Kavaludaari

Kavaludaari

Hemanth M Rao’s début film was the excellent Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, and he’s followed it up with another gem that’s just as good. Kavaludaari is a crime drama that moves between a thriller and a character-rich neo-noir drama as a traffic cop tries to solve a decades old murder with the help of a retired alcoholic police officer and a journalist with a fixation. It’s beautifully directed and shot, cleverly written and with excellent performances from the entire cast, definitely one not to miss.

The film opens in flashback to the seventies in the immediate aftermath of a robbery and murder in an archaeological office. There is a body on the floor, missing antique jewellery and a raft of suspects, one of whom disappears with his wife and daughter on the night of the crime. In the present, traffic cop Shyam (Rishi) wants to move into the Crime Branch but is met with a firm refusal every time he asks. But then bones are discovered in a construction site, and Shyam is drawn into the mystery. The bones are found to be old, and no-one is interested in investigating a cold case which may not even be a crime. But when Shyam finds a journalist, Kumar (Achyuth Kumar) at the discovery site in the middle of the night he’s drawn into the mystery, despite being warned off the case by his boss.

Shyam has connections and in a beautifully shot scene, he starts going through old case files abandoned in a storeroom. Evocatively, Hemanth M Rao shows a classroom full of shadowy people sitting on the benches who slowly get up and leave as Shyam finds, reads and rejects their file. Finally only one family is left, Gurudas Naidu (Sidhaartha Maadhyamika), his wife Vijayalakshmi (Samanvitha Shetty) and their young daughter Vaidehi (Naila). Mr Naidu was the archaeological officer who disappeared on the night of the robbery and murder, and it seemed as if he was the most likely culprit. But when the bones are confirmed as being the Naidu family it seems as if they were likely murdered as well.

In an effort to find out the truth, Shyam tracks down Muttanna (Anant Nag), a retired police officer who has turned to drink after the death of his own family. Muttanna was the original investigating officer who knows about the other potential suspects in the earlier case, driver Fernandes (Sampath), the Naidu’s servant Bablu (Bharath Gowda), the family cook and the office caretaker to name just a few. But Muttanna has his own problems and is not interested in helping Shyam until his persistence finally cracks through Muttanna’s armour. At the same time, Kumar is investigating Naidu’s disappearance but he’s also on the run from a couple of loan shark heavies who’re looking to call in the loans. With Kumar drip-feeding Shyam information when he can and Muttanna’s reluctant assistance, Shyam gradually starts to uncover more of the puzzle. But when Kumar’s daughter Priya (Roshni Prakash) reports him missing as the real culprit send out thugs to muddy the waters, Shyam appears unlikely to be able to crack the case.

Shyam is introduced by a series of interviews with prospective brides, which is a good way to find out he’s basically a very ordinary bloke. He’s nice enough but has little social life and just isn’t particularly charismatic with women. He is determined though and Rishi portrays this stubborn obsessiveness brilliantly while still allowing his character to appear unsure and out of his depth. Rishi was excellent in Operation Alamelamma and he’s even better here where there is a good mixture of character development, action and drama to get his teeth into. Anant Nag is equally good as the retired cop with a drinking problem and reluctance to get involved. He’s a loner by choice and happy to stay that way until the night Shyam climbs over his wall and forces him to help. The developing relationship between the two men, mentor and mentored is an essential part of the story and yet is so understated and natural appearing thanks to the excellent writing. Achyuth Kumar does a great job with a complex character despite limited screen time, while Roshni Prakash and Suman Ranganathan are very good in small but essential roles.

What really stands out here is the writing. The film is long but at no point is it boring, and nothing on screen is wasted. There is a point to every character and every single action, while the twists unfold perfectly to slowly reveal the plot. Just as in Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, Hemanth M Rao slips some humour in to his characters and there is even a whiff of romance but the story is key and he never loses sight of the plot threads. Advaitha Gurumurthy was a cinematographer for U turn and he captures some of that same unworldliness here, while keeping up the suspense with good use of shadows and different camera angles. The film looks slick and polished but still very realistic thanks to good attention to detail and smooth editing. Even the subtitles are well done, although sometimes hard to read, but the English is good and makes perfect sense. The soundtrack is also excellent. Charan Raj’s music is wonderfully expressive and emphasizes the more emotional elements of the story. Ide Dina, for instance, is a beautiful song that portrays Muttanna’s sense of loss exquisitely while still retaining some of the joy from his previous life.

