Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo

sahasam-swasaga-sagipo

Gautham Menon’s latest released simultaneously in Tamil and Telugu, but I preferred this version, even though both are identical in terms of story and cast apart from the male lead. Naga Chaitanya is excellent in the lead role in this version, although Simbu is almost as good in the Tamil film, but the story seems to work better with the less physically imposing Chaitanya and the chemistry between him and female lead Manjima Mohan has significantly more sparkage too. Gautham Menon has stuck to his two favourite themes of action and romance but this time with a rather different approach to give a film with two distinct and very different halves. The first half is all about the romance with no indication about what lies ahead except for brief flashes during the opening credits that suggest there may be troubled times at some point, and a message that the film is inspired from a scene in the Godfather – not a film known as a touchy, feely love story! The second half explodes into violence and action just before the interval and the film quickly becomes a thriller with plenty of suspense and good action sequences. Overall the combination works well, although the action part of the film is somewhat let down by unlikely police corruption and a few too many co-incidences. Still, if you can just go with the flow and ignore the implausibility of parts of the plot then Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo is a good entertainer helped along by excellent performances and a better than average soundtrack.

Naga Chaitanya’s character doesn’t get a name until near the end of the film, and since it’s part of the plot I won’t reveal it here but will just refer to him as Chaitanya. At the start of the film we learn that the first love of his life is his Royal Enfield and that he plans to go on a road trip to Kanyakumari and watch the sun rise over the sea. Chaitanya has completed a degree in engineering and an MBA but now has to decide what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Around the same time his sister finishes her degree and starts an internship along with a friend, who also comes to stay with the family. As soon as Chaitanya sees Leela (Manjima Mohan) he falls in love with her, although he plays it cool and doesn’t immediately say anything. Instead he talks to his friends incessantly about Leela, spends more time at home so that he can see her and spends most evenings chatting to her after everyone else has gone to sleep. They develop a friendship and when Chaitanya finally leaves on his road trip Leela asks to come along too. Chaitanya happily drops his friend Mahesh (Sathish Krishnan) in favour of her company and without telling anyone the two set off on Chaitanya’s Royal Enfield for the South.

The romance is handled with a light touch as Chaitanya is determined to be ‘decent’ and Leela initially seems to think of him as just a friend. However, there are significant glances, chance looks and those late night conversations that slowly develop into significant chemistry between the couple when they head off on the road trip. A.R Rahman’s music provides emotional support to the romance and with that, and the wonderfully evocative sunrise it does seem inevitable that love will bloom before the couple return home. Chaitanya has improved significantly since his role in Ye Maaya Chesave and his performance here is excellent as a young man experiencing his first real love of the non-vehicular kind. He appears more mature and this gives him more plausibility when he talks about his feelings during the voiceover sections of the film. The scenes with his friends are also well written and include some comedy that helps keep the first half light. The combination of family life, friends and developing romance ensure Chaitanya is a likeable character with an easy-going personality and generally upbeat approach to life.

Manjima Mohan looks beautiful and does a good job with her character, successfully combining traditional (her father checking out the family before she starts her stay) with modern (her decision to go on a road trip with a guy she hardly knows) to give an overall picture of a confident young woman who has definite plans and the determination to follow through with them. I liked her in Oru Vadakkan Selfie and she is even better here, appearing very natural and coping well with a role that demands a range of emotions as events start to head out of control in the second half. She seems very natural and was just as good in the light romantic scenes as in the heavy emotional drama where she really got to pull out all the stops and give it her all. I loved her ability to still look amazing even with her make-up running down her face and as always I love it when a heroine contributes to her own rescue, even if she couldn’t quite manage it all by herself.

The action and violence of the second half comes as a real shock after the slow-building love story and everyday characterisations of the lead pair. Suddenly Chaitanya has to deal with situations that are far from his previous experience although as he frequently mentions in the voice-overs, he believes he has the confidence and capability to deal with whatever life throws at him. Luckily for both Chaitanya and Leela this does indeed seem to be the case. The action sequences are fast, frequently very violent and generally unexpected. Dan Macarthur’s camera work ensures these scenes seem full of energy and confusion, just as I’d expect in any real life fight. There is a blurriness and disorientation as the action unfolds which is in direct contrast to the periods of calm where events move slowly and there is a chance to breathe. The contrast is brilliantly done and makes the action sequences stand out even more as completely alien to Chaitanya’s experience and expectation.

