In some ways Ozhimuri was a hard film to place. Many of the plot summaries around made it sound like a fairly dry film about legal and social change in Kerala with the cessation of matrilineal inheritance. The posters tend to position it as a cute romance, which is not the focus, or push a love = violence angle which is unpalatable and also not really the point. Ozhimuri is not a heavy message film, nor is it a simple “boy with angry dad meets girl”. It’s a beautifully engaging story of three generations of family, the tensions and unexpected similarities between family members.

Director Madhupal uses a concise montage to set the scenes with images of females, human and divine, sitting at the feet of males, then older images that show the reverse. The titles use scenes at a big religious festival (My goodness! Those children must be terrified!), and meandering through beautiful countryside to embed the story in rural and traditional culture.

Meenakshi (Mallika) files for separation, citing harassment. Despite being described as a “dead dog” at the age of 55, she wants her independence. But she wants some property of means of support, having been made to sign hers over to her husband. Thanu (Lal) doesn’t seem to want his wife but will not relinquish any property. The legal argument then hinges on whether she is entitled to get alimony. His young female lawyer Balamani (Bhavana), who you might expect to support a woman seeking independence, joins the chorus of naysayers telling Sharath (Asif Ali) to persuade his parents to stay together. He tries to persuade Balamani of his father’s cruelty, and as they spend time together their own relationship deepens. Kali Pillai (Shweta Menon), is a strong influence on all aspects of Thanu’s life, and not in the usual doting ma and son way. Described as a queen, with the gait and power of an elephant, she is a strong if remote figure.

Madhupal uses flashbacks to great effect, both filling in the past and showing different perspectives on incidents. Things that seem black and white become ambiguous, and characters also become more complex and realistic. One of the most rewarding things about watching Ozhimuri was the way more is revealed, completely changing my view without ever being untrue to the characters.

Lal plays Thanu and Thanu’s dad Sivan. Thanu is a hard case but as things are revealed the influences driving his behaviour make him if not sympathetic then relatable. Sivan is a rumbly giant of a man, sentimental and simple. Lal plays Sivan with a twinkle in his eye and Thanu with a perpetual sour twist to his mouth. There is more than just anger driving Thanu. He has mother issues, and he hates and fears strong women. What we would call a street angel and house devil, Thanu is a doting father in his own way and has his father’s softness underneath his mother’s harshness. Lal is compelling throughout. I felt sad for jolly Sivan, and for the boy who would grow up without his warm hearted dad. Lal plays Thanu in such a way that he gained my empathy without resorting to trite sentimental tricks.

Meenakshi is the unsung hero of the film for my money. Mallika brings dignity and grace to Meenakshi, showing her as a woman who endures rather than fights, but who is strong and resilient in her non-confrontational way. She genuinely sees the good in people and tries to keep that in mind. She comes to know what she wants out of life and understands finally what her mother-in-law had tried to teach her. And so she acts. Everyone asks Meenakshi why she wants a divorce but nobody seems to want to really listen, they just want to tell her what she should do. She remains calm and obdurate, using her strength for herself for once. It’s hard to see a woman apparently defending her abuser, but as things progress Meenakshi becomes less of a victim and more a complex woman who made some choices then and is making different choices now. Mallika and Lal have a volatile chemistry that take their characters from domesticity to physical violence in a heartbeat, and they never break that connection or seem out of synch.

Shweta Menon is charismatic and arrogant as Kali Pillai. You can see in Thanu that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Even if he didn’t hold a grudge about his father, they would clash and they both had violent streaks. Kali is all about tough love, showing her concern for Meenakshi by constantly picking faults and telling her what to do. She doesn’t like seeing her son overturn the natural order of things and treat his wife like a slave and her pride is wounded by his lack of respect for her. But she never gives up on him really and still tries to protect him in her own way despite their estrangement.

