Thalaivaa (2013)

Thalaivaa

Thalaivaa is the latest release for Vijay, and although it’s not as instantly entertaining as his last film Thuppakki, it’s still a mostly enjoyable watch.  Vijay is excellent (although he doesn’t tread any new ground), and impressive performances by Santhanam and Amala Paul add to the overall impact, but it’s really Sathyaraj who steals the show as the reluctant saviour of the people.  Thalaivaa is also the latest film to release here in Melbourne with English subtitles, and I can only hope that this trend will continue.  Thanks to the Powers That Be in Chennai who have finally started to distribute subtitled films to locations outside of the US and UK – please can you start on the smaller releases now too?

A.L. Vijay’s Thalaivaa is really a story of two halves.  It starts off with some political shenanigans in Mumbai which sets up the story for the rest of the film.  Ratnam (Nasser) is a political leader who is targeted by his opponents during a riot.  However he is saved, along with his young son by Ramadurai (Sathyaraj), who pays for his brief foray into politics when he himself is later ambushed and his wife killed.  Ramadurai hands his son over to Ratnam in the hope that he will have a better and safer life overseas, while Ramadurai stays and fights for the rights of the underprivileged Tamil people in Mumbai.  After such a serious and well-constructed beginning, the film suddenly changes direction completely as we move to Sydney where Viswa (Vijay) and his ‘brother’ Logu (Santhanam) are running a water bottling company.

ThalaivaaVijay and Santhanam

Although Viswa seems to be doing incredibly well with his small company given his expensive apartment with views of the bridge and waterfront, he also has ambitions to make the big time as a dancer.  The first half is light-hearted and there is plenty of humour as Viswa and Logu compete for the affections of Meera (Amala Paul), the daughter of one of their bottled water customers (Ponvannan).  Sydney provides a picturesque backdrop for the songs, although the entire dance competition storyline is very contrived and unrealistic, not that there is anything unusual in that. However the really dumb entrance by Meera chasing a CGI butterfly is offset by her feisty and assured character who even gets to show off her dancing skills and proves to be just as good as the guys.  Amala Paul is excellent as Meera and manages to create a believable personality with just a few scenes.  Sadly she has much less screen-time in the second half and her character becomes even more clichéd, but she does a good job with her limited material, and she looks stunning too.

ThalaivaaThalaivaa

Inevitably Meera and Viswa fall in love, but Meera’s father insists on meeting Ramadurai before the wedding can go ahead.  However Ramadurai is now Anna, an underworld figure who rules the slum areas of Mumbai and ensures his own brand of justice for his people.  As such, he’s wanted by the police, and Viswa’s arrival into Mumbai is a major headache for his father and his loyal followers.

Anna

There is an unexpected plot twist after Viswa lands in Mumbai and the film changes tack again into a more typical mass-style thriller with the expected chase sequences through back alleyways and eventual, rather predictable final showdown fight scene.  Viswa ends up taking over his father role and his transition from carefree dancer and small businessman to serious leader of the people isn’t well developed and seems rather too abrupt.   Abhimanyu Singh plays Viswa’s main rival Bhima and his character is also majorly underdeveloped despite a good starting premise.  I’d like to see Abhimanyu Singh do more than just flex and grimace at the camera as he seems to have done in his last few films, since he has played more nuanced characters in the past, and played them well too.  However, we don’t get any real depth from his character here and it makes absolutely no sense that the political power brokers decide to back such a demented thug with his wholesale plans of indiscriminate violence.  But back him they do, and despite a few unexpected twists, the story winds its way through the standard formula of good guy looking out for the welfare of the people vs. uncaring thug, only interested in power.

ThalaivaaThalaivaa

The second half drags in places as we tick off each point on the ‘standard Tamil thriller storyboard’, although there are some excellent scenes amid all the clichés which liven up proceeding again.  But its uneven and even the best efforts of Vijay, Santhanam and Sathyaraj can’t stop the feeling that we’ve seen all this before.

Thalaivaa

Still, the film is well shot by experienced cinematographer Nirav Shah with good use of the cityscape in Sydney, and equally good cinematography in the dock and slum areas of Mumbai.  The choreography is well suited to Vijay and Amala who share good chemistry together.  The songs by G. V. Prakash Kumar are generally catchy, apart from a more political song in the second half which could have been shorter.  Ragini Nandwani also puts in a good performance as a second love interest, and the rest of the cast provide able support to the main leads.ThalaivaaThalaivaa

Overall Thalaivaa is rather less than the sum of its parts, but there are enough individually good scenes along with polished and assured performances to make it mostly entertaining.  The story really needs to be sharper to offset the stereotypical characterisations but I still came away feeling that Thalaivaa is worth seeing on the big screen.  Watch for Sathyaraj, Vijay and those dance scenes around Darling Harbour and Circular Quay which really are excellent.

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Mayakkam Enna

Going to see Mayakkam Enna was a whole new adventure since not only did the film not have subtitles, but it was also showing at a cinema somewhere out in the suburbs on a university campus. Thankfully I found my way to a very bijou but comfortable cinema and was very happy to discover that they sold plenty of snacks at half time – I will be back!

