Karuppan (2017)

Karuppan

After recently watching Rekka, Karuppan feels rather familiar with another foray into ‘mass’ territory for Vijay Sethupathi. R. Panneerselvam’s film is a standard plod through family relationships in a village near Madurai that fails to bring anything new into the genre, despite a few good ideas that unfortunately fizzle out midway through. Vijay Sethupathi, Tanya and Bobby Simha all do justice to their roles, but unfortunately the film lacks the fire it needed to make this a more compelling watch.

The story is set around the time of Jalikkattu and features a number of scenes involving bull wrestling. I really hope that the opening credits had the usual advice that ‘no animals were harmed during the making of this film’ but since everything was in Tamil with no translation I really couldn’t be sure (although these scenes did mainly seem to be CGI). I’m aware that Jalikkattu is a big thing in Tamil Nadu, but from the footage shown here the whole thing seems rather pointless to me and wasn’t at all enjoyable to watch. The reason for including Jalikkattu is that Maayi (Pasupathy) has a bull in the competition and decides that it would be a good idea to wager his sister’s hand in marriage to the man who manages to win the contest. Naturally the hero of the hour is Karuppan (Vijay Sethupathi) who wins the wrestling medal and the hand of Anbuselvi (Tanya) when he manages to make Maayi’s bull fall over.

Needless to say Anbu is not happy about her prospective groom and the method her brother has used to decide on the match, but like any good Tamil girl she threatens to kill herself if Maayi forces her into marriage. By this point I was ready to walk out – surely not even Vijay Sethupathi was going to be able to salvage this one, but then there was a twist to the story and it started to get more interesting. (Mild spoilers ahead)

Maayi had previously matched Anbu and Karuppan’s horoscopes and had already decided that he would be the perfect husband for Anbu, while Anbu had seen Karuppan take a stand against a seller of blue films and liked him for his values. And possibly also for his rather impressive moustache – sadly no subtitles for the songs means I may have made that part up, but it seems just as plausible (it is a magnificent moustache)! So, after a brief song and dance to introduce the prospective bride and groom, Anbu declares that she is ready to marry Karuppan just as soon as he can be convinced that the wedding is not solely due to his winning of a wager. Karuppan has the previously mentioned values you see and doesn’t take the wager seriously.

Unfortunately for the future happiness of the couple, there is a potential cloud on the horizon. Kathir (Bobby Simha), Maayi’s brother-in-law, had his heart set on marrying Anbu and when he can’t persuade Maayi that the whole wager idea is wrong, he decides to break the couple up by any means he can. Kathir is a sneaky villain and rather than gathering a gang of men to beat Karuppan into submission straight away, he goes for subtle and insidious goading of Maayi and the other villagers. This is done well with the odd piece of gossip dropped into the conversation, a nudge on one of the villager’s shoulders during a town meeting to get him to say his (obviously pre-prepared) piece and plenty of slanderous hints dropped around the village. Kathir is sweetly two-faced too, supporting Karuppan and speaking well of him to his face, but back-stabbing him as much as possible behind the scenes, and Bobby Simha does an excellent job of making this all seem very plausible.

Karuppan doesn’t help the situation by falling into Kathir’s traps which include getting outrageously drunk and insulting his in-laws at a temple function for his marriage. Kathir ensures that one of the people insulted by Karuppan is local gangster Varusanadu Sadha (Sharath Lohitashwa), setting Karuppan up to be dealt with by the gang if Kathir’s other plans fail to break up the marriage. Bobby Simha is very good here and he ensures his character has no redeeming characteristics. He keeps the characterisation low-key but effective to deliver a rather less physical but no less nasty villain.

Anbu is frustrated by her new husband’s failure to keep on the straight and narrow and when an estrangement occurs between her brother and her husband, she’s back to trying to kill herself without making any attempt at reconciliation. Sigh. Thankfully, apart from her suicide attempts, Anbu is a sensible and down to earth character, so there is hope that the whole situation can be resolved – after a major fight scene of course.