The obvious option would be to have Balamani (Bhavana) represent Meenakshi and go all Girl Power, but instead she is representing Thanu. She is quite socially conservative and believes divorce is bad for families regardless of the situation at home. I liked Bhavana a lot, and she nailed the characterisation of a pretty young professional who is a bit tired of the boys club around her but doesn’t feel the need to rock the boat. Her down to earth conversations with her grandmother are both funny and sad as grandma explains the role of women. Hint – it has a lot to do with breeding. She and Sharath talk about their own families and future plans, and while sometimes it comes across as clunky exposition they help draw out the subtleties of the divorce case.

Asif Ali is extremely likeable as Sharath, the good son who sees his father as Bad and his mother as a victim. As things become less clear cut, he also has to confront his own resemblance to his father and what that might mean. He gets hit with some big truths and I loved that he never made a big deal out of it or insisted anyone choose sides. He absorbed the new knowledge, struggled a bit, then moved forward. He was open to Balamani’s ideas and treated her as a valued friend as well as an eventual lover and future wife. And hurrah for a film where people can have consensual sex and not be hit by a meteor or any other form of judgement.

This is just a gorgeous film to watch. I had some initial concerns because of the topic but I didn’t find the violence was sensationalised or dwelt on beyond what needed to be shown. The performances are all top notch and Madhupal and writer Jeyamohan provide an excellent visual and narrative structure.

For anyone who laments the lack of strong female characters in Indian films, see this. If you’re interested in a sympathetic but not apologetic portrait of family dysfunction, see this. If you like beautifully made films with realistic characters and great production values, see this. 5 stars!

Bachchan (2013)


Bachchan was recommended to me by numerous people when I went to watch Ugramm a few weeks ago, and since I read that the film had won a number of awards in India plus it starred the usually pretty awesome Sudeep Kiccha I thought it would be worth tracking down on DVD.  But when I started to watch it I was very disappointed.  After about 20 minutes I just couldn’t watch any more relentless and seemingly pointless violence or blatant sexism and had to give up.   It took another two attempts before I managed to get more than 30 minutes into the film, and I spent most of that time wondering why this film had been recommended to me! But then I got further in, finally reached the excellent second half, and realised exactly why this film had appealed to so many people – even me eventually.  It does get immeasurably better in the second half, and looking back the opening scenes make more sense in retrospect, although I still feel a less chauvinistic approach would have made them easier viewing. However, if you can make it past the first thirty minutes, there really is a lot to like about Bachchan.

The film opens with a slugfest between Bharat (Sudeep Kiccha) and various members of the police force in a small police station. No-one is able to stop him as he smashes his way through the police station and ultimately kills Inspector Mahesh Deshpande (Ashish Vidyarthi) before escaping on a police bike.  Bharat then easily outwits the chasing police cars and heads to a hospital where he proceeds to defenestrate one of the doctors, Dr. Srinivasa Iyengar (Nasser) and escapes yet again.  This time though, we know he is going to get caught just as soon as a lorry full of water bottles appears in the middle of the shot.



So once in custody for committing two murders (no mention of the destruction to property and general menace to society he represents) Bharat proceeds to tell his story to the investigating officer Vijay Kumar (Jagapathi Babu).  Seen in flashback, previously Bharat was a nice, happy (although rather patronising) real estate agent who was trying to be a force for good in the world, when he found himself hounded by a superstitious police officer and an obsessive doctor.  Inspector Deshpande fuelled jealousy in Bharat’s fiancée Anjali (Parul Yadav) by pointing out Bharat’s interest in a client’s daughter at every opportunity.  To be fair, Monica (Tulip Joshi) does seem to turn up everywhere and does show an unhealthy interest in a man whose attentions are otherwise engaged, but Bharat claims that this harassment was his motivation behind killing Despande.  Meanwhile Dr Iyengar sealed his fate when he refused medical assistance to Anjali and Bharat decided that he too had to die.


