Dhruva (2016)

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Dhruva is a reasonably faithful remake of 2015 Tamil film Thani Oruvan that benefits from Arvind Swamy reprising his role as the villain of the story. Dhruva is definitely slicker and glossier than the original, but the story is essentially the same although the emphasis is even more on the two main characters than in Thani Oruvan. Thankfully both Ram Charan and Arvind Swamy are excellent and the cat and mouse game between the two makes Dhruva an entertaining and worthwhile watch.

The film is a thriller that follows the attempts of a young and righteous police officer, to track down and catch one of three über criminals. Dhruva (Ram Charan) believes that if he locks up the kingpin of any criminal organisation this will immediately impact on 100 petty criminals and be more effective than tackling each street thug individually. It doesn’t take long before he discovers that his three possible targets each themselves are controlled by an even bigger villain – Siddharth Abhimanyu (Arvind Swamy). Siddharth is a respected scientist, recipient of a Padma Shri award and all round respected businessman so Dhruva has to somehow find convincing enough evidence to send Siddharth to jail for his crimes.

In the original film Dhruva was helped by his close friends who all formed a posse to fight crime together while they were in training college. However their role in the story here has been reduced and although the friends are still there, they have less to do in the hunt for Siddharth.  Goutham (Navdeep) is the only one who has been kept fairly true to the original, but without the detail of their friendship as background, his character is less effective. This also has an impact on the characterisation of Dhruva who appears more isolated and less of a leader as a result, making his assumption of control of a crime task force immediately after his graduation rather less credible.

Another casualty of the re-write is Ishika (Rakul Preet Singh) whose character has even less to do than Nayantara in the Tamil version. Ishika is a victim of love at first sight when she sees Dhruva, and she pursues him relentlessly, knowing that in a Telugu film eventually her persistence will be paid off by Dhruva finally accepting her love – rather than arrest for stalking, which would be the most probable outcome in real life. Although she is a forensic specialist, this is barely mentioned in the film, and Ishika has little involvement in the search for evidence against Siddharth. Where Nayantara’s Mahima had useful ideas and forced her way into the investigation, Ishika is limited to appearing only as the romantic interest. However Rakul Preet Singh does a good enough job in this role and has reasonable chemistry with Ram Charan, which at least makes the scene where Dhruva finally does admit his feelings one of the better moments in the film.

The film is all about Dhruva and his developing relationship with Siddharth and Ram Charan is excellent as the obsessed police officer, determined to track down Siddharth no matter what it takes. He certainly looks the part, easily demonstrated since Surender Reddy is an equal opportunity director who ensures that for every shot where Rakul Preet Singh appears in a bikini there is a shot of Charan without his shirt. No complaints here!  While Ram Charan expertly channels his inner Salman Khan, he also does a good job of portraying the more cerebral side to his character and his monologues where he describes his theories about the local criminals are well delivered. He’s even better when Siddharth’s tactics begin to hit home and Dhruva begins to doubt himself as he loses Goutham and his every move is known by Siddharth even before he makes it. This gradual erosion of his self-confidence is well depicted and Charan gets the emotions across effectively while still maintaining his tough cop persona.

However, as in Thani Oruvan the real star of the film is Aravind Swamy, who is perfectly evil as the amoral and unscrupulous Siddharth. His callously dismissive way of ordering the execution of anyone from mere bystanders to major players in his plots is wonderfully chilling and his appreciation of a worthwhile enemy in Dhruva just adds more menace to his character. I think he is even better here than in Thani Oruvan, or perhaps it’s because there is less focus on the other criminals and his added screen time lets him play nasty more effectively. Posani Krishna Murali does well as Siddharth’s bumbling politician father and the contrast between the clever but absolutely evil son and his unaware and totally inept father is simply brilliant and works just as well here as in the original.

The story stands up well to the remake in Telugu, even if shifting the focus even more onto the two lead characters does make for a less believable plot. Ram Charan is suitably heroic and the only disappointment is that there is little opportunity for him to show off his dancing skills. The music from Hiphop Tamizha is fine but not as memorable as his Tamil soundtrack, and the songs occasionally seem rather oddly placed, particularly in the second half. Still, the picturisations are good, and the scenery for Choosa Choosa stunning. Neethoney has the best dance moves though.

Dhruva is a good remake of an excellent film and definitely well worth a watch. Ram Charan takes on the role of a dedicated police officer, but one with more flaws than a usual Telugu hero and performs his part admirably. Arvind Swamy is perfect as his nemesis while the psychological cat and mouse game between the two is beautifully played out. Mohan Raja is credited with the original storyline and Surender Reddy has aptly modified the plot to give a slick and entertaining thriller. One to catch in the cinema if you can.

