Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India (2018)

Naa Peru Surya

After writing a couple of hits for Telugu cinema, Vakkantham Vamsi has moved into directing his own screenplay with the release of Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India. However, despite an excellent opening scene, the film quickly loses momentum and is let down by poor story development and lack-lustre dialogue, most notably between the hero and his estranged father. The bones of the story are there, but Vamsi tries to mix in too much masala in the form of a dodgy crime boss and a rather limp romance, that dilute down what could have been an excellent coming of age movie. It’s still entertaining though, mainly due to an outstanding performance from Allu Arjun, while there are some excellent action and dance sequences that almost make up for the jumbled storyline.

Bunny is Surya, an army officer with more than a few anger management issues. This leads him into trouble, although to be fair the two incidences where he loses his temper in the opening scene are reasonably justified. It’s more that the magnitude of his response is well above what would be considered ‘normal’ and that’s what ends up being his downfall. After an incident with a terrorist leads to his dismissal from the army, his only shot at redemption is to get a letter signed by eminent psychologist Dr Rama Krishna Raju (Arjun Sarja) certifying that Surya has conquered his anger issues. The problem is that Dr Rama is actually Surya’s father, although the two haven’t spoken since Surya walked out when he was 16 years of age. Surya has been raised and supported by his ‘uncle’ Rao Ramesh, who has sponsored his recruitment into the army and manages to persuade his commander, Colonel Sanjay Shrivastav (Boman Irani) to give Surya one last chance.

There is great potential here, but the basic story of Surya’s road to redemption is almost lost behind the subplot of conflict with gangster Challa (R Sarathkumar) his son (Thakur Anoop Singh) and henchmen, Pradeep Rawat and Harish Uthaman. While these scenes are well filmed with great action sequences, Surya’s anger management plans languish in poorly constructed scenes with his father. Where there should have been crackling tension between Surya and Dr Rama there is instead uncomfortable chat that doesn’t come close to developing any kind of relationship between the two men. Granted the premise is that Dr Rama has completely shut Surya out of his life, and Surya will do absolutely anything to get back into his beloved army, but their interactions are so cold and clumsy that they become meaningless. What I wanted was tension and some level of self-realisation from Dr Rama and Surya, but instead there is just Surya’s anger, represented by discordant background music, and a manufactured conflict between Surya and Challa’s son that he needs to ignore if Surya is to go 21 days without fighting.

Oh yes – that’s the other odd plot point. If Surya can demonstrate no angry outbursts in 21 days he will apparently have conquered his problem. This sounds like a google-based plan of anger management and not the evidence-based behavioural therapy expected from a University based psychology professor, but by this point it’s not one of the most far-fetched ideas in the film.

Also problematical is Surya’s romance with Varsha (Anu Emmanuel). Anyone faced with the kind of anger towards them displayed by Surya would start running and not look back, so Varsha’s continued interest in Surya is hard to fathom, especially when she has zero chemistry with Bunny (and how is this even possible?). The romance makes little sense and doesn’t fit into Surya’s self-inflicted isolation shown in earlier scenes when he single-mindedly pursues his goal to be stationed at the border. Anu Emmanuel has little to do other than look glamorous and ‘stand by her man’ at the appropriate point in proceedings. All of which she does competently but it’s another disappointingly pointless heroine role that adds little to the main story. Another wasted character is Surya’s mother, who doesn’t fit at all well into the narrative and fluctuates between apparently not recognising her son and extreme anger at his absence for all these years.

Despite the shortcomings with the screenplay, what does work here is the character of Surya and his struggles to conform. Surya does manage to control his anger but it’s at the expense of his own self-worth and Bunny gets that inner conflict across perfectly. He shows the enthusiasm and fire that drives Surya to be the best soldier he can be, along with Surya’s passion for his country and makes it seem completely natural. Even better are the later scenes where Surya has to come to terms with the compromises he has made to try and meet his 21 days target. What the dialogue doesn’t manage to get across is plain to see on Surya’s face and in his body language. It really is one of the best performances I’ve seen from Allu Arjun and he completely gets under the skin of his character, dour and driven, with only the songs showing his normal cheeky grin. The support cast are all competent and do as much as they can with their limited roles. Thakur Anoop Singh makes the most impact and is impressive in the action scenes, while Vennela Kishore does manage to sneak in some comedy. It’s great to see Arjun Sarja back onscreen but disappointing that he has so little to do here.