The problem I have with these opening scenes isn’t that the story is trite and clichéd, but that it’s all so completely overdone.  Both Despande and Iyengar are terrible caricatures while Anjali appears as a woman with absolutely no self-worth.  Bharat bribes her with chocolate when she accuses him of being rude to her at work (which he was), and when she accuses him of spending time with Monica, he has only to click his fingers and she immediately forgives him all.  There is a reason behind all of this but since it’s not explained until much later in the film, it does make for uncomfortable viewing first time round.


The first half isn’t all bad though.  There is a novel threat to a collection of flower pots, which is a welcome touch of humour and Sudeep is eminently watchable even when he’s being a complete pillock.  P. Ravi Shankar is also mildly amusing as the thug attempting to muscle in on Bharat’s business, and there is also plenty of excellent dorky uncle dancing in this song.

The film starts to improve when it’s gradually revealed that the story Bharat has told the police is a complete fabrication – hence the terrible characterisations in the first half.  The real Anjali proves to be a perfectly sensible and normal woman, while the other characters are nicely ambiguous until the real truth emerges.  There are plenty of twists and turns before we get there though and the second half turns out to be the out and out action thriller I was expecting from the start.  Throughout it all, Sudeep outclasses everyone else with chameleon-like changes of his character, and his performance is just enough to make up for the dodgy dialogue in the first half.  He does bring to life the film’s ‘Bachchan’ in Big B angry young man persona, although there is more to his character than just a generalised grudge against the world.  I’m presuming that director Shashank wanted to make a kind of homage to Amitabh Bachchan as there are many mentions of Big B and his films throughout, but he’s probably most referenced in this song with the bewilderingly badly dressed Tulip Joshi.  Poor Tulip – she really doesn’t come out of any of this well at all.

Bhavana makes a brief appearance as Anjali’s sister Ashwini, but probably the best performance from the three romance interests is from Parul Yadav.  Her character is more developed and despite the terrible beginning she does make a better showing in the second half.  Most of the rest of the support cast are fine but they are mainly there either to provide fodder for Bharat’s rage or to add layers of confusion to the plot, and are never any more than two-dimensional at best.  However the fight scenes are well choreographed even if they lean heavily towards standard Southern Indian tropes and the climax is satisfyingly OTT.


The concept of Bachchan is good, but it is let down by the script in the first half (or perhaps just very bad subtitles) and a tendency to rely on standard filmi clichés.  Although the second half of the film is entertaining and very watchable, sitting through the first half to get there requires patience and perseverance.  Still, if you can make it through the first half hour, the rest up to the interval is ridiculous enough to be amusing and it is worth hanging in there to reach the excellent second half if you can.  I’d give the first half of Bachchan 2 stars and the second half 4 stars which gives an average of 3 – that seems about right overall.  Worth watching for Sudeep but I’d recommend leaving your brain behind for the first hour.

Chithiram Pesuthadi


Chithiram Pesuthadi is the first Tamil film I’ve seen that thanks a roller skating stadium in the opening credits.  So – possibly not one of director Mysskin’s typically dark stories based on crime and murder then?

Well, no.  Chithiram Pesuthadi is billed as a love story, but even in this first film from Mysskin there are plenty of fights, numerous gangsters and an underworld theme added into the plot.  The features that I’ve come to expect from Mysskin’s film are also present, although less frequently here than in his subsequent films, but his trademark low angle shots of feet and a few odd camera angles from above still appear.  Despite the underworld theme, in many ways this is typical love story where a boy from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with a middle class girl and there are numerous obstacles to overcome. However there are enough fresh features to keep the story interesting, while Narain and Bhavana share good chemistry together, which makes the love story a little more believable than usual.