Kavaludaari was recommended to me by a number of people, and although it took a while before we finally had a few shows in Melbourne (thanks Roopesh!) I’m so glad that we did. This is a brilliant film, beautifully shot, cleverly written and with a great cast who all do an excellent job. Crime dramas are one of my favourite genres which  means I am a tad biased, but this really is one of the stand-out films of 2019 so far. Don’t miss it!

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K.G.F: Chapter 1

K.G.F: Chapter 1The first Kannada film I saw in a cinema was Ugramm, where I loved Prashanth Neel’s style and approach to story-telling, so it is reassuring that he has kept to a similar form for his latest epic KGF. The violence is bloody and excessive, the story ultra-masculine but with plenty of reference to the importance of mothers and the soundtrack is an important part of the film. But KGF has a grandeur and magnificence that comes with working with a larger budget and with a number of the Kannada industries top talent involved, KGF is an impressive venture indeed. There are a few issues, the lack of a decent female lead and some OTT and excessively dramatic dialogues for example, but Prashanth Neel has kept his eye firmly on the story, making KGF an excellent addition to the world of Kannada action cinema.

The film uses a framing device where TV journalist Deepa Hegde (Malavika Avinash) interviews ageing reporter Anand Ingalagi (Anant Nag) about his book, which was banned and burnt by the government of the time. Prime Minister Rimika Sen decreed that all mention of a certain ‘criminal’ should be wiped from history but Anand is prepared to share the story, although he jumps around in time which adds a non-linear aspect to the tale. In this way, Anand acts as a narrator of events, which span from 1951 to the present day and start with the seizure of land rich in gold by Suryavardhan (Ramesh Indira). Suryavardhan clears the land and establishes an illegal gold mine, worked by slaves and disguised as a limestone works. At the same time, local villager Saraswathi (Archana Jois) gives birth to a son she names Raja Krishappa Bairya who later becomes the infamous Rocky (Yash).

The story spans Rocky’s life from his birth to his infiltration of the mines in an attempt to assassinate Suryavardhan’s son Garuda (Ramachandra Raju). In between is the tale of Rocky’s rise to fame as a gangster in Mumbai and his desire to own ‘the world’ which eventually leads him into the gold mines. Along the way, Rocky has flashbacks to his childhood and to his mother’s words of advice which have helped to make him the man he has become. Since these are mainly words to make her son the richest and most aggressive man in India, they have stood Rocky well in his attempts to become the pre-eminent gangster in all of Mumbai. Rocky is a man who thinks nothing of killing anyone who stands in his way, often in the most bloody and gory ways possible. Luckily for our hero’s welfare, the thugs never manage to co-ordinate for more than two at a time to attack, and even when armed with guns they seem to forget how to aim to kill. However, I did appreciate stunt choreographer Anbariv’s goal of finding the most imaginative way to impale, garotte and otherwise dismember Rocky’s opponents – one of the best being with a handy anchor although Rocky’s prowess with a shovel was also superb!

Yash powers his way through his role as Rocky without ever demonstrating much emotion as the strong silent type who wades through rivers of gore to reach his objective. Although there are the flashbacks with his mother (featuring an excellent Anmol Vijay as the young Raja Krishnappa Bairya) and a rather uncharacteristic but brief romance with Reena (Srinidhi Shetty), for the most part Rocky is as stonyfaced as his nickname implies. However, to ensure that we know he’s not quite as much of a villain as his actions would suggest, Rocky is also shown to have a softer side, usually when faced with young mothers in extreme situations or when faced with gangs of poverty-stricken children. Nothing new or ground-breaking then, since this is typical Southern Indian hero behaviour, but it suits the character and storyline well, so there’s really no need to break the mould. 

