Puli (2015)

Puli

Chimbu Deven’s latest film may be set in a fantasy world of strange creatures and magical beings, but the story itself is mundane without any of the epic sweep required for such a tale. It’s also slow going, with most of the first half a dreary romance between Marudheeran (Vijay) and Pavazhamani (Shruti Haasan), although it does improve post interval once Sridevi and Sudeep appear onscreen. Despite the numerous fight scenes and explicit violence, the simplistic plot seems to be aimed more at children, with every obstacle easily overcome and the obvious outcome never in any doubt. That may also explain the relatively bloodless scenes of dismemberment and general carnage that would more usually be awash with gallons of fake blood, but instead the fight scenes here are frequently lacklustre, dull and repetitive. However there are a few reasons to watch, mainly down to Sridevi in her extravagantly evil queen avatar, good special effects and the always reliable Sudeep and Vijay.

Puli tells the story of a land which has been invaded and settled by a race of demons, who have enslaved the native humans. These Vedalam are easily recognisable by their blue eyes, tendency to sprout fangs when annoyed and ability to fly though the air, although their spiky armour and general arrogant grumpiness are a more distant and therefore safer method of identification. The young Marudheeran arrives in one of the subjugated villages as a baby, floating in a basket on the river, along with a mysterious egg that hatches into a talking bird. The talking bird is pretty well done as far as special effects go, and I was expecting it to be important to the plot in some way, but it really isn’t. Even though there is a sort of reason for the bird’s inclusion at the end, basically it’s a very under-utilized special effect that didn’t need to be able to talk and doesn’t get much chance to do so anyway. Overall this illustrates the problem with most of the special effects in the film. Although they are well done, the effects dazzle for a moment but are then relegated to background noise and ultimately have little to add to the plot. It’s a shame as the film looks fantastical but the uninspired story keeps it earthbound.

Marudheeran is adopted by one of the villagers and is trained by his stepfather in fighting and disguise as part of a general communal wish to overthrow the demons. However once Pavalamalli (Shruti Haasan) returns to the village, Marudheeran spends his time chasing after his childhood friend, much to the displeasure of her parents. Just as Marudheeran and Pavalamalli get married in secret, she is stolen by the demons and Marudheeran sets out with his trusty friends Thambi Ramaiah and Sathyan to rescue her from the impregnable city of Vedalakottai. They plan to disguise themselves as demons to get into the city and then hope they can find Pavalamalli and get out again, but that’s it in terms of preparation. There is no attempt to deal with the epic scale of such an endeavour and make the journey and planning part of the adventure. This means there isn’t any sense of danger or excitement, just a pedestrian slog to find the city and rescue the girl. Nothing new, and could just as easily have been set in the present time anywhere in India with much the same plot and ending.

Still, there are plenty of good ideas in Puli, it’s just that they get such short shrift and don’t have as much impact as they should. For example, Marudheeran and colleagues meet a race of miniature people where there is a brief ‘we can show you the way’ moment and then the little people are used mainly for comedy. However the effects and the cinematography are once again very good, with clever use of seeds and leaves as clothing, and wonderful peanut shell blouses that are simply inspired!

Unusually, Vijay doesn’t fit as the hero of the film as well as he should, at least initially. His introduction and the subsequent fight scenes establish his character as more of a trickster and comedian while his pursuit of Pavalamalli is pedestrian and lacking animation. It’s not until the second half of the film where he comes up against his nemesis General Jalatharangam (Sudeep) that Marudheeran starts to properly fill the role of the warrior hero and Vijay gets a chance to throw his energy fully into the part. Just about at this time though there is a flashback sequence where Vijay plays his father – a man born to be in a shampoo commercial and doomed by his reliance on slow-mo fighting and accompanying wind-machine. I did appreciate Vijay’s mastery of the hair toss though and once he gets into full warrior mode, there is no stopping him.