The action sequences are excellent and choreographed to make Surya’s one-man army seem plausible, particularly when intercut with scenes of his army training. Naturally no-one can stop Surya when he’s angry, but the action is well put together and Bunny makes it all look effortless. The songs are generally good too, although the first two have little dancing – which surely is a crime in an Allu Arjun film. However just as I thought that, Lover also, Fighter also started with some great moves and awesome tricks with a cap. Bunny interchanges between ultra-classy and gangsta-wannabe in this song, but when it’s right, no-one does stylish like Allu Arjun!

Vakkantham Vamsi tries to include ideas about the evolution of home-grown terrorists but this is overly simplified and has little impact. I was expecting plenty of patriotism and Naa Peru Surya has a surfeit of flag waving and speeches about a United India that feel contrived, but inevitable in any film that mentions the army. If Vamsi had stuck to a straight-forward story about one man’s redemption this would have been an excellent film. However as it stands, with the additions of a gangster storyline, romance and failed family relationships, Naa Peru Surya has too many threads vying for attention and doesn’t do justice to any of them. Worth watching for Bunny, Arjun Sarja, who does a good job with his limited dialogue, and the dance sequences – just don’t expect too much from the story.

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Agnyaathavaasi

PosterDespite a stellar cast and a rocking soundtrack, Agynyaathavaasi turns out to be a rather disappointing watch. Trivikram takes an interesting plot and fills it chock full of masala, to the extent that the story of a son’s mission to exact vengeance on his father’s killers becomes lost in the morass of comedy, romance and OTT fight scenes. Nothing too much out of the ordinary for a Telugu film then you might think, but there is simply too much of everything here, making Agynyaathavaasi a clutter of confusion instead of the thrilling action film it could have been.

The story (when you can catch a glimpse of it) follows the exploits of Balasubramanyam (aka Abhishikth Bhargav aka Bala aka Abhi!) as he attempts to discover who murdered his father and brother, and then follow through to exact revenge. Abhi (Pawan Kalyan) has been raised in secrecy, allowing his younger half-brother to assume the role of heir to his father Vinda’s pharmaceutical empire. Vinda (Boman Irani) is notorious for always having a Plan B, hence the existence of Abhi who is rather oddly is his step-mother’s favourite, despite his exiled status. Indrani (Khushboo) suspects that her son and husband did not die accidental deaths, and calls Abhi back to discover which of the two aspirants to Vinda’s AB Company were responsible for the deed. Varma (Rao Ramesh) and Sharma (Murali Sharma) have been part of the company since its formation, but neither seem up to the challenge of running a multi-national organisation. Both actors do their best, but with poorly etched characters played mainly for comedic value it’s hard to see why they could ever be in the running as suspects for the murders.

Adding more unnecessary slapstick is Raghu Babu as a particularly sleazy office manager whose antics aren’t even remotely funny and who is completely superfluous to the plot. As too are Abhi’s side-kicks, who start off by offering technical support for his scheme to infiltrate the company but end up as a kind of enthusiastic group of cheer-leaders on the sidelines instead. These include Tanikella Bharani as Abhi’s uncle, Srinivasa Reddy and Abhishek Maharshi who all gasp, cringe and applaud at appropriate moments but otherwise have little to do as Abhi smoothly goes about his investigation without encountering too many problems.

Naturally there has to be a romance – so why not two? Anu Emmanuel and Keerthy Suresh are the two women Abhi uses as part of his schemes to discover the truth, which goes some way to explaining the mainly superficial nature of the relationships. Still it does mean a couple of songs and a quick jaunt to Bulgaria in between Abhi’s many fight scenes. Outside of this though, the two actors only appear as light relief in between beautifully staged but surprisingly dull fight scenes.

