Kodi (2016)

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Kodi is an interesting political thriller that sadly did not release in Australia with English subtitles. As the film is dialogue-heavy this meant that I missed most of the subtleties of the film, particularly annoying since the female characters seem to have more substantial roles than usual and the plot appears to be well-developed with unexpected twists. However the basic story is pretty easy to follow and the characters all clearly delineated ensuring Kodi is worth the trip to the cinema. It’s still completely baffling to me that in today’s global market the producers would choose to release Kodi overseas without subtitles, although it does follow the recent trend of not including subtitles on Tamil DVD releases either. Come on Kollywood – lift your game!

Dhanush plays a double role in the movie, portraying twin brothers, Kodi and Anbu. Despite being mute, their father (Karunaas) had political ambitions and was prominent in the local party as an activist and avid supporter of the local leader.  On his birth, Kodi was presented to the leader and from that point on it seems that his father transferred all his political ambition onto Kodi, dragging him around to various political events and giving him speeches to declare on his father’s behalf.

Initially Kodi seems relatively happy to follow the party line, but he is horrified when his father suicides right in front of him in order to highlight mercury poisoning at a local factory. Rather than lessen his passion for politics, this ensures Kodi grows into a hot-headed and passionate politician who craves social justice and presumably the power and prestige such a role would bring. As a young campaigner Kodi seems to have a fairly prominent role in the local party office, although there are grumblings from the older generation about the young upstart who seems to be taking a lead role. Along with the problems Kodi faces from his party, his girlfriend Rudhra (Trisha) is also a wannabe politician, except she’s firmly on the opposing side and the two seem to frequently clash in the public arena. Luckily for their romance, they seem to be able to put their opposing views aside once they are alone together and apart from the hassle of having to keep their relationship secret, Kodi and Rudhra happy together.

Anbu on the other hand is a gentler character who works as a teacher at a local college and is content to let his brother lead the charge for democracy. He finds romance with a local egg farmer Malathi (Anupama Parameswaram) although he isn’t above swapping roles with his more volatile brother when the occasion demands it. Dhanush keeps the two characters separate with ease, and not just because Kodi has a full beard and Anbu a moustache. Kodi is harsher, often appearing stern and forbidding, and only leading down his guard with Rudhra. He is argumentative, struts around combatively and is a typical mass hero when it comes to any fight.  Anbu on the other hand is softer, smiles more and even his posture indicates he’s a man who can be more easily pushed around. In his first double role, Dhanush effortlessly makes the two brothers separate individuals, perhaps even more so than real twins as Kodi appears more like an elder brother, and Anbu the younger.

Anbu  discovers more about the mercury factory which leads his brother to some unsettling revelations and as events unfold, Anbu ends up taking his brother’s place in politics. This is where the characterisation breaks down a little, as Anbu playing Kodi is really just the same as Kodi. It would have been even more effective if there had been some Anbu mannerisms left behind, although it’s possible that I missed some of this through not understanding the dialogue.

While Dhanush is superb as Kodi and Anbu, Trisha is just as good as a young and ambitious female politician. She has to battle against the prejudice of both her gender and her youth to win her place in the party and in doing so displays a ruthless streak that serves her well later in the film. Trisha is regal in sober saris that reflect her political ambitions, but lets her hair down in the romance scenes where she is softer and more likeable than in the rest of the film. There are also glimpses of the continuous rivalry between Kodi and Rudhra as they grew up together, with the childhood flashbacks proving more substance and clarity to the two characters. I love the interactions between the two – both in public as rival politicians and in private as their romance heats up. Writer/director R.S. Durai Senthilkumar has ensured that the female role is just as well-developed as that of the male protagonists, and in some ways Trisha has the more thought-provoking role with a complex and ambiguous character.

