Kavan (2017)

Kavan

K.V.Anand doesn’t tread any new ground with his latest film Kavan, revisiting a theme of land and water contamination by big business that’s been seen many times before. But rather than making another ‘message’ or pure action film, here we are firmly in masala territory, and that’s what helps make Kavan such a watchable film. It’s set in the world of television and journalism where breaking news is the key to big ratings and in this new post-truth world of alternative facts, the machinations of one TV station to keep ahead of the competition don’t appear quite as far-fetched as they may have done a few months ago. Writers K.V. Anand, Subha and Kabilan Vairamuthu have come up with an entertaining screenplay and some excellent dialogue that drive the story along despite numerous diversions. With great performances from Vijay Sethupathi and Madonna Sebastian, Kavan is more engaging and enjoyable than expected, even with the 160 minute run-time.

Vijay Sethupathi is Thilak, the only student in his class who wants to make documentaries rather than work in films or TV which immediately identifies him as someone more interested in facts and the truth than entertainment. However, he ends up working at Zen TV, alongside his former girlfriend Malar (Madonna Sebastian) who doesn’t want a bar of him after their acrimonious break-up. Initially Thilak does well, impressing channel owner Kalyan (Akashdeep Saighal) with his novel approach, but it doesn’t take long until Thilak’s moral stance gets him into trouble. Kalyan is prepared to put anything on-screen as long as it will lift ratings and he isn’t above manufacturing news either. Alongside corrupt politician Dheeran Maniarasu (Bose Venkat) he spins facts out of all semblance of the truth to promote Dheeran Maniarasu’s political career and his own TV channel. The inevitable clash comes about due to Dheeran Maniarasu’s involvement with a chemical company which is polluting the local area.

Activists Mira and Abdul (Vikranth Santhosh) are friends of Malar who fall foul of the politician and his rowdies and their subsequent search for justice sees Thilak and his friends leaving Zen TV for good. They team up with Mayilvaganan (T. Rajendar) who has a small struggling TV channel and start their campaign to broadcast the truth.

Now, initially I found Rajendar’s comedy jarring and out of sync with the slick styling of the rest of the film, but as the story moves on, and Malar and Thilak start to work with Mayilvaganan, his eccentricities become more relevant and I found his scenes to be really funny. His routine may not change, but Rajendar is good at what he does and that can be very effective, especially as here when administered in small measured doses.

The move to Mayilvaganan TV has the added bonus of demonstrating how to renovate on a budget, if you should ever feel the need to know, and of course the new revamped channel starts to become popular as it spreads the true story of Dheeran Maniarasu’s various corrupt practices.

The story plans out exactly as expected but there is a good mix of drama, comedy, action, and just the smallest amount of romance as Malar and Thilak put aside their differences. Despite the total lack of surprises, the film keeps us interested by keeping the story topical – there are mentions of recent events such as demonetisation and the Chennai floods – and adding plenty of good snappy dialogue. Vijay Sethupathi is always very watchable and he excels yet again, ensuring that his character’s belief in truth and honesty in reporting never come across as preachy or too sanitised. No matter how ridiculous the plot (running through woodland carrying a camera chasing a car and still managing to arrive in time to catch the action for instance), it somehow always seems possible in the face of Vijay’s absolute confidence and sincere belief in the role he is playing. He looks the part of a journalist, and I loved the brief glimpse of laser eye-correction surgery to ditch his glasses before he went on-air as a talk show host. Shame though as he looks good in specs!

Madonna Sebastian too is charming and plays the role of a modern career woman well. Her early scenes with Vijay are brilliant and I liked Malar’s gradual realisation that actually Thilak wasn’t such a bad guy after all. For a commercial entertainer this is a better than usual female role where Malar isn’t just the love interest, but has a reasonably substantial part to play in the story too. The romance too is very low-key and more an acknowledgement that the two are in a relationship rather than the more usual excuse for a flurry of songs. This is pretty much all of the romance in the film – nicely condensed into one song from Hiphop Tamizha.

