Iraivi (2016)

Iraivi

Karthik Subbaraj’s third film is rather darker than his previous two, with less comedy and a serious theme about women who have to endure the poor decisions of weak men. It’s a film where the female characters are defined by the men, and the story is told through male eyes although the women generally are stronger and less flawed than their husbands. While the relationships are the core of the film, there is an overlying story that involves theft, murder and deception and although it’s another excellent film from Karthik, I kept thinking throughout that this would have been more powerful if he had shown more of the women’s viewpoint. However, highlighting the flaws in his male characters and ensuring that they don’t appear heroic is in itself a departure from the norm in Indian cinema, as is focusing on the plight of the women trapped in realistically troubled relationships. In Iraivi, Karthik has made another film that is not easy to define but one which will hopefully start conversations and make audiences think a little harder about the definition of abuse.

The film starts and ends with the women, even beginning and finishing with the same image of a hand outstretched in the rain. The rain is used throughout as a metaphor for freedom, with each of the women expressing a wish to stand in the rain and get ‘drenched’. In the images and dialogue shown over the opening credits, Ponni (Anjali) is a schoolgirl, with the acknowledged somewhat old-fashioned dream of making a good marriage and living the rest of her life in domestic bliss. Vazhini (Kamalinee Mukherjee) is shown to be a strong and confident woman who has defied her family to marry the man she loves while Meenakshi (Vadivukkarasi) is upset by her husband’s demeaning attitude towards her, which has been an unceasing constant throughout their life together.

When we next see Yazhini and Meenakshi, each has been changed by the men around them, while we get to see Ponni’s transformation during the story. Meenakshi has had some kind of fall and/or stroke. She is reaction-less in a bed in hospital and her two sons, Arul (S.J. Surya) and Jagan (Bobby Simha) blame their father Dass (Radha Ravi). He admits to being the cause of his wife’s hospitalisation, but despite the fact that she never moves and never speaks, Meenakshi has become their focus for any of the problems Arul and Jagan face. No matter that she cannot communicate, she is still their mother and that bond is as strong as always.

Yazhini is married to Arul, a film director whose last film is being held hostage by his producer after the two had a falling out. Arul is living in limbo until he can secure his film’s and has become an alcoholic as a result. He gets into fights in bars when drunk but is not physically abusive to his wife and daughter, but instead subjects them to his mood swings and depression, and the general uncertainty of living with an alcoholic. S.J. Surya is excellent in his portrayal of a weak and selfish man who cannot cope with his loss and has become bitter and completely self-absorbed in his misery. Kamalini too is very good in a role that captures well how many women become trapped by their circumstances. She threatens Arul with divorce but at the same time still loves her husband and tries very hard to be as supportive as she can. However, Arul’s alcoholism and refusal to move beyond his own self-pity makes it difficult to Yazhini to see any other recourse other than to leave, taking their daughter with her. The dialogues between the two are excellent, and the sense of frustration and despair from both Arul and Yazhini underpins every scene. As the story unfolds, it’s Yazhini who emerges as the winner, able to change and adapt she moves on with her life while Arul is stuck in the same self-destructive pattern. Even after going to rehab, his selfish nature has not changed and everything is still about getting his film released – even losing his wife isn’t enough of a jolt to dislodge him from the familiar rut of self-pity and single-minded focus on his film above all else.

Michael (Vijay Sethupathi) grown up with Arul and Jagan and considers them as family with Arul as his best friend. He is in love with a young widow Malar (Pooja Dewariya) but she has no interest in anything other than a physical relationship and rejects his proposals of marriage. Malar is an interesting character – she is a woman who knows what she wants and is not bothered about societies perception of her behaviour, but I felt that there was something rather contrived about her character and despite Pooja’s best efforts, Malar didn’t quite ring true for me compared to the other characters.