Trailer

Unfortunately, all of this technical excellence is let down by the screenplay which starts to become ever more fanciful, particularly with the inclusion of corrupt police officers led by Kamath (Baba Sehgal). The police appear to do whatever they want without any fear of being caught or held to account for their actions despite these occurring in full view of hospital staff, hotel patrons and numerous other witnesses. Baba Sehgal is ridiculously over the top, almost cartoonish in his portrayal, and this badly impacts the rest of the film, even when the story becomes more rational. The climax too is disappointing with the final events appearing rushed and too opportune and neatly packaged to be fully engaging.

Still, despite the issues with the second half, the film is still engaging. There is plenty of suspense and like everyone else in the cinema I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what was going to happen next. In particular, the picturisation of the song Vellipomake is unique and a great way to completely change the direction of the film while the rest of A.R. Rahman’s songs fit well into the screenplay and enhance the romance between the lead couple. Both Naga Chaitanya and Manjima Mohan are excellent, as too is Sathish Krishnan and the various actors who play members of Chaitanya’s family so that even though the story doesn’t always make sense, the actors draw you into their world regardless. Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo has its flaws but there is still much to enjoy despite the dodgy ending. Focus instead on the excellent performances from Naga Chaitanya and Manjima Mohan, enjoy the soundtrack and beautiful scenery, and suspend disbelief enough to appreciate the contrasts and suspense of the second half.

24 (2016)

24 Poster.jpg

For a science fiction film about time travel there is something more than a little magical about 24. Vikram Kumar has come up with a compelling story and made a technically excellent film with a well-chosen cast who all perform beautifully. Suriya is outstanding, favourites Ajay and Saranya Ponvannan are impressive in rather more substantial roles than expected and the whole film is a wonderful masala mix of action, drama, romance, comedy and mystery. Definitely one to catch in the cinema to fully appreciate the VFX but also well worth watching for the expertly crafted story and first-rate cast.

24 combines many of the usual elements of a Tamil film, but although the ingredients may be commonplace the resulting story is refreshingly novel. First there is the rivalry between two brothers; Sethuraman and Athreya (both Suriya), one a brilliant but obsessed and oblivious scientist working on a device that will allow travel through time, and the other his jealous and coldly calculating elder brother who will stop at nothing to steal the device for himself. Moving 26 years into the present day, there is Sethuraman’s son Mani (also Suriya) who knows nothing of his past, his adopted mother Sathyabhama (Saranya Ponvannan) who has sacrificed everything to keep Mani safe and the evil Athreya still trying to track down the device to try to rewrite his own past. These are all familiar plot elements but here cleverly put together to ensure there are plenty of surprises throughout and just when it seems the next step in the journey is inevitable, Vikram Kumar twists the path and the story heads off in an unexpected direction.

The opening scenes are amazing and although supposedly set in 1990, the steam train, cars, motorbikes and fairy tale-like mansion give an older-world ambiance. This is helped by the lighting which is golden, warm and suggestive of candle-light especially when compared to scenes set in the present day that are lit more brightly with colder, bluer lighting. Sethuraman has converted his entire house into a gigantic laboratory to work on his invention, and in typical mad-scientist style he has secret rooms, hidden passage-ways and odd devices everywhere. Think Wallace (Wallace and Grommit) with a bigger budget. Thanks to the intervention of a CGI eagle, Sethuraman manages to create a watch that will allow time travel but before he can celebrate his success, his elder brother Athreya shows up to steal the invention. Suriya’s Sethuraman is a classic bespectacled and nerdy inventor, right down to his abstraction when his wife Priya (Nithya Menen) tries to get him to help with their young son Manikanden and various dangerous substances inappropriately placed for safety around the room. This of course allows for maximum damage when Athreya shows up but paint a picture of a ‘typical’ scientist which Vikram Kumar then turns on its head as Sethuraman turns out to be more practical than first impressions suggest. The opening scene sets the precedent for the rest of the film – there is a good amount of humour, plenty of action and drama with Suriya drawing all eyes and commanding centre stage throughout.