Sudeep is good in a role that lets him convey volumes with just a look and a sneer, although he really needed more time onscreen being evil to make his character thoroughly despicable. Jalatharangam is a fairly standard villain but Sudeep imbues him with an arrogant coldness that works well and there’s just enough sliminess added for good measure. Sridevi too makes the most of her role as an evil queen and shows what a fantastic actor she is even with her limited time onscreen. She totally owns each scene when she appears and her sweeping presence lifts the energy of the film. She has the best costumes and stunning make-up but these go almost unnoticed beside her commanding presence and expressive eyes. And she plays a harp – perfect! I hope this, and her recent appearance in English Vinglish mean that we will get to see more Sridevi films in the future – she is the best thing about Puli for sure.

Hansika Motwani plays Queen Yamanadevi’s daughter and at least Chimbu Deven doesn’t make the mistake of trying to get her to actually dance in any of her songs. Hansika looks good and has an amazing peacock outfit at the end but doesn’t do much else of note in the film, although she does manage better chemistry in a few brief moments with Vijay than Shruti does in an entire romantic song. Overall Devi Sri Prasad’s songs are fairly uninspiring and the choreography rather repetitive, but Vijay is energetic and the backing dancers are enthusiastic in a range of diverse costumes.

Except for Sridevi, Puli mostly disappoints with a weak story and fairly nondescript songs. Sudeep and Vijay are fine but both characters need better definition and depth rather than simply relying on the ability and star power of the actors. Both do what they can, but the film could have been so much better with just a little more complexity. Good cinematography from Natarajan Subramaniam and great visual effects make Puli worth watching on the big screen but probably only for fans. Otherwise probably best to wait for the DVD where the fast forward button will make Puli a more enjoyable watch.

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Desamuduru (2007)

Desamuduru

There are a number of reasons why I love this film, although they can be summed up easily as plenty of Allu Arjun and dancing! A lot of work has gone into showing off Bunny’s six-pack throughout the film, and I definitely approve.  In addition, there are some great fight scenes (where Bunny follows the Salman Khan principle of removing your shirt wherever possible), Cinema Chaat favourites Ajay and Subbaraju appear as villains, and it’s one of the very few films where Hansika doesn’t irritate me to the point of switching off.  And there is of course this:

Don’t be put off by the picture – there is nothing of Ali in this clip!

The appeal of Desamuduru definitely lies with the cast and their energetic performances rather than a good storyline or even well-written and believable characters – because it doesn’t have either of those.  Desamuduru was Puri Jannaadh’s follow-up to Pokiri, and perhaps after such an exceptional effort, he just ran out of new ideas.  The plot is paper thin and the story follows a well-used formula without anything novel in the execution.  Perhaps as compensation, the director ups the pace, meaning that the lack of a storyline tends to vanish in the constant confusion of fight scenes and action shots.  At least the high energy ensures that Desamuduru has mass appeal, even if it doesn’t rise to the dizzy heights of Pokiri.

DesamuduruDesamuduru

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Bunny’s Bala Govind is an arrogant young TV reporter working for his father on the crime beat with Maa TV.  He has a basic idea of what is wrong and right – for instance, killing people is wrong.

Desamuduru

But beating them up within an inch of their lives is apparently perfectly OK.

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Some of the detail in these scenes is excellent – I love how the drunk pulls his bottle of booze out of harm’s way, and how Bunny’s shirt slowly rips as he flexes his muscles – classic!

Bala’s latest altercation ends up with Murugan (Subbaraju) in hospital and Bala under threat from Murugan’s father and local gang boss Tambi Durai (Pradeep Rawat).  Bala however escapes to film a travel program in Kulu Manali – a little bit of a change from crime reporting, but apparently travel is where Bala feels he has his calling. Anyway, swapping the mean streets of Hyderabad for the mountains of Himachal Pradesh seems perfectly reasonable, especially when there is a gang of Tamil thugs baying for blood as incentive.  Plus it means we get this song along with a backdrop of snow-clad hills and slightly bemused looking locals.