Thani Oruvan

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Thani Oruvan pits a dedicated police officer against a corrupt scientist in psychological thriller that has plenty of drama and action. The writing collaboration between director Mohan Raja and Subha results in a cleverly plotted story with some unexpected twists, but the real success lies in the detailed development of the two main characters. Neither is completely black or white, although the shades of grey are relatively muted, while the cat and mouse relationship between the two provides good structure to the film. Excellent performances from the whole team but particularly Arvind Swamy as the villain of the piece ensure that Thani Oruvan is a better than average police drama and one that’s well worth a watch.

You know a film is going to be pretty epic when the story starts with a dramatic birth. Sengalvarayan (Thambi Ramaiah) is a party man through and through to the point where it’s more important to him that he ties flags for his leader’s appearance rather than take his heavily pregnant wife to hospital. The leader senses an opportunity for some good publicity and sure enough, the baby is born in the back seat of the politician’s car leading Sengalvarayan and his new son Pazhani to develop a relationship with the man who will later become Chief Minister (Nassar). The significance of these events doesn’t become apparent until later on but they provide an instantly intriguing start to the film.

After the dramatic opening, the story moves to a group of young police officers in training and their vigilante-style activities against the local criminal community. Despite the group’s best efforts, the crooks never stay in jail and Shakthi (Ganesh Venkatraman), Suraj (Harish Uthaman), Kathiresan (Sricharan) and Jana (Rahul Madhav) all look to their friend and natural leader Mithran (Jayam Ravi) for a solution. Naturally Mithran has a plan, having spent the last few years investigating all known criminal activity and discovering that all crimes are interlinked and ultimately committed by a small group of individuals. As a result he’s made it his mission in life to eliminate one of these top 15 criminals responsible for all of the crime in India, and of course his buddies want in on the action. He has a shortlist of three possible men to choose from; Ashok Pandian (Nagineedu), Perumal Swamy (Madhusudhan Rao) and Charles Chelladurai (Saiiju Kurup) who between them (according to Mithran) account for 80% of the criminal activity in the country.

Mithran’s biggest problem is which one to choose, although I’m not entirely sure why he couldn’t decide to eliminate all three given that he has his whole career ahead of him and could work on knocking off one every 10 years or so. Regardless, while he is working out which one to target, he discovers that all three actually work for a much bigger villain – highly respected scientist and Padma Shri awarded Siddharth Abimanyu (Arvind Swamy). Siddharth is known for his work in the pharmaceutical field but in reality he’s the mastermind behind all sorts of criminal activity and not a nice man at all, despite his designer suits, fashion model wife and impressive collection of University degrees.

Siddharth is of course the grown up young boy from the start of the film and his inept father is now the Health Minister in Nassar’s government, allowing Siddharth to do basically whatever he wishes. Mithran and Siddharth cross paths when an American drug company owner comes to India to open access to lifesaving medications – something that Siddharth and his associates will go to any lengths to prevent. Once Siddharth becomes aware of Mithran and his attempts to put him out of business, the contest between the two begins in earnest with each determined to eliminate the other no matter what it takes.

The characterisations are the key here and while Mithran doesn’t have all the answers he uses a methodical approach and informed reasoning to work out what Siddharth will do next. Almost too good to be true, Mithran is depicted as a dedicated and passionate police officer with a strong sense of social justice, who is almost hyper-aware of crime in his surroundings. However as he gets drawn into a battle of wits with Siddharth his obsession threatens to take over his life while his friends and allies become tools to use in his fight. His motto is that a man’s capability is defined by the quality of his enemies and by that measure he needs to be very capable indeed. Mithran’s passion for justice is what makes him get out of bed in the morning, so he has none left over for potential love interest Mahima (Nayantara) and as time goes on, little patience to deal with his friend and colleagues either. These shades of grey give Mithran more credibility and offset his tendency to indulge in pompous and long-winded speeches about truth, justice and the rights of all to obtain cheap pharmaceuticals when required. Jayam Ravi is perfectly capable as Mithran but he is very serious and it would have been good to see an occasional smile outside of the obligatory song with Mahima.

Siddharth is a more cerebral villain than usual and uses his political influence to neutralise any threat from Mithran while his quick reactions and scientific knowledge also stand him in good stead to outwit the police officer at almost every turn. He doesn’t throw tantrums, swear vengeance or send out gangs of thugs as Tamil criminal masterminds are wont to do, instead he simply adapts, moves on and changes direction.