The film moves 26 years into the future where Mani is grown up and working as a watch mechanic with no knowledge of his past, or just what he has in an unbreakable box that he cannot open. Athreya is still around too, although after the events 26 years ago he is a crippled shadow of his former self getting around in a motorised wheelchair after waking up from a coma. Athreya is as malevolent as ever and with the help of his trusty sidekick Mithran (Ajay) goes about trying to turn back time 26 years to reverse his accident and regain the use of his legs. Again Suriya does a fantastic job with the character of Athreya – he’s confidently wicked in 1990 when he goes after his brother and his family, and wonderfully warped and bitter in 2016 as a twisted figure in a wheel-chair. Suriya brings the character to life and makes him so much more than a stock evil villain.

Mani is more the kind of character Suriya has played in recent films, but with a hint of mischievousness that differentiates Mani from the likes of Massu and Raju Bhai. There are some well scripted moments between Mani and his onscreen mother Sathyabhama which give Saranya Ponvannan more than the usual mother/son dialogues to get her teeth into. As always she’s the quintessential filmi ma, but here she gets to have a back story and separate personality aside from being a mother and she rises beautifully to the opportunity.

There is also a romance – of course – there has to be a romance! Mani falls for Sathya (Samantha) just as he discovers his father’s watch, and the romance is partly an excuse to showcase all the things the watch can do. The love story is the most conventional part of the film but Suriya and Samantha have good chemistry and Vikram Kumar adds in some light-hearted comedy to ensure the romance doesn’t overcome the action. Girish Karnad, Mohan V. Raman and Sudha as members of Sathya’s family add more background and all are good in their respective roles.

A.R. Rahman provides the music, but it’s around an hour in before the first dance number which is the appropriately electronic sounding Kaalam en Kadhali. I loved Suriya’s dancing in this – it was definitely worth the wait! The rest of the songs are more romantic and fit less well into the narrative, although I did appreciate the black and white co-coordinating costumes in Naan Un. The music itself is lovely, but the songs slow down the narrative and really don’t seem particularly necessary to move the story forward.

Although there is plenty of good comedy in 24, it’s kept light and even Sathyan, as Mani’s friend Saravanan, is more restrained than usual. It is still laugh-out-loud funny in parts though which provides a good contrast to the few more violent scenes, particularly one just before the interval which is shocking in its sudden brutality. However that is the exception and most of the fight scenes rely on intelligence rather than brute force.

24 has the look and feel of a Hollywood film without losing any of its Southern Indian roots. If this had been a Western film, no doubt 3 different actors would have been cast in the different roles of Mani, Sethuraman and Athreya, but in part the film works so well here because it is the same actor in all three roles. Watching Suriya play three very different characters is mesmerising all by itself while ensuring the familial relationship forms part of the story. Plus more Suriya is generally a good thing! The visual effects are slick, polished and look amazing, while the cinematography from S. Tirru is excellent, adding another layer to the story and ensuring a sophisticated look to the film.

Vikram Kumar impressed me in Manam with his ability to make a complex story flow easily and he does it again here. Yes, there are a few too many coincidences and no-one seems to worry about what will happen to the future when the past is altered, but these are small issues that don’t seem to matter when the rest of the film is so well done. 24 is an excellent piece of storytelling and the best big budget film of the year so far. Don’t miss it!

Thiruda Thiruda

thiruda thiruda poster

Thiruda Thiruda is a 1993 action film from Mani Ratnam that follows the exploits of two thieves when they inadvertently become involved in a major bank robbery. It’s a real ‘action’ film as almost every scene involves either a fight or a chase of some kind (using nearly every single kind of transport you can imagine), and the heroes are always on the move. At almost 3 hours, the film is rather long, but there is so much happening on screen that it’s an entertaining if not completely edge-of-your-seat watch. However the real reason to watch the film is the excellent music from A.R. Rahman which mixes opera, disco and electronic music with more traditional themes to give one of his best and most interesting movie soundtracks.

The film starts with the printing of new bank notes, destined to be sent all over India in specialised containers that require a computer card to gain access. For added security the containers also require a password, but since this is printed on the computer card, there may not be quite the level of protection the Finance Department think they’ve achieved. The card looks more like a plastic credit card than the key to a sophisticated locking system, but maybe it looked like modern technology back in 1993 and does mean it’s easily transferred between the various thieves. The card is also amazingly impervious to damage and works even after prolonged submersion in water – that does also apply to the truck carrying the money and the container full of money too though so perhaps it’s the water that has the special properties!