When Michael’s parents arrange a marriage with Ponni he callously informs her on their wedding night that he has been forced into the marriage and can never be the man of her dreams. Her female relatives advise her that this is usually the case, but that Michael will change with marriage, however when Ponni tries to engage with Michael he shuts her out at every opportunity. In almost every scene with Michael or Ponni there are background details or snippets of dialogue which seem to foreshadow their relationship. When it seems that Ponni’s preganancy might be the turning point in their relationship, Michael is arrested and sent to prison, leaving Ponni to deliver and bring up her baby by herself. It’s again brilliantly written to illustrate the effect on Ponni as the happy-go-lucky school girl is transformed into a weary and accepting mother, managing to cope as best she can. Anjali is fantastic throughout and the dialogue again is perfectly written to illustrate the difficulties of women in what is a fairly typical relationship, no matter where in the world or whatever the cultural background. Vijay Sethupathi is on top form too as a man who is easily led by his friends and finds it difficult to admit to mistakes, even though at heart he isn’t a bad person.

The third character in the story is less successful, and Bobby Simha never quite manages to make his Jagan as believable as the other two. Jagan is jealous of Michael as he loves Ponni himself and decides to do something about it when he sees her distress when Michael goes to jail. Ponni’s reaction is certainly not what I expected in a film, but it is what could happen in real life, whereas Jegan’s monologues about the oppression of women and the evils of society seem more filmi and contrived than likely to occur in reality. However, Jagan does give an interesting contrast to the other two men, and is a more typical film character while providing the overlying story of artefact theft and deception against which the various relationships are all developed.

The story meanders about haphazardly while establishing the main characters and displaying their motivations. There are repeated themes and foreshadowing of events to come, but the final outcome is difficult to predict and the twists along the way are unexpected and genuinely surprising. What stands out are the individual performances from S.J Surya, Vijay Sethupathi, Kamalinee Murkharjee and Anjali, all of whom are superb. There is able support from all the other actors including a restrained appearance from Karunakaran as Arul’s friend Ramesh. The background music from Santhosh Narayanan is effective and the songs good, although in general these don’t add anything to the film. Sivakumar Vijayan’s cinematography is outstanding, often using the lighting to heighten the drama while ensuring that every scene is perfectly arranged for maximum impact.

Karthik has payed exquisite attention to detail, and the set-up and execution of every scene is beautifully planned to deliver maximum impact. On repeated watching, the small details start to emerge and the links between events become clearer. It’s a film that actually becomes better the second and third time around and I suspect that every time I watch Iraivi there will be another detail I missed the first time. It’s not perfect however; the film is long and some of the diversions taken don’t add anything worthwhile to the story, while despite starting off well, the female characters start to lose some of their definition and eventually only react to the actions of the men. It’s still an intriguing film and one I highly recommend for a different look at relationships between men and women. 4½ stars.

 

 

 

 

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Sarrainodu

Sarrainodu

If all you want in a movie is plenty of gory fight scenes and a couple of good tunes then Sarrainodu is probably the film for you. But on the other hand, if you prefer a cohesive story with an actual plotline, semi-plausible romance and an attempt at more than one-dimensional stock characters, then best to steer clear. The one saving grace in Sarrainodu is Allu Arjun, who manages to entertain even while playing a violent, psychopathic stalker who nonetheless is actually the hero.

Bunny is Gana, ex-military, although ‘ex-‘ exactly what is never specified in a general vagueness that afflicts every character.  Gana spends his days bashing up offenders his lawyer uncle Sripathi (Srikanth) has failed to bring to justice in court, much to the frustration of his father (Jayaprakash) who feels he should be doing something more worthwhile with his life. The rest of the family dramatics follow Telugu Mass Movie Formula No 1, with the addition of a comedy track featuring Gana’s sister-in-law (Vidyullekha Raman), a Tamilian obsessed to the point of mania with sambar and Brahmi as a philandering brother-in-law. Neither of the two comedy tracks is funny and Brahmi’s sleazy character is particularly off with little relevance to the rest of the film but then that’s nothing unusual for this type of film.

