Rekka (2016)

Rathina Shiva’s 2016 film is a by-the-numbers mass action film that relies heavily on Vijay Sethupathi’s charm and ability to fully inhabit a character, but still fails to deliver a completely engaging story. Rekka mixes the usual masala ingredients with a plot about a crusading lawyer on a mission to unite couples in love, but there is nothing here that hasn’t been done many times before. What does make the film worth a look is the spectacle of Vijay Sethupathi acting his way through a typical hero role complete with dramatic walking, slow-mo fight scenes and big song and dance numbers. Simply – Rekka is Vijay does mass!

The story follows Shiva (Vijay Sethupathi) as he kidnaps reluctant brides on their wedding day and reunites them with their one true love. Surprisingly he seems to find a large number of separated lovers in Kumbakonam and everyone seems to think that Vijay is performing a fine civic service with his matrimonial kidnapping business. However, he seems to have made a mistake when he kidnaps the wife-to-be of local gangster David (Harish Uthaman) who turns up at Shiva’s family home to discover exactly who has run off with his fiancée. David has more reasons to make him unhappy as his rival Cheliyan (Kabir Duhan Singh) has killed David’s younger brother, apparently as a way to up the feud between them. It seems an odd reason to take a life, but that’s not the most irrational plot point by a long way.

Shiva and his father Ratnam (K.S. Ravikumar) have seen David slaughter someone in cold blood in downtown Kumbakonam, so they know exactly what kind of person they are dealing with. With Shiva’s sister Kavitha getting married, David has the perfect opportunity for revenge with the result that Shiva agrees to kidnap a girl from Madurai and bring her to David as his new wife. What Shiva doesn’t know is that the girl, Bharathi (Lakshmi Menon) is engaged to Cheliyan and her father Manivasagam is a corrupt politician with an army of thugs of his own. Added in to all of this are the mysteries of Mala (Sija Rose), who appears to Shiva as a hallucination, and Selvam (Kishore), a down and out doctor that Shiva tries to help.

So far the story isn’t too bad. Standard masala fare but the fight scenes are fun with plenty of gravity defying, 4WD smashing antics and although Vijay Sethupathi looks awkward and uncomfortable in the big dance numbers, he looks much more at ease in the action sequences. However, things go downhill fast when he travels to Madurai and finds the girl he has to kidnap. Lakshmi Menon’s Bharathi is a few shillings short of a pound and literally just sets eyes on Shiva for a few seconds before deciding that he is the love of her life. Well, okay, I get that it’s Vijay and he is pretty cool, but Bharathi just looks and leaps into elopement without any more thought than a lemming when faced with a cliff.

A few seconds later and we see where Bharathi gets her craziness from, as her mother’s reaction to her proposed elopement is a directive to make sure she says goodbye to her grandmother. No, just no – anyone that ditsy would want the full-blown wedding experience even if she was the daughter of some bigwig in Madurai and already engaged to a ruthless gangster. Especially if she was the daughter of some bigwig in Madurai! Nothing about the whole elopement seems right and the developing love story between Bharathi and Shiva is hindered by the lack of chemistry between the two actors. Shiva just wants to get back his sister’s wedding and be done with the crazy lady, while Bharathi seems too mentally unhinged to know what she actually wants. None of it makes any sense, but then that is the beauty of mass masala – it doesn’t need to make sense!

There’s still the mystery of Mala, and the second half has a flashback sequence to explain why Shiva goes around stealing brides and why he feels so guilty about Selvam. It’s rather long winded and since Mala and Selvam are more peripheral characters, Rathina Shiva spends more time than seems necessary on this part of the story. The flashback does tie up a few loose ends but since it really doesn’t matter why Shiva kidnaps reluctant brides, it seems to be a needless diversion from the main story.

Lakshmi Menon’s Bharathi is disturbingly manic and makes some bad choices that further reduce the characters credibility. No-one could ever really be that dim as to run away with someone they had just met unless they were really in desperate circumstances, and Bharathi doesn’t appear to be distressed by her upcoming engagement at all. There is a vague explanation later, but it’s not particularly persuasive so for the most part I kept thinking Shiva needed to cut his losses and run far, far away.

Vijay Sethupathi really is the saving grace of the film and his presence makes up for a lot of the inadequacies of the script and screenplay. Somehow, even though he’s playing a mass hero, Vijay still finds moments where he is an ‘actor’ rather than a hero, with the result that Shiva is a more appealing character than expected. His introduction scene has him playing chess, not the usual activity of choice for most action heroes, and he has some good emotional bonding moments with his father. This is his film all the way, and he makes his character work, no matter how ludicrous the situation. He’s better than expected in the slo-mo walking scenes and absolutely fabulous in the fight sequences where he twirls villains around his head like batons and systematically smashes them into SUV’s, street stalls piles of boxes and any other staple mass prop that happens to be around.