The friends, including a rather subdued Jagan, are all good too, although they don’t have much to do for most of the film. Vikranth Santhosh stands out as the activist and his impassioned appeals for justice come across as more heartfelt and sincere than expected for a masala film.

As in Ayan, Akashdeep Saighal as the villain is the weak link for me, although this is likely due to the sketchiness of his character. All the hair tossing and posing suit the character of a TV mogul better at any rate and his acting has improved slightly, but I didn’t buy into the character of Kalyan at all. Bose Venkat is much better as the corrupt politician and does appear appropriately duplicitous throughout the film. It’s often the villain that lets these films down, but since it’s the policies of Kalyan rather than the character that Thilak and Malar are fighting, it’s not as important that Kalyan fails to make much of an impression.

Basically Kavan is a masala entertainer that doesn’t pretend to be anything ese. There is never any sense that the film is trying to be a serious exposé of the TV industry, or that the various feminist, Hindu-Muslim brotherhood or land right speeches are meant to generate a response; it’s simply a story to enjoy in the theatre with a box of popcorn. It is overlong and there are a number of diversions that aren’t at all necessary but the dialogue is good, the performances generally excellent and the masala mix is just about right. Worth watching for Vijay Sethupathi, Madonna Sebastian and a vision of alternative facts that’s perhaps a tad more realistic than may have been planned.

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Anegan

Anegan

Somewhat ironically I had to wait until I got back to Australia to see KV Anand’s latest film despite spending the last few weeks in Tamil Nadu.  I was keen to see Dhanush in a triple role, since the trailer looked promising and three times as much Dhanush can only ever be a good thing! I also loved both Ko and Ayan, and was hopeful that Anegan would be a return to KV Anand’s earlier form after the disappointment of Maattrraan. And overall I wasn’t disappointed with Anegan. The first half is a little slow, and Dhanush’s really quite terrible wig in his first incarnation is rather distracting, but the second half is much better with an improvement in the main relationship and some good plot twists. Although the story doesn’t really get going until after the interval, catchy songs, some stunning visuals and an entertaining story make Anegan well worth a trip to the cinema.

Anegan opens in Burma of the early sixties and tells of a romance between a Tamil labourer Murugappa (Dhanush) and the daughter of a high-ranking official Samudhra (Amyra Dastur). It’s all fairly typical stuff, including a damsel in distress and daring rescue scene, secretive meetings in full public view and the stiff parental opposition you would expect. What never fails to amaze me is how young Dhanush can appear to be when required – a shave plus a bad wig and suddenly he looks sixteen. Here he appears younger than his co-star despite her giddy antics and plaited pig-tails, and maybe that’s why the romance never seems to sizzle. It’s not the best start for a love story that is supposed to be strong enough to span time and involve a number of reincarnations, but there is a sweet song and at least the lead pair look reasonably cute together. Naturally fate intervenes when the military coup forces most of the Tamil workers to leave Burma and Samudhra tries to escape her abusive family by tagging along with the general Indian exodus.  However Samudhra’s escape is foiled by Mallika (Aishwarya Devan) who is jealous of Samudhra’s relationship with Murugappa and things don’t end well for the star-crossed lovers.

Fast forward to the present day, where Madhu (Amyra Dastur again) is undergoing regression therapy to help her deal with the stress of her job in a large gaming company in Chennai.  The story of Murugappa and Samudhra is revealed to be her ‘memory’ of a past life and Madhu is convinced that the different incarnations of Murugappa she remembers mean that he is her soul-mate, and that they are destined to finally be together. The previous lives she remembers all have the two separating in quite horrible circumstances, generally involving murder and death, but this possible outcome doesn’t seem to worry her at all. Instead Madhu’s only concern seems to be that she hasn’t managed to meet her ‘soul-mate’ so far in her current lifetime.

Naturally that is remedied almost immediately and Madhu meets Ashwin (Dhansh again), an IT expert, also working for the same company. Yet again he’s from a lower class family but unlike Madhu, Ashwin has no memories of a past life and very little interest in Madhu other than as a work colleague. But soon event start repeating – Ashwin steps in to save Madhu from serious injury, and co-worker Meera (Aishwarya Devan again) is a potential rival for Ashwin’s affections, while Madhu is relentless in her pursuit of Ashwin as her long-lost love.