What works well here is the relationship between Karuppan and Anbu which quickly develops despite the unconventional betrothal. Vijay and Tanya have good chemistry together, while the mix of love scenes and quarrelling is typical of any couple trying to make a life together. One of the standout scenes is when Karuppan learns that Anbu is pregnant and his joy and happiness are perfectly portrayed. Vijay Sethupathi fits well into the role of a blustering but good-hearted farmer who adores his mother and his new wife, and he ensures the emotional scenes are effective without being too over the top.

Also good are the interactions between Karuppan and his uncle (Singampuli), particularly as they indulge in old Tamil film song karaoke together when drunk. They enact the different male and female roles, mouth the words and generally amuse the crowd with their antics in a couple of sequences that are very well put together.

Anbu is an interesting and generally strong character, although I couldn’t understand why her first impulse was to kill herself every time she ran into a bit of bother. Unlike most film heroines, Anbu isn’t afraid to let her husband know that she finds him attractive and she has enough confidence in their relationship to handle the ups and downs of Karuppan’s drinking. She’s a strong character who doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations in their relationship and in effect is a much better ‘bull-tamer’ than Karuppan could ever be, particularly since the bull she is taming is Karuppan himself. So, it doesn’t make sense that she isn’t able to deal with the issues between Karuppan and Maayi and effectively discourages the two from talking to each other. Or that she doesn’t confront Karuppan more directly in the second half of the film and slap some sense into him, as she does in the first half.

The film starts badly, gets steadily better throughout the first half, but loses its way in the second before an unexciting and overly contrived finale. The songs from D. Imman are good and mainly well placed, although the lack of subtitles made them less effective for me given that at least two were used to move the narrative forwards. The best are pictured on Vijay Sethupathi and Tanya, although Vijay does some inspired uncle dancing which is definitely a highlight!

Karuppan has an interesting heroine, a more complicated than usual villain and a charming hero, so it should work better than it does. Despite the good characterisations, the story itself is pedestrian with everyone tending to behave quite traditionally despite the set-up suggesting more unconventional approaches. Worth watching for the chemistry between Vijay and Tanya, an excellent take on a sneaky villain and those uncle dances.

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Rekka (2016)

Rathina Shiva’s 2016 film is a by-the-numbers mass action film that relies heavily on Vijay Sethupathi’s charm and ability to fully inhabit a character, but still fails to deliver a completely engaging story. Rekka mixes the usual masala ingredients with a plot about a crusading lawyer on a mission to unite couples in love, but there is nothing here that hasn’t been done many times before. What does make the film worth a look is the spectacle of Vijay Sethupathi acting his way through a typical hero role complete with dramatic walking, slow-mo fight scenes and big song and dance numbers. Simply – Rekka is Vijay does mass!

The story follows Shiva (Vijay Sethupathi) as he kidnaps reluctant brides on their wedding day and reunites them with their one true love. Surprisingly he seems to find a large number of separated lovers in Kumbakonam and everyone seems to think that Vijay is performing a fine civic service with his matrimonial kidnapping business. However, he seems to have made a mistake when he kidnaps the wife-to-be of local gangster David (Harish Uthaman) who turns up at Shiva’s family home to discover exactly who has run off with his fiancée. David has more reasons to make him unhappy as his rival Cheliyan (Kabir Duhan Singh) has killed David’s younger brother, apparently as a way to up the feud between them. It seems an odd reason to take a life, but that’s not the most irrational plot point by a long way.

Shiva and his father Ratnam (K.S. Ravikumar) have seen David slaughter someone in cold blood in downtown Kumbakonam, so they know exactly what kind of person they are dealing with. With Shiva’s sister Kavitha getting married, David has the perfect opportunity for revenge with the result that Shiva agrees to kidnap a girl from Madurai and bring her to David as his new wife. What Shiva doesn’t know is that the girl, Bharathi (Lakshmi Menon) is engaged to Cheliyan and her father Manivasagam is a corrupt politician with an army of thugs of his own. Added in to all of this are the mysteries of Mala (Sija Rose), who appears to Shiva as a hallucination, and Selvam (Kishore), a down and out doctor that Shiva tries to help.

