Bairavaa (2017)

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Step into the cinema at any point during Bairavaa and you could be forgiven for mistaking it for almost any of Vijay’s previous films. The only thing that seems to vary in these masala outings is his attire, while everything else (love interest, villain, ‘comedy’ friend, evil henchmen etc) is identical. In his latest mass film Bairavaa, even the trusty masala formula fails to deliver as expected mainly due to poorly realised villains and dull, repetitive fight scenes. Not even the songs are inspiring and it’s only Vijay’s presence and on-screen charisma that makes it possible to sit through the full 169 minute run-time. There are some laughs, one or two fight scenes that work a little better than the rest and a couple of good songs but overall Bharathan’s latest release fails to impress.

Bairavaa (Vijay) is a recovery agent for a bank who don’t seem to mind that he uses rather direct methods to reclaim outstanding funds. This leads inevitably to the first fight scene as the bank manager sends Bairavaa out to collect money from a thug who likes to play cricket. The fight itself is quite cleverly choreographed with Vijay imitating cricket stars and using a cricket ball instead of his fists to flatten thugs, but despite the novelty it isn’t particularly exciting and there is absolutely no sense of suspense. It’s a given from the start that Bairavaa will be walking out of there with the money and that all of the rowdies will be writhing around on the floor. And that’s the problem with almost every other fight scene in the movie too. Even when the numbers of rent-a-thugs get upped and then upped again, there is no stopping the one-man army that is Bairavaa. The fights become an unending parade of rowdies being thrown up, down and around in slow-mo while Bairavaa barely breaks into a sweat. The exceptions mainly come in the second half when there is a little more at stake, but overall, even with a few stylish moves thrown in here and there, the fights are mostly monotonously predictable and uninspiring.

After meeting Malarvizhi (Keerthy Suresh) at a wedding and falling instantly in love, Bairavaa discovers she has a problem back home in Tirunelveli after she is attacked by a gang of thugs at Koyambedu bus station. This leads to a flashback that explains her predicament and why she is being targeted by businessman and self-styled champion of education PK (Jagapati Babu). PK is aided in his various criminal activities by Kottai Veeran (Daniel Balaji) and his merry gang of rowdies, while Malarvizhi is supported by her sister (Sija Rose), grandfather (Vittal Rao) and Uncle Narayanan (Thambi Ramaiah). Malarvizhi has taken PK to court to prove that he was responsible for the death of her friend Vaishali (Aparna Vinod) in his substandard medical college and that the college’s explanation for her death is completely untrue. PK has been warned by the judge that the upcoming final hearing should not interrupt Malarvizhi’s studies or endanger her health with the result that instead of killing Malarvizhi, PK tries every possible method of intimidation to make her break down and give up her fight. Naturally Bairavaa takes up Malarvizhi’s cause and immediately starts to oppose PK and his allies.

Sadly PK is a one-dimensional villain who does little other than sneer at the camera and order his seemingly self-replicating gangs of thugs to put an end to Bairavaa. His henchman Kottai Veeran has a little more to work with, but both men are purely obstacles to be overcome in Bairavaa’s pursuit of the girl. There is presumably some sort of message in the revelation that some private colleges are purely money making exercises and Malarvizhi does her best to promote the cause of independent women everywhere, but at the end of the day she is reliant on Bairavaa to defeat the thigs. Her methods of contacting solicitors, providing evidence and the like are casually destroyed by PK and Kottai Verran using methods that seem unlikely to work in real life. Malarvizhi is a fairly typical Tamil heroine in that she has some backbone and a promising career but still falls for the hero in less time that it takes her to find the bus home to Tirunelveli. I’ve yet to see Keerthy Suresh in a role that I think she can do justice too, and this doesn’t seem close. She looks uncomfortable in the songs and while there is some reasonable chemistry between her and Vijay it’s much like the rest of the film – pedestrian and predictable.

