliant older men who make up the support cast and the inclusion of some of the best conceived fight sequences I’ve seen so far this year all ensure Kaththi is definitely well worth a look.

Vijay plays Kathiresan, a thief on the run after engineering a clever escape from jail. Kathiresan’s path crosses that of his lookalike Jeevanandham (also Vijay) when an attempt is made on Jeevanandham’s life. Jeevanandham is an activist, fighting against a multinational company for the water rights of his small drought-stricken village, although his fight is one being waged through the courts rather than anything more physical. Despite being forced off the road and shot several times, amazingly Jeevanandham survives, and Kathiresan makes the most of their identical appearances by switching identities with his unconscious double. This ensures Jeevanandham is sent back to jail, while Kathiresan is free to make good his escape before the authorities find out the truth. You’d have thought that perhaps changing identities with a man who obviously had problems of his own might have been a bit risky, but Kathiresan doesn’t seem in the least bit worried as he happily takes on Jeevanandham’s identity.

Indeed, it doesn’t take long before Jeevanandham’s troubles come calling on Kathiresan. After leaving Jeevanandham in hospital, Kathiresan spends some time as his alter identity and ends up staying at the old people’s home run by Jeevanandham. As a result, he gradually gets drawn into Jeevanandham’s fight against the company trying to force the villagers off their land. Nasty company owner Cedric (Neil Nitin Mukesh) tries a little blackmail, and when that fails to work, resorts to basic intimidation tactics. Of course the thugs are expecting the more passive Jeevanandham rather than escaped convict Kathiresan and his friend Dhanu (Satish), so things don’t work out quite as Cedric plans.  In addition to foiling the attempts on his life, Kathiresan and Dhanu concoct various schemes to help the villagers win the pending court case, or at least bring their plight to the attention of the media. It’s not all fighting and mayhem and there are some clever plans and ideas that make Kathiresan a more three dimensional and interesting character. Of course when it is fighting and mayhem Vijay is in his element and the inventively staged fight sequences work well to keep things moving along. There are some very clever ideas and just the right amount of comedy here, and it’s frustrating that less attention to detail has been given to other important aspects of the film.

Part of the problem I have with the film is with the character of Cedric and his multinational company.  Cedric is very one-dimensional and his company is painted as unethical and completely evil without any redeeming features or basic humanity. While that is perhaps plausible twenty odd years ago or so, I cannot see such a company surviving long without coming up against an activist group somewhere – this is supposed to be a multinational company after all. There is the same old-fashioned and redundant feel to Cedric (I kept thinking of old black and white silent movies with men in long black cloaks twirling their moustaches and laughing while tying hapless women to train tracks – he’s that kind of villain) and this only serves to make  his threats appear cartoonish and completely unrealistic. Neil Nitin Mukesh doesn’t get the chance to do anything other than sneer and attempt to look menacing which doesn’t really convince with his floppy hair and oversized sunglasses, so he’s relatively ineffectual as a villain.

Also on the minus side is the really quite pointless romance between Kathiresan and Ankitha (Samantha) which never really gets going although the couple initially do look good together.  Samantha appears to be added in to the cast solely as a ‘reason’ for the songs, but even there she is relegated to wandering around and posing, while Vijay dances up a storm in the background. It’s such a waste of a good actress, and frustrating since the romance just makes a long film longer without actually adding anything worthwhile to the story. At least the songs from Anirudh Ravichander are enjoyable and the choreography suits Vijay’s energy and style even if their placement often feels random.