So far the story isn’t too bad. Standard masala fare but the fight scenes are fun with plenty of gravity defying, 4WD smashing antics and although Vijay Sethupathi looks awkward and uncomfortable in the big dance numbers, he looks much more at ease in the action sequences. However, things go downhill fast when he travels to Madurai and finds the girl he has to kidnap. Lakshmi Menon’s Bharathi is a few shillings short of a pound and literally just sets eyes on Shiva for a few seconds before deciding that he is the love of her life. Well, okay, I get that it’s Vijay and he is pretty cool, but Bharathi just looks and leaps into elopement without any more thought than a lemming when faced with a cliff.

A few seconds later and we see where Bharathi gets her craziness from, as her mother’s reaction to her proposed elopement is a directive to make sure she says goodbye to her grandmother. No, just no – anyone that ditsy would want the full-blown wedding experience even if she was the daughter of some bigwig in Madurai and already engaged to a ruthless gangster. Especially if she was the daughter of some bigwig in Madurai! Nothing about the whole elopement seems right and the developing love story between Bharathi and Shiva is hindered by the lack of chemistry between the two actors. Shiva just wants to get back his sister’s wedding and be done with the crazy lady, while Bharathi seems too mentally unhinged to know what she actually wants. None of it makes any sense, but then that is the beauty of mass masala – it doesn’t need to make sense!

There’s still the mystery of Mala, and the second half has a flashback sequence to explain why Shiva goes around stealing brides and why he feels so guilty about Selvam. It’s rather long winded and since Mala and Selvam are more peripheral characters, Rathina Shiva spends more time than seems necessary on this part of the story. The flashback does tie up a few loose ends but since it really doesn’t matter why Shiva kidnaps reluctant brides, it seems to be a needless diversion from the main story.

Lakshmi Menon’s Bharathi is disturbingly manic and makes some bad choices that further reduce the characters credibility. No-one could ever really be that dim as to run away with someone they had just met unless they were really in desperate circumstances, and Bharathi doesn’t appear to be distressed by her upcoming engagement at all. There is a vague explanation later, but it’s not particularly persuasive so for the most part I kept thinking Shiva needed to cut his losses and run far, far away.

Vijay Sethupathi really is the saving grace of the film and his presence makes up for a lot of the inadequacies of the script and screenplay. Somehow, even though he’s playing a mass hero, Vijay still finds moments where he is an ‘actor’ rather than a hero, with the result that Shiva is a more appealing character than expected. His introduction scene has him playing chess, not the usual activity of choice for most action heroes, and he has some good emotional bonding moments with his father. This is his film all the way, and he makes his character work, no matter how ludicrous the situation. He’s better than expected in the slo-mo walking scenes and absolutely fabulous in the fight sequences where he twirls villains around his head like batons and systematically smashes them into SUV’s, street stalls piles of boxes and any other staple mass prop that happens to be around.

The rest of the cast has less to do, but Harish Uthaman is fine as a generic snarling bad guy, although even though he has less screen time, Kabir Duhan Singh does appear more frightening and genuinely nasty in his role as Cheliyan. Sathish pops up as Shiva’s friend Keerai and is good in a role that requires him to tone down the comedy. D. Imman’s music is OK, but doesn’t make me want to re-listen to the soundtrack, while everything else about the film is pretty much as standard for a mass movie.

This isn’t a Vikram Vedha or even a Sethupathi, but it is a Vijay Sethupathi film and that makes it a touch above standard mass fare. A less demented heroine would have helped immensely but the standard story of good guy vs bad guy still works despite the distractions Rathina Shiva throws in the way. Not Vijay’s best film in 2016, but still worth a watch to see him in full-on mass hero persona wiping the floor with assorted bad guys and gangsters, while still keeping his trademark sweet smile. 3 stars.

Thodari (2016)

thodari-poster

It’s hard to decide exactly what Prabhu Solomon was aiming for with his latest release Thodari. Perhaps he wanted to make an old-style masala movie with a dash of everything as seasoning for an adventure storyline set on a speeding train?  Or maybe he wanted to create a spoof of a disaster movie along the lines of Airplane! It’s hard to say, since instead of any of these he’s made a film with too much of everything except plot and plausibility. The film has a surplus of comedy, romance, action and even social commentary, and yet none of it works together at all, resulting in a lumbering fiasco of a film that slows grinds though its full 168 minutes of run time. The only saving grace is Dhaunsh, who somehow manages to make his scenes watchable despite the ludicrousness of his character’s actions, and Keerthi Suresh who has a little more to do than the average heroine.

