Thaanaa Serndha Koottam

Thaanaa Serndha Koottam

I really enjoyed Suriya’s latest movie, although I haven’t seen the original Special 26, and wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a rollicking heist movie, with Suriya playing a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, albeit in 1987, as he and his merry gang thieves disguise themselves as CBI officers to rob various high-profile victims of their ill-gained wealth. With Suriya on top form, the support cast generally excellent and plenty of humour in the engaging screenplay, Thaanaa Serndha Koottam is well worth catching in the cinema if you can.

The film is a remake of Neeraj Pandey’s 2013 hit, Special 26, although director Vignesh Shivan has apparently given it a Tamil twist. Both films are based on a real-life robbery that took place in Bombay in 1987, and Thaanaa Serndha Koottam is set in the same timeframe, allowing for some period features such as the white ambassador cars that Iniyan and his gang use to pose as Government officials, and posters of old films displayed in the background. It also means we get such delights as the costumes and sets in this wonderfully OTT song from Anirudh Ravichandra:

The story goes like this. Suriya is Iniyan, an aspiring CBI officer who is rejected for his dream job mainly because corrupt officer Uthaman (Suresh Chandra Menon) holds a grudge against his father (Thambi Ramaiah). At the same time, many of Iniyan’s friends are struggling to find work due to corruption within the system and the high bribes needed to secure a position. Iniyan’s solution is to gather together a team of like-minded people who are willing to take part in his audacious scheme to rob the rich. And because the money they steal hasn’t been declared to the government, the victims are unwilling to report the crime, ensuring that Iniyan and his team escape scot-free every time.

Iniyan then gives all his ill-gotten loot away, ensuring that his character keeps an altruistic image despite his criminal activities. As the heat builds in Tamil Nadu, the gang move their operations to Hyderabad where they can’t speak the language. I could totally relate to their default use of words they had learnt from Telugu movies, although I’ve never found it to work quite so well for me, and the resultant confusion is perfectly developed into a very funny scene. Brahmi makes an understated appearance as a Telugu CBI officer while the Charminar is visible in almost every shot to make sure we know the action is now happening in Hyderabad!

There is a romance too as Iniyan falls for a girl who is drawn into his schemes. He doesn’t ever seem to find out her name, and I wasn’t clear on her connection to the original robbery, although to be honest I suspect there may not actually be one. Keerthy Suresh is fine as Iniyan’s love interest but really has little to do apart from appear in the songs and create the odd diversion in the storyline.

The rest of the gang get better characterisations and even some back story to flesh out their various personas. Ramya Krishnan in particular is fantastic here and makes a scarily believable CBI officer. As “Jhansi Rani’, she uses her piercingly chilling glare (perfected in Baahubali) to excellent effect as she storms into various establishments demanding they hand over their illegal savings. Then in a blink of an eye she becomes regular housewife Azhagu Meena, planning her eldest daughter’s wedding and dealing with her disabled husband. I love her in this role, and it’s fantastic to see her in such a strong and effective role that combines comedy and drama so well.

The others in the team, KP (Senthil), Ondi (Sivashankar) and Muthu (Sathyan) have smaller roles, but still add plenty of interest to the proceedings, and ensure that the team appears as a real gang rather than just an odd collection of people Iniyan has gathered together.

Against them are the real CBI officers and Kurunjivendhan (Karthik), an honest if somewhat overly enthusiastic police officer who helps Uthaman in his search. Nandha is also good in a small but important role as a rookie police officer who is conned by the gang while Yogi Babu, RJ Balaji and Anandaraj all have successful cameos.

Anirudh Ravichander just keeps producing the hits as he delivers yet another great soundtrack, managing to make the songs all sound as if they really do all come from the eighties. For the most part they’re well integrated into the film too with appropriate picturisation that suits the ambiance.

The only real miss in this film is the end, where the story switches gear and becomes a more typical Tamil herocentric finale with action, drama and a few too many pontificating speeches. It’s a disappointing end to an otherwise engaging film, but thankfully there are some last-minute shenanigans over the end credits to make the audience leave with a smile.

