Pattas (2020)

Anyone who visits CinemaChaat regularly will know that I’m a massive Dhanush fan. Even when a movie is bad, I can usually still enjoy his performance even if everything else is terrible. But for once I can’t even say that Dhanush’s performance saved the film. And it’s not that he’s bad here, not at all, but there is something missing. His energy that usually bursts off the screen seems muted and I just couldn’t connect to his character(s) at all. I’ve had issues with R.S. Durai Senthilkumar films before, and I suspect it’s his style of film-making that basically doesn’t work for me. Ethir Neechal started well, but didn’t sustain its early promise and Kodi was an interesting film that unfortunately didn’t have subtitles, so again I struggled. And for Pattas the subtitles are so bad as to be almost unintelligible. I mostly ignored them because the English made little sense and often didn’t seem to connect with what was happening onscreen.

So is Pattas worth watching? Well, it has some good points – the inclusion of the ancient martial art of Adimurai is interesting although it could have been better explored. It’s rare to see a female character get to take part in the action sequences, so that’s a plus. The music is great and the choreography (both fight scenes and dance moves) is excellent, but realistically, that’s just not enough to make a good movie. 

The film starts with a flashback of Kanyakumari (Sneha) fighting back against a group of men who have beaten her son. She is arrested for the death of one of the men, despite the fact that they have killed her son, and should really have been the ones on trial. The film then switches to the present day where Pattas (Dhanush) and his sidekick Puncture (Sathish) are robbing a kickboxing studio. Switch again and we move to Thailand where Nilan’s son has won a kickboxing tournament and Nilan (Naveen Chandra) announces a big MMA competition to be held in Chennai. Switch again, and we’re back to the prison where Kanyakumari is being released from prison, apparently with vengeance on her mind.

It’s a check box film. Each character has certain things they need to do to get to the next scene, so they are ticked off, and then we move on. Although this is a revenge drama, rather than focusing on Kanyakumari and her plans, the film instead drifts between characters without ever establishing a strong rapport with any of them. There is a flashback to how Kanyakumari ended up fighting for her son’s life, where Dhanush plays his father, Thiraviyam Perumal, a Adimurai fighting champion. This section is better, but there is still little to draw the viewer into Thiraviyam’s world. Obviously Dhanush has put a lot of work into the part. The slow martial arts moves required look difficult and he manages them well, but there is no real sense of the character outside of his training. We get that he’s something of a pacifist; a nice man who tries his best to help his friend and his training master Asaan (Nasser). But there isn’t much more. As the younger Pattas (aka Sakthi), Dhanush is again wonderfully athletic, but the romance with Sadhana (Mehreen Pirzada) is woeful and again his character seems underdeveloped. The focus is all on the action, but it takes more than kicks and punches to make a film, and the story behind all the fight scenes doesn’t.

Naveen Chandra does well as the protagonist and out of all the characters in the film his role has the most definition. Unfortunately, the character development means that his story is often the weakest as there is no underlying motivation given for some of his actions. There are a group of foreign actors in the flashback who play Nilan’s friends, and every single one of them is absolutely terrible! I couldn’t work out if they were foreigners to emphasise Nilan’s alienation from his home country, or just because R.S. Durai Senthilkumar didn’t want to show Indian men carrying out such dreadful atrocities as are perpetrated here. Whatever the reason, it seems to be a bad choice all round.

The finale of the film revolves around the martial arts competition, where again we have more foreign actors supposedly playing the various competitors. I’m not sure if R.S. Durai Senthilkumar has ever watching any MMA competitions, but one thing you can’t help notice is how supremely fit each competitor is. Not so at this contest, where the competition looks as if they had one biriyani too many before stepping into the ring. It might have been the dreadful subtitles, but I also couldn’t work out why Nilan’s son pulled out of the competition and instead Nilan took on Pattas outside in the parking lot. The whole thing was just so bizarre given that this takes place at a world championship that would presumably have all the usual rules and regulations banning competitors from having side spats just outside the arena. And by this stage Kanyakumari has been sidelined, Sadhana has pretty much vanished along with Puncture and their father Kolusu (Munishkanth), so there is little emotion here despite the supposed revenge for Thiraviyam Perumal’s death.

