Inji Iddupazhagi

Inji Iddupazhagi-title

Ever since she was a little girl Sweety has been collecting fortune cards from a machine, all of them telling her that happy is beautiful, and goodness and a genuine smile will win the day.

Grown up Sweety (Anushka Shetty) still collects these fortunes, and believes that her value is more than the size of her thighs. Her mother Rajeshwari (Urvashi) wants to see her married off, and blames Sweety’s size for her single status. While Sweety remains resilient under family pressure, and rejects many an unwanted match, she does tire of all the BS. Sweety meets fitness freak Abhi (Arya) and while the pair turn down the proposed match, a friendship develops. Sweety realises she actually has feelings for him, but clueless Abhi chooses skinny model looking do-gooder Simran (Sonal Chauhan) as his girlfriend. Sweety knows she missed her chance, and starts to believe that if she slims down, cute boys will like her. When her friend Jyothi (Pavani Gangireddy) becomes seriously ill from treatment at the dodgy Size Zero clinic, Sweety takes on Satyanand (Prakash Raj), the clinic owner and nominal villain.

Sweety is a fantastic character and I am so happy Anushka took the risk and did this film. I also love that she didn’t go the fat suit route, and probably had to eat like a non-celebrity for months and months to get Sweety’s physique.

All too often the fat chick in films is socially inept, asexual, and a charity case – but Sweety is sexy, funny and confident.  She isn’t desperate to get married and will not pretend to be someone she isn’t just to please some bloke and his mother. She has some good friends, enjoys her work, loves food, and has an eye for a hot guy. She also has a rich fantasy life, a temper, she makes mistakes, and makes amends. I loved that family pressure all about looking better for boys did little to budge Sweety, but when she found her own motivation she was sensible and healthy in the changes in her lifestyle. And she never became a stick insect. I also love that this is a South Indian film that revolves around a woman and there is no revenge or rapeyness in the plot. It’s a really simple, engaging, character driven story and Prakash Kovelamudi and Kanika Dhillon give their great cast the material to bring it to life.

Arya is a bit of a weak link. He is very personable and looks good but I never got any emotional development from Abhi, and Anushka’s more nuanced performance overshadowed him. And also – Abhi is a bit of an idiot. Sonal Chauhan is a good pair for him as she is also adequate without being interesting as Simran.

Abhi did engineer the right of reply for Sweety to give her version of a foxy item, the direct retort to Size Zero Clinic’s skanky advertisement. I wish Anushka was a better dancer, but again I am so happy they just went for it. It isn’t all that long ago that Jayamalini and Jyothilaxmi were shaking it for all it was worth, but the trend towards downsizing female bodies makes Sweety’s sassy dance seem quite startling.

Prakash Raj is more of a sleazy used car salesman than true villain. He makes the most of his big speeches and I did like his dedication to himself as the brand and the brand as himself. Adivi Sesh is suitably puppy-eyed as smitten Shekhar, the nice rich man who falls for Sweety as she is. There are comedy uncles, but they actually more or less serve a purpose. And Master Bharath plays a decidedly not size zero young lad. Rao Ramesh makes a short appearance as Sweety’s dad who died while she was still a child. Impish Mouli Thatha (Gollapudi Maruti Rao) loves his granddaughter and is more likely to feed her a jalebi than make her run a lap of the park. Urvashi is note perfect as Sweety’s grumpy but loving and ultimately supportive mother. You can really see where Sweety gets her backbone from, and understand why they clash.

The film is quite fanciful but stays within my tolerance for whimsy – more like Chungking Express (which gets a name check) than Amelie levels of whimsy. It’s beautifully filmed and has a fairytale air in some scenes. The camera freezes some moments, and then explores the scene layer by layer. There’s a device of cheesy but sincere fortune cookie messages that Sweety writes, a nice extension of her fondness for the positive messages she collected for herself. And there was a nice pay it forward demonstrated with said fortune cookie. If I am being picky I have an issue with the choice of wafer as a stand-in for the fortune cookies as they are what one friend calls “povo wafers” – the cheap ones you get in rubbishy gift hampers. I am not as strongly opposed to the cylindrical wafer as she is, while I agree they’re a bit sad. But I digress.

In lieu of any of the traditional action elements, the film loads up on star cameos and a massive spin class with special effects. The film community gets their lycra on to support Sweety’s campaign against Size Zero. Rana is hilariously Hulk like, flexing as as his avatar goes all Bhallaladeva on his animated foes. Tamannah has her game face on and looks like she is set for days. Other familiar faces included Jiiva, Nagarjuna, Revathy and Kajal Aggarwal. All of this is juxtaposed with dodgy animation and effects and some excellent Prakash Raj scenery chewing. So that replaced the usual car explosions and dismemberings quite nicely.

I missed out on seeing Size Zero on its two (yes two!) shows in Melbourne, but luckily the Tamil version, Inji Iddupazhagi, is easily available online and with English subs. (Thanks SakhiSpeaks for the HeroTalkies tip! And you can read her review here.) I love this movie and hope it reaches a wide and appreciative audience. 4 1/2  stars!

