100 Days of Love

Poster

Has Dulquer Salmaan ever made a bad film? Judging by what I’ve seen so far it seems not! I’ve been steadily working my way through his back catalogue and I’ve yet to find one of his movies that I haven’t enjoyed. Jenuse Mohamed’s 2015 release 100 Days of Love is another to add to the list. Although the film does have a few flaws, the trio of Dulquer Salmaan, Sekhar Menon and Nithya Menen add plenty of charisma and appealing characterisations to an otherwise rather routine romance.  There is also a dash of mystery in the first half and a generous helping of comedy to ensure that 100 Days of Love is more interesting than it first appears and definitely worth a watch.

Dulquer is Balan K. Nair, an aspiring journalist and cartoonist who lives in Bangalore with his best friend Ummer (Sekhar Menon). On possibly the worst day of his life, Balan drunkenly posts a message on his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page which results in a barrage of abuse and the loss of many of his friends. At the same time he loses his newspaper job to his nemesis Romanch Ramakrishnan (Aju Varghese) and to top it all off there is a torrential downpour just as he is on his way home from clearing out his desk. But this is where fate takes a hand. Just when Balan is at his lowest point, he meets Sheela (Nithya Menen) when the two try to hail the same taxi. While Balan lets Sheela take the taxi, she leaves behind a camera which starts Balan on his mission to find the girl with the beautiful smile.

Balan’s best friend Ummer stands by him, although this could simply be because Ummer is a classic computer nerd who doesn’t get out much. He runs a computer game store of sorts, and his life revolves around playing computer games, talking about computer games and dreaming about developing computer games. Jenuse Mohamed uses this obsession as an ongoing theme while Balan and Ummer try to track down the mystery girl from the cab. All they have to solve the puzzle are a few photographs they were able to develop from the camera and an incomprehensible game plan Ummer draws up on their wall.

Surprisingly they do manage to find the locations of the photographs and even track down the guy in one of the photos, although none of these successes bring Balan any closer to finding Sheela. Rather the opposite since Rahul (Rahul Madhav), the guy they identify, turns out to be Sheela’s fiancé who dramatically warns Balan away from any further contact. Naturally this has no noticeable effect on Balan other than his declaration that he will become Balan K Nair in truth and be the ‘villain’ of the story.

Where the film starts to falter is in the second half, when the focus moves away from Balan and Ummer to the love story between Balan and Sheela. Oddly for a film all about love, there is a distinct lack of passion in their developing relationship and despite a good rapport between Nithya and Dulquer  the romance never feels completely genuine. Although Balan is the very soul of romance, singing along to classic songs and quoting from films such as Casablanca, he takes a restrained approach to his courtship of Sheela. Further subduing any possible seduction is Sheela’s prosaic approach to life and her stated preference for the right credentials in any future life partner. Love to Sheela means arguments and misunderstandings, while for stability and contentment she wants the ideal husband. She defines her perfect match as someone from a good family, rich, has a good job and is handsome too. This is despite the example of her parents who had a romantic love match and whose story she relates to Balan without seeing any of the irony of her own stance. The suggestion is that this is ‘modern thinking’ cemented by the ubiquitousness of Facebook and social media throughout the film, but it doesn’t seem to fit the rest of Sheela’s characterisation or her general approach to life.

Adding to the mixed messages of the second half, Jenuse Mohamed introduces a second Dulquer as his own irritating elder brother and adds in some family problems with his parents. Rocky is as sexist and repulsively cocky as his name suggests and the inclusion of Balan’s family issues adds absolutely nothing to the story. Thankfully though Rocky’s appearances are brief and both Balan and Ummer have enough screen time to keep the story moving along.

Balan’s character is the redeeming feature throughout the second half and  Dulquer is effortlessly charming as he tries to win over Sheela. Balan has all the romance that is lacking elsewhere in the film and this song perfectly illustrates both his love for classic romance and his sentimental character.