Overall this is a fun film and with such a great cast of characters and the always charismatic Suriya, Thaanaa Serndha Koottam turns out to be an enjoyable and overall very funny watch. Worth catching for Suriya, Ramya Krishnan and Anirudh’s soundtrack.

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Sneham Kosam

K.S Ravikumar’s film gives us double the Chiranjeevi in an outstanding dual role performance, and about three times the plot of a normal film. There is a lot going on in this convoluted tale of family strife and the meaning of friendship. The last 20 or 30 minutes alone has enough revenge, melodrama, blood, sweat, and tears for any average film. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

Chinnayya (Chiranjeevi) is the valued servant of the landlord Peddayya (Vijayakumar). Chinnayya is bossy and dramatic, as is the landlord. They have a warm relationship and the other servants enjoy their regular tiffs. Peddayya has cut off his daughter Gowri (Sithara) and son-in-law Peddabbayi (Prakash Raj) although it’s clear Gowri wants to reconcile and she tries over and over. When his youngest daughter Prabhavati (Meena) comes home, she also wants the family reunited but she has a different method in mind. She sets her cap at Chinnayya, and sets him up for an accusation of rape. Having kicked him out of the house her true feelings become clear. She blames him for the separation of her father and sister, and cannot stand to see him living comfortably in a home he ruined. And then Simhadri (also Chiru) returns after doing time for killing Prabha’s mother. Peddayya is delighted to see his old friend, the servants seem cautiously accepting, but both Chinnayya and the girls furiously reject him.

I love Chiranjeevi’s acting in both roles but I really do not like the decision making in this film. I don’t think there is a single significant life choice made that didn’t have me muttering “oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding”. Anyway, back to the plot. Simhadri took the blame for Lakshmi’s murder so as not to make Gowri the wife of a murderer. Because it is better to be married to a murderous weasel than it is to be divorced, widowed, or single? Eventually justice must be served and it is, in spades.

The Megastar stamp is all over the opening credits, but Chiru is in actor mode and delivers excellent characterisation as well as buckets of tears and adrenalin.

Chinnayya is a more typical hero role for him, and he breezes through the fights, the dances, and all the shenanigans. But there are emotional currents that run deep, and when Chinnayya confronts Prabha over her scheme to ruin him, Chiranjeevi blazes with fury.

Simhadri is both intensely lovable and kind of infuriating. He sacrifices everything for his landlord boss, everything, but never shows anger or resentment. I believed absolutely that Simhadri would do anything for his beloved friend and boss, but I didn’t need so much of the “he is our god-like benefactor, we’re nothing without him” hand-wringing over the master servant relationship. Regardless, Simhadri is such a vivid and quietly commanding presence. His feeling of guilt and responsibility was misplaced but achingly raw, and those Mega Eyes conveyed volumes. The scene where he had to sneak a glance at Chinnayya via a mirror just to see his son’s face could have been ridiculous but it works because of Chiranjeevi. I liked Chiranjeevi’s use of similar but subtly altered mannerisms and posture to convey both the resemblance and the differences. Chiru’s expression is softer and more world-weary as the father, and while Chinnayya is a chip off the old block he doesn’t have quite the same substance. And when you get Chiru emoting at Chiru, it’s just too too good.

While this is Chiranjeevi’s film, I liked that other characters were given some depth and development. Prabhavati is a bit of a nutter, and has minimal self-control when it comes to getting what she wants. She wants it NOW. Meena is screechy at times but when she needs to command attention, she does it despite all the macho chest beating going on around her. I found Prabhavati too neurotic and impulsive to be relatable but I felt the conviction in the performance. Her teary declaration that since she had no mother she wanted to be her sister’s daughter was both moving and mind-boggling. Her duplicity was breath-taking and audacious in execution. She was no passive victim, although she had been sadly misled. Meena’s rapport with Chiranjeevi was patchy but that was befitting this half fake half real love hate thing going on. They were a good match in terms of energy and commitment to the role, both in the fun scenes and the more intense moments.

And while I don’t concur with the sentiment that a man with laser eyes who can make another man’s head explode into flames is necessarily ideal husband material, her imagination was fertile and that can help a girl through some bad times.