The story has a number of twists and turns with the machinations of the two political parties, the plots of the various members and the truth behind the mercury factory all having a part to play. I wish I had understood more of the dialogue as I missed the significance of Kodi and Anbu’s friend Bhagat Singh (Kaali Venkat) and I’m still not sure why Malathi disappeared from the story for most of the second half. This was a shame as Anupama was excellent, as were the rest of the supporting cast. S.A. Chandrasekhar was good in the role of Kodi’s party leader while Saranya Ponvannan was excellent playing the only role she ever seems to do nowadays (but then she does it so well!) as Kodi and Anbu’s long suffering mother. There are only a few songs in the film and these are mostly focused on the two romances, but Santhosh Narayanan’s music seems to fit well, although I did miss watching Dhanush dancing.

Like his previous films Ethir Neechal and Kaaki Sattai, R.S. Durai Senthilkumar concentrates on telling a good story rather than simply showcasing a star or indulging in mass action scenes. As a result, Kodi is an intelligent and engaging thriller, with excellent characterisations and clever twists in the plot. Dhanush does a fantastic job in a double role, keeping his presence somewhat understated so that the focus really is on the story and not the few fight scenes or dramatic speeches. I really do hope that this one releases on DVD with subtitles as it deserves to be seen by a wider audience and I’d love to finally understand all that dialogue.

 

Allaudinum Arputha Vilakkum

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There are so many great actors in Allaudinum Arputha Vilakkum. But you’d never guess they were that great just from watching it, if you catch my drift. The cast includes Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Gemini Ganesan, Savitri just to name a few. I.V Sasi made his gaudy 1979 Aladdin and the Lamp film in both Malayalam and Tamil. I happened upon the Tamil version first so that is what I will be discussing here.

The story opens with a sorcerer in a cave, who reads something disturbing in his big book of spells and then uses his great powers to conjure up….dancing girls. And HELEN! He also uses his magical powder to give Helen several outfit changes. He may be evil but I think I like his priorities.

Allauddin (Kamal Haasan) is a layabout. He gets into a fight after his opponent cheats on an armwrestling challenge, and actually uses the rough end of the pineapple as a weapon! Nice. His poor mother (Savitri) looks quite done in by all the drama. He is also the only person who can retrieve the fabled lamp from a cave. The Evil Sorcerer disguises himself and persuades Allauddin to accompany him to another city. Conveniently they pass by the secret cave. Allauddin is sent in to collect a lamp and is given a magic ring that will protect him. He evades some not totally terrifying special effects – although considered cumulatively, it would have been quite enervating. I noted snakes, demons, snakes, bits of demons, snakes, dancing ladies, snakes, demons with extra bits, a lion, lake of boiling acid, snakes.

Allauddin accidentally rubs the magic ring three times, and summons the spirit who helps him get home via a leisurely flight. There is a genie in the ring and also it turns out, one in the lamp. I wonder if there is some kind of formal demarcation. They don’t seem to communicate but there must be rules, surely?

Allauddin makes a wish and his lifestyle goes from poor but honest to grand and gaudy in an instant. Seriously. His outfits are just something else. And Savitri looks a lot more like, well, Savitri when she is in her fine silks and sparkles. He makes the transition from lazy rogue to competent hero with minimal effort. And I mean minimal effort. Kamal Haasan puts no energy into the action scenes, preferring to conserve his resources for the abundant opportunities to overact. He doesn’t even dance much.

He meets the ruling family when he accidentally saves one from ambush, when all he’d meant to do was have a perv at the dancers. And that brings him into the path of Kamaruddin (Rajinikanth!!!!). Back at the court, the Shahenshah (PS Veerappa I think) rewards Allauddin for his bravery and is furious at his security people that this incursion was allowed so easily. He berates his courtiers, especially Mir Qasim (Gemini Ganesan in a fetching lilac top and gold cloche) who is demoted. He appoints Kamaruddin to a job that requires a fancy sword. Kamaruddin also has notions of marrying Princess Roshni (Jayabharathi) although she doesn’t seem thrilled and I can see why. Kamaruddin is an unappealing, nasty tempered man with a taste for gaudy tunics and contrasting capes.

Rajinikanth’s facial expressions are priceless as he seems to have decided surely this must be a parody so he will go all out all the time in all the scenes. He also does very little “dancing” but that is hardly a surprise.