Arvind Swamy is excellent as the criminal mastermind, with the beauty of his characterisation lying in just how very ordinary his Siddharth is. He’s rich  – designer suits, trophy wife and beautiful house all attest to how wealthy he is, but on the surface he could be any scientist working on medical breakthroughs with no indication of how cruelly callous he can be when required. Those moments when he casually orders someone’s death or explodes into controlled violence are almost totally unexpected and seem to come out of nowhere, making Siddharth a very effective and chilling villain despite his generally debonair persona.

Nayantara’s character Mahima is interesting too. On one hand she’s the typically dumb love interest who thinks that by following the hero around and declaring her love at every eventual opportunity she will eventually wear him down – and to be fair that is what happens here too. But on the other hand, she’s a forensic scientist who has some good ideas to help Mithran’s investigation, and appears coolly capable and professional in her work. If only Mohan Raja had avoided the ‘love at first sight’ cliché and given Mahima and Mithran a more plausible and realistic romance I would have liked her character more. But Nayantara does give Mahima professional competency and a no-nonsense approach most of the time that fits well with the overall tone of the film.

The rest of the cast are good with Thambi Ramaiah providing some laughs as an inept politician, but mainly giving a further insight into the character of Siddharth. Rahul Madhav is the best of Mithran’s friends, Vamsi Krishna is suitably menacing as Siddharth’s hitman, while Mugdha Godse is good in her brief but important role as Siddharth’s wife. The film looks good too, with effective use of split scenes and an effective mix of technology and good old-fashioned fight scenes. There are a few leaps of faith required but they aren’t too ridiculous and mostly the plot makes sense.

Thani Oruvan is an intelligent thriller with a good mix of action and drama and excellent characterisations. It is a little overlong, but the story keeps moving along at a good pace and like any good page-turner it’s always worth finding out what happens next. Worth watching for Arvind Swamy’s villainous scientist and the psychological cat and mouse game between Siddharth and Mithran. 4 stars.

 

Thalapathi

Thalapathi was one of the first Tamil films I saw. It was before my ‘Southern Film Industry Addiction’, I barely knew who Rajnikanth was and had absolutely no idea about Mammootty. In fact I’d totally forgotten he was in this film until I rewatched it recently – thankfully I know much better now.

Written and directed by Mani Ratnam, Thalapathi is at heart much more of a masala film than his usual fare. It features most of the necessary ingredients: an abandoned child, perpetually teary mother, romance, brothers who don’t know they are related, the essential Amrish Puri as the villain and a significant article of clothing. Add to that plenty of action and fight scenes, great songs, and beautiful cinematography, plenty of classical references and it all adds up to a very full 2 and a half hours of cinema.

The film starts in black and white with a young unmarried girl giving birth during the festival of Bogi. The opening scenes of Kalyani’s rejection by an older woman and shots of the rural countryside serve to explain that her child has no future in such a traditional community. She puts the baby into a train in the hope that somehow someone else will give him a better life. These opening shots are some of the best in the film and it’s a shame that my copy of the DVD seems to have lost the original quality.

The colour kicks in with the year of 1987 when the baby has grown up to be Surya (Rajnikanth). He is a man with a firm belief in justice who is determined to help others in his community in any way he can. This often seems to be by beating senseless an offender and in the course of such action he ends up fatally injuring Ramana, one of Devaraj’s men. Enter Mammootty in a very well played role as the head of the local gang of rowdies, who initially threatens Surya with dire consequences if his man dies.

However when Devaraj finds out Ramana’s crimes, he arranges for Surya’s release from jail and tells him that his actions were right and just. I can’t say that I agree with his assessment but it makes Surya become his loyal Thalapathi and the two become inseparable. Lots of drama here, so time for a song break.

Surya’s charitable reputation helps to legitimise Devaraj’s rather more shady one and they soon rule the entire area, much to the displeasure of Devaraj’s rival Kalivardhan (a dubbed Amrish Puri). There is bad blood between these two and it’s inevitable that there will be a clash. However most of the story concerns Surya’s relationship with Devaraj and sadly Kalivardhan is only seen occasionally throughout the film. Amrish Puri in a really terrible pair of glasses isn’t as menacing as usual but manages to be evil enough just when it really counts.

In the course of his good works, Surya meets Subbu (Shobana), a Brahmin girl who falls in love with him. Perhaps it was the wolverine hair-style or the commanding way in which he demands her jewellery but she’s obviously quite smitten.