What does work well are the fight scenes. Dhanush looks fantastic as both Thiraviyam Perumal and Pattas, and the fighting style works well with his smaller frame. Sneha too has great action sequences and these look realistic and exciting onscreen. The songs from Vivek-Mervin are catching and the dance sequences fun and very well executed. Kudos to all the choreographers, Jaani for the dance sequences and Dhilip Subbarayan for the action, who obviously put a lot of hard work into these scenes. This could have been a really great action film, especially since the fight sequences look fantastic, but it needs more focus on the martial art, and a greater exploration of Sneha’s character. Sneha does an excellent job here, but just doesn’t have enough to work with, especially in the scenes in the modern day where she is trying to take her revenge.

One last important point. It’s crucial for an international release to have good subtitles – not the terrible attempt here that just did not make sense, and in fact ruined the story for me. Please, please producers, you need to pay attention to subtitles which really are important, especially if a film is to be successfully screened outside of Tamil Nadu. Rekhs is the best of course and there are good subtitlers out there, so why not use them? I wish I enjoyed this film more – it has all the elements that I usually enjoy, but the weak story, poor use of the actors and awful subtitles made it a bland and disappointing watch. Wait for the DVD or for streaming – the songs and fight sequences are worth it and you can FF the rest.

Enai Noki Paayum Thota (2019)

Gautham Menon’s latest film Enai Noki Paayum Thota has a number of similarities with his 2016 release, Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada (Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo), but the formula doesn’t work as well this time around.  Dhanush manages to hold the erratic story together, but there is too much that has been seen before for this film to really make an impact. However, the songs are good, the action sequences work well and Dhanush is charming in the romance sequences, making Enai Noki Paayum Thota worth at least a one-time watch.

Raghu (Dhanush) appears to be a fairly typical student from a rather well-to-do family until the day he meets and falls in love with aspiring actress Lekha (Megha Akash). He is immediately smitten (we know because there is a voice-over that tells us so), but the relationship is initially slow to develop, partly because Raghu is rather awed by Lekha, but also because he isn’t totally sure of his own feelings and appears to prefer a more restrained approach. However, once Raghu makes his move, the romance progresses swiftly and Lekha seems equally head over heels in love with Raghu. That does strike a discordant note since there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Lekha to pick Raghu out of all the scrawny students watching the film shoot in their college, particularly since Raghu doesn’t go out of his way to make her notice him. There is no effort to explain her actions either, but then Lekha generally has very little will of her own in this film and ultimately, she isn’t important except as a reason for Raghu to search out his brother and beat up lots of ‘bad guys’. This film is all about Raghu, and Lekha is just the means by which he gets to show off his survival skills.

The romance itself, although beautifully filmed, is also rather less than satisfying. There is some chemistry between Dhanush and Megha in the songs, but that seems to be muted everywhere else, and the love story just isn’t completely convincing. I can buy that Raghu is besotted by Lekha, but Megha Akash doesn’t seem to be able to generate the same amount of emotion or attraction that Dhanush brings to his role. Since we learn early on that Lekha is being abused by her manager Kuberan (Senthil Veerasamy), this does lead to the conclusion that perhaps the relationship is developed by Lekha to get away from a bad situation rather than being a true love match. There are mixed messages from the dialogue too. Raghu says he’s a good man and doesn’t want to take advantage, but that doesn’t stop him from kissing Lekha when the opportunity presents. Then Lekha says she cannot live without him, but leaves when pressured by her manager, and doesn’t contact Raghu at all for years. It all makes it difficult to empathise with either character or even care if they will manage to meet up again.

Adding to the plot is Raghu’s missing brother Thiru (Sasikumar), who left the family many years ago after a tragic accident. Thiru has been AWOL ever since, but when Lekha finally gets back in touch with Raghu, she reveals that she is staying with Thiru and that he is in trouble. Further muddying of the plot happens with Kuberan’s links to various shady underworld deals, and just in case he wasn’t despicable enough, the years have turned him into a wife-beater and potential rapist who wants to exploit Lekha by pimping her out. It’s all just a bit too much, and the emotional blackmail used to coerce Lekha into staying with Kuberan is equally heavy handed and overly filmy.