The rest of the cast has less to do, but Harish Uthaman is fine as a generic snarling bad guy, although even though he has less screen time, Kabir Duhan Singh does appear more frightening and genuinely nasty in his role as Cheliyan. Sathish pops up as Shiva’s friend Keerai and is good in a role that requires him to tone down the comedy. D. Imman’s music is OK, but doesn’t make me want to re-listen to the soundtrack, while everything else about the film is pretty much as standard for a mass movie.

This isn’t a Vikram Vedha or even a Sethupathi, but it is a Vijay Sethupathi film and that makes it a touch above standard mass fare. A less demented heroine would have helped immensely but the standard story of good guy vs bad guy still works despite the distractions Rathina Shiva throws in the way. Not Vijay’s best film in 2016, but still worth a watch to see him in full-on mass hero persona wiping the floor with assorted bad guys and gangsters, while still keeping his trademark sweet smile. 3 stars.

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Sneham Kosam

K.S Ravikumar’s film gives us double the Chiranjeevi in an outstanding dual role performance, and about three times the plot of a normal film. There is a lot going on in this convoluted tale of family strife and the meaning of friendship. The last 20 or 30 minutes alone has enough revenge, melodrama, blood, sweat, and tears for any average film. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

Chinnayya (Chiranjeevi) is the valued servant of the landlord Peddayya (Vijayakumar). Chinnayya is bossy and dramatic, as is the landlord. They have a warm relationship and the other servants enjoy their regular tiffs. Peddayya has cut off his daughter Gowri (Sithara) and son-in-law Peddabbayi (Prakash Raj) although it’s clear Gowri wants to reconcile and she tries over and over. When his youngest daughter Prabhavati (Meena) comes home, she also wants the family reunited but she has a different method in mind. She sets her cap at Chinnayya, and sets him up for an accusation of rape. Having kicked him out of the house her true feelings become clear. She blames him for the separation of her father and sister, and cannot stand to see him living comfortably in a home he ruined. And then Simhadri (also Chiru) returns after doing time for killing Prabha’s mother. Peddayya is delighted to see his old friend, the servants seem cautiously accepting, but both Chinnayya and the girls furiously reject him.

I love Chiranjeevi’s acting in both roles but I really do not like the decision making in this film. I don’t think there is a single significant life choice made that didn’t have me muttering “oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding”. Anyway, back to the plot. Simhadri took the blame for Lakshmi’s murder so as not to make Gowri the wife of a murderer. Because it is better to be married to a murderous weasel than it is to be divorced, widowed, or single? Eventually justice must be served and it is, in spades.

The Megastar stamp is all over the opening credits, but Chiru is in actor mode and delivers excellent characterisation as well as buckets of tears and adrenalin.

Chinnayya is a more typical hero role for him, and he breezes through the fights, the dances, and all the shenanigans. But there are emotional currents that run deep, and when Chinnayya confronts Prabha over her scheme to ruin him, Chiranjeevi blazes with fury.

Simhadri is both intensely lovable and kind of infuriating. He sacrifices everything for his landlord boss, everything, but never shows anger or resentment. I believed absolutely that Simhadri would do anything for his beloved friend and boss, but I didn’t need so much of the “he is our god-like benefactor, we’re nothing without him” hand-wringing over the master servant relationship. Regardless, Simhadri is such a vivid and quietly commanding presence. His feeling of guilt and responsibility was misplaced but achingly raw, and those Mega Eyes conveyed volumes. The scene where he had to sneak a glance at Chinnayya via a mirror just to see his son’s face could have been ridiculous but it works because of Chiranjeevi. I liked Chiranjeevi’s use of similar but subtly altered mannerisms and posture to convey both the resemblance and the differences. Chiru’s expression is softer and more world-weary as the father, and while Chinnayya is a chip off the old block he doesn’t have quite the same substance. And when you get Chiru emoting at Chiru, it’s just too too good.

While this is Chiranjeevi’s film, I liked that other characters were given some depth and development. Prabhavati is a bit of a nutter, and has minimal self-control when it comes to getting what she wants. She wants it NOW. Meena is screechy at times but when she needs to command attention, she does it despite all the macho chest beating going on around her. I found Prabhavati too neurotic and impulsive to be relatable but I felt the conviction in the performance. Her teary declaration that since she had no mother she wanted to be her sister’s daughter was both moving and mind-boggling. Her duplicity was breath-taking and audacious in execution. She was no passive victim, although she had been sadly misled. Meena’s rapport with Chiranjeevi was patchy but that was befitting this half fake half real love hate thing going on. They were a good match in terms of energy and commitment to the role, both in the fun scenes and the more intense moments.