Her father wants nothing to do with a thug who has no idea who his parents were and rejects the match. In the middle of all this, Surya’s real mother ends up moving to the area when her legitimate son Arjun (Arvind Swamy) is appointed as a Collector. Kalyani has married a very understanding man who knows all about her first baby, although Arjun doesn’t know that he has an elder half-brother. The two brothers have a common sense of justice but in every other way are complete opposites. Arjun is a good and law-abiding man who is committed to cleaning up the town, although perhaps he should have started with the police corruption rather than take on the town rowdies. There are inevitable clashes between Surya, Devaraj and the police as Arjun tries to stop their version of law and justice in the town. And Kalivardhan is luring in the background adding in his malicious attempts to get rid of the pair as well. Finally the significant cloth comes to light but Surya refuses to give up his friendship with Devaraj despite discovering his brother.

Although there is plenty of action in the film, the main focus is on the relationship between Surya and Devaraj. Mani Ratnam has based it on the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana from the Mahabharata and there are a number of references to this story throughout the film. It starts out with Devaraj as the leader and Surya as the faithful follower, but as their friendship develops they each begin to change the other and the dynamic between the two has altered by the final scenes. Both Rajnikanth and Mammootty are both excellent and work well together to bring their friendship to life. It’s mainly in the little touches, such as the way they only have to look at each other to acknowledge their next venture.

Surya’s relationships with his mother, Subbu and others are important to the overall story but his character is defined by his strong sense of justice and unwavering support of Devaraj, no matter what. Even when Devaraj persuades him to marry Ramana’s widow Padma, Surya is unable to say no. Rajni has plenty of action scenes and is exuberant in these, but he also makes the most of his more dramatic moments. So much is conveyed in one particularly memorable scene in the temple, where both Suyra and Kalyani both look yearningly towards a train as they hear the distant whistle. They are both standing close together but neither have any idea who the other is and their obvious sadness is all the more poignant as a result.

Mammootty is more restrained in his role as Devaraj relies more on fear and his entourage rather than actual physical violence. He has Surya for all of that after all. His portrayal of the more corrupt and devious Devaraj is excellent and he brings a real sense of authority to the character. The other members of the cast are all very good in their supporting roles, especially Srividya who is convincing as the mother who can never forget the child she lost. I was surprised that she had told her husband about her first baby, but Jai Sankar brought a lot of compassion to his role as Arjun’s father and was very credible as a supportive husband and father.

The other standout feature of the film is the music by Ilaiyaraja. The sad Chinna Thayaval is beautiful and recurs as background music throughout the film. The other songs are all upbeat with some great dancing and I wasn’t surprised to see that Prabhu Deva was one of the choreographers.  The rather different Sundari Kannal is interspersed with some Samurai action and seems to be a tribute to director Akira Kurosawa. I haven’t included it here as it is very long and I’m a little concerned about the horses in some of the fight sequences but Rajni in a top knot is definitely worth a look.

The only issue I have with this film is that it is very violent in parts. The first fight scene with Ramana and the episodes of police torture are quite graphic and go on just a bit too long for me. But to counter that, the two leads are fantastic and really at their best, the music is beautiful and memorable, and it’s a very well told story. 4 stars.

Temple says: I like watching earlier Rajni films (and this is the 90s) as it reminds me just how good an actor he is, legend status aside. I have recently watched Darna Veera Suura Karna, so the story was fresh in my mind and I think this translation to modern gang empires was very effective. Deva and Surya are full of certainty and righteous power, and stride through the landscape looking larger than life. Mammootty and Rajni are brilliant and play off each other so well, and that’s a good thing as other elements of the story are underdone. Deva’s gang members were just a vague presence, and I don’t think I recall any of their names. They were just there for contrast and to portray Deva’s court of followers. The female characters are strong in concept but weak in presence apart from a couple of key scenes. Shobana was lovely as Subbu, which is all that was required of her,  and Bhanupriya gave an excellent and near silent performance as Padma. Srividya was good but her character was quite static and she didn’t do much more than weep so I was left wanting to see more from a woman who clearly had a complex situation to navigate. I admired Santosh Sivan’s artistry as he used light and camera angles to create a feeling that these men were almost forces of nature, and the landscapes were stunning. The fight scenes in the rain were lovingly filmed to capture the beauty of the splashing water and the bodies were more of a method of breaking the trajectory of the showers than the object of the scene. I don’t think it’s an overly violent film as many of the gory scenes are shown as aftermath rather than explicit or graphic scenes of how people got into that state. What was explicit was also shown to have consequences so it isn’t mindless violence either. It all fit into the relationship of Deva and his general with their warlike mentality. I don’t love the soundtrack, but I do like it well enough and thought most of the slower songs were excellent. I was ready to stick a fork in my ear at the umpteenth reprise of Chinna Thayaval but I blame Mani Ratnam for that as it was just relentless and overused. It’s a great action infused tale of loyalty and conflict, it looks stunning, and it features two of the best actors working in Indian cinema. 4 stars from me!