Madras (2014)

Madras

Pa Ranjith’s second film is a gritty and realistic drama that starts well but gets a little lost in the second half when the focus of the story moves more towards a fairly awful romance. However, thankfully the character interactions and underlying political story have enough momentum to bring the story back into focus well before the end. Although Karthi is good in his role as a short-tempered, football loving bloke from a housing project, it’s Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan as his best friend who impresses the most from the generally excellent cast. The notable exception is Catherine Tresa who seems painfully miscast as Karthi’s love interest, and she appears awkward and uncomfortable for most of the film. Madras does drag a little in the second half as a result, but overall the portrayal of life in a housing project in Northern Chennai is convincing, while the political shenanigans add enough complexity and interest to make the film well worth a watch.

MadrasMadras

The story follows the rivalry and competition between two local political parties in Royapuram, a district in northern Chennai. While the politicians have managed to split most of the area amicably between the two factions, there is one wall in the middle of the district which remains in bitter contention. After some initial wrangling, for most of the film the wall features a painting of the deceased leader of one party (Jayabalan), but while his son Kannan (Nandakumar) and followers are determined to keep this image on the wall, Maari (Vinod) and his party want to claim the wall for their own propaganda. Caught in the middle are the people who actually live in the shadow of the wall and for whom the two political leaders talk the talk but don’t actually deliver very much in the way of benefits. This is simply highlighted in the way the women meet every morning to get water from a pump, and in the various fractious meetings between the rival young men of the area and party leader Maari.

The gang in Madras

Anbu (Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan) is the up and coming political activist in Maari’s party, and one of the driving forces behind the campaign to retake the wall. His relationship with his wife Mary (Ritwika) is one of the best I’ve seen onscreen in Tamil cinema and their stolen moments of intimacy have just the right amount of tenderness and humour. Both Kalaiarasan and Ritwika are brilliant in their roles here and I just wish the film had focused more on them and their relationship. Excellent performances from both made it very easy to completely believe in their characters, along with some very good writing and character development. The couple lives in a small apartment with their young son, and despite Anbu’s political drive and aggression, he is still a man who obviously loves his family and wants to do his best for both them and his local area. His best friend is Kaali (Karthi), an IT worker with a very short fuse to his temper, which spills over into violence with little provocation. While Anbu tries to negotiate his way to solutions, Kaali frequently disrupts his careful dialogues, and seems to think of little beyond the moment.

Madras

Kaali is however a staunch and stalwart friend, so it seems natural that Anbu doesn’t give up on their friendship but rather tries to mitigate Kaali’s outspokenness and intervene when he flashes into violence. The relationship between the two is complex and Ranjith is to be commended on writing such a convincing portrayal of two angry young men with such different agendas but who still have plenty of common ground.

Kaali is also looking out for a wife and believes he has found his ideal in Kalaiarasi (Catherine Tresa), the arrogant and opinionated daughter of yet another local politician. I found Catherine Tresa annoying and wooden in Iddarammayilatho and she does nothing here to change my opinion. The character of Kalaiarasi is interesting and has potential, but I’m not convinced by Tresa’s portrayal here at all.  She appears to be obviously ‘acting’ all the time and never manages to develop any rapport with her co-actors.  Perhaps her inclusion was Ranjith’s attempt to make his film more commercially appealing, but her performance definitely doesn’t work for me, and neither does the romance.

Madras

The rest of the story does however work well and despite the fairly obvious plot the first-rate characterisations are enough to keep it believable and interesting.  The various other support actors are effective with Rama as Kaali’s mother having some of the funniest dialogue, while Hari as local eccentric Johnny is cleverly used to further the storyline.  Anbu and Kaali’s friends are also convincing in their roles while the various enforcers used by the two political parties are much more realistic (and therefore believable) than the rent-a-thug gangsters usually used in such roles.

The cinematography by G. Murali is also excellent, with the chase sequences through the narrow streets a major highlight, but everything is perfectly framed to ensure the wall looms over everything and everyone in the area. Although there are a few songs they are used sparingly without long disruptive dance sequences, while the film does include some excellent dancing with the addition of a local area dance troupe who cycle through some of the important scenes and indulge in spontaneous dancing whenever possible. I approve!

Madras Karthik and CAtherine

The escalation of such a small issue as the slogan on a wall into an all-encompassing problem, along with the back-stabbing, petty rivalries and jealousies is well handled and makes Madras a more complex tale than it first seems. It’s the very ordinariness of the characters that ensures the film feels very realistic, while keeping obvious heroics out of the equation gives the film greater impact. Essentially Pa Ranjith has taken an old story and dressed it up into something new, with clever characterisations and good use of locations ending up with a film that’s a cut above the usual political thriller. Madras is definitely well worth a watch for impressive performances and a relatively realistic look at one of my favourite cities.