Normally the saving grace in these films is the performances of the actors, but almost everyone here, including Pawan Kalyan overact like crazy. The Powerstar doesn’t seem engaged with the screenplay at all for most of the film – not surprisingly perhaps, since I found it difficult to engage with too! There’s a bizarre scene where an insightful police officer (Sampath Raj) starts to postulate on who Abhi could possibly be, and manages to reconstruct the entire sequence of events without any clues, witnesses or evidence to back up his theory! It’s another example of needless frills that hinder the story. A flashback sequence would have worked much better and there was no need to add such speculation, particularly when the police officer involved reported that both Vinda and his son died by accident despite Vinda being shot in the head before he plunged to his death from a high-rise.

On the plus side, the music from Anirudh Ravichandler is excellent and suits both the action and romantic sections of the screenplay. The songs are also catchy, but for the most part don’t sit well within the screenplay and most seem to be added rather randomly. Despite this, the choreography is excellent and the locations beautifully filmed. Indeed, overall the cinematography is excellent with some stunning shots of Varanasi near the start of the film. I also liked the attempt to link Abhi’s story to parts of the Mahabharata and the story of Krishna, which helped to fill in some of the back-story that was glossed over rather quickly.

There are some terrific performances too in the midst of all the general scenery chewing. Boman Irani is good and Khushboo is notable in her return to the big screen as Abhi’s step-mother and Vinda’s widow. She’s compelling in her scenes and her understated performance stands out in the midst of all the other melodrama. Also very good is Aadhi Pinisetty as the main protagonist, Seetharam. He gets the balance between arrogant brat and murdering megalomaniac just right while looking dapper and well-groomed at every occasion. Despite only a short amount of screentime Aadhi is impressive and makes an excellent villain once again.

Agynyaathavaasi is simply too uneven to be anything other than a one-time watch. Although there is a good basic storyline, the added fluff and masala buries it too deep and not even the excellent production values can keep it from sinking under all that weight. Although Khushboo and Aadhi along with Anirudh’s music and V. Manikandan’s cinematography are worth seeing, this is really a film best for fans only.

Thupparivaalan

Thupparivaalan

And he’s back! Mysskin has returned with a murder/mystery thriller which has more commercial elements than his previous films Yutham Sei and Anjathey, but still features plenty of his distinctive style. Thupparivaalan has more than a passing nod to the recent Sherlock Holmes films and Mysskin acknowledges these influences in his opening credits, but this is still a very Indian take on the detective genre. Vishal is excellent as the quirky investigator trying to solve the mystery of a dead dog, but Prasanna is just as good as the trusty sidekick, while the twists and turns of the story keep the film engaging right to the end. This still isn’t your standard mass fare despite some excellent fight scenes and the odd explosion or two, so expect to engage those little grey cells while enjoying the overall spectacle.

The film opens with a couple of quick deaths before switching to a frenetic Kaniyan Poongundran (Vishal) dashing around his apartment in a tizz as he hasn’t had an engrossing case for a while. Kani has a distinctive sense of style that extends from his fashion sense to the furnishing of his apartment. One wall is a huge bookshelf and there are copies of paintings by Vermeer and Degas that work their way into the narrative, while the wing chairs and comfy sofas evoke images of English country homes and roaring fireplaces. Kani himself doesn’t step outside without his cravat and jaunty cap, but it’s not just what he wears, but his movements and decisive walk that are part of his overall look. Kaniyan has principles too – he knocks back a huge fee for finding a businessman’s lost daughter as he reasons out what has happened and thinks the father will react badly to her return. Instead he accepts a commission from a young boy who brings his pocket-money to fund an investigation into the death of his pet dog.

It’s not long before Kani has linked the dead dog to the murders from the opening scenes, and along with his associate Manohar (Prasanna) he cajoles, bribes and deceives his way to the information he needs. Eventually the police invite him on to the case and with their help Kani and Mano start to find a more devious plot than they first imagined.

Mysskin still has an obsession with feet, and many of the shots are from ground level, but to add a new perspective, Kani has a height obsession and prefers to sit at the top of his bookcase ladder. As always with Mysskin films the staging and dressing of each scene are just as important as the protagonists and the action taking place. At one point Kani and Mano speak to Mrs Dhivakar (Simran) whose husband and young son were killed by a lightning strike and we see her in profile reflected in a mirror that’s reflected in a mirror and so on. It’s a poignant view of her pain that is very effective, and this is just one brief moment in a film filled with such insights. There are layers upon layers and I know it will take repeated viewings to pick up every detail Mysskin has managed to place throughout the movie.

