Ko opens with an eye catching photo montage and theme music that incorporates thrashy guitars and angelic choirs. I immediately expected something a bit stylish, modern, urban with a splash of heroics and that’s what I got.

Unravelling the plot was integral to my enjoyment of Ko so I won’t discuss what happens in detail. The story focuses on two groups – journalists and politicians – and an upcoming election. The journalists are young and shiny, full of ideals. The politicians are…politicians.

Jiiva is Ashwin, a newspaper photographer. His camera is never far from hand and he is an acute observer. Spotting a bank robbery getaway in progress, he does what any ambitious journalist would do – gets their pictures. That he does it from his motorbike just makes it clear that he is the hero. I think Jiiva conveys the right blend of boyish appeal and serious drama, and he is just so likeable. He can do cutesy flirting and silly dance moves, and be blokey enough to walk into a dodgy bar and track down a witness. He delivers the action scenes with loads of energy and while Peter Hein has set the fights at the outer bounds of ordinary guy capability they are still true to the character.  Ashwin has a knack for seeing what is going on in the background or on the periphery of the action. This makes him valuable as a photo-journalist and really annoying to those he targets. His first reaction to any event is to get a photo and record what is happening.

Ashwin’s observations and photos often have a touch of sarcasm or dark humour about them. But although he jokes, he is passionate about justice and dragging the truth out into the light of day.

Karthika Nair is Renuka, recently transferred to Chennai. She is an established journalist but finding herself in a new city and a new team, she is a little lost at times. Her relationship with Ashwin starts off on rocky ground due to a case of mistaken identity but soon looks like love is in the air. She and livewire movie reviewer Saro (Piaa Bajpai) become good friends despite Saro having feelings for Ashwin. While this is primarily Ashwin’s story, the girls were strong and relatable characters. I liked seeing young ladies who could be friends, rivals and colleagues without being overly silly or unpleasant.

Work was the main thing all three had in common, and the work remained in focus throughout. Despite some of the less believable incidents, that work/life balance gave them a bit of credibility. Piaa Bajpai is OTT at times, but she needs to be to act as the counterpoint to the more reserved Renuka in the mild love triangle that develops.

I liked both performances although I think a real life Saro as a friend would have me investing in ear plugs. Karthika had more complexity to work with and I think she did well in imbuing Renuka with a maturity that I rarely see in film heroines.

The politicians are represented by Prakash Raj as the statesman Yogi, and Kota Srinivasa Rao as the uncouth Alavandhan – very different men on the surface but not fundamentally different when it comes to the goal of winning office. They both do what they do so well but neither delivers a standout performance.

Tying the two groups together is Vasanthan (Ajmal Ameer) – a young idealistic politician. He and his colleagues are trying to contest elections but are struggling to create a media profile and can’t compete with the bribery and standover tactics of major parties. He is educated, ambitious and a natural leader. Ajmal Ameer played Vasanthan with sincerity and conviction.

Events bring him into the media spotlight and eventually the young Siragugal team are on the brink of success. Then a catastrophe – a bomb blast at their rally – changes the game. The story gets murkier the more Ashwin and Renu dig.

The story starts off running in several different directions before things start to link back together. The plot branches are tied in by characters identifying patterns or spotting inconsistencies in someone’s story so there are a few ‘A-Ha!’ moments. Ashwin, ever keen eyed, spots a familiar face in photos from different crime scenes and that ties a Naxalite band to a local identity. Renu follows up on another clue and Ashwin is under scrutiny. It’s really well done, and kept me thinking about what could happen next.  The resolution is a bit predictable, but I was interested enough in what was happening that I didn’t really care.

This is pretty indicative of the visual style and editing. Ignore the crappy rapping and do a bit of star spotting as almost everyone in Tamil film makes an appearance:

The songs by Harris Jayraj are not unpleasant but I never really remember them without seeing the film. There’s the usual selection; the club song, the falling in love duets, the colourful ethnic costumes in the snow song, the college friendship song. The lyrics are often quite pertinent to the story so I was happy to have them subtitled on my DVD. Well, they’re not always that helpful…

Songs are used well in the first half but are a little out of place later in the film as events got more serious. I found the transition to Venpaniye a bit jarring as it is a lovey dovey duet in an ice palace just after a traumatic event. Jiiva is equal to the limited choreography and his facial expressions are often priceless. I got the impression he was having a blast doing some of the more comedic scenes and the dances. Karthika does more posing than dancing but her wardrobe often makes up for any lack of energy on her side. And the locations are sometimes breathtaking.

It’s not an issue film as such, but it does touch on many social and political ideas and problems as the plot develops. Considering some of the themes, there is a lot of product placement in Ko. There is at least a semblance of building it into the plot so while I politely jeered each new brand’s arrival, it didn’t bother me unduly. KV Anand (director and co-writer) glances at the interdependency of some media and politicians, the role of the police, celebrities in politics, freedom of the press, availability of adequate medical care and education among other things. The perspectives are offered from the various characters points of view so there is more discussion than lecturing. The commentary is often laced with humour and an acknowledgement that truth is not an absolute.

If you like the idea of a modern, urban thriller with some classic masala elements and young and likeable stars, this is well worth a look. 4 stars!

Heather says: I really enjoyed this film.  Yes, the plot does have a few too many twists and turns towards the end and some of the action is rather improbable, but the story moves along at a cracking pace and the lead actors all put in excellent performances. I got this DVD based on K. V. Anand’s previous films which I also enjoyed, and thought the reference to Ayan here as a film only worth 1/2 star was very funny. I would love to know if this was an actual comment that he received about the film!