Sithara starts out as a wet rag, crying all over the place, but in the flashbacks and the post revelation scenes she gives Gowri some spirit. Poor Gowri got a raw deal on pretty much everything. Her husband was a rat, her father disowned her for no good reason other than the rat, and she had no idea of the truth. But I liked that she kept trying to mend fences, even though she couldn’t work out what was really wrong. She was persistent and resilient. And finally, she chose doing the right thing over supporting her husband.

Vijayakumar as Peddayya is the other pillar of the drama. His petulance and dramatic flouncing is tempered by the respect and loyalty he shows his friend Simhadri and the boy Chinnayya. He genuinely treats Simhadri as a mate, scandalising his servant with hospitality and unselfconscious affection. There is not a lot of subtlety in the drama but Vijayakumar draws out some strong emotion, especially in his scenes with Chiru and with Sithara. I just couldn’t get past his willingness to let Simhadri take the fall, and also to lie to his daughter and then disown her partly because of that lie.

But his character solved most disputes with Simhadri with a song and a tickle fight so he’s not all bad.

Prakash Raj is so slimy and craven, I was itching to slap him and frequently booed as he weaselled his way around. He gives a great performance as a horrible person. Peddabbayi prefers to wheedle his way out of trouble but if that doesn’t work he flies into a rage. I’m glad they cast a good character actor in this role as if they’d gone for a comedy uncle villain, it would have sapped a lot of the energy from the quite exhausting climax.

The support cast is loaded up with comedy uncles but they are low key and their characters serve some purpose. Brahmanandam is effective as Prakash Raj’s nasty sidekick with minimal gratuitous comedy uncle shtick. MS Narayana, Babu Mohan, and Kota Srinivasa Rao are among the more heavily featured household staff and like Brahmi, are comparatively restrained. Nirmalamma is cheeky as Simhadri’s gambler mother. Sujatha makes an impression in her few scenes as the much loved and lamented Lakshmi. And poor whatsisname who played Chinnababu made it seem he may have taken after his older brother but was actually a decent boy, left devastated and jilted at the altar.

The film looks beautiful, and the few special effects are used wisely. And I think they employed all the camels in Rajasthan for one day. While it probably could do with a more assertive edit, I really enjoy almost every moment of the film. Unless I get too riled up about Simhadri assuring Gowri’s marriage to a homicidal mongrel and her father’s 15 year temper tantrum.

The Hindi dub is on YouTube with English subs, or you can do what I do and grab those subs for your Telugu copy and tinker with the timing because hearing another voice coming out of Chiru’s face is All Wrong. 4 ½ stars! (A tiny deduction for terrible decision making, and for the director’s cheesy guest appearance, another dodgy decision.)

Jai Chiranjeeva

K Vijaya Bhaskar’s film is a rightfully neglected effort from the latter part of Chiranjeevi’s pre-hiatus career. While Chiru’s Megastar presence is always compelling, he can’t compensate for the desultory direction and derivative screenplay. On the upside, Arbaaz Khan makes Bhoomika look like a brilliant actor so she must be happy.

Pasupathi (Arbaaz Khan), obviously EVIL, steals a cargo ship to go to Mumbai. His henchman (Rahul Dev) is waiting there (again, obvious signs of EVIL). Pasupathi demonstrates a new fancy gun with computerised target tracking, and when Ramkoti (Jayaprakash Reddy) seems mildly disbelieving he shoots a child playing some distance away in the park. EVIL.

Meanwhile 40 something year old virgin Sathyanarayan Murthy (Chiranjeevi) comes to the big smoke to stay with his relatives. Some unfunny mistaken identity shenanigans result in sexual harassment, but it’s OK because he is filthy rich. Even a comedy fall from the roof involves heroics and mild sexual harassment (stopping a robbery, encouraging a couple to get it on, copping a feel of the one who will be One of The Ones). He continually crosses paths with Shailaja (Sameera Reddy) and of course sparks of all types fly. Sometimes literally.