I expected a lot from Mayakkam Enna since the team of Dhanush and his brother Selvaraghavan have made some of my favourite Tamil films together. And I wasn’t disappointed. My only complaint is that I really did miss subtitles for this one. The audience were laughing and applauding for a lot of the dialogues and I wanted to know what was being said to get such good reactions.

Karthik Subramaniam (Dhanush) is an aspiring wildlife photographer with a supportive group of friends, who all appear to live together in a house with its own bar. Excluding the bar, I could really relate to this, as I had a similar set of friends back in my final undergraduate year. We all lived together and went everywhere as a group so I had an idea of the changes caused by adding a new person to this dynamic.  Karthik’s best friend is Sunder (Sunder Raman) and as expected the gang aren’t too welcoming to his new girlfriend Yamini (Richa Gangopadhyay).To make things worse, Yamini and Karthik don’t get on at all and constantly dig at each other. While I missed the dialogues that generated a lot of laughter from the audience, there were a few barbed comments that really didn’t need translation as both Richa and Dhanush did a good job in getting their feelings across.

Over time however their enmity turns to attraction, leading to a love triangle with Sunder blissfully unaware of his girlfriend’s change in her attitude to Karthik .

Meanwhile Karthik is slowly compiling a portfolio of wildlife shots in between running around taking pictures of weddings and tourists at local temples. His role model is award winning wildlife photographer Madhesh Krishnaswamy (Ravi Prakash) and Karthik is determined to get a job with him to learn from the best in the business.  However Krishnaswamy has no interest in nurturing Karthik’s career and repeatedly sends him away with scathing comments about his work. I have to admire Karthik’s persistence as he gets no encouragement whatsoever from his hero but still keeps trying to get that elusive ‘perfect picture’ which will persuade Krishnaswamy to give him a job. The shots in the countryside are absolutely stunning here and cinematographer T. Ramji captures the wildlife flawlessly. These visually stunning moments are in sharp contrast to the much more claustrophobic scenes between Karthik, Yamini and Sunder and this accentuates the tension in their relationships well.

The first half of the film concentrates on the love triangle and despite the subject matter, there are plenty of light hearted moments along with the drama of the relationships. The pace is fast and the dialogues seem snappy and well suited to the action. The second half is much darker as it documents Karthik’s slide into alcoholism and his emotional breakdown as he is unable to come to terms with the events that unfold. While this part of the film is slower, it does feature an excellent portrayal of despair by Dhanush, although he is matched by Richa’s fantastic depiction of a loyal and long suffering wife.

Although this is Richa’s debut in Tamil cinema, her previous performances in Telugu films have been impressive and she is even better here in a role that seems to have been made for her. The two actors have plenty of empathy together and each complements the others performance.  Apart from Sunder none of the other actors get very much screen time but all seemed to do well enough in their roles.

While Mayakkam Enna is in some respects a typical Selvaraghavan film, focusing as it does on darker emotions, Karthik is a much less damaged lead character than I’ve seen in his other films. Karthik doesn’t appear to have had an abusive childhood and is a well-liked and popular person with a large and warm circle of friends. This makes his descent into depression and substance abuse all the more shocking since he does have a strong support network. It also makes him a more realistic and sympathetic character, although in reality I don’t think anyone would have put up with his self-pity for quite as long as they did here.

The music by G. V. Prakash Kumar is another high point of the film, particularly since Dhanush sings on two of the tracks. I loved the soundtrack when I first heard it, and the songs fit well into the film, althoughI think the picturisation of Kadhal en Kadhal is a little strange. I loved the cartoon characters in Voda Voda though and this is a great song.

While the film does become overly dramatic in the second half it’s still enjoyable due to the strong performances. But please, someone take that long-haired wig Dhanush wore in the closing scenes and burn it! It’s terrible and really doesn’t suit him at all. That aside, Mayakkam Enna is definitely worth watching on the big screen and both Dhanush and Richa are fantastic. I think that with subtitles this could become one of my favourite Dhanush films – I loved it.

Aadukalam

I first saw Aadukalam when it released in the cinema and despite the lack of subtitles was so completely drawn into the story that I didn’t want the film to end. I was very surprised that I enjoyed it so much since the film centres around cockfighting, which is something I abhor and wasn’t keen to watch on-screen. It was really only the Vetrimaran and Dhanush connection that got me through the door, but I’m so glad that it did. While the film didn’t change my views on the subject it was a lot more watchable than I anticipated, helped considerably by this statement in the opening credits and the fact that the cockfighting scenes were quite clearly CGI.

The film focuses on the relationships between the main characters and how these change as their circumstances alter. Alliances are made and broken, and pride and prestige are the driving forces behind the actions of Pettaikaran (V. I. S. Jayabalan) and his chief rival in the cockfighting scene, police inspector Rathinasamy (Nareyn).