There are a number of other threads that seem to have been added to and appeal more to the modern market. Harish Uthaman appears as Malarvizhi’s abusive brother-in-law Prabha who has the world’s fastest rehabilitation after he gets beaten up by Bairavaa. Generally the police and judicial system are honest and the comedy is kept to a minimum with Bairavaa’s friend Shanmugam (Sathish) having only limited time onscreen. Thambi Ramaiah as Malarvizhi’s uncle Narayanan has even less time on screen, which in this instance is definitely for the best.

The songs too are disappointing and often oddly placed although Vijay’s dancing is still the highlight, but even here the energy seems subdued. At least until Papa Papa which is definitely the pick of the bunch. I can usually find something to enjoy in a Vijay film, despite the often wafer-thin plots, but I was hard pressed to find much in Bairavaa. It’s a strictly by the numbers mass film with little animation and even less ingenuity. At 169 minutes Bairavaa does feel like an endurance test and much could have been shortened (all those slow-mo fight moves and echoing repeats!) to improve the film flow. One strictly for the fans, and even then be prepared for a less than thrilling experience.

Thodari (2016)

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It’s hard to decide exactly what Prabhu Solomon was aiming for with his latest release Thodari. Perhaps he wanted to make an old-style masala movie with a dash of everything as seasoning for an adventure storyline set on a speeding train?  Or maybe he wanted to create a spoof of a disaster movie along the lines of Airplane! It’s hard to say, since instead of any of these he’s made a film with too much of everything except plot and plausibility. The film has a surplus of comedy, romance, action and even social commentary, and yet none of it works together at all, resulting in a lumbering fiasco of a film that slows grinds though its full 168 minutes of run time. The only saving grace is Dhaunsh, who somehow manages to make his scenes watchable despite the ludicrousness of his character’s actions, and Keerthi Suresh who has a little more to do than the average heroine.

The first half of the film is a jumble of scenes set in a train running from Delhi to Chennai. The pantry staff is introduced, including supervisor and manager Chandrakanth (Thambi Ramaiah) who claims to be ex-military and tries to run his kitchen as if it’s an army platoon. Chandrakanth is responsible for a loud and intrusive comedy track that reaches its nadir when he is accused of being a terrorist and responsible for sending the train out of control. It’s anything but amusing.

Then there is pantry assistant Poochiyappan (Dhanush) and his friend Vairam (Karunakaran) who are vying with the rest of the team to serve refreshments to a Malayalam actress travelling in first class. Again, I think most of this is supposed to be funny, with Chandrakanth using Poochi as a surrogate to romance the actress, and instead only managing to charm her gluttonous mother, but it’s tired, cliché-ridden and basically not comical at all.

Poochi manages to win through to first class but rather than falling for the actress, instead he’s smitten with her make-up girl and immediately decides he’s in love with her in typical Tamil cinema style. Saroja (Keerthi Suresh) has reservations, but a quick song and dance on top of the train and the unlikely hope that Poochi can further her dreams of becoming a famous singer, and she’s happy to melt into his arms. There is also an odd feud that develops between Poochi and a security guard (Harish Uthaman) who is travelling with a government minister (Radha Ravi). There is no apparent reason for the guard’s enmity, although there are suggestions that he has an anger management problem and may even be on medication, but apart from being an excuse to add a couple of fight scenes this entire thread seems completely pointless and superfluous.

The action starts in the second half when the train ends up speeding out of control with no way to bring it to a safe halt. There are all sorts of technical reasons behind why no-one can stop the train, but the media become obsessed with the idea that the engine has been taken over by terrorists. The passengers on the train are able to watch the news of their hostage situation and imminent demise on their mobile phones as they hurtle along the track but despite all this disinformation, they don’t come up with any great ideas to save the day. Instead, their only possible salvation is a make-up girl stuck on the engine with no idea what is actually happening and whose main concern is her developing romance with the train pantry assistant.