With some nice symmetry, while Gana is belting the living daylights out of gangsters to reclaim land they appropriated, uber-villain Vairam Dhanush (Aadhi) is cheerfully slaughtering villagers to grab their land for his pipeline project. Vairam likes the sound of his own voice and witters on about ‘background’ as if the concept may have some significance to the plot later on. Perhaps it was meant to, but since the background of neither Gana nor Vairam (or anyone else for that matter) is given anything more than a brief mention, Vairam’s insistence on the concept makes little sense.

As a villain, Aadhi has a good sneer and appears appropriately nasty, but his character is so one-dimensional that Vairam himself has very little impact. He’s evil purely for the sake of being evil and naturally (adhering to TMMFNo1) he’s rich and privileged with the Chief Minister as his father and a large criminal network at his beck and call. Aadhi tries hard to give Vairam some personality but he has little to work with and his villain pales beside the spectacle of Gana’s righteous fury.

Gana falls in love with Hansitha Reddy (Catherine Tresa), oddly cast as a very unlikely MLA, and decides to follow the usual path to true love (TMMFNo1 again) by stalking the girl until she falls for his charms. This is even less viable than usual given that as an MLA Hansitha has the wherewithal to send Gana about his business, but bizarrely she declares her love for him instead. The path to true love is not smooth however and there is a complication in the form of Maha Lakshmi (Rakul Preet Singh), who falls heavily for Gana when he rescues her from Vairam’s thugs. Sadly neither of the romances works well at any point in the film and there is zero chemistry between Bunny and his two leading ladies, probably due to a lack of screen time together and therefore little opportunity for any relationships to develop.

Bunny is on top form here and single-handedly manages to hold the film together despite the many flaws and gaping holes in the barely-there plot. Whether he’s fighting or dancing he looks amazingly fit, and effortlessly switches between his devotion to Hansitha and his uncontrollable fury when he sees injustice against the helpless. As always he looks awesome in the song sequences where every dance routine features excellent footwork, amazing energy and that trademark Bunny grin. S.S. Thaman’s songs are catchy and memorable too, and the choreography is well suited to showcase the stylish star. He gets to wear some incredibly bright and colourful costumes and fares rather better in the wardrobe department than Catherine Tresca and Rakul Preet Singh, who both suffer from the curse of inappropriately skimpy Western style costumes in the songs, although both look stunning for the rest of the film. Anjali has a better time of it with her guest appearance in the item song blockbuster – which I love for many reasons, not the least of which being that one of the backing dancers is totally rocking a cool pair of specs – you go girl!

The other aspect of Sarrainodu that works well is the action, with fight sequences that are well imagined and expertly staged despite being incredibly violent and completely over the top. Where else would you have a fight scene on roller blades for example, or a wonderful stand-off by the hero beating numerous thugs while the participants in Puli Kali leap energetically around the fight? Most of the action contains a lot of slow-motion, but this highlights the choreography and showcases the small vignettes in the background – the bystanders, a horse bucking as it runs past and the portentously displaced gravel with every one of Gana’s footsteps. And it’s just as well that the action sequences are good as there are a lot of them – Gana spends most of the film fighting in increasingly violent and bloody encounters, throwing thugs around like confetti at a wedding and inflicting maximum damage on Vairam’s crime empire.

Boyapati Srinu adds almost every possible masala ingredient in this mish-mash of a film, but fails to provide a coherent plot or any rationale to his characters. I love a good mass entertainer – I don’t expect great character development or logic and realism in the plot, but there does need to be an actual plot and some sort of reason for the antagonism between the hero and the villain.Sarrainodu does not succeed by any of those criteria and yet I still enjoyed the film. The fight scenes are excellent, the dance sequences well worth watching and Allu Arjun puts in a magnificent performance that just about manages to overcome all the flaws in the film. One for the fans sure, but if you’re a fan this is Bunny at his best and that’s all that’s needed.

