Kodi (2016)

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Kodi is an interesting political thriller that sadly did not release in Australia with English subtitles. As the film is dialogue-heavy this meant that I missed most of the subtleties of the film, particularly annoying since the female characters seem to have more substantial roles than usual and the plot appears to be well-developed with unexpected twists. However the basic story is pretty easy to follow and the characters all clearly delineated ensuring Kodi is worth the trip to the cinema. It’s still completely baffling to me that in today’s global market the producers would choose to release Kodi overseas without subtitles, although it does follow the recent trend of not including subtitles on Tamil DVD releases either. Come on Kollywood – lift your game!

Dhanush plays a double role in the movie, portraying twin brothers, Kodi and Anbu. Despite being mute, their father (Karunaas) had political ambitions and was prominent in the local party as an activist and avid supporter of the local leader.  On his birth, Kodi was presented to the leader and from that point on it seems that his father transferred all his political ambition onto Kodi, dragging him around to various political events and giving him speeches to declare on his father’s behalf.

Initially Kodi seems relatively happy to follow the party line, but he is horrified when his father suicides right in front of him in order to highlight mercury poisoning at a local factory. Rather than lessen his passion for politics, this ensures Kodi grows into a hot-headed and passionate politician who craves social justice and presumably the power and prestige such a role would bring. As a young campaigner Kodi seems to have a fairly prominent role in the local party office, although there are grumblings from the older generation about the young upstart who seems to be taking a lead role. Along with the problems Kodi faces from his party, his girlfriend Rudhra (Trisha) is also a wannabe politician, except she’s firmly on the opposing side and the two seem to frequently clash in the public arena. Luckily for their romance, they seem to be able to put their opposing views aside once they are alone together and apart from the hassle of having to keep their relationship secret, Kodi and Rudhra happy together.

Anbu on the other hand is a gentler character who works as a teacher at a local college and is content to let his brother lead the charge for democracy. He finds romance with a local egg farmer Malathi (Anupama Parameswaram) although he isn’t above swapping roles with his more volatile brother when the occasion demands it. Dhanush keeps the two characters separate with ease, and not just because Kodi has a full beard and Anbu a moustache. Kodi is harsher, often appearing stern and forbidding, and only leading down his guard with Rudhra. He is argumentative, struts around combatively and is a typical mass hero when it comes to any fight.  Anbu on the other hand is softer, smiles more and even his posture indicates he’s a man who can be more easily pushed around. In his first double role, Dhanush effortlessly makes the two brothers separate individuals, perhaps even more so than real twins as Kodi appears more like an elder brother, and Anbu the younger.

Anbu  discovers more about the mercury factory which leads his brother to some unsettling revelations and as events unfold, Anbu ends up taking his brother’s place in politics. This is where the characterisation breaks down a little, as Anbu playing Kodi is really just the same as Kodi. It would have been even more effective if there had been some Anbu mannerisms left behind, although it’s possible that I missed some of this through not understanding the dialogue.

While Dhanush is superb as Kodi and Anbu, Trisha is just as good as a young and ambitious female politician. She has to battle against the prejudice of both her gender and her youth to win her place in the party and in doing so displays a ruthless streak that serves her well later in the film. Trisha is regal in sober saris that reflect her political ambitions, but lets her hair down in the romance scenes where she is softer and more likeable than in the rest of the film. There are also glimpses of the continuous rivalry between Kodi and Rudhra as they grew up together, with the childhood flashbacks proving more substance and clarity to the two characters. I love the interactions between the two – both in public as rival politicians and in private as their romance heats up. Writer/director R.S. Durai Senthilkumar has ensured that the female role is just as well-developed as that of the male protagonists, and in some ways Trisha has the more thought-provoking role with a complex and ambiguous character.

The story has a number of twists and turns with the machinations of the two political parties, the plots of the various members and the truth behind the mercury factory all having a part to play. I wish I had understood more of the dialogue as I missed the significance of Kodi and Anbu’s friend Bhagat Singh (Kaali Venkat) and I’m still not sure why Malathi disappeared from the story for most of the second half. This was a shame as Anupama was excellent, as were the rest of the supporting cast. S.A. Chandrasekhar was good in the role of Kodi’s party leader while Saranya Ponvannan was excellent playing the only role she ever seems to do nowadays (but then she does it so well!) as Kodi and Anbu’s long suffering mother. There are only a few songs in the film and these are mostly focused on the two romances, but Santhosh Narayanan’s music seems to fit well, although I did miss watching Dhanush dancing.

Like his previous films Ethir Neechal and Kaaki Sattai, R.S. Durai Senthilkumar concentrates on telling a good story rather than simply showcasing a star or indulging in mass action scenes. As a result, Kodi is an intelligent and engaging thriller, with excellent characterisations and clever twists in the plot. Dhanush does a fantastic job in a double role, keeping his presence somewhat understated so that the focus really is on the story and not the few fight scenes or dramatic speeches. I really do hope that this one releases on DVD with subtitles as it deserves to be seen by a wider audience and I’d love to finally understand all that dialogue.

 

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Thodari (2016)

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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.

Thanga Magan (2015)

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I was rather apprehensive about watching Velraj’s new film, given that VIP was such a huge hit, and follow-up films from new directors can be rather hit and miss. However with Dhanush on board again surely things couldn’t go too badly wrong? Well, no, at least not completely. Thankfully Velraj doesn’t simply try for a VIP 2, but instead starts with a rather different atmosphere and a more mature and responsible hero, although he does venture back into more familiar territory as the story reaches resolution. He’s also enlisted a generally excellent cast who keep the film entertaining even if the story does falter somewhat in the second half. Still, for a follow up film it’s not a bad attempt and Dhanush is as good as always ensuring Thanga Magan is worth a watch.