One other issue I have with the film is the manner in which A.R. Murugadoss uses the serious social issues of farmer displacement, difficulties with land ownership and water rights and industry encroachment on farming areas for the purpose of light-hearted entertainment. It’s hard to define exactly why this made me uneasy but it’s the main reason why I didn’t enjoy this film quite as much as expected.  I am sure that A.R. Murugadoss had the best motives in wanting to shine a light on the problems faced by farmers in India, but the treatment of their plight here is rather too heavy handed to be entirely comfortable.  The farmers’ problems are somewhat overshadowed by the exploits of the hero as he deals with the corporate villain in typical masala style, which seems to reduce the real life day to day difficulties of surviving drought, debt and corrupt officials down to a well-choreographed fight scene and some snazzy special effects. It could be argued that anything that raises awareness of the problem is beneficial, but I feel that the treatment of their plight here is rather too simplistic. These are heavy and very real issues and I doubt that such an easy and fast resolution is possible in the real world. However, there is a good rousing speech by Kathiresan which highlights the social injustices faced by the farming community – not just in India but the world over – and perhaps that is enough of a start in the right direction.

Despite the issues I have with the film, it’s still an entertaining watch. The story is well thought out and I like that Kathiresan has to use his brains and not just hammer his fists through any opposition. It’s clever and there is some good comedy incorporated into the story with nary a comedy uncle in sight.  The support cast of old men who make up the displaced villagers are uniformly excellent and Satish is good as Vijay’s side-kick. Vijay is of course the main reason to watch the film and his milder but still passionate performance as Jeevanandham highlights just how good an actor he is when given the opportunity. Perhaps Kaththi doesn’t quite hit the highs of Thuppakki but it’s almost there and hopefully means we will see another A.R. Murugadoss and Vijay collaboration soon.

 

 

Thuppakki (2012)

Thuppakki

After the disappointment of 7 Aum Arivu, thankfully A. R. Murugadoss takes a step back in the right direction with Thuppakki.  With a story based on terrorist sleeper cells in Mumbai, the action is well written and cleverly plotted to build suspense and there are a number of surprising twists towards the end.  The resolution relies more on the hero’s intellect rather than the usual wham bam of most hero-centric Tamil films (although there are a few of those moments too), and Vijay is at home and comfortable in the role of a special operative in the Indian army.  I could have done without the rather dull romance track which didn’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the film, but essentially Thuppakki is one of the better Vijay films of recent times and is definitely well worth a look.  Great opening credits too.

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Vijay’ character Jagdish starts off well by proving that he can fight and dance during an unscheduled train stop on the way back to Mumbai to meet up with his family.  While most of the songs are forgettable with fairly dull choreography, this one is much more fun, although that may just be my preference for songs that allow everyone to join in.

Once back in Mumbai, Jagdish’s parents rush him off to a meeting with a potential bride Nisha (Kajal Agarwal), but Jagdish is initially not impressed by the traditional sari-clad and demure girl he sees.  However, it turns out that Nisha is in fact an athletic sportswoman with a mind of her own and a completely modern attitude.  Although this sounds promising, in reality Nisha’s love of sports is only explored in one unconvincing boxing match and in a song.  Her character is almost immediately submerged into a rather pointless comedy side plot involving Jagdish’s superior officer V. Ravichandran (Jayaram) and otherwise she remains firmly in the background.  The romance fizzles and after a terrible song in a nightclub it’s not surprising that Jagdish makes a run for it back to the terrorist in his closet.  The curse of the costume designer hits Nisha too, so it’s not all Kajal’s fault, but the whole romance track feels very much out of place with the rest of the film and doesn’t add anything at all to the plot.

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By chance Jagdish is involved in the capture of a sleeper cell operative who detonates a bomb on a bus.  Finding out that a senior police officer has been corrupted leads Jagdish to interrogate the terrorist himself, which reveals that our hero is not as clean cut as might be expected.  Jagdish has no qualms about torturing his captive and quickly learns of a plot to simultaneously detonate 12 bombs around Mumbai.    With the help of some army friends who just happen to be in town for a wedding, he takes out the 12 sleeper cells in a surprisingly tense chase sequence.  Needless to say this ensures that the leader of the terrorist group retaliates and heads to Mumbai to deal with the threat to his next plan – plan B having failed!