For most of the first half Madhu is erratic and completely annoying as she veers between bratty rich girl behaviour and total mental instability, although I put most of her crazy psychotic behaviour down to the drugs she is taking from her therapist mixed with the natural remedies from the family’s guru. Her attitude makes her a rather unlikeable character for most of the first half and her attempts to convince Ashwin that they are MFEO should have been enough to see him run for the hills. But instead he seems to suffer from a similar mental disorder and for no particular reason at all (unless it’s her inherited millions – which would at least make sense!) Ashwin decides that he’s in love with Madhu.

Thankfully Madhu becomes somewhat less irritating in the second half. The film moves back in time again while she relives her past life as Kalyani which turns out to be one of the best parts of the film. Perhaps the effect of the wigs wears off after prolonged exposure, but Dhanush’s Kaali is vibrant and likeable while Kalyani is less naïve than Amyra’s other incarnations, leading to some definite sparkage between the couple. The present day scenes also step up a pace in the second half as Ashwin and Madhu work with Commissioner Gopinath (Ashish Vidyarthi) to find out what happened to Kali and Kalyani and Madhu’s boss Ravikiran (Karthik) starts to take an interest in his employee’s mental deterioration. Dhanush is excellent throughout and makes his three separate characters (four if you include one who only appears in a song) quite distinctly different personalities. Murugappa is sweet and innocent, Kaali is a rough and tough rowdy with a heart of gold while Ashwin is the quintessential computer nerd, who still manages to fight like a pro, filmi style. Ashwin provides the thread that binds them all togther, but the most successful is Kaali, and Dhanush looks as if he is having the time of his life dancing and singing through the streets in a mesh singlet!

Anegan is a good blend of romance and action with a reasonable thriller element woven into the story, and generally strong characterisations. There are a few totally unrealistic moments, Madhu speeding through the traffic in Chennai is one (hah! nope – couldn’t happen in Chennai traffic!), and the attempts to make Ravikiran a hip and trendsetting boss fall rather flat, but mostly the screenplay from KV Anad and Subha works well.  Amyra is rather overshadowed by Dhanush and her theatrics in the opening scenes are particularly wearing, but she does improve as the film progresses. Aishwarya Devan is better is her small role  and it’s a shame she didn’t have a longer time on-screen. The rest of the supporting cast including Jagan as Ashwin’s friend and Mukesh Tiwari as Madhu’s uncle are all good, and Om Prakash ensures the film looks stunning with the scenes in Burma particularly well shot. Harris Jayaraj’s songs fit the film well and the background music is also excellent. Overall the film mixes plenty of action, comedy, suspense with the romance, and even if the story is fairly predictable the different incarnations of the lead characters ensure the story feels fresh and engaging. Anegan may not be quite in the same league as Ayan, but it’s definitely a large step in the right direction and well worth a watch –  and not just for the multiple incarnations of Dhanush!

Maryan

Maryan

Finally! It has been a long time since 3, but the wait has been well worth it. Dhanush is back in Maryan, a movie that sets out to prove that true love really can conquer all even if you were a bit iffy about that true love at the start. This is the debut film for writer/ director Bharat Bala and while generally he does a great job, there are times when the screen play lags a little, and the focus on desert imagery resembles a National Geographic special. However, superb performances from all the cast and A. R. Rahman’s wonderful soundtrack combine to ensure that Maryan is a film to savour. Plus English subtitles – perfect!

The film starts with Maryan (Dhanush) working in the Sudan for an oil company, where his love for Panimalar (Parvathy), his fiancée waiting at home in India, is perfectly captured by a brief phone call. But it hasn’t always been that way, and the film switches into flashback to explain just who Maryan is and how he came to be working in Africa when he is so obviously yearning to be home.