The opening scene is possibly one of the best in the film, and works well to raise questions and draw the audience into the story. As the rain pelts down, Thamizh (Dhanush) shepherds his pregnant wife Yamuna (Samantha) and his mother (Raadhika Sarathkumar) into a small and rather grimy house, ably assisted by his friend Kumaran (Sathish). By everyone’s depressed and miserable faces, it’s clear that something terrible has happened and that this is a major step downwards for the family, reinforced by Thamizh immediately setting out to look for a job.  That’s the cue for an extended flash back sequence that explains why Thamizh is unemployed and his family have had to relocate and downsize into such an undesirable location.

The flash back starts with a young Thamizh roaming around Chennai with his two friends Kumaran and Aravindh (Adith Arun). The three students spend all their time together until the day Thamizh sees a girl at the temple and instantly falls in love. Hema D’Souza (Amy Jackson) is an apparently intelligent, modern Tamil woman who has some very definite ideas about what she wants from life. She’s a student too, studying architecture, and isn’t afraid to berate Thamizh when she thinks he is following her. But after such a strong beginning, Hema becomes more of a caricature, drinking beer and allowing a mildly physical intimacy that ensures she isn’t going to be the one leaving with the guy – Hema is much too liberated to get a happy ending in a Tamil film!

Dhanush does his usual thing of managing to appear much younger than he really is, and as the relationship between Thamizh and Hema is fairly typical of young and infatuated lovers he doesn’t have to stretch for the role. In comparison Amy Jackson seems rather out of place and despite all the physical intimacy she has little chemistry with Dhanush leading to a relationship that never appears realistic on her side. Amy looks older than Dhanush too, which doesn’t help, but at least when they do finally split it’s reasonably plausible with his immaturity at odds with her ambition finally leading to the separation.

After the break-up Thamizh falls in line with his mothers’ wishes, getting a job working in the tax office with his father and agreeing to an arranged marriage with Yamuna. Yamuna is the ideal traditional wife; quiet, shy and happy staying at home all day to help her mother-in-law. She’s a complete contrast from Hema, but in her own way Yamuna is just as much of a caricature, following the description of classic filmi wife to the letter. Samantha is a much better actress than the character of Yamuna requires, but she still manages to shine despite her rather one-dimensional role. At least she has plenty of chemistry with Dhanush and even if the relationship is an old-fashioned and clichéd version of marriage they do seem to have a mutual respect and a partnership that was lacking between Thamizh and Hema.

The first half works well and Dhanush is on top form as dutiful son, young lover, then husband and father-to-be. He transitions from one to the other very naturally and it’s good to see him have a happier relationship with his family than he usually portrays in his films. Samantha is also excellent here and both K.S. Ravikumar and Raadhika Sarathkumar provide solid support as Thamizh’s parents. The love stories are both sweet in their different ways and there is some good and funny dialogue too which ensures that all the drama doesn’t get too overpowering.

The second half is where things start to go a bit pear-shaped when the story moves on to the problems with Thamizh’s father (K.S. Ravikumar) and his boss Prakash Kumar (Jayaprakash). There is a missing file, possibly some missing money and the flimsy storyline has very little substance but plenty of artifice. It’s a credit to the actors involved that the film still entertains even though large parts of the story don’t make much sense and there are too many large plot holes. The villain of the story is Aravindh who was neglected and left out of everything while Thamizh and Satish were off romancing Hema and her friend – apparently that’s enough of a reason to make you a total jerk and a criminal to boot.  However Aravindh is an ineffectual adversary and suffers from his absence in the first half of the film, leaving him without any real depth to his character. Adith does as well as he can with a very sketchy role, but it’s not enough to make Aravindh a plausible opponent. On a plus note though, Amy Jackson reappears and is much better in this part of the film, while Dhanush is excellent at depicting Thamizh’s growth as a dependable husband and supportive son as he investigates what really happened with his father. Even though the story needs a large suspension of disbelief, there is still some good dialogue and the relationship between Thamizh and Yamuna is well developed and beautifully pictured.

The main problem I have with Thanga Magan is the end. Unfortunately after spending two hours establishing Thamizh as a kind and thoughtful son and husband, the climax suddenly sees him turn into the swaggering, mass-dialogue spouting fighting machine last seen at the end of VIP. Perhaps Velraj couldn’t think of how else Thamizh could win the day, but the abrupt transition is at odds with the rest of the film and seems unnecessary. Thamizh could have achieved the same result without all the posturing and fighting, particularly since the fight scenes aren’t particularly well choreographed and the dialogue is clunky and more suited to a battlefield than a discussion in an office. Dhanush still manages to carry the mass-hero dialogue and posturing well of course, but the film deserves a more satisfying climax that meshes better with the rest of the film.

Although Thanga Magan doesn’t deliver as well as VIP, particularly in regards to the storyline in the second half, the performances are very watchable and Dhanush is simply excellent. He has the ability to show his character’s growth and maturation throughout the film, while still telling the story and ably supporting the rest of the cast. He always appears very natural, whether he’s playing a young student or a more matured married man, and never seems to be obviously ‘acting’. Sathish too does a good job, fitting the role of Thamizh’s ‘side-kick’ while he shares a natural rapport with Dhanush which ensures the comedy between the two works well. Samantha is the other standout performer and even if her role of a submissive wife is rather clichéd, she still plays it with grace and dignity and a good sense of humour. Anirudh supplies the music and it works well for the songs although none are as instantly catchy as I’ve come to expect from his previous soundtracks. I was also a little disappointed by the lack of dancing in the picturisations, as most of the songs are montages to show the two romances. They are all appealingly shot and look good, but I do miss watching Dhanush dance! Worth watching at least once for Dhanush, Samantha and Sathish and an amusing and entertaining first half.