Sekhar Menon makes a great sidekick and the partnership between him and Dulquer is easily the best part of the film. I don’t remember seeing him before in any Malayalam films, but I’ll definitely look out for him in future as he does such  good job with his characterisation here.  Nithya Menen on the other hand doesn’t sparkle as much here as I’ve seen her do in other films, but she does have a great smile and has plenty of opportunity to use it. Her character often seems emotionally immature, mainly due to the dialogue rather than her body language, but Nithya has good chemistry with both Dulquer and Sekhar making Sheela more personable than her role would suggest. The support cast are all good in their roles, although for the most part their appearances are brief. Rahul Madhav has little to do other than appear arrogant, and he does that well, but for me this was a missed opportunity to make the ‘other guy’ something other than a complete jerk.

Jennies Mohamed has tried to add in a few different ideas to rejuvenate a standard storyline but not all of them work. The search for Sheela is good and the inclusion of Balan’s day to day life helps make his character more appealing, but the rest of the characters don’t have the same attention to detail and as a result are less successful. There is still plenty to enjoy though. 100 Days of Love isn’t a perfect film, but the good first half and excellent performances from the cast make it well worth a watch. 3 stars

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Charlie (2015)

Charlie

Charlie is simply an amazing work of art. From the stunning apartment where Tessa (Parvathy) takes refuge from her interfering family to the many and glorious shades of green of the hill station she visits, the vibrant colours of Kerala radiate from every frame. The lead characters are equally colourful – literally, in their tendency to wear bright Bohemian clothing and figuratively in their offbeat personalities that blend seamlessly into the intriguing yet deceptively simple storyline. The film shows Tessa’s search for Charlie, a man she knows only through other people’s perceptions but someone who may be her soul mate, if only she can find him. Director Martin Prakkat does a fantastic job of keeping the film engaging right to the last frame, and with an excellent cast and beautiful music from Gopi Sunder, Charlie is a great start to a new year of cinema.

Tessa (Parvathy) is the unconventional daughter in a conventional family who arrives home just in time to celebrate her brother’s engagement but takes off again as soon as her own marriage is discussed. Tessa is part bohemian nonconformist and part spoilt brat as she refuses to contact anyone in her family apart from her grandmother, even going to the extreme of destroying her phone SIM to ensure her privacy. She gives up her job in Bangalore (money doesn’t ever seem to be an issue) and rents an apartment in an old hotel, but when she arrives finds that the previous tenant left most of his belongings behind. Since these include an eclectic mix of furnishings and artwork as well as an accumulation of rubbish, brewing equipment and a goat on the balcony, Tessa is unimpressed by her new surroundings, particularly when strange people appear in her apartment too. However the charm of her musical neighbours and the beauty of her surroundings soon begin to work their magic, persuading Tessa to stay.

Unlike Tessa, I totally loved this apartment from the very first moment and cannot wait for the DVD release so that I can pause, rewind and absorb every small detail of the room. Every frame shows yet another fascinating sculpture or curious work of art and it’s somewhere I could happily live – even with the goat on the balcony!

Apart from being visually spectacular, the exotic and surreal décor adds a fantasy element to the storyline that’s further enhanced here in the song Oru Karimukilinu

Once she deals with the disorder in the room, a photograph and an unexpected phone call kindle Tessa’s interest in the former occupant. When she then finds an unfinished comic strip describing the events of one night, Tessa becomes obsessed with finding the author and discovering what really happened and how the story ends. As part of her search she meets Sunikuttan (Soubin Shahir), the burglar who features in the drawings and who helps Tessa connect to other people in Charlie’s life.

As Tessa begins her search for the elusive Charlie (Dulquer Salmaan), she discovers that he’s a fly-by-night kind of guy who doesn’t seem to take life seriously. From various sources she learns that Charlie appears unexpectedly, interferes in peoples’ lives and then takes off again. The implication is that he’s a free spirit who appears only to do good, except that his actions don’t always have a happy outcome. The more people she meets and the more she finds out about Charlie, the more questions Tessa has, and the more connected she seems to feel to a person she has never met.

Parvathy is excellent as slightly dippy Tessa, and I love a heroine who wears glasses without losing them at the end in a ‘fashionable make-over’. Although some of her idiosyncrasies don’t quite come off, such as wearing unmatching sandals and her almost paranoid avoidance of her family, mostly her character is sympathetically portrayed. The obsessive nature of Tessa’s search for Charlie does fit in with her personality and her rather haphazard approach to her search also seems plausible. Parvathy strikes a good balance between hippy chick and modern independence and the hints of vulnerability she shows are nicely nuanced to fit with her current lack of direction in life.

