Gultoo (2018)

Gultoo

Gultoo, the debut release from director Janardhan Chikkanna couldn’t be any more topical right now given the recent revelations of data-mining from Facebook. Data theft is central to the plot, and this cyber-thriller mixes action, romance and comedy with a story that fits neatly into Bangalore and the city’s IT industry. Although at times the images are shaky and the editing could do with some polish, the dialogue is snappy and on-target while the story is novel with plenty of sneaky twists along the way. Definitely a film to look out for, and the subtitles are pretty good too!

Alok (Naveen Shankar) is a scholarship student in engineering who has a flair for hacking his way into computer systems, something which gets him out of trouble at college. After graduation he has grand plans of a start-up company that will allow him to follow his dreams, but three years out from college he’s working in a coffee shop, while his best friend and roommate Aasthi (Ram Dhanush) works at an internet café. Alok also works part-time as an instructor in a small computer teaching centre where he meets Pooja (Sonu Gowda) on her first day in the job. Although Alok is initially rather shy, eventually a romance blossoms between the two as Pooja succeeds in drawing Alok out of his shell.

Aasthi on the other hand has no such problems and is a complete flirt, which provides some excellent comedy as he chats to various women on WhatsApp while also meeting his current girlfriend of the day at her flat. The two men are a study in contrasts – Alok is a typical computer geek, quiet and shy but he’s smart and has big plans for his future. Aasthi has no ambition himself and is waiting for Alok’s success with his loud, brash persona simply a front for his inability to make his own decisions in life.

Gultoo

Things take a sinister turn when a woman is found gruesomely murdered and Aasthi may be a suspect. At the same time, Alok and Aasthi are also implicated in a major data theft and are taken in for questioning by an investigator from Delhi, even though the evidence seems largely circumstantial. The film moves back and forwards throwing glimpses of past and present together and just as it all seems to be coming together, Janardhan Chikkanna throws in another twist that ups the tension even more. He also blends the action well with some comedy, even in some of the most blood-thirsty scenes, that works well to prevent the film from becoming yet another crime flick.

What works really well here is the plausibility of the plot. The theft of information is from a Government database called Sudhaar which collates personal information for every Indian citizen, including their bank data. There are some similarities with the current Government Aadhaar identity card scheme which makes it seem quite possible that such a situation could happen.  Alok and Aasthi are typical young men, but Alok has the knowledge and ability to break into a Government system. The question is, does he have a criminal mentality too? It’s a more cerebral crime than a simple credit card scam or bank fraud, and more credible too with anonymous hackers breaking into systems where security is lax. We all know that this occurs and it seems that every day there is yet another news story about a data breach.

I did love the excellent depiction of cybercrime as a shadowy underworld where thieves run amok stealing data and selling it to the highest bidder. Like much of the screenplay, it’s funny, smart and informative all at once. Alok’s classes for example, teach the audience just as much about computer programming as they do his students. The social references are all just as topical and the dialogue has plenty of current slang that fits the characters perfectly.

The other selling point of the film is that none of the characters are simply black or white. There is plenty of ambiguity in everyone’s actions (except perhaps Aasthi who just wants to get laid), and no-one is exactly who they seem to be. This uncertainty ensures that the climax comes as a surprise and even though the film goes back to point out all the clues that were there all along, this feels like a revelation and not the writer gloating over how clever he is.

Naveen Shankar and Ram Dhanush are both appearing in their first film, but both do an excellent job with their roles and effortlessly get under the skin of their characters. Naveen is just serious and shy enough to be believable – he’s a computer nerd after all, while Ram Dhanush never lets his Aasthi get too much out of control. He’s a typical bloke, but not obnoxiously childish or patronising, and at heart he comes across as a nice guy. Sonu Gowda is also very good, especially in the second half where she gets the chance to really sink her teeth into a rather grey character indeed. Avinash is perfectly cast as the police officer determined to torture a confession out of his suspects, whoever they may be, as too is Rangayana Raghu as the ostensibly ‘honest’ Chief Minister Anantharamaiah. Pawan Kumar makes an appearance as a consultant IT specialist called Phaneesh and does just as good a job in front of the camera as he usually does from the other side.

Although I enjoyed the soundtrack, for the most part the dance sequences look awkward and more like the sort of routines you’d do in front of your bedroom mirror. The placing of some of the songs is also a little off, although this could partly be due to the clunky choreography which makes these sequences rather amateurish. Also initially confusing are the switches between past and present at the start of the film, since there is no timeline at this point, or any explanation of who the different characters are who only appear briefly and aren’t mentioned again until much later in the film. However, apart from these issues (mainly those dodgy dance sequences), the rest of the film really is excellent, with some very clever ideas and smart thinking behind an intelligent and carefully plotted thriller. Kudos too for the ‘loading’ symbol before the opening credits and the clever use of a film within a film idea that ensures the name of the movie is frequently repeated. Gultoo = Log Out for anyone who wants to know what the title means and hasn’t seen the movie’s FB page.