The non-linearity of the story is one of its strengths and also works well to set up expectations for KGF:Part 2 as we are given tantalising glimpses into the next of Rocky’s adventures along with the puzzle of why the government decided to suppress his story with such assiduousness. Jumping around from the seventies (with flares and wide collars – love it!), where the action in the Kolar gold fields plays out, to adventures in Rocky’s youth explains much of his motivation and firmly establishes the other characters in the film. This is really helpful since there are multitudes of minor characters who are important to the story but who are all introduced quickly by Anand, making it difficult to remember who exactly is a gangster, who is a politician. And then decide if it even matters given they are all nasty pieces of work. This does allow for major complexity in Prashanth Neel’s world and he paints a grim picture indeed of corrupt politicians, lawless gangsters who have the police on their side and a poverty-stricken and joyless existence for the rest of the population. Into this dark world, it seems to make sense to inject some light by adding a romance, but the introduction of Reena with the usual stalking = love trope always feels like an add-on extra.

Reena is the daughter of Rajendra Desai (Laxman), one of Suryavardhan’s accomplices in the goldmine and as such she is portrayed as arrogant and heedless of the general population. Rocky sees her and is instantly smitten, following up his initial advances with some terribly cheesy dialogue while Reena does her best to let him know she isn’t interested. Until she sees his compassionate side, which is apparently enough to change her mind. Sigh. Srinidhi Shetty doesn’t have enough screen time to make any impression, but for the most part she too is fairly dour, grim-faced and like Rocky, prone to making declarative speeches. Rocky doesn’t have much dialogue at all, but when he does speak it’s generally overly dramatic and interspersed with plenty of threats and promises of violence. Even the minor characters rarely seem to speak normally to each other and instead there are bold announcements of bravery and threats of violence that do start to wear after a while. The narrative from Anand is in stark contrast and is more minimalistic and factual although this is occasionally confusing when characters are only briefly mentioned once.

Ravi Basrur and Tanishk Bagchi provide the music which suits the atmosphere of the film well. There is one introductory dance number with Yash which is appropriately exhilarating and an oddly placed dance number with Tamannaah, but for the most part the songs are used to help drive the narrative forward. Along with the soundtrack, they succeed in adding emotion and suspense to the film, and unlike Ugramm the music here is kept to a reasonable volume. Cinematographer Bhuvan Gowda keeps the film to grey and dark tones, and doesn’t have much opportunity to vary the colour palette, although scenes in the mine and at a temple ceremony are beautifully done to add red tones to the darkness. Kudos to the fashion designers for recreating the seventies in a relatively subdued fashion and not dressing the characters in ridiculous costumes. The sets and clothes are set in the right time period but not ostentatiously so, and as such don’t take away from the action unfolding onscreen. Thanks to the distributors for ensuring reasonably good subtitles, although the white text was often obscured by the background. Still very grateful to have Kannada films subtitled – even the songs!

KGF is basically another gangster action drama, but what lifts it above the rest is the sheer scale and complexity of the narrative along with standout performances from Yash and the literal cast of hundreds that add depth and texture to the plot. Be warned that the film is incredibly violent, and the fight scenes are frequent, fast and furious but they do fit the story and act to showcase a world that is brutal and uncaring. The story points out that power is the only thing that matters and Rocky’s power is that of his fists. Throughout, it’s those with power who dictate events, and Rocky is determined to control the gold and therefore the money, giving him all the power in the world. There is a lot to take in with the story but the mixture of fast-paced action and slower framing narrative works well to bring it all together. Overall Prashanth Neel has crafted a good story, told it well and pictured it beautifully to draw out the desolation and despair of the gold fields, and the gritty underworld in Mumbai. After all the excitement of Chapter 1, I’m definitely looking forward to Chapter 2!

KGF

Kaddipudi

Kaddipudi

Kaddipudi is a journey into the underworld of Bangalore as the film follows the exploits of Anand, aka Kaddipudi (Shiva Rajkumar) as he tries to leave the world of rowdyism behind. As expected there are corrupt cops and dodgy politicians, but the gangsters too have few redeeming features, being violent and intent on committing the vilest of crimes whenever possible. Against this backdrop, Kaddipudi stands out as a lone honest man, along with his friend Jinke (Rangayana Raghu) and a few of the police officers. It’s an interesting film that isn’t quite as successful as Kendasampige but still entertains thanks to good performances and a reasonably well-developed story.

ACP Satyamurthy (Anant Nag) narrates the story of Kaddipudi’s early life to new police officer Tejasu who is on a mission to clean up the city and remove its gangster element. Satyamurthy explains that it’s not the gangsters who are the problem, but rather the rapists and thieves that he wants to get off the streets. It turns out that Kaddipudi is the one helping Satyamurthy in his endeavours and the rest of the first half explains the reasons.