Bala has a traditional Telugu approach to love – see, instantly fall head over heels, stalk and wear the girl down until you can convince her to marry you.  Sigh.  This time the unwilling heroine is Vaishali (Hansika Motwani) who is a Sanyasin and appears completely uninterested in Bala despite his total belief in his own irresistibility. The rest of the word sees Vaishali as a demure and quiet Sanyasin, but this is how Bala see her, which seriously makes me question his fashion sense even in fantasy dance sequence land.

Hansika is surprisingly OK here in a role that doesn’t require her to do very much.  I didn’t particularly  like or dislike her the first time I saw this film, but compared to subsequent appearances I think this is one of her better performances.  She looks suitably demure at the beginning as a Sanyasin and manages to bop around reasonably convincingly in the songs.  Later on in the second half when the romance quotient is reduced to almost zero, she continues to hang in there, and acts appropriately wimpy in the subsequent fight scenes.

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There isn’t a lot of chemistry between her and Bunny, but some of that is down to the plot, particularly since no sooner does Vaishali declare her love than the film switches back to action and fight scenes rather than playing up the romance.  At least that is until we get to the ultimate fan-girl song in Manusuley.  Even the song’s similarity to Dil Se helps bump up the heat factor and when you add in Allu Arjun drenched in litres of oil smouldering at the camera it definitely reaches sizzling hot! Except I tend to think: all that sand with all that oil – ouch!

Bunny at least seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself throughout.  He looks very happy to be surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls in the songs, and in a number of the scenes with Subbaraju and Ajay I’m convinced that they ended up ROFL most of the time.  It’s one of my favourite things about Bunny that he seems to be perpetually about to crack up, so I end up smiling every time – even if it’s totally inappropriate.

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There is a tedious comedy track involving Ali which starts out bad and just gets worse as it goes along, but thankfully that’s it for comedy uncles.  Much better is the comedy provided by the altercations between Subbaraju and Bunny, and the histrionics provided by Telangana Shakuntala as Murugan’s evil mother.  Jeeva also does his evil henchman sidekick while Ajay is excellent as a thug who cannot talk and adds both to the mayhem and the comedy in equal measure.  It all adds up to a lot of this – Reeey!!

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A number of the fight and chase sequences are excellent with some good choreography and wire work,  and it’s just a shame that they aren’t connected together by a better storyline.  There is of course the obligatory item number featuring Rambha which pops up at an odd time and doesn’t add anything at all to the film, but it’s a least one more opportunity to watch Bunny dance.

Desamuduru is a hodge-podge of a film which relies on a charismatic cast, fast action (and even faster dance moves), along with the appeal of beautiful scenery in Manali .  It’s a film I watch over and over again, just for the songs and Allu Arjun’s dancing.  Not just for those shirtless scenes – of course not! It’s not a film for everyone but if you can leave your brain at the door and just sit back for the ride there is plenty to entertain – although judicious use of the FF button makes it even more enjoyable.  Desamuduru gets 2½ stars for story and execution, but 5 stars for enjoyment and re-watch potential!

DesamuduruIt sure is!

Singham II (2013)

Singham IIDespite the promise of subtitles, Singham II turned out to be another ‘adventure without subtitles’ in Melbourne.  Possibly not such a bad thing as there was so much happening on-screen, I’m not sure that I would have had time to read them anyway.  However, director Hari keeps the basic plot the same with a dedicated cop determined to clean up Tamil Nadu and a number of characters from the original Singham reprise their roles.  The addition of Santhanam, Hansika and Mukesh Rishi among many others to the cast mainly adds more mayhem into an already packed storyline but although there is an apparently limitless cast of characters, it’s still Suriya’s movie all the way.  Singham II is relentless, overlong and frequently over dramatic but there are some excellent fight scenes and Durai Singham’s determination and energy help keep the film from dragging.