Maryan Maryan

This first section works very well, where Panimalar is seen as a lovelorn girl, chasing Maryan endlessly despite his disdain and often brutal rejection. Maryan is a fisherman who hunts in the traditional way and has developed amazing lung capacity, allowing him to remain submerged for longer than the other fishermen. He calls himself the king of the sea and obviously has an intimate relationship with the ocean which is really the only thing he cares about. Dhanush effortlessly establishes his character as a brash, arrogant young man who has his faults but is generally likeable and can dance up a storm.

Maryan

Slowly Maryan comes to appreciate Panimalar’s charms helped along by the active encouragement of his best friend, Panimalar’s brother Sakkarai (Appukutty). Dhanush and Parvathy play their roles perfectly here and the romance is expertly developed with an eye to small town sensibilities. Parvathy has a better than usual role as a heroine and she makes the most of it, using her eyes and body language to express her feelings as she establishes Panimalar as a feisty girl determined to get her man, no matter what it takes. There are a few funny scenes between her and her future mother-in-law Seeli (Uma Riyaz Khan) which work very well, and both Parvathi and Appukutty are to be commended for the way they manage to establish their sibling relationship so well in a few brief scenes.

Maryan

Despite the excellent chemistry between Maryan and Panimalar, there are a few miscues and the amount of violence Panimalar experiences at the hands of her beloved appears quite unnecessary. The initial slap when Maryan is frustrated by Panimalar’s persistent attempts to declare her love is perhaps understandable, but later scenes including Maryan saying, “Who else will I hit if not you?” are sadly all too common in Tamil films. I understand that this does depict real life where domestic violence is an ever present problem but I wish directors would use the characters to show that it’s just not acceptable rather than brushing it off as an apparently appropriate way for a character to show their distress.

Maryan

Maryan is forced to work in Africa to pay off debts incurred by Panimalar’s father Thomayya (Salim Kumar) and prevent her forcible marriage to Theekkurissi (Vinayakan). However just as Maryan is on the way to the airport to come home, he is kidnapped by Sudanese militants who hold him, his friend Sami (Jagan) and a fellow co-worker for ransom. While the African militants are poorly drawn, being caricaturised and frequently over the top, Dhanush and Jagan are both brilliant as they show their gradual mental and physical deterioration at the hands of their captors. There are some scenes here that are frankly uncomfortable to watch due to the sheer honesty of Dhanush’s performance and although this type of mental anguish is a role he has portrayed before he takes it to an entirely new level here. Jagan also seems perfectly cast as Sami, and his change from happy-go-lucky guy to terrorised victim is well portrayed.

Maryan Maryan

Despite all the drama, the film does drag a little in the second half. After all there are only so many times you can show someone running up a sand dune before it gets a little repetitive, but the hallucinations (yay – cheetahs!) and Maryan’s determination to make it home to Panimalar help keep things moving long. There is also a lack of hair continuity for Dhanush which is irritating considering the care which has obviously gone into the rest of the film. One good point is that Panimalar doesn’t do a disappearing act in the second half and the film does cut back frequently to show her initial despair and then fervent belief that Maryan is coming back to her. Parvathy is impressive in these scenes and her performance really is on a par with that of Dhanush.

Cheetah!Maryan

Technically the film looks and sounds beautiful. I’ve been enjoying A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack since it was released and the songs are even better on screen. The only one that doesn’t work so well is ‘I Love My Africa’ which has poor justification and picturisation but on the whole the songs are well placed in the narrative. I often don’t notice the background score on the first watch of a film, but here it is sweetly evocative and the natural music of the ocean and the desert are added in for haunting effect, adding to the magic of the images. The excellent cinematography by Marc Koninckx perfectly captures coastal Tamil Nadu and the deserts of Africa, highlighting the contrasting light of the two locations and make the landscape just as much a feature of the film as the actors themselves.

Maryan

Maryan is a film to watch for yet another amazing performance from Dhanush and equally impressive acting from Parvathy, while beautiful imagery and evocative music add to the overall effect. Even if the action part of the film doesn’t work quite so well, the love story is charming and inspiring. Watching Maryan you have to believe that true love really can conquer all and that’s a very heart-warming message to take home on a cold Melbourne winter night!