The first half of the film is a jumble of scenes set in a train running from Delhi to Chennai. The pantry staff is introduced, including supervisor and manager Chandrakanth (Thambi Ramaiah) who claims to be ex-military and tries to run his kitchen as if it’s an army platoon. Chandrakanth is responsible for a loud and intrusive comedy track that reaches its nadir when he is accused of being a terrorist and responsible for sending the train out of control. It’s anything but amusing.

Then there is pantry assistant Poochiyappan (Dhanush) and his friend Vairam (Karunakaran) who are vying with the rest of the team to serve refreshments to a Malayalam actress travelling in first class. Again, I think most of this is supposed to be funny, with Chandrakanth using Poochi as a surrogate to romance the actress, and instead only managing to charm her gluttonous mother, but it’s tired, cliché-ridden and basically not comical at all.

Poochi manages to win through to first class but rather than falling for the actress, instead he’s smitten with her make-up girl and immediately decides he’s in love with her in typical Tamil cinema style. Saroja (Keerthi Suresh) has reservations, but a quick song and dance on top of the train and the unlikely hope that Poochi can further her dreams of becoming a famous singer, and she’s happy to melt into his arms. There is also an odd feud that develops between Poochi and a security guard (Harish Uthaman) who is travelling with a government minister (Radha Ravi). There is no apparent reason for the guard’s enmity, although there are suggestions that he has an anger management problem and may even be on medication, but apart from being an excuse to add a couple of fight scenes this entire thread seems completely pointless and superfluous.

The action starts in the second half when the train ends up speeding out of control with no way to bring it to a safe halt. There are all sorts of technical reasons behind why no-one can stop the train, but the media become obsessed with the idea that the engine has been taken over by terrorists. The passengers on the train are able to watch the news of their hostage situation and imminent demise on their mobile phones as they hurtle along the track but despite all this disinformation, they don’t come up with any great ideas to save the day. Instead, their only possible salvation is a make-up girl stuck on the engine with no idea what is actually happening and whose main concern is her developing romance with the train pantry assistant.

The action of the second half is disrupted by the songs and by frequent switches between the different characters. Rather than focusing on the drama, Prabhu Solomon adds more ‘comedy’ involving Chandrakanth, another fight scene with the security guard and shots of the TV crews chasing the train. There are long dialogues supposedly set on a panel discussion with politicians behaving like school children while army personnel who board the train become embroiled in petty  feuds and disputes amongst the staff and passengers instead of doing anything to stop the speeding train. Even the scenes in the control room, which should have been tense and full of anticipation, are watered down by attempts at comedy and yet more digs at the government.  None of it is credible or even feasible but it’s all irrelevant anyway. What really matters, and what the TV audience want to see happening on the out-of-control train, is the success of Poochi’s romance with Saroja before the train runs out of track and the couple run out of time.

Thodari could have been much better if Prabhu Solomon had kept to the basics and put a simple love affair together with the drama of a runaway train. There are some good ideas here although they are almost buried under the huge cast list and wreckage of a plot. I like that it’s the heroine who has the best chance of saving the day and that the hero leaves it all up to her. Keerthi’s Saroja has some good lines too (although the abysmal subtitles meant I didn’t understand everything) and mostly behaves as any normal person would when faced with similar situations. Some of the suspense with the runaway train works, although it is only a small amount, and the romance between Poochi and Saroja is mostly engaging, despite the difficulties encountered when Saroja is stuck at the front of the train and Poochi is reduced to mouthing sweet nothings over a walkie-talkie with the entire nation looking on. The scenery too makes a spectacular backdrop for the songs as Dhanush and Keerthi shuffle along the top of the train and D. Imman’s music is catchy, even if the songs do act as major speed-humps for the screenplay and are unnecessary in this style of movie.

Overall the film suffers from too much going on at a superficial level, but not enough of  a plot to give a firm foundation. Dhanush is as good as always but even his performance isn’t enough to stop the film running out of steam long before the train reaches its destination. Worth a one-time watch in the cinema for the scenery and Dhanush but disappointingly that’s about all.