Ratsasan

Ratsasan

Ram Kumar’s 2018 film Ratsasan is a chillingly dark thriller that has plenty of twists and turns, and a good selection of red herrings added to the mix. Vishnu Vishal is compelling as a police officer trying to track down a particularly vicious serial killer and San Lokesh’s editing ensures the suspense level is high throughout. The only let down is the end, which feels overly indulgent after the tight screenplay up to that point, but it’s a minor issue in an otherwise excellent film that is an edge-of-the-seat watch.

The film starts with one of those twists as what seems to be a horror film resolves into something else entirely. Arun Kumar (Vishnu Vishal) has dreams of making a film about a psychotic killer but struggles to get any interest from the various producers he approaches. Along with the continual dashing of his hopes, his mother and brother-in-law repeatedly advise him to give up his dreams and join the police force. Their logic being that since Arun’s father was a police officer, Arun would be a shoo-in for the job, which made no sense to me but presumably did to Arun! The continual rejections wear Arun down and he finally succumbs and becomes an SI just as a schoolgirl is abducted. The abduction coincides with the discovery of another body, horribly mutilated, wrapped in plastic and dumped in a concrete pipe. Thanks to his immense knowledge of serial killers from years of cutting out news clippings and obsessing about his film, Arun quickly puts two and two together and deduces that there is a psychopath preying on school girls in the area. However, convincing his superiors is just the first hurdle he has to overcome in his search for the murderer.

The early part of the film is used to establish Arun’s dedication and persistence since even when he starts working as a police officer, he doesn’t let go of his dream. Or perhaps his dream won’t let go of him – Arun tries to throw his script away into the sea, but the waves end up bringing it back to him. I like that he’s shown to be a compassionate but practical man, and that despite being on the side of law and order, he’s willing to break rules when he feels it’s expedient, or to argue his point when his senior officers tell him to shut up and go away. These early scenes paint a clear picture of Arun and set up his behaviour for the rest of the film, allowing Ram Kumar to focus attention on the plot and the action. Yes, the characters often behave predictably, but that’s the whole point and it actually adds to the plausibility of the police investigation.

The story moves rapidly between the various abductions, the search for each girl and the final discovery of the bodies while mixing in elements of the investigation.  All of this helps keep the tension high as the audience slowly learns about each new incident along with the investigating team. Ram Kumar also introduces each victim before they are abducted which makes them seem more ‘real’ and ups the suspense level as the police work to find them before they are mutilated and killed.

One well used point of contrast is the day-to-day normality of everything outside of the police case that serves to highlight the tensions within the case even further. Once he joins the police, Arun lives with his school-teacher sister Kokila (Vinodhini Vaidyanathan), her husband Doss (Ramdoss) (who is also a police officer), and their daughter Ammu (Abhirami). All have well written characters and the scenes in their house bring a good family dynamic that keeps the film grounded. There’s even a romance, which is kept nicely low-key to avoid derailing the main story. Viji (Amala Paul) is more than just a love interest though as her job as a teacher brings her into contact with the victims, and she is able to help out with the investigation as a result.

One of the best and most convincing threads is that of a paedophile in the school, well played by Vinod Sagar, with a chilling and shocking conclusion. It’s this mix of good writing, intelligent twists and genuinely surprising shocks that make the film work so well. I did find it quite surprising in a film that’s essentially about a police investigation, that the police don’t come across well at all. There are a lot of beatings, general brutality and forced confessions, while the senior officers seem to be willing to overlook their subordinates’ behaviour simply to have someone in jail for a crime – regardless of whether they are guilty or not. The police even have a secret mortuary used for whenever they need to ‘disappear’ someone, and the officer in charge of the investigation, ACP Lakshmi (Suzane George), is particularly stubborn and short-sighted. I find it hard to believe that anyone could be quite so fixated on their own theories to the point of stupidity, but her incompetence does ensure that naturally Arun will be needed to save the day.

Mostly the film gets it right, but there are perhaps a few too many coincidences, and having Arun as an expert in psychopaths is overdone at times – surely senior police would have heard about famous killers such as Jack the Ripper for instance – but otherwise the plot is well put together and cleverly convoluted. The fast pace, twists and turns keep the momentum going, although the film does slow at the end where the serial killer is unmasked. My main issue though is that the reasoning behind the abductions and mutilations doesn’t quite stand-up at the end. Maybe that’s just my preference for a more true-to-life killer – someone who drifts under the radar and whose neighbours are always shocked by the discovery. However, the reveal and explanation are suitably horrifying and the perpetrator satisfyingly evil with the moment when the last victim realises her predicament really very scary! Ghibran’s background music is effectively used to heighten the tension and P.V. Sankar blends light and shade with the camera as expertly as Ram Kumar does with the screenplay. All the actors perform well in their roles and it’s good to see so many minor characters have more back story and a real presence in the film. I haven’t seen Ram Kumar’s previous film, but if this is anything to go by, he’s definitely a director to watch out for. This is a well written and smartly plotted thriller that’s considerably darker than expected with plenty of suspense. Highly recommended – 4 stars.

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Babu Bangaram

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Maruthi has loaded the formulaic Babu Bangaram with lots of references and jokes that rely on Vekatesh’s earlier films and persona. But there are also some more fun and interesting supporting characters than you often get in a mass movie, and the silliness has a certain charm. And Venkatesh is just so likeable on screen that he gets away with it.

