Junga (2018)

Junga

A Vijay Sethupathi film never fails to be entertaining even when, as in this case, the story fails to impress. Gokul’s latest is a comedy that alternates between some hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments and scenes that fall conspicuously flat, mainly due to the ridiculous plot. When the comedy is good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad it’s pretty meh and not helped at all by the glaring plot holes. Still, Junga is not meant to be taken seriously, and Vijay Sethupathi strolls through all the mayhem raising laughs with his take on a parsimonious criminal out to win back his family fortune.

The film starts with Junga (Vijay Sethupathi) being removed from jail by two policemen who plan to kill him in an encounter. Sadly, despite the presence of Rajendran as one of the officers, these are some of the least successful scenes in the film where the dialogue seems forced and not remotely amusing. Luckily this is only a brief introduction to allow Junga to begin relating his life story, which is where all the action happens.

The flashback shows Junga as a small-town bus conductor (all comparisons with Baasha are deliberate) whose love for a Telugu girl (Madonna Sebastian) leads to him taking on a persistent and unwanted stalker and his gang of friends. This foray into fighting shocks his mother who reveals that he is genetically predisposed to violence as he is actually the son of Don Ranga and the grandson of Don Lingaa; gangsters who lost all their money due to their extravagant celebrations and poor accounting skills. Junga’s mother (Saranya Ponvannan) and grandmother (Vijaya) bewail the loss of the family fortune, particularly a picture hall in Chennai which was Junga’s mother’s dowry. Junga vows to be a money conscious Don and heads back to Chennai to restore his inheritance along with his best mate YoYo (Yogi Babu).

Junga quickly builds up a reputation as a cheap option for those seeking intimidation or assassination skills, but fails in his attempts to buy back Cinema Paradise from its new owner, Chettiyar (Suresh Chandra Menon).  Plan B involves heading to Paris to kidnap Chettiyar’s daughter Yazhini (Sayyeshaa) and thus force him to hand over the theatre. Naturally all does not go to plan and Junga’s kidnap scheme is foiled by the Italian mafia who have their own plans for Yazhini.

The first half has plenty of excellent comedy, mainly based around Junga’s miserly tendencies and extreme economies to save money. The film is irreverently tongue in cheek and pokes fun at classic Tamil films as well as modern-day tropes and even at the actors themselves, most of which works well. Radha Ravi channels Marlon Brando as the head of the Committee of Dons who are morally outraged by Junga’s discounted thuggery while Yogi Babu provides solid back-up as Junga’s chief henchman.  The first half has some good fight scenes too along with the best of the songs, including the wonderfully colourful Amma Mela Sathiyam.

The second half falters when the action moves to Paris and the Italian mafia muscle in. What does work is Junga’s obvious pain when he realises just how much money he has spent and the various jokes around the confusion between Parry’s (in Chennai) and Paris (in France). Best of all are Saranya Ponvannan and Vijaya who swagger around as a brilliant double act and completely steal the show as Gangster Amma and Gangster Patti. They have the best lines as they try to shake down Chettiyar and it’s great to see Saranya Ponvannan have a chance to step out of her usual standard mother role, albeit in a small way.

What doesn’t work is the whole storyline with the Italian mafia and French police, although we do get a great fight scene with an umbrella and some good car chases. But there are just too many silly plot holes that stop some of the comedy dead in its tracks while the rather contrived romance between Junga and Yazhini doesn’t work at all. After good chemistry with Madonna Sebastian and an amusing end to that whole episode, the love story with Sayyeshaa is limp and anaemic without even the benefit of any comedy to lighten the romance.

As with Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren, Vijay Sethupathi gets to wear some outlandish costumes as part of his trip to France and when he plays the roles of his father and grandfather. There is plenty of moustache twirling along with flamboyant gestures which have become Vijay’s signature comedy style, but he is very funny in this persona and his charm and charisma are almost enough to carry the film through the problematic second half. Almost, but not quite. Thankfully, Vijay is ably supported by Yogi Babu and the double act of Saranya Ponvannan and Vijaya who ensure their scenes are funny and help to keep the plot (such as it is) moving along.

Junga is a film that works when the action is kept close to home with the comedy centred on Vijay Sethupathi and his Don Amma and Don Patti. The more action-based sequences disrupt the flow and don’t fit into the overall pace of the film, even though the fight sequences are well choreographed. They also drag out the film which is already overly long by the time Yazhini is kidnapped. However the songs are good, the comedy for the most part is very funny and Vijay Sethupathi is excellent in the title role. Junga isn’t consistent, but it is hilarious in parts and that, along with the enthusiastic cast make it worth at least a one-time watch.