There is a freshness and vitality about this film and with great performances, a clever and realistic plot and very funny dialogue this is one not to miss. Highly recommended.

 

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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.

Ugramm (2014)

Ugramm

A new discovery this weekend – Kannada films are being shown in Melbourne!  I found out about the weekend screening of Ugramm thanks to a message from my Hindi group and Roopesh at Kannada Movies Melbourne.  What’s even better is the news that there are more Kannada releases planned for later on in the year, and if the crop of recent films from Bangalore are anything to go by, they will definitely be worth catching on the big screen.

Ugramm is an action thriller that released in India back in February and has since become a major hit for director Prashanth Neel and its stars Srimurali and Haripriya.  Interestingly for me, the film starts with the story of the reincarnation of Vishnu as the half-man, half-lion Narasimha and provides an explanation of the title, which the film website tells me means ‘momentous anger induced by a great period of tolerance’.  I appreciate that Kannada has one word that says all of that so simply and it does sum up the storyline quite handily too.

Ugramm

After the initial animated explanation there is more background as a young Agastya witnesses his father’s death at the hands of a gangster, and begins his friendship with another young boy, Bala.  At the same time Jai Jagadish (as the heroine’s father) is forced to leave India after exposing the smuggling and criminal activities of gang-leader turned politician Shivarudra Lingaiya (Avinash).  So having set the scene, it’s time for action!  And there is plenty of that.  The modern-day story starts when Nitya ((Haripriya) leaves her father in Sydney to visit her mother’s grave in India.  No sooner does she get off the plane, than gangsters intent on settling the old score with her father kidnap her.  Luckily for Nitya, Agastya (Srimurali) arrives just in the nick of time to rescue her, and ends up taking her home to stay with his mother – what else could he possibly do?

Ugramm

Naturally our hero Agastya is a one-man fighting machine, who knows how to hit his victims so that they go down hard and stay down.  The fight scenes against a succession of different gangsters are completely over the top, but they are well choreographed and Srimurali is suitably grim as the reluctant hero.  That’s the whole ‘momentous anger induced by a great period of tolerance’ bit. The body count is high as many faceless gangsters are repeatedly smashed to the ground to the accompaniment of loud and intrusive background music.  However, like similar scenes in most Telugu movies, the violence is a little too cartoonish to take seriously.  Best of all are the moments where the last few villains standing turn tail and run rather than face Agasta and his momentous anger.

Ugramm

Meanwhile, in between the fight scenes, Nitya has to learn how to cook while dealing with a way of life completely different to how she grew up.  Romance blossoms as Nitya gets instruction in the names of different vegetables from Agastya, and even persuades him to help her cook.  Although Haripriya’s role is relatively small, her character is better developed than most heroines, and she does get the chance to be more than just a pretty face.  Since her character was a girl raised in Sydney I was expecting some totally inappropriate wardrobe choices, but for a change the costume department got it just right.  Haripriya is also a lovely dancer, and I was particularly impressed by her ability to dance convincingly in flip-flops.  There are a few brief glimpse in this song.

There is a brief comedy track based on two other guys living in the house, but I didn’t quite understand exactly what their relationship was to Agastya and his mother, and no subtitles meant that most of it passed me by.  It must have been funny though, as the rest of the audience were laughing at their antics.

The second half moves away from the developing romance between Agastya and Nitya to explain Agastya’s past and how he ended up working as a mechanic and resisting fighting unless there is no other choice.  The fights here are more menacing and there are some genuinely disturbing scenes as gangsters wreak havoc on the locals in the town of Mughor.  There are a plethora of different gangs and they are all equably interchangeable, particularly since a pre-requisite for gang membership seems to be a bad eighties style perm, and an inability to see that attacking Agastya is bound to turn out badly.  Agastya’s youthful friend is another gangster Bala (Tilak Shekar) and the second half focuses on their relationship and the reasons why Agastya finally moved away and got out of the gangster business.

Ugramm

While the tale of a gangster redeemed is not particularly novel, Ugramm delivers a few new twists and overall the story is well told with excellent characterisations and good performances from the main leads.  The added complication of Nitya and her back story helps keep the story from being overcome by the action sequences and actually helps keep everything moving long.  The support actors are also impressive with Atul Kulkarni appearing briefly as  Shivarudra Lingaiya’s son Dheeraj (although I couldn’t quite understand the importance of his character), while Padmaja Rao is good as Agastya’s mother.

Ugramm

Although the background music is at times overwhelming, mainly because it is just too loud, the songs by Ravi Basrur are good and well-placed in the narrative to provide a breathing space from the high energy action scenes.  The film also looks amazing, perhaps not surprising since cinematography is by the well-known Ravi Varman, although the addition of black screens in between the action is distracting and does disrupt the flow at times.

Ugramm is a well made gangster film that does perhaps overdo the violence, but makes up for it with a good storyline, sharp editing and excellent performances.  Definitely well worth a watch for fans of the genre, although if you didn’t manage to catch it at the weekend here in Australia that will mean waiting for the DVD.  Unless of course the recently reported remakes in Telugu and Tamil release here first!