The story starts with political rivalry between Kaddipudi’s local candidate Renukaji (Renuka Prasad) and Shankarappa (Sharath Lohitashwa). Shankarappa arranges for an accident in an attempt to kill Renukaji but instead manages to paralyse the popular politician and alienate his son Gaali (Rajesh Nataranga) and Gaali’s friend Kaddipudi. Incensed by Galli and Kaddipudi’s threats, Shankarappa pays one of their friends to kill Gaali, but this too fails as Kaddipudi saves his friend’s life. However, this sparks off rivalry between Manja’s family and Kaddipudi which draws him further into violence. Since he turns out to be quite good at it, Kaddipudi gains a reputation as a gangster, but when a friend’s sister is attacked and more people die, he vows to give up his life of violence to avoid drawing his friends into the crossfire.

This first part of the film is rather confusing as various people pop up and are killed without there being any real explanation of who they are. However, once the relationships start to become clear (and many of the cast have already been killed off) it becomes easier to follow as it boils down more simply to Shankarappa and Manja against Renukaji, Gaali and Kaddipudi.

ACP Satyamurthy acts as a mentor to Kaddipudi who seems to be doing quite well as a police informer and general helper to Renukaji. He turns in some of his own men who have been guilty of raping and murdering women in the area, but although this is appreciated by the police it earns him yet more enemies. Just when it looks as if Kaddipudi will manage to turn his life around, Shankarappa arranges for Satyamurthy to be transferred and his own man, ACP Vijaya Prasad (Avinash) to be installed in his place with instructions to get rid of Kaddipudi.

The second half moves into more familiar territory as Kaddipudi has to deal with corrupt cops as well as his gangster rivals and the machinations of Shankarappa. To break up the violence there is a love story with Uma (Radhika Pandit) and some comedy added by Jinke which is generally successful. Kaddipudi also adds to his do-gooder persona by saving a brothel worker, although this part of the story seems to be rather hurriedly tacked on and doesn’t gel with the rest of the screenplay. What does work better is the romance, and Soori allows Uma to have a good back story and believable personality. Perhaps rather less credible is her election as a politician, but it’s good to see a female character, who starts off with a relatively minor role, develop throughout the film to become one of the major characters by the end.

Jinke too has more to offer than just Kaddipudi’s comical friend, while Gaali is interestingly written as a selfish and demanding character who uses Kaddipudi in spite of their good friendship. I’m assuming that the actor playing this role is the same Rajesh Nataranga who wrote the screenplay along with Soori, and it’s interesting that he gave himself a more ambivalent role, which he does an excellent job in portraying too.

The story starts off rather slowly and isn’t helped by Shiva Rajkumar looking rather too old and tired for the role of an upstart young gangster. However, his performance is first class and time moves on and Kaddipudi becomes more jaded with the gangster life, Shiva’s appearance suits the character more. He does an excellent job throughout of portraying Kaddipudi’s conflicting desires; on the one hand he wants to settle down and live a normal life, but on the other, he can’t bear to see injustice and he is quick to respond to defend his friends and adopted family of Gaali and Renukaji.

Also good are Renuka Prasad, Anant Nag and Sharath Lohitashwa, but I really enjoyed watching Radhika Pandit as Uma. The growth of her character was very well written and her development of Uma from scared young girl to confident wife and politician excellent, making Uma a realistic persona who could fall for a reformed gangster and develop the confidence to enter politics. After all she was an actor, and what is a politician if not a performer? Radhika does a fantastic job of bringing her character to life and making her much more than the romantic interest for the hero.

There is a lot of violence in this film, and it’s of the bloody and realistic sort rather than theatrical herocentric acrobatics. There is violence against women and plenty of police brutality, but Soori keeps the film moving, ensuring that there is a reason for all the fight scenes and drives home the precariousness of life as a rowdy in the underworld. Soori has crafted a thought-provoking story that has a lot to offer once you get past the rather slow start and a few side-plots that don’t lead anywhere. Not one for the fainthearted but definitely worth a watch if you enjoy gritty gangster films and don’t mind the bloodshed. 3 ½ stars.