There are also a large number of coincidences in the film that further dilute the story. Lekha just happens to meet up with Thiru in Mumbai, a crowded city where it can be difficult to meet up with someone even when you’ve arranged a meeting! It seems too good to be true that Lekha stumbles across someone who is actually an undercover cop, and the rationale seems contrived and simply unlikely. Also conveniently, Raghu follows his brothers trail easily despite minimal information and is able to find the evidence he needs right under his nose, although no-one else has been able to figure it out. And then there are a lot of close shaves with bullets (the title is taken quite literally here) that are rather too miraculous to be true as well.  The different ‘modes’ also generated some laughter in the cinema, particularly ‘beast mode’ which seemed to be an excuse to add some action sequences, although these are well choreographed and work well within the overall story. A word too about the subtitles, which were in yellow and easy to read font, but which appeared to be literal translations in parts, which simply didn’t make sense in English. So, some of the issues I had with the story may just have been due to not understanding exactly what was going on.

The film released late in Melbourne, and I’d read a couple of comments on social media about the voice-overs by Raghu throughout the film. On watching, these do make a sort of sense since the film is Raghu’s life story and his internal monologue helps clarify his thoughts and motivations. To his credit, Dhanush puts enough emotion into his performance to compensate for the lack of actual dialogue between characters, however the voiceovers also isolate the story to just Raghu’s view of the situation, reducing the rest of the cast to bit players in Raghu’s story. Ultimately this affects the all relationships; between Raghu and his family, his brother Thiru and even his relationship with Lekha, since the main view the audience sees of each is through Raghu’s own thoughts.

The focus of the story is firmly on Raghu, and Dhanush puts in an excellent performance, once again transforming himself into a fresh-faced young student and then appearing as an older and wiser version later in the film. He has the energy and acting talent to make his role believable, despite all the odd coincidences, but his character still doesn’t connect well with the rest of the cast. I don’t think this is just because of the monologues, but seems to be a more fundamental problem with the writing. All the other characters appear only through their connections with Raghu and only rarely interact with anyone else. Sasikumar, who should have been a powerful influence in the film ends up with very little dialogue and the lack of a convincing relationship between Thiru and Raghu makes his parts of the story clunky and awkward. Events mean that their relationship never gets any better either, while Raghu’s parents and sister have less screentime and therefore proportionately even less connection with Raghu.

Megha Akash looks beautiful but seems very constrained and lacklustre, especially when compared to Dhanush. Gautham Menon seems determined to make her a victim here, and perhaps I’ve just had enough of this tired trope, but it was frustrating to watch Lekha continually wait for someone to rescue her. Raghu’s Mumbai-based friend Meera (Sunaina) has more gumption, at least initially, but frustratingly she’s also quickly reduced to a victim with little further part to play in the story.

The entire film revolves around Raghu, but this narrow focus makes it difficult to invest in the story or the characters, and it’s really only Dhanush’s performance that makes any kind of impact. While he is front and centre, the film works reasonably well, but there are too many irritating issues with the other characters to make this a truly engaging film. Worth watching for Darbuka Siva’s songs and Dhanush’s skilled performance, but unfortunately there is little else here to be excited about.

 

Asuran (2019)

Vetrimaaran’s latest film Asuran is a graphic and violent tale of oppression and intimidation of a small landowner and his family, but it’s also a story of revenge, survival and of the fight for justice in an unjust world. Dhanush is in his element, playing both Sivasaamy, an ageing and broken-down small freehold farmer and also his younger self in a flashback that explains how he ended up as a pacifist. The rest of the cast are just as good, including Ken Karnuas as Sivasaamy’s son and Manju Warrier as Sivasaamy’s wife. Asuran seems set to be another Vetrimaaran classic as yet again he has captured the flavour of rural Tamil Nadu while telling a rousing story, this time adapted from Poomani’s novel, Vekkai.

The story starts quietly, with Sivasaamy (Dhanush) and his youngest son Chidambaram (Ken Karunas) wading through a river in the middle of the night. Sivasaamy urges caution, explaining to his reluctant son why they are walking in the river, rather than on the road (it’s to hide their tracks). At one point as the water is gradually getting higher, Chidamabaram complains that his bombs will get wet. I thought this was likely a euphemism for something else, but surprisingly, as clearly demonstrated later, what he’s carrying are indeed explosive devices! As the father and son slowly make their way deeper into the forest, Vetrimaran shows the searchers, hunters and police who are on their trail, while in the other direction, Sivasaamy’s wife Pachaiamma (Manju Warrier) and daughter are also running to hide. At this point Sivasaamy seems confident and capable – he knows how to hide their trail and how to keep silent, unlike Chidambaram who seems to be singularly clueless, wandering off, lighting fires and generally making himself far too visible.