There is a sort of romance too. Mano falls foul of some pickpockets in a subway that ends up with Kani taking them on as a kind of project. The eldest is Mallika (Anu Emmanuel) who is trying to look out for the rest of her siblings and protect them from an abusive uncle. In a shockingly brutal scene Kani employs Mallika as a housekeeper, and it’s hard to decide if her smile after being thrown to the floor is because she is accepting of the abuse or because she understands the implication of Kani’s strong reaction to her presence. However, Mallika’s green tea isn’t any more acceptable to Kani than Mano’s attempts and while Mallika obviously has feelings for Kani, he doesn’t reciprocate until it’s too late. Perhaps as compensation Mysskin adds a strong female character on the other side (Andrea Jeremiah), who is intolerant of harassment and perfectly capable of fighting her own battles, and for the most part Kani’s treatment of Mallika is no different to how he treats the rest of the world.

The villains in this case are a particularly nasty group of assassins for hire led by the uncompromising Devil (Vinay). Over breakfast it’s casually revealed that there is a body in the fridge, while Mysskin adds beautiful soaring violin music to a scene where Devil uses a chainsaw to dissect a corpse. I also wondered about the significance of Devil’s choice of beverage as coffee, which always appears drinkable, compared to Kani’s green tea which rarely seems acceptable. Such are the thoughts that go with any Mysskin film where every small detail may be important. Or possibly not – and that’s what keeps you hooked every time!

The gang’s actions are chilling, mainly due to the matter of fact and almost casual approach to their brutality, and their lack of emotion as they carry out their crimes. They kill a child with no apparent remorse, the death of Muthu (K. Bhagyaraj) is particularly grotesque and a scene that involves seppuku is frighteningly authentic. In contrast, Kani and Mano have a warm friendship despite Kani often racing ahead of Mano in the deductive process, and neither are afraid to make mistakes in their search for answers or become emotionally involved in the outcome.

The action too is well executed. There are a number of fight scenes that mainly feature hand to hand fighting but here again Mysskin veers away from the norm. In a restaurant brawl, none of the tables or chairs are broken despite the knife-wielding assassins being thrown around the room. Another in an abandoned room with hanging shreds of fabric is as beautiful as any choreographed ballet with clever use of the space. The final scenes though are gory enough for any SI film aficionado, but here too Mysskin ensures there is a puzzle that needs to be solved before we can reach the final climax.

The film focuses heavily on the lead pair of Vishal and Prasanna and they work brilliantly together – just as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional Holmes and Watson. Mysskin has caught the nuances of Holmes/Watson relationship perfectly here and the two actors buy into it superbly. There is emotion, comedy, drama and plenty of excitement as they work together, with Kani always that ten steps ahead of his friend. Vinay is an effective antagonist too, and he delivers an excellent performance as a heartless killer for hire. The rest of the cast, including such veterans as Jayaprakash and Thalaivasal Vijay, all fit well into their roles with John Vijay particularly good as the sleazy Kamalesh. Anu Emmanuel doesn’t have a big role to play but she manages to give her character a reasonable presence in the limited amount of screen time she has and generally does a good job. Everything else is as meticulously crafted as expected with excellent cinematography from Karthik Venkatraman showing a keen eye for the detail of each scene. There are no songs in the film but the background music from Arrol Corelli is evocative and fits well with the narrative without overpowering the action.

Thupparivaalan is an excellent return to form for Mysskin and I’m really hoping that it’s the start of a franchise of Kani and Mano films as recently reported. Although Vishal produced the film, this is definitely Mysskin’s show and he’s managed to deliver a rather more commercial film without losing any of his trademark style. This is stylish, clever and packed full of detail while still remaining a visual feast. I really enjoyed Thupparivaalan and thoroughly recommend watching for Vishal, Prasanna and trademark Mysskin style.