The action of the second half is disrupted by the songs and by frequent switches between the different characters. Rather than focusing on the drama, Prabhu Solomon adds more ‘comedy’ involving Chandrakanth, another fight scene with the security guard and shots of the TV crews chasing the train. There are long dialogues supposedly set on a panel discussion with politicians behaving like school children while army personnel who board the train become embroiled in petty  feuds and disputes amongst the staff and passengers instead of doing anything to stop the speeding train. Even the scenes in the control room, which should have been tense and full of anticipation, are watered down by attempts at comedy and yet more digs at the government.  None of it is credible or even feasible but it’s all irrelevant anyway. What really matters, and what the TV audience want to see happening on the out-of-control train, is the success of Poochi’s romance with Saroja before the train runs out of track and the couple run out of time.

Thodari could have been much better if Prabhu Solomon had kept to the basics and put a simple love affair together with the drama of a runaway train. There are some good ideas here although they are almost buried under the huge cast list and wreckage of a plot. I like that it’s the heroine who has the best chance of saving the day and that the hero leaves it all up to her. Keerthi’s Saroja has some good lines too (although the abysmal subtitles meant I didn’t understand everything) and mostly behaves as any normal person would when faced with similar situations. Some of the suspense with the runaway train works, although it is only a small amount, and the romance between Poochi and Saroja is mostly engaging, despite the difficulties encountered when Saroja is stuck at the front of the train and Poochi is reduced to mouthing sweet nothings over a walkie-talkie with the entire nation looking on. The scenery too makes a spectacular backdrop for the songs as Dhanush and Keerthi shuffle along the top of the train and D. Imman’s music is catchy, even if the songs do act as major speed-humps for the screenplay and are unnecessary in this style of movie.

Overall the film suffers from too much going on at a superficial level, but not enough of  a plot to give a firm foundation. Dhanush is as good as always but even his performance isn’t enough to stop the film running out of steam long before the train reaches its destination. Worth a one-time watch in the cinema for the scenery and Dhanush but disappointingly that’s about all.

Thani Oruvan

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Thani Oruvan pits a dedicated police officer against a corrupt scientist in psychological thriller that has plenty of drama and action. The writing collaboration between director Mohan Raja and Subha results in a cleverly plotted story with some unexpected twists, but the real success lies in the detailed development of the two main characters. Neither is completely black or white, although the shades of grey are relatively muted, while the cat and mouse relationship between the two provides good structure to the film. Excellent performances from the whole team but particularly Arvind Swamy as the villain of the piece ensure that Thani Oruvan is a better than average police drama and one that’s well worth a watch.

You know a film is going to be pretty epic when the story starts with a dramatic birth. Sengalvarayan (Thambi Ramaiah) is a party man through and through to the point where it’s more important to him that he ties flags for his leader’s appearance rather than take his heavily pregnant wife to hospital. The leader senses an opportunity for some good publicity and sure enough, the baby is born in the back seat of the politician’s car leading Sengalvarayan and his new son Pazhani to develop a relationship with the man who will later become Chief Minister (Nassar). The significance of these events doesn’t become apparent until later on but they provide an instantly intriguing start to the film.

After the dramatic opening, the story moves to a group of young police officers in training and their vigilante-style activities against the local criminal community. Despite the group’s best efforts, the crooks never stay in jail and Shakthi (Ganesh Venkatraman), Suraj (Harish Uthaman), Kathiresan (Sricharan) and Jana (Rahul Madhav) all look to their friend and natural leader Mithran (Jayam Ravi) for a solution. Naturally Mithran has a plan, having spent the last few years investigating all known criminal activity and discovering that all crimes are interlinked and ultimately committed by a small group of individuals. As a result he’s made it his mission in life to eliminate one of these top 15 criminals responsible for all of the crime in India, and of course his buddies want in on the action. He has a shortlist of three possible men to choose from; Ashok Pandian (Nagineedu), Perumal Swamy (Madhusudhan Rao) and Charles Chelladurai (Saiiju Kurup) who between them (according to Mithran) account for 80% of the criminal activity in the country.

Mithran’s biggest problem is which one to choose, although I’m not entirely sure why he couldn’t decide to eliminate all three given that he has his whole career ahead of him and could work on knocking off one every 10 years or so. Regardless, while he is working out which one to target, he discovers that all three actually work for a much bigger villain – highly respected scientist and Padma Shri awarded Siddharth Abimanyu (Arvind Swamy). Siddharth is known for his work in the pharmaceutical field but in reality he’s the mastermind behind all sorts of criminal activity and not a nice man at all, despite his designer suits, fashion model wife and impressive collection of University degrees.