ThuppakkiThuppakkiThuppakkiThuppakkiVidyut Jamwal is excellent as the charismatic leader of the terrorists and his subsequent cat and mouse plot and counter-plot with Jagdish works well even if some of the set-ups are rather far-fetched.  Both Vidyut Jamwal and Vijay put in excellent performances and the dynamic between the two works well, although the final fight scene feels staged in comparison to the rest of the film.  There are also some odd moments where sometimes a Tamil track overlies Vidyut Jamwal’s dialogue in Hindi, while at other times subtitles are used to translate the Hindi and English words.  The Tamil voice-over seemed odd as I could still hear the Hindi words underneath and found that rather distracting, however it made much more sense that the terrorists and their sleeper cells in Mumbai would speak Hindi rather than be able to converse fluently in Tamil. The other problem I had with the film was the poor placement of songs, particularly in the second half.  This is the only other song where I enjoyed the picturisation, but it just pops up in the middle of the action and feels very out of place.

Jagdish isn’t a conventional movie hero and has shades of grey that make him a more interesting character.  He is cold and calculating in his dealings with not only the terrorists, but with his family and friends as well.  For instance, he thinks nothing of including his sister in the group of women kidnapped by the terrorists and is just as callous in his treatment of his fiancée.  But on the other hand he has a genuine affection for his friend, the long-suffering Police Inspector Balaji (Sathyan), and has an obvious passionate loyalty to his country.  In some ways he is no different to the terrorists he is fighting and the parallels between the two men provide another layer to the action.

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As seems to be his trademark, A. R. Murugadoss includes a message, and this time it’s a reminder of the sacrifice made by Indian soldiers at the front line.  He includes a group of soldiers disabled by their injuries as part of the cast, and the final song is dedicated to the Indian Army.  As an outsider it seems a little manipulative at times, but overall the sentiment is one I can share despite the sentimentality of the final scene.

Thuppakki combines a good screenplay with excellent performances from the main leads ably baked up by a competent support cast.  The cinematography by Santosh Sivan is up to his usual high standard and enhances the mood of the film.  A little less reliance on the standard formula (action + romance + comedy x 6 songs) would have made this a better film, but as it stands it’s still an enjoyable watch.  4 stars.

Thuppakki

Stalin (2006)

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When people complain that Telugu film directors lack creativity and too many movies are remakes, I’d like them to consider Stalin. It takes a certain amount of vision to translate a film like Pay It Forward into mass Telugu style, and to cast Chiranjeevi in a role originally played by Haley Joel Osment. Nice one AR Murugadoss!

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Stalin (named by his Communist dad) is an ex-Army major, living with his Ma (Sharada) and passing time by doing good deeds and protecting the defenceless. It’s a typical altruistic hero role, with Stalin using his strength to look after the people. After a string of events that undermine his faith in humanity, he devises a scheme.

 

Instead of accepting thanks he will ask anyone he helps to help another three people and tell them to pay it forward. In this way, the whole country will be incited to activism. It doesn’t seem to take off and Stalin is bitterly disappointed that people simply don’t do anything but make excuses. However, in the background the movement slowly gains momentum.

That is all the good message-y stuff but I said this was mass. Stalin also battles a corrupt politician (Pradeep Rawat) and his crazy father-in-law (Prakash Raj) and their assorted lackeys. He is pursued by Chitra (Trisha) and nagged about marriage by his mother while trying to patch up the relationship between his Ma and estranged sister Jhansi (Khushboo) who married a Punjabi dude against said mother’s wishes. Add in assassinations, explosions, amputations and ‘only in films’ medicine. Phew!

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The message is heavy handed yet I can’t argue with most of the sentiments. The catalyst for Stalin’s formal implementation of good deeds is the suicide of a young girl who had lost both arms in an accident. Due to a series of mishaps she had no one to write an exam for her, something Stalin would have done but he was helping a blind student at a chemistry prac. She asked so many people for help and none would, so in despair she jumped off the roof. It was a bit out of character for a girl who fought so hard to get her education, but it made a point. People are often not deliberately bad, just lazy and thoughtless. Initially despondent, Stalin is inspired by a group of disabled kids who stop a race to allow a boy to get back up and then all finish together.