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Raja Rani (2013)

Raja Rani

I didn’t manage to see this in the cinema in Melbourne, but did manage to get a DVD copy with English subtitles.  Rather strangely it was also the only film they had on the bus in Tamil Nadu this year and I ended up watching the opening scenes over 10 times on the way to various villages in TN.  This added exposure gave me enough time to appreciate just how outlandish Nayanthara’s make-up looks, and just how uncomfortable Arya appears in his suit at the opening wedding which is a good precursor to how their relationship develops. In fact, the lead couple are rather uninspiring throughout this film – at least when paired with each other – but thankfully co-stars Jai, Santhanam and Nazriya Nazim are more appealing and their presence does make Raja Rani worth a one-time watch.

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The story starts with the arranged marriage of Regina (Nayanthara) and John (Arya) who are going through the matrimonial motions for the sake of their respective families.  Or so we are told.  Except as the film progresses this wedding seems to make less and less sense.  The couple obviously dislike each other and I cannot see why Regina’s relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan father would agree to marry her to someone like John.  He seems to have neither the requisite high flying job nor appropriate family background for such a match.  However, as completely random as it seems, and despite the lack of any reasonable explanation the wedding goes ahead even with the bride forgetting her prospective partner’s name and both parties complete lack of enthusiasm throughout the ceremony.

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It’s a match that seems doomed to end in divorce.  John spends his days at work and his nights drinking with his friends before returning home, usually to a locked door.  Regina hogs the bathroom, sobs into her pillow at night and generally ignores her husband as much as she can.  It all feels very unrealistic and overly dramatic – after all there is a large couch in the other room where Regina could sleep if she wanted, and surely John could organise a key to their apartment rather than sleep on the doorstep?  All the OTT drama makes it difficult to care about either John or Regina since they are equally obnoxious to each other, and I really had little interest in their relationship.  That’s not to say that Arya and Nayanthara are particularly terrible, but all Arya has to do in the first half hour is pretend to be drunk while Nayanthara doesn’t stop crying or complaining long enough to do anything remotely interesting either.

Thankfully there is relief in sight, but until we get there Santhanam lightens the atmosphere and is mildly amusing as John’s best friend Sarathy.

Finally there is an incident which prompts John to find out a little more about his wife.  There is some very dodgy medicine on display as Regina has an epileptic fit while her husband seems totally incapable of any sensible reaction, although he does eventually manage to call an ambulance.  Needless to say, despite all the thrashing around and foaming at the mouth (sigh – when will Tamil cinema consult a doctor for some plausible medical problems?) Regina manages to come through the whole episode with her make-up and eyelashes intact. That’s a relief!

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However, after being berated by her doctor for not knowing anything about his wife’s condition, John does discover the reason behind her ‘illness’.  Lost love – of course!

The film gets much better when we head to a flash-back to Regina’s first love, although to be fair this doesn’t have the best of beginnings either.  Jai is excellent as love interest Surya, an incompetent call centre employee, and finally there are some real emotions and reasons to empathise with one of the characters.  Regina is as obnoxious as before, but the role of spoilt rich brat suits her better when she’s a student and she does seem to be more tongue in cheek with her tantrums.  Sathyan makes an appearance as Surya’s friend Iyappan and his comedy shtick complements Jai’s weedy persona well enough to make a reasonably funny duo. Although the romance is typically filmy there is some chemistry between the two actors and while we can see the unhappy ending coming, Regina never does and is devastated by losing her first love.

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It turns out that John has his own sob story, and although it’s another predictable run of the mill tale, again it’s a more believable romance with good chemistry between the actors.  In particular Nazriya Nazim is scintillating as Keerthana and she is the best thing about the whole film.  She has an excellent introduction and her cheeky impishness lights up the screen whenever she appears.  She has much more personality and is much livelier than in Naiyaandi, which just goes to show the difference between a well written character and one that basically isn’t!

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Arya is also transformed into a younger, fitter John who is more personable and likeable, and again there is some reasonable chemistry between him and Keerthana.  It’s not all good though – Santhanam suffers under the burden of some terribly bad hair which seems to make him more pathetic and less amusing than in the first half, but it works out for the best as Nazriya has the comedy covered too.