And while I don’t concur with the sentiment that a man with laser eyes who can make another man’s head explode into flames is necessarily ideal husband material, her imagination was fertile and that can help a girl through some bad times.

Sithara starts out as a wet rag, crying all over the place, but in the flashbacks and the post revelation scenes she gives Gowri some spirit. Poor Gowri got a raw deal on pretty much everything. Her husband was a rat, her father disowned her for no good reason other than the rat, and she had no idea of the truth. But I liked that she kept trying to mend fences, even though she couldn’t work out what was really wrong. She was persistent and resilient. And finally, she chose doing the right thing over supporting her husband.

Vijayakumar as Peddayya is the other pillar of the drama. His petulance and dramatic flouncing is tempered by the respect and loyalty he shows his friend Simhadri and the boy Chinnayya. He genuinely treats Simhadri as a mate, scandalising his servant with hospitality and unselfconscious affection. There is not a lot of subtlety in the drama but Vijayakumar draws out some strong emotion, especially in his scenes with Chiru and with Sithara. I just couldn’t get past his willingness to let Simhadri take the fall, and also to lie to his daughter and then disown her partly because of that lie.

But his character solved most disputes with Simhadri with a song and a tickle fight so he’s not all bad.

Prakash Raj is so slimy and craven, I was itching to slap him and frequently booed as he weaselled his way around. He gives a great performance as a horrible person. Peddabbayi prefers to wheedle his way out of trouble but if that doesn’t work he flies into a rage. I’m glad they cast a good character actor in this role as if they’d gone for a comedy uncle villain, it would have sapped a lot of the energy from the quite exhausting climax.

The support cast is loaded up with comedy uncles but they are low key and their characters serve some purpose. Brahmanandam is effective as Prakash Raj’s nasty sidekick with minimal gratuitous comedy uncle shtick. MS Narayana, Babu Mohan, and Kota Srinivasa Rao are among the more heavily featured household staff and like Brahmi, are comparatively restrained. Nirmalamma is cheeky as Simhadri’s gambler mother. Sujatha makes an impression in her few scenes as the much loved and lamented Lakshmi. And poor whatsisname who played Chinnababu made it seem he may have taken after his older brother but was actually a decent boy, left devastated and jilted at the altar.

The film looks beautiful, and the few special effects are used wisely. And I think they employed all the camels in Rajasthan for one day. While it probably could do with a more assertive edit, I really enjoy almost every moment of the film. Unless I get too riled up about Simhadri assuring Gowri’s marriage to a homicidal mongrel and her father’s 15 year temper tantrum.

The Hindi dub is on YouTube with English subs, or you can do what I do and grab those subs for your Telugu copy and tinker with the timing because hearing another voice coming out of Chiru’s face is All Wrong. 4 ½ stars! (A tiny deduction for terrible decision making, and for the director’s cheesy guest appearance, another dodgy decision.)

Thanga Magan (2015)

Thanga magan

I was rather apprehensive about watching Velraj’s new film, given that VIP was such a huge hit, and follow-up films from new directors can be rather hit and miss. However with Dhanush on board again surely things couldn’t go too badly wrong? Well, no, at least not completely. Thankfully Velraj doesn’t simply try for a VIP 2, but instead starts with a rather different atmosphere and a more mature and responsible hero, although he does venture back into more familiar territory as the story reaches resolution. He’s also enlisted a generally excellent cast who keep the film entertaining even if the story does falter somewhat in the second half. Still, for a follow up film it’s not a bad attempt and Dhanush is as good as always ensuring Thanga Magan is worth a watch.

The opening scene is possibly one of the best in the film, and works well to raise questions and draw the audience into the story. As the rain pelts down, Thamizh (Dhanush) shepherds his pregnant wife Yamuna (Samantha) and his mother (Raadhika Sarathkumar) into a small and rather grimy house, ably assisted by his friend Kumaran (Sathish). By everyone’s depressed and miserable faces, it’s clear that something terrible has happened and that this is a major step downwards for the family, reinforced by Thamizh immediately setting out to look for a job.  That’s the cue for an extended flash back sequence that explains why Thamizh is unemployed and his family have had to relocate and downsize into such an undesirable location.

The flash back starts with a young Thamizh roaming around Chennai with his two friends Kumaran and Aravindh (Adith Arun). The three students spend all their time together until the day Thamizh sees a girl at the temple and instantly falls in love. Hema D’Souza (Amy Jackson) is an apparently intelligent, modern Tamil woman who has some very definite ideas about what she wants from life. She’s a student too, studying architecture, and isn’t afraid to berate Thamizh when she thinks he is following her. But after such a strong beginning, Hema becomes more of a caricature, drinking beer and allowing a mildly physical intimacy that ensures she isn’t going to be the one leaving with the guy – Hema is much too liberated to get a happy ending in a Tamil film!