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Stalin ponders why people who have so much give so little. I don’t subscribe to the idea of the ‘inspirationally disadvantaged’ as I think people are people and having a physical disability doesn’t necessarily make for a particular personality type or behaviour, nor is it guaranteed to turn everyone around that person into saints. But I couldn’t help responding to the big delighted smiles of the little boys and the performances by the two college girls. I think English language mainstream films tend to either glamourize or overlook people who are different and I liked seeing real people, not actresses pretending to be blind and so on.

One thing that irritates me is the filmi convention that insists ordinary people need a hero to lead them on all points. Stalin is offered a chance to go back into the Army only to have Gopi (Sunil) insist that ‘the people’ need him to inspire them to do good deeds. Why demand someone else be your role model when you already know what you should do? That laziness in films that sees entire rural communities under the thumb of a handful of drunk and not very bright rowdies, and entire neighbourhoods stand by and watch someone be maltreated is so frustrating, especially when its only purpose is to make the hero a HERO. And even more so in a film about people power.

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It’s an uncomfortable blend at times but Chiranjeevi’s apparent sincerity in the cheesy scenes and unswerving self-belief in the big chest-beating moments holds it all together. The fight scenes rely mostly on editing and effects as Stalin allows his enemies to come to him for a beating so suit the slightly more mature Megastar.

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For a do-gooder he uses threats liberally. But he did once singlehandedly overcome an enemy army emplacement so it would pay to listen.

I was initially a bit uncomfortable with Chiru and Trisha as a couple. Stalin’s backstory makes it clear he is a fair bit older than her. The songs are mostly Chitra’s fantasy point of view so it worked better than expected as the cavorting was not his idea. Anyway, it’s Chiru! Mani Sharma’s songs are fun and so are the picturisations, especially the traditional hero arrival number which also incorporates a call to donate organs, blood and eyes for the betterment of society.

And apart from anything else the songs give the costume department an outlet for their experimental urges.

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Trisha is adequate but Chitra could have been played by almost anyone. Perhaps it would have been better to cast someone who could swim as Chitra was allegedly a swimming champion. I think she won a trophy for most ridiculous dive off the blocks and 10 metre dogpaddle with gratuitous appearance in a swimsuit. She is silly and self-centred, another of those mysterious film heroines who only have children as friends and don’t seem to do anything other than be the heroine. Chitra is friends with Stalin’s sister. Jhansi is a pleasant and capable woman who has a good career and a loving family. Once Supreet and his rowdies start targeting people close to Stalin, personal strength goes out the window as all the ladies need him to set things to rights.

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Sharada is great as the widowed mother who seems to have raised the kids alone. She is fiercely proud of Stalin and equally strong in her rejection of Jhansi who married an outsider. Some of her scenes are broad comedy, as she schemes with the dodgy priest (Brahmi) to marry Stalin off to a beautiful girl, any beautiful girl. I’d often wondered about the thinking behind ‘I Wanna Spiderman’ and it turns out a comedy uncle is to blame. This is Brahmi’s fantasy which perhaps explains the costumes. Or not.

Stalin-Prakash Raj

Prakash Raj is excellent as Muddu Krishnayya, a self-described Jekyll and Hyde. Even when Muddu Krishnayya starts to really lose his marbles he stays on task, although he does over-explain his plans which diminishes the likelihood of success.

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The support cast is familiar in faces and functions. Subbaraju makes a fleeting appearance as a creepy rapey guy, literally flying across screen following a heroic punch never to be seen again. Supreet does the villainous heavy lifting, earning an excellent comeuppance at Stalin’s hands. Mukesh Rishi and Brahmaji are Stalin’s Army comrades who come to help save the day when Stalin is under siege. Harsha Vardhan and Sunil are Stalin’s main comedy sidekicks. Everyone does their thing and does it pretty well.

This is not exactly a family friendly film due to the violence, but it is not as empty as many mass films are since all the biffo and mayhem is for the good of Society. The story ends on a high note but getting there took some doing. It’s worth a watch for late career Chiru still in full possession of his famed charisma, and for the curiosity value of the loose remake. 3 stars!

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