Rana Vikrama

Rana-Vikrama-poster

Time for another adventure without subtitles; this time the Puneeth Rajkumar starrer Rana Vikrama that released earlier this year in India and showed this weekend in Melbourne. Written and directed by Pavan Wadeyar, it’s an action movie that follows a fairly predictable path but is kept moving along by the Power Star’s charismatic presence and some good action sequences. Throw in some better than average songs, a dash of comedy, and Rana Vikrama is a more entertaining watch than the opening scenes would suggest.

The story starts with a rather over the top British Officer in the last days of the British Raj. As expected, the Viceroy (Vikram Singh) is obnoxious, controlling, vindictive and just plain evil, although since Vikram Singh overacts and has been inexplicably dubbed by someone with an East European accent he ends up more comical than villainous. Unfortunately he’s not the only victim of the poor dubbing as a number of later scenes supposedly set in London feature reporters and lackeys also badly dubbed into grammatically incorrect and oddly accented English. Skipping over these technical issues, Vikram Singh chews the scenery for a while and eventually attempts to kill upstart villager Vikrama (Puneeth Rajkumar). Naturally he is no match for the tough local who wins the day despite being beaten, weighed down by chains and shot. Twice. Take note Hollywood – that’s how hard it is to kill a real hero!

The film then flashes forward to the present day where Vikram (Puneeth Singh again) is an aspiring police officer. Despite his obvious physical fitness, he is rejected by the enrolment officer time and time again however Vikram is determined to succeed, somewhat against the wishes of his fiancée Paaru (Adah Sharma) who would prefer him to stay with her. Vikram is thrown a lifeline by the Home Minister (Girish Karnad) who appoints him as a police trainee and sends him off to investigate a missing reporter somewhere in the border between Karnataka and Maharashtra. After a few hiccups Vikram finds the spot where workers in chains are toiling away in what appears to be an open cast mine, and makes short shrift of the numerous thugs and villains overseeing the project in classic filmi hero ishstyle.

The village has been keep secret for many years due to the nefarious dealings of none other than the British Viceroy’s descendant and the richest man in Britain, Jonathan (Vikram Singh again). He’s just as prone to overacting as his grandfather but with less reason, since he’s supposed to be a successful if rather unscrupulous businessman. However once Jonathan discovers that his secret has been discovered he jets in to India and prepares to get rid of Vikram once and for all.

Before we can get to the ultimate showdown however, there is a flashback sequence which explains the opening scene and also exactly why Jonathan’s family wants the land. Vikrama is married to Gowri (Anjali) for this sequence and the couple share good chemistry making this a better pairing than Puneeth Rajkumar and Adah Sharma in the present day. Anjali also gets to swing a sword and her feisty nature fits well into the storyline making her a more memorable and likeable character. I love this song featuring Gowri and Vikrama, which has the added benefit of a gigantic drum as a stage for Vikram’s dance moves. There is always something very special about oversized musical instruments in a dance number!

Generally the songs from V. Harikrishna are catchy and the choreography and picturisations are effective with some excellent costumes and imaginative settings. The songs also fit well into the narrative, something which is often more hit and miss in an action film, but they do work well here. If only such attention to detail had carried over into the dubbing and present day Anjali’s make-up to turn her into Vikram’s grandmother. This basically doesn’t work, and casting an older actress instead would have been a better option given that Gowri has little to do in these sequences other than look old and frail (which she doesn’t) and point dramatically at significant moments in the story. There is also a heavy reliance on clips of TV news reports which dulls the impact of some of the more dramatic scenes, although overall S. Vaidhy’s cinematography is impressive.

Although the film doesn’t cover any new ground and the heroic antics are far-fetched and fairly improbable, Rana Vikrama is still fun to watch. The action sequences from Ravi Verma are well thought out and the Power Star perfectly fits the role of a rough and tough police officer. It’s Puneeth Rajkumar’s film all the way and he does an excellent job of holding the story together despite the caricature of a villain and the rather OTT final sequence. I would have liked a little more care with some of the more technical aspects, but it’s still an entertaining film and one definitely worth catching on the big screen if you can.