The film is set near Madurai in a small town where Pettaikaran breeds and trains roosters for cockfighting. He is aided in this venture by three men; Ayub (Periyakaruppu Thevar) who stitches the roosters back together after the fights, Durai (Kishore) who provides financial support and Karuppu (Dhanush)who sets the roosters for fighting. Karuppu seems to look upon Pettaikaran as his father, while Pettaikaran is grooming Karuppu as his successor, so the two appear to have a close relationship, making later events all the more shocking.

The first half of the film deals with Rathinasamy’s attempts to force Pettaikaran to take part in a cockfighting tournament so that he can finally win over his main opponent. Pettaikaran however knows that Rathinasamy will stop at nothing to win and refuses to take part in any further matches despite major provocation.  However Rathinasamy is as corrupt as he is determined and he finally manages to set up the final showdown. The stakes are high – apart from all the money to be won, the loser will have to shave his head and moustache and, almost as a secondary consideration, they will also have to give up cockfighting for good.

The prize money isn’t important to either of these two men, but is rather more important for Karuppu. He lives with his widowed mother who has dreams of buying back the mortgage to their house, while Karuppu has dreams of a different kind involving an Anglo-Indian girl he has met. He falls in love with Irene (Taapsee) and his love takes the usual form of stalking until he finally manages to work up the courage to speak to her. Irene is horrified by his declaration and her initial reaction is very natural and honest. Sadly it’s also the only scene where Taapsee manages to convince in her acting. The romance feels clunky and awkward, and the actors seem to feel uncomfortable with each other as well. Taapsee is very wooden and lifeless, and there is never any good reason why a well-educated girl from a good family would fall in love with a scruffy uneducated villager like Karuppu.

While Dhanush is more convincing in his obsession with Irene, he’s a little too arrogant for me to fully believe in his love. His passion is much more for his idea of Irene, and once having made his decision that she is the right girl, he is determined to marry her more to flatter his ego rather than because of any genuine feelings for her.

Partly to pay back money he owes Irene, Karuppu takes his rooster along to the tournament despite the fact that Pettaikaran had earlier told him to put the bird down. As a result, Pettaikaran distances himself from Karuppu and tells everyone who will listen that his rooster will not win. So when it does in fact win all 3 fights and Karuppu takes home the grand prize, Pettaikaran is humiliated by this loss of his reputation and sets out for revenge.

While the first part of the film deals with the rivalry between Pettaikaran and Rathinasamy, the second half deals with the machinations of Pettaikaran as he seeks his revenge on Karuppu. Jayabalan is amazing as the aging champion and his character is beautifully etched in shades of grey. The change from his initial, more moral stance where he refuses to fight Rathinasamy knowing that he is risking the lives of his assistants by doing so, is beautifully contrasted with his change in ideals as he starts to plot and plan against Karuppu. His manipulations of the faithful Durai and the treatment he metes out to his young wife grow ever more disturbing, but still quite believable as he is determined to ruin Karuppu in every way that he can to soothe his battered ego.

Dhanush is also excellent as the rather naïve Karuppu. His relationship with his mother is well depicted and the love and frustration between the two is very evident. His scenes with Pettaikaran are among the best in the film, although Karuppu’s relationship with Durai is also well portrayed and the two actors have a great rapport. Dhanush has done a number of these village type roles but here he totally becomes the character of Karuppu and I think deserves the National Award he won for his performance. His final realisation of just how he has been betrayed by the man he considered as his father is brilliant and throughout he effortlessly conveys his emotions without going to extremes. Vetrimaran has come up with characters that are essentially very ordinary with normal human emotions of petty jealousy and pride and made a story that works so well because it deals with them in such a realistic way.

The other actors in supporting roles are all excellent with some very good characterisations. Meenal as Pettaikaran’s wife is fantastic and while Periyakaruppu Thevar doesn’t have a large role he is very effective and paints his character fully in just a few short scenes. Nareyn is suitably immoral and villainous as Rathinasamy and it’s a shame that he vanishes from the story in the second half. I can’t find out who played the role of Karuppu’s friend but I though he was great and will keep a watch out for him in other films.

While most of the action involves roosters fighting there are a few human fight scenes which are more of the push and shove variety rather than the carefully choreographed and highly fictionalised fight scenes more usually seen. They also rely on the use of various stones, buildings and tree stumps to do any actual damage to the various opponents until the last few scenes, which are choreographed to imitate the cockfights from earlier. Cinematographer Velraj does an excellent job with the many night scenes, often involving fights, and it’s quite easy to make out what is going on.

The music by G. V. Prakash Kumar works well in the film but apart from Yathe Yathe it’s not particularly memorable and doesn’t stand out. This is probably all to the good as the songs don’t detract from the story and are used more to further develop the characters.

Aadukalam is certainly not a pretty story and there is no happy ending for anyone. It deals with the darker emotions of pride and jealousy and shows just how easily these can run out of control with deadly consequences. It’s a well made film with a great story and outstanding performances and despite the rather iffy romance, I thoroughly recommend it . 4 ½ stars