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. Kudos 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

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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.

Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu

GBSM poster

The past few years have seen a number of promising new directors appear in the Kannada film industry and Hemanth Rao is another to add to the list. His début film Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu has the benefit of an excellent cast, but the well-written story is beautifully developed and the blend of emotional drama, suspense and humour is perfect. At first glance it may appear rather dark as Anant Nag plays an Alzheimer’s patient who goes missing, with Rakshit Shetty as his increasingly desperate son, but there is plenty of joy in the film too and the emotional highs and lows are cleverly balanced. This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far, and as icing on the cake, it even has grammatically correct English subtitles!

What makes Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu such a good film is that Hemanth Rao tells a simple story exceptionally well. It’s just a bonus that the characterisations are superbly done and the dialogue is moving and funny while still sounding realistic and plausible. Venkob Rao (Anant Nag) is a widower who has developed Alzheimer’s and although he can remember his long ago past, his short-term memory is gone. Venkob’s son Shiva (Rakshit Shetty) has moved to Mumbai to work and placed his father in a nursing home since Venkob can no longer live by himself. The pressures of work and the distance that separates them mean Shiva rarely sees his father but when he comes back to Bangalore to seal a business deal he takes Venkob shopping for new clothes. The frustrations of dealing with an elderly and confused man while trying to buy him clothes and simultaneously talk business on the phone is eloquently portrayed here in just a few short scenes and Siva’s impatience is just as authentically portrayed. It’s nicely done and while Shiva comes across as an angry and harried man, Anant Nag gives Venkob dignity and occasionally lets a hint of mischievousness peek through that gives an insight into his personality before the Alzheimer’s disease took over.

After reaching breaking point, Shiva bad-temperedly drops Venkob off outside the nursing home and speeds away for a business dinner, but in the time it takes for the security guard to reach the front gate Venkob vanishes. Shiva immediately takes his frustrations out on his father’s doctor at the home, Dr Sahana (Sruthi Hariharan) threatening to ruin her career and sue the home although he was the one who didn’t take proper care of his father.  Dr Sahana is no pushover and hits back with Shiva’s abandonment of Venkob and his lack of engagement despite her calls and emails about his father’s progress. The dialogue is perfect, the reactions genuine and both Rakshit Shetty and Sruthi Hariharan are completely believable in their roles as they start the search for Shiva’s missing father.

Elsewhere a government official has been murdered and Ranga (Vasishta N. Simha) and his assistant Manja (Ravikiran Rajendran) have been given the job of disposing of the body. However their path crosses with Venkob when a brief stop along the way allows to slip into the back of their truck. Unfortunately the truck crashes and when a good Samaritan Kumar (Achyuth Kumar) stops to help, Ranga and Manja steal his car and haul both Kumar and Venkob along as hostages. With Kumar and his family locked up in their house with Venkob and the two villains, tension starts to rise as Ranga’s boss tells him to kill everyone and move on. Meanwhile Shiva is still searching for his father with the help of Dr Sahana and through her eyes Shiva starts to see his father in a new light. The physical search becomes a way to reconnect with his past and possibly his father too if he can ever manage to find him.

Anand Nag is absolutely brilliant as a 66 year old man with Alzheimer’s, but the rest of the cast are just as good. Vasishta Simha is superb as a career criminal who is fine with disposing of bodies but struggles with the idea of cold-blooded murder. Since his potential victims include Kumar’s wife and young son as well as the effectively harmless Venkob, his reluctance is perhaps rather understandable. Ranga is not a killer and his emotional turmoil is perfectly shown, particularly when Venkob starts to confuse Ranga with his son Shiva and tries to give him advice. His memory may be gone, but Venkob can recognise a soul in distress and his attempts to console the man who is trying to kill him are heart wrenching. Despite this, Hemanth Rao keeps everything from getting too emotionally bogged down by including small moments of perfectly nuanced humour that fit surprisingly well into the story. It would be easy to use Venkob’s condition to generate some cheap laughs, but instead we are laughing with Venkob rather than at him, and it makes all the difference to the mood of the film. As well as the sudden lapses back into confusion by Venkob, the excellent performance by Achyuth Kumar makes this part of the film memorable for all the right reasons and the mix of tension, drama and humour created is spell-binding.

Although some of the scenarios are rather far-fetched (it’s hard to believe for example that Sahana has time to go jauntering off searching for a patient and abandoning her case load at the home), nothing about the film feels too contrived and the story moves smoothly between the search for Venkob and  the cooped up criminals. Rakshit Shetty puts in another commendable performance after Simple Agi Ondh Love Story, with an accurate portrayal of a man searching for his father and finding himself along the way. Sruthi Hariharan is just as good here as she was in Lucia and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance here as the down to earth and practical Dr Sahana.

The music was a little too loud at times in the cinema, but the songs from Charan Raj are all lovely and at the right volume suit the mood of the film perfectly. The cinematography too by Nanda Kishore is good with some great visualisations of the mental distance between Venkob and Shiva. This is one of those rare gems where everything just comes together, with story, cast, characterisations and all the technical aspects flawless and perfectly executed. It works because Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu is quirky and different but at heart is a tale that will resonate with audiences. The story jumps between father and son and between present and past. There is the contrast between one man’s search for his father and a relationship that appears to be lost, and another’s search for his conscience and a way out of a bad situation. This is film-making at its best and I can’t wait to see what Hemanth Rao comes up with next. Highly recommended – you don’t want to miss this one!