Siddharth is of course the grown up young boy from the start of the film and his inept father is now the Health Minister in Nassar’s government, allowing Siddharth to do basically whatever he wishes. Mithran and Siddharth cross paths when an American drug company owner comes to India to open access to lifesaving medications – something that Siddharth and his associates will go to any lengths to prevent. Once Siddharth becomes aware of Mithran and his attempts to put him out of business, the contest between the two begins in earnest with each determined to eliminate the other no matter what it takes.

The characterisations are the key here and while Mithran doesn’t have all the answers he uses a methodical approach and informed reasoning to work out what Siddharth will do next. Almost too good to be true, Mithran is depicted as a dedicated and passionate police officer with a strong sense of social justice, who is almost hyper-aware of crime in his surroundings. However as he gets drawn into a battle of wits with Siddharth his obsession threatens to take over his life while his friends and allies become tools to use in his fight. His motto is that a man’s capability is defined by the quality of his enemies and by that measure he needs to be very capable indeed. Mithran’s passion for justice is what makes him get out of bed in the morning, so he has none left over for potential love interest Mahima (Nayantara) and as time goes on, little patience to deal with his friend and colleagues either. These shades of grey give Mithran more credibility and offset his tendency to indulge in pompous and long-winded speeches about truth, justice and the rights of all to obtain cheap pharmaceuticals when required. Jayam Ravi is perfectly capable as Mithran but he is very serious and it would have been good to see an occasional smile outside of the obligatory song with Mahima.

Siddharth is a more cerebral villain than usual and uses his political influence to neutralise any threat from Mithran while his quick reactions and scientific knowledge also stand him in good stead to outwit the police officer at almost every turn. He doesn’t throw tantrums, swear vengeance or send out gangs of thugs as Tamil criminal masterminds are wont to do, instead he simply adapts, moves on and changes direction.

Arvind Swamy is excellent as the criminal mastermind, with the beauty of his characterisation lying in just how very ordinary his Siddharth is. He’s rich  – designer suits, trophy wife and beautiful house all attest to how wealthy he is, but on the surface he could be any scientist working on medical breakthroughs with no indication of how cruelly callous he can be when required. Those moments when he casually orders someone’s death or explodes into controlled violence are almost totally unexpected and seem to come out of nowhere, making Siddharth a very effective and chilling villain despite his generally debonair persona.

Nayantara’s character Mahima is interesting too. On one hand she’s the typically dumb love interest who thinks that by following the hero around and declaring her love at every eventual opportunity she will eventually wear him down – and to be fair that is what happens here too. But on the other hand, she’s a forensic scientist who has some good ideas to help Mithran’s investigation, and appears coolly capable and professional in her work. If only Mohan Raja had avoided the ‘love at first sight’ cliché and given Mahima and Mithran a more plausible and realistic romance I would have liked her character more. But Nayantara does give Mahima professional competency and a no-nonsense approach most of the time that fits well with the overall tone of the film.

The rest of the cast are good with Thambi Ramaiah providing some laughs as an inept politician, but mainly giving a further insight into the character of Siddharth. Rahul Madhav is the best of Mithran’s friends, Vamsi Krishna is suitably menacing as Siddharth’s hitman, while Mugdha Godse is good in her brief but important role as Siddharth’s wife. The film looks good too, with effective use of split scenes and an effective mix of technology and good old-fashioned fight scenes. There are a few leaps of faith required but they aren’t too ridiculous and mostly the plot makes sense.

Thani Oruvan is an intelligent thriller with a good mix of action and drama and excellent characterisations. It is a little overlong, but the story keeps moving along at a good pace and like any good page-turner it’s always worth finding out what happens next. Worth watching for Arvind Swamy’s villainous scientist and the psychological cat and mouse game between Siddharth and Mithran. 4 stars.