Criminal mastermind T. T. Vikram (Salim Ghouse) has various lackeys in India who steal the money for him, but his chief accomplice Ashok (Ajay Ratnam) is quickly apprehended and arrested by CBI chief Laxminarayana (S. P. Balasubramaniam), prompting a rather juvenile temper tantrum from the boss. However after an unpromising start, Salim Ghouse settles into the role of evil mastermind and enjoys himself immensely as he executes people who displease him after he heads to India to find his money. I like that his gang mange to arrange themselves artistically before starting to menace their targets and even the initial robbery is carried off with precise timing and a pleasing display of acrobatic moves on a moving train.

Before his arrest, Ashok manages to send the vital computer card and a cryptic message to singer Chandralekha (Anu Agarwal) who skips out before the CBI manage to arrest her too. Meanwhile petty crooks Kathir (Anand) and Azhagu(Prashanth) are on the run from the police after looting a safe belonging to one of the rich men in their village. During the robbery they stop Rasathi (Heera Rajagopal) from committing suicide, but rather than being grateful she decides to go with them to reclaim her share of the jewellery they have stolen.  Kathir and Azhagu don’t want to be burdened with a village girl so they unsuccessfully try to dump Rasathi, until they learn that she is escaping from an unwanted marriage with her uncle and become sympathetic to her plight.

The unlikely trio cross paths with Chandralekha and get drawn into the race to find the money while trying to stay one step ahead of the law and simultaneously avoid T.T. Vikram and his merry band of thugs. Things move along quickly with a little romance and some attempt at comedy, but mainly there are chase sequences (many, many chase sequences), as Kathir, Azhagu and Rasathi escape from the police, Rasathi’s uncle and his henchmen, the CBI and Vikram and his gang, although not all at the same time. Mostly these are well choreographed with bicycles, motorbikes, cars, horses, buses, trucks, trains and even elephants being used at some point or another, while the art of disguise and misdirection are also used to good effect.

The action sequences ensure that the film keeps moving along at a fast pace, which may be why the various characters are relatively under developed and the script somewhat lacking at times. Kathir and Azhagu should have had an easy camaraderie given that they are two thieves who have been working together since childhood, but here their relationship is clunky. This is particularly noticeable when a love triangle develops between the two thieves and Rasathi and there is little rapport or emotion during their scenes together. It may be the fault of the subtitles but the dialogue between the two is also awkward and fails to deliver the idea of two great buddies out to con the world together.

Heera Rajagopal is much better as Rasathi and even manages a bonding session with the sophisticated Chandralekha which gives Anu Agarwal the chance to make her character more sympathetic than she first appears. Despite her overdone entry scene, I really liked Heera and her portrayal of Rasathi. Every time I felt she was in danger of becoming a typical heroine, moping around and waiting for someone else to save the day, she actually got up and did something about her situation instead. Anu’s Chandraleka was also a much stronger character than anticipated and although the two female leads have less to do than the men, they give the film some much needed shading and depth. S.P Balasubramaniam is in fine form as the CBI officer chasing after the thieves, and fares better than the leads as far as characterisation goes. He has more of a back story and shows good rapport with his co-workers while showing off his excellent interviewing skills. His Laxminarayanan is one of the more interesting characters along with Malaysia Vasudevan as the police inspector, while Ajay Ratnam, Madan Bob and the rest all provide good solid support throughout.

The music really is the stand out performer in Thiruda Thiruda and A.R. Rahman changes from full chorus and orchestral score for the big production numbers to the evocative and very effective a capella song Rasathi, and pretty much everything in between. The mixture of Western and Indian music works well here and it’s probably my favourite Rahman soundtrack just because it is so varied. The accompanying cinematography from P.C. Sreeram is also excellent and the staging of the songs ensures each fits fluidly into the storyline. This is probably my favourite though – a lovely song, beautifully sung by Shahul Hameed with simple but powerful picturisation.

While there are a many Indian films that feature bank robberies, I haven’t seen many that follow this style of heist caper more typical of Hollywood films. It doesn’t work as well as it should due to the lack of rapport between the two male leads, but the various chase sequences are fun to watch and the storyline does have a few reasonable plot twists. For a film that does have so much action, there isn’t much suspense but the characters are likeable, the songs enjoyable and overall the film does entertain. Worth watching for the songs, Heera Rajagopal and S.P Balasubramaniam. 3 ½ stars.

Thiruda Thiruda