Gradually we discover why the family are in flight as, in flashback, the film shows the family’s struggle against the rich Vadakkoran Narasimha (Aadukalam Naren) who wants their small plot of land. This leads to clashes between Vadakkoran’s men and Sivasaamy’s older son Murugan (Teejay Arunasalam) who wants to fight back and cannot understand his father’s servile attitude. Even Pachaiamma grabs up a sickle to defend herself, but Sivasaamy urges caution and tries to ignore the provocations, including the death of one of the family dogs. Murugan is frustrated by his father’s faintheartedness and responds by aggression and violence, although mostly as a result of threats and taunts from Vadakkoran’s men. It’s obvious that neither Sivasaamy’s approach, not his son’s aggressiveness will work against the upper class Vadakkoran who has the law and the power of his money on his side, and this futility underpins all of the action in the film. The violence escalates until Murugan is murdered in a particularly gruesome and bloody manner which starts to tear the family apart. Chidambaram is only 16 and cannot understand the class politics that make his father unable to act, but instead regards him as a coward. As a result, to try and alleviate his mother’s grief, Chidambaram attacks Vadakkoran, leading to the family’s midnight flight.

Dhanush is simply amazing as the older and broken Sivasaamy. His subjugation at every turn is perfectly nuanced to make us feel his pain and despair as Sivasaamy struggles to keep his family safe. His alcoholism is part of the whole picture of a deeply flawed man, while the contempt of his sons and stoicism of his wife is shown to cut deeply. Murugan and Chidambaram deride their father for his cowardice but Pachaiamma and her brother (Pasupathy) have a much better idea of the situation, and although they don’t always approve, they tend to support Sivasaamy’s approach. However, when Murugan is killed, Pachaiamma can no longer support her husband’s viewpoint with matters coming to a head when Chidambaram seeks his revenge. The family drama is beautifully written with the emotions raw and realistic, while the relentless persecution from Vadakkoran seems unnecessarily harsh but also very plausible.

Despite Chidambaram’s low opinion of his father, he’s still young enough to rely on him during their flight. But when they are cornered at the end of the first half, it’s Chidambaram who is shocked when his father finally picks up a stick and fights back in spectacular style. It’s massy, but loads of fun and the fight scene is well staged to make Sivasaamy’s sudden prowess believable.

The second half starts with a flashback to Sivasaamy’s youth, and once again his subjugation by a rich local landlord which ends with the death of his family including his activist brother (Subramaniam Siva) and his fiancée Mariyammal (Ammu Abhirami). This time the divide is more about caste but the outcome is the same despite having lawyer Venugopal Seshadri (Prakash Raj) on their side. While the story is compelling and a bitter statement on the realities of being poor in rural India, it’s the characterisations that stand out in Asuran. Ken Karnuas is fantastic in a role which requires him to be naïve, passionate and impulsive but then have to grow up really fast. Manju Warrier is a rock steady presence beside her husband, until her son is murdered and her world comes crashing down. Her grief roils off the screen in waves of pain in the distressingly realistic scene where Muruguan’s body is discovered. The visuals hit hard, and the acting is simply superb throughout. Although his time onscreen is short, Teejay Arunasalam makes an impact in a powerful performance of a young man determined to defend his family at all costs.

 

The film looks amazing as Velraj captures the stunning scenery around Tirunevelli. The cinematography emphasises the isolation when Sivasaamy and Chidambaram flee into the forest, but also captures the heart of rural India and the wonderful colours associated with different crops. The film soundtrack from GV Prakash Kumar is also excellent while the songs are perfectly matched to the action on screen. There is also clever use of sound, where during an action scene, all the music stops and there is just the sound of breathing, which works very well to focus attention on the protagonist and let us wonder what is going on in his mind, right at that very second.  Vetrimaaran keeps the romance sections short and the fight scenes bloody and violent, but it all fits snugly into the narrative despite a somewhat rushed feeling of the ending. Thanks are also due to the subtitler for using yellow font and being clear and concise – sorry I didn’t catch who was responsible for these.

Asuran combines father and son relationships with village power politics and the result is a powerful societal film that also has the warmth and intimacy of a more personal story. The performances are all amazing and as always I am stunned by how Dhanush can transform between a feisty young man in his early twenties to an older fifty-plus worn down farmer and be totally convincing in both roles. Wonderful actors, a compelling story and stunning scenery all combine to make this one of the best Tamil movies so far this year. Don’t miss it!