 

Kaashmora

kaashmora-poster

Written and directed by Gokul and starring Karthi in a double role, Kaashmora is a full on masala supernatural thriller with an amusing antihero, an evil villain, a beautiful princess, a mystic child, loads of characters with little to do and tonnes of cheesy one-liners. Much more fun than I expected, not as smart as I’d hoped, I still felt I got my money’s worth.

Kaashmora (Karthi) is a successful exorcist whose popularity is on the rise. He acquires a research assistant, Yamini (Sri Divya) who is secretly doing a thesis on fraudulent spiritualists. Eventually, and after many shenanigans, he arrives at a mysterious ruined palace which is haunted by a seriously evil spirit, Rajnayak (Karthi again). His family (including dad Vivek) who share the exorcism biz are also brought there, and they are given a hard deadline to achieve a task. Both Rajnayak and a mysterious child need Kaashmora to lift a curse and allow either a) Rajnayak to leave his confinement or b) long dead Princess Ratnamahadevi (Nayanthara) to finish him off once and for all. There’s not much Why but there is a whole lot of What! I think it’s best to just go see it and let it all roll. Or if you must spoil your own fun, read the usual painfully detailed summary a Wiki killjoy has already published.

Being a supernatural historical thingie, there is a lot of over the top design required from the palace and city through to the armour and other costumes. Overall I would say the design is great but the execution is a little lacking, and if you’re not as fond of dodgy CGI as I am, you may be in pain during some sequences. The old time city and palace are pleasingly epic in scale, and there is a nice commitment to eagles throughout. Ratnamahadevi has an excellent peacock bed, Rajnayak’s armour is hilarious and would probably get him killed or at least badly tangled up, and Kaashmora’s modern day exorcisms have the right blend of stock horror elements. The songs are colourful and their design and costuming ranges from totally unhinged to opulent and over the top. I was particularly taken by the Mad Max inspired Dhikku Dhikku Sir, although it was more “Furry Road” than Fury.

Often the device used to explain a far-fetched thing was not explained at all. Kaashmora is caught in part because of publicity about his Guinness Book of Records exorcism attempt (no, I did not know that was a category either) and naturally, we are to believe that the ghosts read the paper and watch the TV news. This was explained by a man who needn’t have been there except that there was no other way to explain that. So while I kind of liked the ideas, I wish Gokul had a better notion of how to link them together and how to keep moving without so many stops for “as you know Bob” exposition.

It’s not a terribly scary film, although there are a couple of moments that startled me a little. There’s a lot of violence but not so much gore. And despite Rajnayak being at best a sex pest and at worst a serial rapist, there was no depiction of violence or rape and all the ladies (and there were lots) he acquired gyrated around his enormous round bed and kept their spangly draperies firmly in place. Well, except his intended and unwilling bride, Ratnamahadevi, who had other ideas about their future.  Small mercies.

Sri Divya got a raw deal with her character. Yamini must be the worst at research ever. Just the worst. (I feel a bit Trumpesque making that statement.) She was supposed to be doing a thesis but had no idea how to actually do research, not even check Youtube for pertinent clips. And her character was completely pointless, adding nothing to the drama and doing little until a point when other solutions could easily have been written. I would have ditched Yamini completely and used the time to explain why Rajnayak stood around covered in bats.

Karthi is much more effective, and fun, as the slippery and smug Kaashmora than the one note Rajnayak. Kaashmora is serious about his business but his reactions and one liners ranged from droll to dad joke, making the most of Karthi’s comic timing. I was distracted by a continuity issue with a bit of disappearing crud on Rajnayak’s teeth which kept me a bit more interested in him than I might have been. But I was annoyed by the ending a little as it implied that Kaashmora would not learn anything from his near death experience and possibly worse, there might be plans for a sequel.

Nayanthara is both impressive and stunning as Ratnamahadevi. I wish more time had been given to her, not just because her multi-coloured hair looked great, but because I was more interested in her back story and her connection to the mystical child. Her outfits are very fairytale princess, but Ratna is both a warrior and a diplomat, using whatever tactics will be to her advantage. When Rajnayak was pawing at this woman he had coveted for so long, Nayanthara showed both disgust and the determination to seduce him and catch him off guard. And she imbued the final confrontation with a sense of the high stakes and her absolute fury at him. Does anyone know who played the child? She was quite impressive too.

Kaashmora is less grim than Arundhati, and less engaging than Magadheera, but it is good fun in a ripping yarn kind of way. It’s worth seeing on the big screen so you can at least be absorbed in the spectacle. And thanks go to Ajith who was credited with the subtitles – much appreciated!