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Thiru (Narain) is an angry man. He’s angry about the bribes he has to try and pay to get a job, he’s angry at his mother because he feels she prevented him from completing his education (which would have helped him get a job) and he’s angry at his sister because she needs money to finish her education (which means he has to get a job).  This rage makes him an excellent an somewhat ruthless fighter, and when he inadvertently rescues local don Annachi’s son from a beating, he ends up recruited as a general enforcer and thug on call.  The job with Annachi (Kadhal Dhandapani) allows him to vent his rage on a variety of hapless victims, although this doesn’t seem to improve his general disposition.  However there is more to Thiru than his frequent flashes of temper suggest.  He has his own code of conduct which he tries to adhere to, he has three loyal friends who respect him and despite his tantrums at home Thiru is trying his best to support his mother and sister.

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Inevitably, Thiru clashes with a girl who is equally angry, although Charu (Bhavana) doesn’t seem to have any real reason for all her aggression.  She lives with her father and works alongside her uncle in an organisation which promotes the health and welfare of orphans. Charu is a crusader and is ready to leap to the defence of anyone she feels might need her support, whether they want it or not. This leads to several clashes between her and Thiru, whom she sees as a nasty vicious thug.

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Thiru on the other hand doesn’t seem to think much about her at all, until finally one day he starts to see her in a different light.  Either that or he develops severe indigestion – it’s hard to decide from his expression but I’m pretty sure he falls in love.  Either way, we end up with this amazing song which, although it’s the ‘falling in love’ song in the film, it doesn’t seem to have anything much to do with love and romance.  Unless of course, I’ve missed some kind of symbolic significance in the way Narain is dressed as a Roman carrying a goat – or the many other bizarre situations in this song!

Naturally Charu also changes her mind about Thiru and without even a sniff of parental opposition the two end up setting a date for the wedding.  Of course Thiru’s decision to give up his life of crime and sell stuffed toys by the side of the road instead may have helped win over Charu’s father. But only, I suspect, if he didn’t actually see Thiru and his friends in these shirts.

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Charu and Thiru appear set for a life of wedded bliss when suddenly Mysskin appears to remember that this is a Tamil film and various tragedies beset the lovers.  But here again, Mysskin diverges from the traditional path and allows both of his characters to behave badly.  Both are selfish and unpleasant, although of the two, Thiru does get painted in a slightly kinder light.

Charu is abrasive, obnoxiously rude to her father and dangerously confrontational throughout.  When her relationship falters, she blames everyone but herself which showcases the immaturity of her character perfectly.  Bhavana does an excellent job and even manages to create sympathy for her character’s challenging persona.  Most importantly she cries convincingly and looks generally unglamorous and suitably ‘girl-next-door’ for the role. I found it quite impressive that she made me care about what happens to Charu (even if only superficially), as I really didn’t like the character at all.

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Narain also puts in a good performance, although he’s helped by the fact that his character is a little more sympathetic. Thiru is a man of contradictions and occasionally Narain splits his personality a little too much so that angry Thiru becomes too much of a caricature.  However his Thiru is likeable despite the angry outbursts and casual violence. Thiru’s loyal friends are equally impressive, with each developing a distinct personality through the use of just a few little quirks in their limited time onscreen.  I love how one of them is always eating – no matter how serious the situation or how inappropriate, he always has some food in his hands.  There are plenty of similar little touches that make the characters feel more real, including the way Annachi rules his area from his banana yard, discussing deals and deaths in between the more mundane day to day activity of selling fruit.

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While the story develops smoothly, the songs seem to be added rather haphazardly and don’t always add to the film.  There are also some very bizarre translations –  I have no idea what assembling eyes with fingers is all about, but it does sound interesting.

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And of course the roller skaters!

Chithiram Pesuthadi

There is a better than usual item number with Malavika, but again it wasn’t really necessary, and most of the songs appear to be used more because songs are expected rather than as a way to further develop the story.

Overall Chithiram Pesuthadi is an impressive début by Mysskin and illustrates why he has gone on to become such a successful director.  He has the ability to spin a good yarn and keep the plot interesting, even with unlikeable protagonists and relatively dark themes.   Good performances, a new twist on an old story and some clever character development combine to make Chithiram Pesuthadi well worth a watch, and definitely a cut above most other first films. 4 stars.