Allauddin also falls for Roshni just on hearing about her beauty, but decides to make sure by going to perv on her during a ritual bath. There IS a theme here.

I feel inspired to make bath time more of an occasion. I can do without the scores of onlookers, but I may make myself a gold chicken headdress.

To be fair Roshni returns the favour by disguising herself as a man so she can go check out Allauddin at his shop.  Theirs is a love based on mutual ogling and love of dress-ups.

Allauddin asks his mum to go ask the king for Roshni’s hand but Kamaruddin has already called dibs. When the courts cannot decide, they settle their differences as tradition dictates – by gladiator fight. The genie gives Allauddin fancy gold undies and a cape. Perhaps for protection. Maybe just for fun. It’s a gladiatorial triathlon! Horses and pointy sticks, then just the pointy things, then paperthin wobbly swords and shields. Allauddin wins, just, and I think Kamaruddin says something like “Fine. I never really liked her anyway dude”. And I marvelled at two of the biggest stars in Indian cinema. In gladiator outfits.

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Allauddin goes home to break the news to girl next door Jamila (Sripriya) who has always been sweet on him. He tells her it would never work out. Sorted! For no obvious reason, Kamaruddin is catapulted off his horse and lands with pinpoint accuracy in a tiny patch of quicksand, just big enough for one person. His horse stands by pretending it doesn’t know what is expected in these circumstances – it had not seen MAGADHEERA! Happily Jamila walks by and she comes to his rescue. Although. Surely the idea is to use the rope to drag the victim out, not drag yourself towards them…Anyway.

Kamaruddin is easily distracted by a glimpse of shoulder, and the idea of a girlfriend who will rescue him.  I think another wedding is on the cards (although this one may require a shotgun).

While the ladies are very much pushed into the background by the story and their male co-stars, I did like that Jayabharathi and Sripriya brought some individuality and expressiveness to their roles. And Savitri could overpower Kamal Haasan’s overacting with just the raise of an eyebrow. Plus, outfits.

While love bloomed, they all forgot about the Evil Sorcerer who is now in league with disgraced Mir Qasim. But our heroes are game for anything, AND Allauddin has his trusty genie. What could possibly go wrong? You’ll need to watch it to find out!

There is a lot going on but nothing of substance really happens so I didn’t really miss having subtitles. I did find that whenever anyone spoke for a very long time, I drifted into happy contemplation of all the gaudy frocks and sets. The visual effects are showing their age but there is a cheeky good humour at play. I even laughed out loud at Allauddin and the genie playing hide and seek around the house. And I could not believe this cast in this film, getting up to these shenanigans.

This is a film I would have loved when I was seven and really, not much has changed. It’s a ripping yarn with some unintentional hilarity and a commitment to searing it’s images on your retinas. I don’t think it would warrant frequent repeat viewing but gosh it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. 4 extra sparkly SBIG stars!

Jyo Achyutananda

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The film opens with an awkward family photo session. The photographer tries to get the two boys to loosen up and stand closer together, and tries to get the mum to look mildly happy. And so we learn the brothers Achyuth (Nara Rohit) and Anand (Naga Shourya) had a falling out and the mother (Seetha) is grieving her recently deceased husband…Well, to be fair she spends the whole film looking tearful or giving people the stink eye. The tension continues at home as Achyuth reminds Anand of the disparity in their earnings and who is the head of the family.

Through flashbacks we see the boys in happier, pre-moustache times. They sneak cigarettes and enjoy gossipy chat over snacks, and seem to be each other’s best friends. There is rivalry over the dumbest things but it is all pretty good natured. Until they both fall for the same girl. Jyosna, or Jyo (Regina Cassandra) is their new neighbour and commits the crime of being single and gorgeous. The boys fall over themselves to impress her, but she sees them only as friends. This does nothing to dampen their enthusiasm and they cut each other’s lunch with abandon. Anand is goofy and puppy like but Achyuth reveals a less likeable side of his persona, especially when he burns her passport to prevent her from leaving to study overseas. Yes. And then they blame her somehow for their father having a heart attack, assuming she told him that his sons were vile and that’s why he dropped dead. Jyo leaves with the support of her dad (a beautifully warm and understated Tanikella Bharani) and so that chapter closes. But the boys’ rivalry festers into something nastier over the years…and then Jyo comes back.