After a big night Sathyanarayan passes out drunk and has a long flashback to the death of his much loved niece, Lavanya. She was a pushy little minx and, sadly, also the child murdered in Pasupathi’s gun demonstration. When Sathya learns that the doctor lied to him about Lavanya’s cause of death and colluded with the gang to prevent a police enquiry, things become more dangerous for everyone. Back in the present day, the doctor’s daughter Neelima (Bhoomika) becomes involved as she seeks justice for her dad who was killed to prevent further blabbing. She ends up in a fake marriage with Sathya so he can get a visa for the USA to go kill Pasupathy.

The film should be improbable but suspenseful, but almost everyone, including Sathya, seems go off task far too easily. For someone bent on revenge and believing he is on a mission from god, Sathya is easily distracted. There is always the opportunity to bust a move or rehabilitate a child beggar by telling her not to beg anymore because it just isn’t nice for a girl to do that. Chiru has to perform every style from slapstick to smack down and he is good, as he always is. But it’s more like a series of skits so the dramatic tension is lost, and Chiru has nothing to get his teeth into except the scenery. The songs by Mani Sharma are diverting and Chiranjeevi looks like he is having fun with the choreo. The action scenes are tailored to suit him and, despite being copied badly from films like the Bond and Die Hard franchises via Jackie Chan, they are a highlight. While it’s obvious he’d been living in a good paddock and wasn’t his svelte 80s self, he really goes for it.

However the attitudes are a bit 80s and it’s very vexing. Venu Madhav chases prostitutes and rejects one who is too dark. That was supposed to be funny. Shailu’s parents say they stopped her studying because she behaved like a boy – i.e. did what she liked. Shailu decides to stage a party and make Sathya pay for his insulting behaviour. Simple country lad Sathya has to be styled up as a parody of Chiru just to get in. Luckily pub = dancing. But his (drunk) song combines bhangra beats with a warning of how drinking and partying is not for nice young ladies and they should be careful not to make their parents cry with their modern ways. Neelu’s family pressure her to leave her father’s death alone and not cause embarrassment by looking for the truth.

The two girls are the only ones with a real sense of purpose. I quite liked Sameera Reddy. Shailu was not the most realistic character but Sameera has a robust energy that stood up well against Chiranjeevi’s presence and her dodgy wardrobe. She wasn’t afraid to go for it in the dances either. I didn’t necessarily agree with her decision making but I thought Shailu was articulate about what she wanted and where she drew the line. Bhoomika used both of her expressions, and despite having the potentially more substantial role she didn’t really make much of it. Neelu was tortured, threatened, kidnapped, her poor puppy Dandy was the victim of a Fatal Attraction bunny boiler scenario, and yet I barely remember anything about her. I have better recall of her bedroom furnishings, right down to the Australia shaped souvenir on her bedside table. Neelu has reservations but is won over by Sathya’s “revenge is better than happiness” speech. Plus he promised to only kill bad people. Shailu finds out Sathya intends to marry Neelu to get a USA visa but agrees because she loves him…and makes them have a church wedding as a Hindu ceremony is only for realsies. Points for actually having the discussion I guess.

Pasupathi likes to believe he is the puppet master but while all of his plans seems grandiose, the execution kind of fizzles out. I mean, it takes a miracle from god and Lavanya but eventually Sathya notices the building sized portrait of Pasupathi on the side of a skyscraper over the road and deduces that might be the top secret HQ he has been searching for. A bomb that took several minutes to describe and would supposedly vaporise a building only set fire to a small section of the car park. If I had been Arbaaz’s school careers counsellor I like to think I would have steered him away from “acting”. But since the rest of the baddies are played for cartoonish laughs, he does kind of fit in.

Among the many interruptions to the big comeuppance there is a long comedy interlude with Brahmi. I kept shouting reminders they should be off doing revenge-y things but nobody seemed to care. Even on the way to find the baddies they had to stop for a dance break at a wedding. MS Narayana has a running gag appearance that does nothing but isn’t offensively awful. Sunil is Ramkoti’s useless son and while I find him likeable as an actor I kind of wished the death threats had come to fruition. Even Tanikella Bharani annoyed me with his turn as a travel agent. My Comedy Uncle Intolerance has not waned.

I don’t hate the film as there are enough bits and bobs that make it mildly entertaining, plus there’s Chiru. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but a Chiranjeevi completist. Watch the songs, you’ve seen the rest in one form or another. 2 ¾ stars!