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Iddarammayilatho

Iddarammayilatho

I haven’t been too impressed with the last few Puri Jagannadh films I’ve seen, but I was hopeful that this latest offering starring my favourite hero might offer something a little different.  But although the film is visually very pretty and both Bunny and Amala Paul do their best with their respective characters, the story has far too many plot holes and is frequently too unbelievable to make Iddarammayilathi anything other than disappointing.  While there is the expected excellent dancing from the stylish star, some good fight scenes and Bunny and Amala make a sweet couple, it’s just not enough to make up for the screechy, irritating Catherine Tresa and a dire comedy track which almost completely derails the film in the second half.

Bunny 2

The film follows Akanksha (Catherine Tresa), the daughter of a prominent politician in  India (Rao Ramesh) who moves to Barcelona to study psychology.  She has a fantastic room which just happens to contain a box belonging to the last tenant.  Inside is a diary which tells the story of a romance between Sanju (Allu Arjun) and the room’s previous occupant, Komali (Amala Paul).  The romance is played out in flash-back as Akanksha talks endlessly to herself about the diary’s revelations and frankly seems far too interested in the details of a stranger’s love life.

Iddarammayilatho

Bunny looks great as Sanju Reddy, a singer/dancer who performs with his band in the streets of Barcelona and is surprisingly successful considering that the band seems to perform exclusively in Telugu in a Spanish/Catalan speaking city.  He’s also pretty nifty when it comes to the obligatory biffo although his prowess in this area is never really explained – but then neither is anything else so at least there is consistency in the lack of elucidation.  Sanju falls in love with Komali who is in Barcelona to learn classical music from Brahmi – again, completely nonsensical but there is even more absurdity to follow.  Amala does a good job as a demure and rather shy violinist apart from being completely unable to fake playing a violin.  She does look stunning though in some beautiful costumes and has good chemistry with Bunny so at least the romance part of the story is believable.

IddarammayilathoIddarammayilatho

 

 

 

 

For a change I really liked Bunny’s various outfits too, which aren’t as over the top as his last few films and do appear fashionable with a European touch.  Most of the songs by Devi Sri Prasad are fairly average, but the choreography is good if not exceptional and Bunny as always proves he really can dance. However a dance off between the classically influenced Brahmi and the more rock and roll Sanju would have been much better if the backing dancers had been able to keep up with the choreography.  There is a short tribute to Chiru’s Gangleader which got the biggest cheers from the Melbourne crowd, but this was my favourite:

The love story ends abruptly in the diary so Akanksha tracks down Sanju to find out what happened and learns of a tragedy that occurred when Sanju and Komali crossed paths with a gangster (Shawar Ali). Shawar Ali has to be the dullest and most incompetent villain ever and it’s surely only by chance that Komali is the only person who sees him execute one of his gang on an incredibly public beach in broad daylight.  Unbelievably, it takes all the might of his gang of assorted thugs, sword-wielding ninjas and Subbaraju in a rather dapper beanie to deal with one petite classical violinist and her guitar playing boyfriend!

IddarammayilathoIddarammayilathoIddarammayilatho

 While Akanksha shrilly indulges in flagrant scenery chewing and desperately tries to persuade Sanju to fall in love with her, Sanju has his own agenda for revenge which ends up with a surprisingly good and effective plot twist with a flashback to some of those awesome sword fighting techniques from Badrinath.  Overall, apart from the woeful comedy scenes with Brahmi and Ali, the second half moves faster and is a little better than the first, although that may just be that I stopped worrying about the lack of logic and settled back to enjoy Bunny’s dancing and the fact that he does look as if he can actually play a guitar.  The fight scenes by Kecha are also beautifully choreographed and appear more like dancing than fighting, an effect which is heightened by Sanju’s total lack of emotion as he calmly and efficiently despatches everything and everyone that is thrown at him.

Iddarammayilatho

Iddarammayilatho looks beautiful and cinematographer Amol Rathod makes the most of the location in Barcelona, showcasing some of the beautiful buildings in the city, but the film is let down by a complete lack of logic in the story and very little in the way of character development .  Although the cast in general put in good performances, most of the supporting mothers, fathers etc have very little to do and both Subbaraju and Srinivas Reddy are chronically underused.  Brahmi is fine in the first half but the comedy with Ali is totally pointless and almost as irritating as Catherine Tresa.  Perhaps understanding the dialogue might have made Akanksha a more appealing character, but somehow I doubt it.  I still enjoyed the film, but more for the location, action scenes and dance numbers which were all good.  Overall, Iddarammayilatho is worth a look for Allu Arjun fans and anyone who likes movies with pretty scenery and great architecture.

Iddarammayilatho