The way the story unfolds initially is lots of fun. Each brother tells his wife that it was the other brother who had a thing for Jyo and the detailed recounting is filled with little jibes. The brother who is acting out the story being told gets to do some excellent hamming and spout cheesy dialogue. Then we see the “real” version of all three becoming friends and indulging in a song montage all over Hyderabad.

Here’s another notable song moment.  Man stalks girl at market, girl tries to make him go away, man becomes more persistent, girl goes to the police who throw her back into the man’s arms and then join in the dance. It was an early inkling that I was going to have issues with this film.

The second half covers what happens after Jyo returns, and I found myself liking both brothers less and less. They rarely spared a thought for their wives other than to try and keep them away from Jyo. They didn’t even think that much about Jyo and what she wanted. They were too far gone in their chest-beating weenie-waving man games.

It seems men are the only people in the film, the women are just fixtures. Priya and Kalpana are mocked by their husbands’ machinations to get with Jyo and the lies they tell. The lines are funny and their acting is fine, but the characters are not given any respect and the audience isn’t expected to find a problem with that. In some ways Jyo is punished for her failure to like one of the boys. She has to deal with the aggravation and the obstacles put in her way, try and sort out her own life and relationships, and she even gets saddled with fixing Achyuth and Anand. In a film supposedly about love and relationships, it’s a shame so many of the relationships seem a bit toxic.

I loved the performances by Nara Rohit and Naga Shourya. Loved them. They looked perfect, their chemistry was fantastic, their comedy timing was spot on, and when they fought it felt like they really meant it. Their late night snuggles and gossip like an old married couple were very funny and they brought the complex dynamic in their relationship to life. It seemed effortless. I wish they’d been playing characters I could have loved as much. Anand was the least objectionable because I could see his behaviour was driven more by emotion and impulse in the moment, and by conditioning to kick back at his overbearing big brother. Achyuth was more calculating and deliberately set out to hurt Anand and to control Jyo. I’d be laughing at something silly he’d do or say and then recoiling at the next moment. For example, at a corporate tennis match he hit the ball into an opponent’s face and high-fived his partner. The writing of his mean spiritedness is excellent and the things he chooses to do are really hurtful. So it was quality work in terms of insight into a sibling rivalry. But there is no real penalty for him, or Anand, and they reconcile because they want to go back to the good old days.

Regina Cassandra is great as Jyosna. Despite occasionally being made to forget she has a brain, Jyo is a smart and independent woman who has ideas about her future and who should be in it. She is lively without being manic and I liked the way she shifted tone slightly depending on which of the brothers she was talking to. Jyo’s return and the subsequent scheme to set things back to rights was a bit muddled but I enjoyed all of her screen time. And I was chuffed when Nani showed up for her.

Srinivas Avasarala wrote and directed and shows his love of, and influences from, cinema. While the structure works and he handles the flashbacks quite well, he maybe lacked some confidence in his audience. Every joke is underscored with loud sound effects, there is a bit too much repetition in some scenes, and he hammers home the obvious points. Visually the film is pleasant but gets a bit cheesy in songs. I liked the parallels between present day and the past boys relationships and the ending was neatly done.

The audience was in stitches at some of the lines, so I missed a lot. But if all the jokes were on par with the English ones, then I don’t think it was a huge loss. Has anyone over the age of 9 ever said “I miss you from the heart of my bottom” and genuinely expected a laugh?

The good bits are good, the actors are great, but the film left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe this would improve with the benefit of subtitles but whatever it is that raised my hackles would still be there. It’s a shame. I’d love to see more low-key relationship driven films coming out of the Telugu industry, but not ones that idolise a load of male wish fulfilment BS. (Note: I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with the film Love Actually so I’ve got form in this genre)