The main problem I have with Raja Rani is that the relationship between John and Regina never generates any appeal or gives an opportunity to feel sympathetic towards the characters.  There are some interesting issues brought up  here but they are dealt with in a shallow and filmi way which results in a lack of connection between the characters and the audience.  There is no apparent reason for the couple’s actions towards each other, considering that they don’t appear to have met before the wedding, and it seems strange that they would behave so badly to each other right from the start.  The concept of an arranged marriage between two people who have both lost their first love has potential but Atlee wastes it by playing the relationship for laughs and never giving his characters a chance to behave like rational adults.  I found it incredibly frustrating to watch  Arya and Nayanthara appear so wooden and lifeless for most of their on-screen time together, when the difference was so obvious when Arya was partnered with Nazriya and Nayanthara with Jai.  A little more time spent on developing the relationship between Regina and John at the beginning along with a more adult treatment of their problems would have made this a more entertaining watch.  However I did enjoy seeing a better performance from Nazriya and I liked the idea behind the film, even if the execution didn’t quite live up to expectations.  3 ½ stars.Raja Rani

Irandam Ulagam

Irandam Ulagam

Selvaraghavan can always be counted on to take a different approach, and this time he heads into fantasy for a tale of love so great that it could transcend worlds.  It all sounds fine, inspirational maybe; except that the love between the characters never feels passionate enough to even inspire a short trip across town, let alone across worlds.  The execution of the story is also clumsy with the action jumping between two love stories without any apparent commonality, except that Arya and Anushka are the two actors in both cases. Irandam Ulagam is disappointing on many levels; even more so because there are flashes of a good story, some engaging ideas and even a few entertaining moments hidden among all the dreary dialogues.  And as if that wasn’t enough, seriously, how is it even possible to make Arya look this bad?

Irandam Ulagam

In this world there is the romance between Madhu Balakrishna (Arya) and Ramya (Anushka). Initially it’s a one-sided affair as Ramya feels that in Madhu she has found her Mr Right, but doesn’t know how to approach him. And then when Ramya does finally ask Madhu to marry her and is gently refused, she immediately decides instead to marry the man her parents have selected. Presumably because giving Madhu a chance to recover from the surprise proposal and perhaps give him time to find out something about her would be too much to expect! Madhu does however eventually fall in love with Ramya, and follows her to a medical camp to try and win her back before her wedding takes place.  After building Madhu up as a wonderfully caring man who looks after his disabled father (one of the best scenes in the film), Selva doesn’t seem to find anything odd in the concept that Madhu would recklessly dump his family responsibilities and job as a lecturer to follow a woman who blows hot and cold and generally doesn’t seem to have any idea what she wants from him.  Ramya is tedious in her indecisiveness and by the time the lifeless romance does manage to reach some form of conclusion it’s hard to care in any way about either Ramya or Madhu.

Irandam Ulagam

In the other world Varna (Anushka again) is a Xena kind of gal, who can swing a sword and take care of herself in a society where woman are definitely second class citizens.  Here Arya is Maruvan, a drunken buffoon who wants to fight in his father’s army, but is woefully inept even when sober.  Inexplicably he decides that Varna is the woman for him and after some heroic action does finally manage to win her as his wife.  Except that it’s not the idyll he was perhaps expecting but is more a constant combat as Varna can’t stand him. So not much love there either.  Not really looking good for a story all about grand passion that can span the stars.

Irandam Ulagam

Both characters played by Arya are wishy-washy with few redeeming features.  Although Madhu is a kind-hearted man, he’s rather dull and has no chemistry whatsoever with his co-star.  Maruvan seems to have been based on Shrek, which at least suits the fairy-tale landscape, but his transition from drunken village idiot to invincible warrior is just a little too instantaneous to be believable.

Irandam Ulagam

Anushka gets a better deal with Varna who at least has some personality, but Ramya is another weak character.  There is nothing endearing about Ramya to explain why Madhu would sacrifice everything to be with her, and nothing about their love story which suggests passion or grand desire. And that’s the problem. To believe in a love so great that it transcends everything there needs to be evidence of that love – and it just isn’t here.

Irandam Ulagam

The soundtrack by Harris Jayaraj is excellent, but the songs are completely out of place and don’t seem to fit the narrative, although that may be due to the rather woeful picturisation.  There are however a few moments where the choreography is different enough to almost work, if there were just a few more steps and a little less awkward shuffling.  Even the background score by Anirudh Ravichander is a disappointment as it’s frequently loud and intrusive, and doesn’t seem to suit the storyline particularly well either.

The special effects are fine, although nothing too spectacular.  They do create a different world, and the creatures such as the amazing ‘lion’ produce a fairy-tale atmosphere, enhanced by the fantastical fighting skills of our hero.  However I did keep thinking that if those planetary bodies were really that close in the sky then the gravitational field would have been completely different – which was a little distracting at times.

Irandam Ulagam

Irandam Ulagam needs a passionate and believable romance to make Selvaraghavan’s concept of true love convincing, but the lack of chemistry and any emotion between the main characters results in a failure to bring the idea to life.  Considering that Selva’s last film Mayakkam Enna was laden with emotional drama and desire, it’s strange that he seems to have missed out on this crucial ingredient here.  The story has the potential to offer more and the concept of a world without love is intriguing, but there is nothing to draw you in and generate interest in the characters. Even the performances by two normally engaging actors are laboured and unappealing.  The only thing I can recommend is the soundtrack, otherwise sadly I have to put Irandam Ulagam down as a miss.