One of the best parts of the film for me is the number of strong female roles. Not only the characters of Renuka and Saro, but also the fact that there are females characters standing for election, involved in the Naxalite terrorist group and generally well represented among the various minor roles throughout. I like the characters of Renuka and Saro and both actresses brought great individuality to their roles while still keeping them believable as friends. Jiiva is excellent and his journalist, while often taking suicidal chances in his quest for a picture, brings together the right blend of charm, action and determination to make Ashwin a compelling character. Like any good journalist, I think he has all the right characteristics to be able to schmooze his way into any situation. It’s the first time I’ve seen Ajmal Ameer and I must look out for his previous Malayalam films as I think he is just as good as Jiiva in his role here. While there are one or two moments in the film that don’t work for me as they seem too unlikely in such an otherwise plausible film, there are many others which work so perfectly that I don’t mind suspending disbelief from time to time. Ko has a well written screenplay and very likeable actors which make it a film worth watching. 4 stars from me.

Boss Engira Baskaran

Tamil comedy is not my usual choice of film. I think comedy is the hardest genre to understand in a foreign language and often doesn’t translate well unless it’s purely physical. Even then, cultural differences often mean that what is funny to the writer just leaves me baffled. But Boss Engira Baskaran was recommended to me by my local Tamil DVD store as an entertaining film and I have to say – it’s actually pretty funny!

Arya plays Baskaran, commonly known to his friends and associates as Boss. He’s a happy go lucky guy who has never managed to pass his final school exams and has no gainful employment. Although he goes back each year to re-sit along with a group of other regular ‘failures’, he would have passed years ago if he only put as much energy into actual learning as he does into his attempts at cheating. His best friend, Nallathambi (Santhanam) runs a barbers salon which he acquired as a result of his rather unconventional marriage. Baskaran spends most of his time hanging out with his friend at the salon and generally making a nuisance of himself. In the course of his latest attempt to pass his final English exam he meets Chandrika who coincidentally is the sister of the girl his sensible veterinary brother Saravanam is trying to marry.

Despite the way in which Baskaran meets Chandrika and his subsequent idiotic antics, Chandrika seems fine with the idea of marriage. Perhaps she sees something in Baskaran that I don’t but he doesn’t seem like much of a catch for a well educated girl with a good job and excellent matrimonial prospects. It could be that this is part of the comedy that I just don’t get, but for whatever reason she encourages him in his quest to win her hand.

To get the girl Baskaran has to try and persuade her father that he would be an acceptable husband, despite the fact that her father obviously despises him. His sister in law and the rest of his family point out that as he is unemployed and has no qualifications he has no chance of getting her father to approve.  He leaves home determined that within 6 months he will have enough money to organise his sister’s wedding, an endeavour which he feels will demonstrate to his potential father in law that he is a responsible person who can support his daughter.

Baskaran hits of the idea to run a tutoring college for students who are re-sitting their school exams. After all, it’s a topic he feels he knows a lot about. To start the business he borrows money from the local loan shark Velpandi – Rajendaran in bad guy persona. Needless to say things don’t exactly go to plan with the college and Baskaran runs around trying various ploys to make his project a success. 

The film slows considerably in the second half and although there are some amusing moments, I don’t find most of the scenes in the school funny. The pace picks up again towards the end, although the final scenes fail to match the comedy in the rest of the film. The ending feels tacked on more as an afterthought to tie up all the loose ends. Jiiva has a special guest appearance as Chandrika’s fiancée and its possible that I may have found this funnier if I’d seen M Rajesh’s previous film Siva Manasula Shakthi and had an idea about the previous relationship between the two actors – but then again maybe not.

Most of the comedy is based on the dialogue with the best lines reserved for Nallathambi.  Santhanam does an excellent job in the delivery of these as far as I can tell and he steals the show when he appears. There were quite a few references to old films and older film songs which I’m sure were all very significant.  I think I felt much the same as a Bollywood virgin must have when watching Om Shanti Om! However, it was still funny even if I only caught a few of these – such as the salon being called Thala and Thalapathy, and the appearance of Rajnikanth’s Annamalai at a significant point in the story. I appreciate that unlike many recent Hindi films, or the often relatively unfunny comedy track, none of the humour is based on bodily functions or toilet humour. M Rajesh wrote as well as directed the film and deserves praise for his funny script and screenplay.

Arya is surprisingly good as Baskaran. Having seen him in more serious roles in Varudu and Madrasipattinam I wasn’t sure how he would deal with a much more light-hearted character but he manages to impress.  His facial expressions are more animated than I remember from previous films, his comedic timing is mostly good, and overall he strikes the right balance between ineptitude and stupidity for his character. Nayantara on the other hand is a bit of a disappointment. I expected more from her after her performance in Yarada Nee Mohini, but she seems very lifeless and there is no chemistry between her and Arya. Some of this may be due to the rather one-dimensional characterisation of Chandrika who just seems to be there as the love interest and nothing else.

While Saravanam mainly plays the straight man to his brother there is still a lot of comedy in his role and Panchu Subbu is believable as the respectable vetinarian. Vijayalakshmi looks beautiful in her role as his wife Nandhini and brings a touch of grace and dignity to the film. I must look out for her in more films as she had such a lovely presence on screen.  Chitra Lakshmanan as the father of Nandhini and Chandrika is a little too over the top, but his character is in keeping with the more typical Tamil comedy style for the father of the bride and he does well enough with this role. 

What works best is the first half of the film and the interactions between Bhaskaran, his brother and his friend.  A better end would have helped, but I was impressed at just how well the comedy did translate to a non Tamil speaker. A film worth watching as a funnier than usual comedy with an excellent performance by Santhanam and a totally different side to Arya. 3 ½ stars.