The film opens with a flashback. Ye Olden Venkatesh allows some whinging “Europeans” in a diverting selection of bad wigs to eat at his table, despite them being unwelcome in the country. He allows a pregnant woman to have surgery before himself despite being mid heart attack. So he dies a saint, revered as a truly unselfish man. Flash forward and Krishna (Venkatesh) is a policeman, with his grandfather’s soft heart as well as his looks. Indeed one of his subordinates calls him “the pity police”.

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After a hard day of beating up rowdies and then visiting them in hospital, Krishna is hanging out with his colleagues. He sees a woman in distress and is smitten by her integrity and her beauty, possibly in that order. Sailu (Nayanthara) is trying to keep her family together and financially viable in the absence of her father who is in hiding from crooked MLA Puchappa (Posani Krishna Murali) and his associate Mallesh Yadav (Sampath Raj). Krishna infiltrates her family in order to help solve her problem and to help himself find a wife.

Sailu sees through the machinations of her would be husband (Prudhviraj) and confronts him, making it clear that she is not interested nor is she stupid. She also says that Krishna has been helping her because of who he is and not because of an ulterior motive. Then she grabs Krishna by the wrist and drags him away. You go, girl! She’s a smart young woman, and her moments of annoyance, fear and anger are all quite proportionate to the stupidity and aggression of the men threatening her. When she finds that Krishna may not what seems she is equally firm in kicking him to the curb until he can prove his integrity.

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The film is most enjoyable when Krishna is off balance and trying to woo Sailu while also doing his job and being taunted by his friends. Once the cat and mouse game with the baddies becomes the focus in the second half, the story is more prosaic and by the numbers.

The Daggubati Dance Curse does manifest in Venkatesh, although I think it has hit peak (nadir?) with Rana. But in the final fight scene, is Maruthi really saying there are few things more frightening than Venkatesh in full dance mode? Brave. And maybe true. But funny nonetheless.

One of the things I always like about Venkatesh is that he works well in an ensemble, and seems quite generous in allowing the rest of the team to take some of the limelight. He has a nice rapport with Nayanthara and while the romance between Krishna and Sailu wasn’t one of sizzling chemistry, they seemed happy and compatible. The film revolves around Venkatesh and his film legacy and his is the titular Golden Boy. There are quotes and references to his earlier films that had the audience whooping and cheering, and even some I could catch. For example, Krishna constantly indicates his dismay and regret with a lilting “Ayyo Ayyo Ayayoooo”. There is also song dedicated to Venkatesh in which Venkatesh pays tribute to himself in a dance off with an energetic hijra. The action scenes are tailored to Krishna’s preference for minimal violence, which is also a kindly approach for a hero past his spring chicken years. More than anything, Venkatesh brings both solid acting and a sense of fun to the proceedings.

Nayanthara delivers a nicely judged performance. Sailu is annoyed by Krishna stalking her, but she starts to see that he may have his uses. Like carrying her groceries. Also she observes how he treats other people and that is a good indication he is a generous and kind man. Sailu had a filmi dilemma but a realistic approach to problem solving, and didn’t just rush into peril. I also liked that while Krishna believed he could give her a better life, she actually quite liked her life and just wanted the gang to leave her, her dad, and her sisters alone. She was articulate about boundaries and what was unacceptable behaviour. She was only a little bit too glam, and I liked her sensible but pretty wardrobe that mixed Indian and Western styles. Her pretend cello playing is abysmal though.

How many times have you wondered why the hero’s friends don’t tell him he’s delusional or suggest he may need to rethink his plans? Giridhar and Vennela Kishore are delightful as Krishna’s colleagues. Giridhar’s expressions are priceless and Vennela Kishore delivers his wry one-liners with a sense of glee, eyeballing Krishna to see how much more he could get away with. They still go along for the ride, but sometimes it seems they do that for their own amusement as much as because they are contractually obliged to be supportive.

All the usual suspects turn up in supporting roles. Despite the film having humour woven into the plot, comedy uncle Brahmi wedged himself into proceedings in a mercifully brief appearance as a dodgy magician. Sampath Raj and Posani Krishna Murali are over the top and yet I liked having criminals who had small, real world, achievable objectives. I don’t think the onsite violinists and guitarists were necessary, but all evil masterminds must have their Thing and it’s hard to build a good lair in a family home. Sampath Raj’s gang also has the best and most diverse collection of bad haircuts I’ve seen in ages.  And Brahmaji maintained an impressive level of anger at everything all the time.

Ghibran’s soundtrack leans a bit too much to the cheesy ballads, but he ticks all the required elements off. The song picturisations are also cheesy, sometimes in a good way. But the more up tempo songs work a bit better as they provide a different texture and contrast to the rest of the film.

This screening had subtitles, which makes life easier for me. And the subtitle team may also have been doing their bit for the drama. In one action scene Krishna lays into his foes, leaving them dripping with what they assume is blood. But it isn’t – he’s such a softie!- it’s pomegranate juice, as he had been thumping them with a bag of fruit. Not content with that the subs explained it as “promo granite”. Now that would have hurt!

This isn’t a great movie, but it’s more entertaining and a bit smarter in some aspects than I was expecting, especially in the first half. And for a mass action romance it is quite restrained in depictions of violence, and I laughed out loud a few times. It’s all nicely packaged for the Venkatesh fans, but even if you aren’t hardcore target audience you could do worse than watch this for a timepass.