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There is a quick run through the significant moments of the first film, reminding us that Durai Singham (Suriya) had resigned his position and under the aegis of the Home Minister (Vijayakumar) was heading off undercover to Tutricorn charged with investigating arms smugglers in the area.  So after a run-of-the-mill item song with Anjali, the film starts with Durai Singham working as some sort of an instructor in a local school.  I’m not exactly sure what his role was but it seemed to involve students and a lot of marching but not much else, which at least gives Singham time to pursue his undercover mission.  He also indulges in a little investigation when one of the students breaks in to look at exam papers early.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a contact lens used as forensic evidence in a film and I really hope I see it again as I never realised you could learn so much from a discarded lens!

Meanwhile at night, Singham is scouring the shore looking for smugglers.  But since the local police seem to be in cahoots with the gangs he doesn’t have much success.  I was happy to see one of my favourite bad guys Rajendran pop up, especially since he spends most of his time manically unloading illegal goods from a ship and then hurriedly reloading it all again when he’s tipped off about the possible police presence.  He’s funny and yet still menacing, and employs a fighting style which seems to be all elbows and knees but is still surprisingly effective.

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Kavya (Anushka) is still chasing after Singham and trying to organise their wedding which seems to have stalled since he gave up his role as a police officer.  However apart from appearing in the songs she doesn’t have much to do and trying to fit her into the storyline makes the film even longer.  Another unnecessary addition is Hansika as Sathya, a school student who is in love with Duria Singham.  Sathya stalks Singham, which could have been an interesting role reversal, but there never seems to be any point to her unrequited love.  Even her connection with one of the villains of the story isn’t played on to any great extent until near the end, although that could just be because I didn’t understand the dialogue.  Although Hansika looks much too old to be a school student, she is much better than usual and plays her role with restraint, but her character just doesn’t add anything to the story.

As if two romances and all the action wasn’t enough, Hari also adds in a number of comedy tracks featuring Santhanam and Vivek.  I found Vivek annoying in the first Singham, but he is more restrained here and doesn’t have as much screen time which makes him slightly more bearable. He’s also more of a genuine character with most of the one-liners seemingly given over to Santhanam who at least is very funny (even without understanding the dialogue) as the school caretaker Sussa.

Singham II

One of the main problems with Singham II is the sheer number of villains that Hari throws at his hero.  Bhai (Mukesh Rishi) is a smuggler and drug dealer who has a gang of accomplices that Singham has to wade his way through before he can get to the top man.  Similarly Thangaraj (Rahman) is a more sophisticated smuggler who uses his shipping company as a front but also has his own gang of thugs who need to be dealt with.   And finally there is their supplier Danny (Danny Sapani), an international drug dealer who spends most of his time sailing around the Indian Ocean indulging in various forms of vice.  This included killing a police man who was supposedly Australian but the dubbed accent was so bad that I didn’t even realise the actor was supposed to be speaking English!

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The inclusion of so many antagonists means that there are seemingly endless fights against different groups of thugs and never-ending schemes and counter schemes to deal with the gang leaders.  While Bhia, Thangaraj or Danny by themselves would have been effective enough, with all three the threads become entangled and the plot starts to get both confusing and repetitive. The comedy and romance even comes as a bit of relief from all the action!  The fight scenes though are well choreographed by Anal Arasu, with the best being also the most nonsensical when Singham throws away his gun in order to fight unarmed in the rain outside his parents’ house. It’s pretty stupid, but great fun!

Singham II

There isn’t too much ‘angry Singham’ in the first half, but after he puts his uniform back on, Singham gets progressively more and more enraged as he systematically sets up and destroys each of the gang leaders and their various minions.  It’s not as effective as in the first film because there isn’t the mutually antagonistic relationship between Singham and Prakash Raj’s Mayil Vaaganam which made their vitriolic exchanges so fiery.  However Suriya is still convincing and carries the film despite the long and overburdened storyline.  He does have good chemistry with Anushka and both look great together in the songs.  Although the music (Devi Sri Prasad) isn’t memorable, the choreography seems better than in the last few Suriya films and his dancing is excellent.

'Angry Singham'

There is just so much of everything in this movie and it does get rather wearing   Fewer villains and a harsher hand with the editing would make it much better but it’s still worth watching for Suriya, better than usual choreography and plenty of excellent fight scenes.