Although Dulquer is excellent in his portrayal of the eccentric Charlie, his character is somewhat less successful due to a tendency to veer a little too far off the rails into borderline deranged rather than keeping to eccentrically bohemian territory. Dulquer also tries for a deep belly laugh which came across rather forced at times and doesn’t gel with the rest of his persona. However despite his occasional crazy escapades Charlie is basically a nice guy, and Dulquer gets that feel good aspect of his personality across well. I could have done without the shaggy beard look, but I loved his costumes and Charlie’s generally relaxed and casual approach to life. There is a magic to the character too that is smothered by too much mania, but when writers Unni R and Martin Prakkat allow the mysterious element full rein the effect is enchanting.

The rest of the cast are also good in more serious roles that give structure to the story and highlight the unconventionality of Charlie and Tessa just that little bit more. Aparna Gopinath is excellent as Kani, a doctor with a difficult past, giving her character some dignity when faced with Charlie’s more spontaneous decisions. Kani works at a retirement hill station of sorts where Charlie has gathered an eclectic mix of people with the most notable being Kunjappan (Nedumudi Venu) who has his own love story to tell. These diversions into other people’s lives along the way help to define Charlie to Tessa and slowly lead her towards her ultimate goal of finding the man himself. The brief stories are full of emotion too and while each successfully gives another layer to Charlie, they also enhance the film in their own right, adding depth and shade to the screenplay.

Jomon John’s cinematography is spectacular and his camera captures the beauty and colour of Kerala, weaving them into the magical storyline. The quirky story is captivating and Parvathy is a delight to watch as she follows in Charlie’s footsteps, always that one step behind. I loved every moment, even the excessively loud craziness of Dulquer’s Charlie and this is a film I will want to watch again and again. Beautiful music, an offbeat story, colourful characters and all the wonderful sets make Charlie well worth catching in the cinema and a film I highly recommend. Don’t miss it!

Badlapur & Theevram

As I was watching Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur I was struck by a number of similarities to Theevram, a Malayalam film I’d watched just a few weeks before, so it seemed appropriate to write about them together. Both are films based on a story of revenge where the hero is forced into action by his perceived lack of justice, and both star an up-and-coming young actor surrounded by an experienced and proficient support cast. While Badlapur focuses on the obsession of revenge and the destructive consequence to Raghu (Varun Dhawan), Theevram is a more straight forward drama with Harsha (Dulquher Salmaan) playing a game of cat and mouse with Police Inspector Alexander (Sreenivasan) as he exacts his revenge. Both are good films in their own right but while I prefer Badlapur’s more ambiguous storyline, Dulquher Salmaan just pips Varun Dhawan in his portrayal of a man driven to the absolute extreme for revenge.

The story of Theevram is told in a non-linear fashion, and is actually based on a couple of real life murder cases. Sreenivasan plays a respected police officer who has an unfortunate dislike of autopsy although there is nothing lacking in his detective skills. He’s paired with a younger officer, the more impetuous Ramachandran (Vinay Forrt) and the two make a good team. The film begins with Harsha’s revenge and it’s not until later that we discover why he has been driven to this extreme. At the start we don’t know if he is a good guy or a serial killer, as without any explanation he systematically tortures and kills a man in his plastic coated cellar. His actions seem to be at odds with his day-to-day life as a piano teacher, however once Inspector Alexander comes to call it becomes clear Harsha was the victim of a crime. Most of the film is shot with dull and muted colours, but once a flashback sequence starts, explaining what has happened to Harsha to turn him into this cold and methodical man, suddenly the colours are full and rich. A rather obvious metaphor but one which is very effective.

Harsha’s wife Maya (Shikha Nair) was murdered by a company driver Raghavan (Anu Mohan) for her complaints about his speeding with her in the car. Her murder is pre-meditated and brutal, with Raghavan severing her head from the body to attempt to delay identification. He’s quickly arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for his crime while Harsha struggles to cope with life without Maya. However, just as Harsha is starting to get on with his life, the circumstances of Raghavan’s family life allow the murderer to obtain an early release from jail. Very early. In fact he only spends 4 years behind bars before being allowed his freedom. Harsha and his friends Dr Roy (Vishnu Raghav) and Nimmy (Riya Saira) decide that Raghavan must die for his crime and set about planning the perfect murder.