Dhanush does his usual thing of managing to appear much younger than he really is, and as the relationship between Thamizh and Hema is fairly typical of young and infatuated lovers he doesn’t have to stretch for the role. In comparison Amy Jackson seems rather out of place and despite all the physical intimacy she has little chemistry with Dhanush leading to a relationship that never appears realistic on her side. Amy looks older than Dhanush too, which doesn’t help, but at least when they do finally split it’s reasonably plausible with his immaturity at odds with her ambition finally leading to the separation.

After the break-up Thamizh falls in line with his mothers’ wishes, getting a job working in the tax office with his father and agreeing to an arranged marriage with Yamuna. Yamuna is the ideal traditional wife; quiet, shy and happy staying at home all day to help her mother-in-law. She’s a complete contrast from Hema, but in her own way Yamuna is just as much of a caricature, following the description of classic filmi wife to the letter. Samantha is a much better actress than the character of Yamuna requires, but she still manages to shine despite her rather one-dimensional role. At least she has plenty of chemistry with Dhanush and even if the relationship is an old-fashioned and clichéd version of marriage they do seem to have a mutual respect and a partnership that was lacking between Thamizh and Hema.

The first half works well and Dhanush is on top form as dutiful son, young lover, then husband and father-to-be. He transitions from one to the other very naturally and it’s good to see him have a happier relationship with his family than he usually portrays in his films. Samantha is also excellent here and both K.S. Ravikumar and Raadhika Sarathkumar provide solid support as Thamizh’s parents. The love stories are both sweet in their different ways and there is some good and funny dialogue too which ensures that all the drama doesn’t get too overpowering.

The second half is where things start to go a bit pear-shaped when the story moves on to the problems with Thamizh’s father (K.S. Ravikumar) and his boss Prakash Kumar (Jayaprakash). There is a missing file, possibly some missing money and the flimsy storyline has very little substance but plenty of artifice. It’s a credit to the actors involved that the film still entertains even though large parts of the story don’t make much sense and there are too many large plot holes. The villain of the story is Aravindh who was neglected and left out of everything while Thamizh and Satish were off romancing Hema and her friend – apparently that’s enough of a reason to make you a total jerk and a criminal to boot.  However Aravindh is an ineffectual adversary and suffers from his absence in the first half of the film, leaving him without any real depth to his character. Adith does as well as he can with a very sketchy role, but it’s not enough to make Aravindh a plausible opponent. On a plus note though, Amy Jackson reappears and is much better in this part of the film, while Dhanush is excellent at depicting Thamizh’s growth as a dependable husband and supportive son as he investigates what really happened with his father. Even though the story needs a large suspension of disbelief, there is still some good dialogue and the relationship between Thamizh and Yamuna is well developed and beautifully pictured.

The main problem I have with Thanga Magan is the end. Unfortunately after spending two hours establishing Thamizh as a kind and thoughtful son and husband, the climax suddenly sees him turn into the swaggering, mass-dialogue spouting fighting machine last seen at the end of VIP. Perhaps Velraj couldn’t think of how else Thamizh could win the day, but the abrupt transition is at odds with the rest of the film and seems unnecessary. Thamizh could have achieved the same result without all the posturing and fighting, particularly since the fight scenes aren’t particularly well choreographed and the dialogue is clunky and more suited to a battlefield than a discussion in an office. Dhanush still manages to carry the mass-hero dialogue and posturing well of course, but the film deserves a more satisfying climax that meshes better with the rest of the film.

Although Thanga Magan doesn’t deliver as well as VIP, particularly in regards to the storyline in the second half, the performances are very watchable and Dhanush is simply excellent. He has the ability to show his character’s growth and maturation throughout the film, while still telling the story and ably supporting the rest of the cast. He always appears very natural, whether he’s playing a young student or a more matured married man, and never seems to be obviously ‘acting’. Sathish too does a good job, fitting the role of Thamizh’s ‘side-kick’ while he shares a natural rapport with Dhanush which ensures the comedy between the two works well. Samantha is the other standout performer and even if her role of a submissive wife is rather clichéd, she still plays it with grace and dignity and a good sense of humour. Anirudh supplies the music and it works well for the songs although none are as instantly catchy as I’ve come to expect from his previous soundtracks. I was also a little disappointed by the lack of dancing in the picturisations, as most of the songs are montages to show the two romances. They are all appealingly shot and look good, but I do miss watching Dhanush dance! Worth watching at least once for Dhanush, Samantha and Sathish and an amusing and entertaining first half.