Theevram rather controversially takes the view that murder for revenge is perfectly justified if the legal system has failed to properly punish the offender for his crime. Writer and director Roopesh Peethambaran delivers a story of vigilantism where the cold-blooded murder of a criminal is depicted as a good solution, and even acknowledged as such by the police. I can’t say that I agree with this view or with portraying Harsha as a hero for what he does, but the story is gripping and the plot cleverly developed. The contentious treatment of Raghavan is perhaps a way to start a discussion about such issues, and it’s interesting that he isn’t a completely black character. Raghavan does appear to try to look after his disabled wife and seems to be trying to turn over a new leaf after his release from jail. However his behaviour towards Nimmy suggests that the change may only be surface deep and he still has a poor attitude towards women.

Badlapur is a darker film where the lines between right and wrong are blurred and revenge is shown to be a weight dragging Raghu down. The first few minutes are brilliantly filmed, with a shot of a street, with people going their everyday business and the only sounds heard the traffic going past and snatches of conversations as vegetables are bought and gossip exchanged. However in the background there is a robbery, and as the two criminals leave the bank they force their way into a car parked outside where Misha (Yami Gautam) is just loading in her young son and her groceries. During the subsequent chase Robin falls out of the car, while Misha is shot and killed. While one of the robbers manages to escape, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is left to face the music. After his wife’s murder, Raghu becomes a haunted and driven man, obsessed with finding Liak’s partner whom he believes fired the fatal bullet. However in reality the opposite is true. Liak was the man who, in the heat of the moment shot and killed Misha, although he never confesses, insisting that he was just the driver.

15 years later when Liak is diagnosed with terminal cancer Raghu is persuaded to plead for Liak’s early release in the hope that he will run to his old partner in crime. Raghu’s bereavement turns him into a cold, hard man who rapes and abuses Liak’s girlfriend Jhimli (Huma Qureshi) as part of his revenge. He’s so obsessed with the idea of finding the man behind his wife’s death that he lives a miserable life, alone and in fairly dismal circumstances. The tragedy has become what has defined the man and it seems as if only his plans for revenge keep him going.

Here, revenge is shown as something that corrupts. Raghu becomes more despicable than his enemy, killing Liak’s partner Harman (Vinay Pathak) and wife Kanchan (Radhika Apte) in cold blood. Liak himself is shown as a rather grey character, who seems to have more of a life than Raghu, despite spending most of it behind bars.

Dulquher Salmaan and Varun Dhawan both do an excellent job as young men devastated by their loss. The problem I have with Varun’s character is that it takes 15 years before he manages to achieve his revenge, and it seems unlikely that he could have maintained his rage so long. Varun tries hard but doesn’t quite manage to pull off playing a man in his forties although he does convey his preoccupation with finding Liak’s partner and his disconnection from normal life very well. Dulquher has an easier time of it, as his character only has to wait 4 years to exact revenge, and his protagonist is easier to dislike. Dulquher is also a man who has managed to move on with his life and although his world is duller without Maya, he would have been content to let Raghavan rot in jail if he’d just stayed there. His revenge is coldly plotted with great attention to detail but there seems to be little rage left – in fact little emotion at all.

Both films are made even better by their excellent support cast. Badlapur would have been less substantial and the revenge less ambiguous without the excellent Nawazuddin Siddiqui and his nuanced performance as the main antagonist. Sreenivasan doesn’t have such a consequential role, but his support and that of Vinay Forrt rounds out the story and ensures a satisfying plot. The films are brutal, both in the violence they depict and in the exposure of such deep despair but there are lighter hearted moments in both and it’s not all doom and gloom. There is just enough light to allow the shade space to deepen and both directors have paced their films well. The strength of both Badlapur and Theevram is in the portrayal of emotions and it’s heartening to see two young actors bring so much depth to their roles. I enjoyed both these films and recommend them for a combination of fine performances, strongly written characters and good storytelling. 4 for both.