Bangalore Days

Bangalore Days

Bangalore Days is a gem of a film, written and directed by Anjali Menon, who was also responsible for the excellent Ustad Hotel. The film follows the lives of three cousins after they each move to Bangalore for different reasons and despite the almost three hour run time, it’s a completely absorbing watch. The young actors are the highlight, but the plot for each is perfectly developed and fits neatly into the overall story, so that there is a ‘fly on the wall’ feeling of watching real lives unfold. Even the slightly clichéd drama that forms the final climax is compelling, although the ending is never really in any doubt. Beautifully developed characterisations, a clever storyline and gorgeous cinematography all add up to make Bangalore Days a must watch film.

The three cousins, Krishnan PP aka Kuttan (Nivin Pauly), Divya (Nazriya Nazim and Arjun (Dulquer Salmaan) have been friends since they were children when they spent their summers together in the family’s ancestral home. Divya is a good student who has dreams of completing an MBA while Kuttan achieves his desire of escaping rural Kerala when he lands a job as a software engineer in Bangalore. Meanwhile Arjun seems content to drift, working at night as a graffiti artist and using his mechanical skills to work on motorbikes. As the film unfolds, more of Arjun’s past comes to light, including his unhappy childhood following his parents’ divorce. All of this has made him something of a rebel and disinclined to settle in any one spot or profession.

Divya’s parents decide to get her married quickly to counteract an inauspicious horoscope, firmly ending her dreams of study although the prospect of moving to Bangalore after the marriage is an enticing incentive. But things don’t appear too favourable when the prospective groom Das (Farhadh Faasil), reveals he was in a previous serious relationship and isn’t sure if he is over it. Divya’s main reason for going ahead seems to be the family dog’s acceptance of Das, and to be fair, I can completely understand her reasoning. Surely anyone who is a dog-lover cannot be a bad person? Throughout the film Anjali Menon small touches like this to successfully develop the characters and illustrate small traits that become important later. It’s simply done, but very effective and adds to the realistic feel of the characters.

The songs by Gopi Sundar are another highlight and this one sums up the different personalities and the relationship between the cousins perfectly.

Needless to say when Divya moves to Bangalore  with her new husband the situation does not improve and it’s not long before she is bored and resentful. Luckily Arjun has also moved to Bangalore to complete the confluence of cousins and is working for a Motocross bike team. With her husband’s indifference as motivation, Divya spends her days and nights out with Arjun and Kuttan, further increasing the distance between her and Das.

At the same time Kuttan has found what may be the love of his life in the form of air hostess Meenakshi (Isha Talwar). Although it’s completely baffling as to why she would be interested in the conservative Kuttan, she quickly takes him in hand, giving him a total make-over in the process. As to be expected, it doesn’t end well, but there is some lovely comedy and genuine warmth in the relationship which allows Kuttan to explore his less conservative side. Arjun is also in love, first of all with the voice of RJ Sarah (Paravathy Menon) and her positivity, but this quickly develops further once he sees her in person. There is a lovely moment where, after Sarah accuses Arjun of following her, which to be accurate is exactly what he has been doing, he eventually responds that rather than following, he would like to walk with her. It’s very sweet and the relationship between Arjun and Sarah develops into a full scale romance with plenty of sparkage between the characters.

What makes the film work so well is the excellent casting and the outstanding performances from all the actors. Nazriya Nazim is perfect in her role and even more impressive here than she was in Raja Rani. Her reactions and emotions are perfectly nuanced and her easy camaraderie with her cousins is well portrayed. Farhadh Faasil is also excellent as her distant husband with an unresolved past and his emotional delivery as his character gradually thaws is superb. Perhaps because the two actors are partners in real life, the depiction of their marriage is also very well done and the relationship is completely believable throughout.

Even better though is Dulquer Salmaan who gets his portrayal of a rather bitter but still compassionate man spot on. His relationship with his cousins is perfectly casual with plenty of chemistry that really makes them seem like a family. His expressions and body language speak more than the dialogue when he is with Sarah and he makes Arjun a more sympathetic character than I expected given his opening montage.  Dulquer’s character is well written but his performance takes it to the next level and I think this is the best I have seen him so far. Nivin Pauly has a more difficult job since Kuttan is self-restrained, almost staid and nowhere near as exciting as Arjun. However he still does a fantastic job with the character, particularly in the interactions with his father (Vijayaraghavan) and mother (Kalpana), both of whom are also excellent and perfectly cast. There are many levels to his character and to his relationship with both his cousins and the rest of his family that I don’t think I fully appreciated on my first watch, but become more apparent on repeated viewing. Kuttan’s character provides most of the comedy, but his serious nature is a perfect foil to the more impulsive Divya and rebelliousness of Arjun.

Although the film focuses on relationships, family, community and the three love stories, there is plenty more happening in the background. The film interposes the traditional values of rural India with the reality of modern city life, starting with the idea that community is lost in the city. However the complexities of this idea are further developed as Divya makes her own community wherever she goes, while Das carries his loneliness around with him as a shield. All the characters are looking for their own form of escape, some more literally than others, and all have personal challenges to overcome before reaching their goal. Anjali Menon develops the narrative through the different personalities and their attitudes, allowing the characters themselves to become the story and relegating the action to second place for much of the film.  It works beautifully well and it’s refreshing to have a film about marriage and relationships that is ultimately so optimistic and hopeful. Bangalore Days is an easy film to enjoy and I thoroughly recommend it as a modern tale of relationships. 4 ½ stars.

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Salt N Pepper

Salt N Pepper poster

I liked Aashiq Abu’s Salt N Pepper for lots of reasons, many being things the film isn’t. It is a romance but it’s not the usual gorgeous young things plunging into insta-love. People have their emotional baggage but no one is so traumatised by rejection or ill fortune that they have to become vengeful killing machines. People cook, eat, and share what is important in their lives. Friends do the wrong thing sometimes, but might also do the exactly right thing and either way, life goes on.

One day Kalidasan (Lal) receives a phone call from Maya (Shweta Menon), who mistakenly thinks she has called a restaurant to order a particular dosa. He cuts the call and when she rings back to chase up her order, he tells her off. Once the rancour settles and the misunderstanding is cleared, Maya and Kalidasan speak often. They are both a little older, have their own lives and careers.  While they each want love and companionship, they lack confidence in their ability to attract and keep a partner.

 

Salt-n-Pepper-it begins

Both are foodies, and their conversations develop around cooking and local delicacies. Manu (Asif Ali) comes to stay with his uncle Kalidasan. Manu is enthusiastic, likeable and not one to overthink the consequences. Maya’s closest friend is the confident glamour girl Meenakshi (Mythili). When Kalidasan and Maya decide it is time to meet and see if their burgeoning relationship might take off, they both make the same decision, born out of their insecurities. They send stand-ins. Manu and Meenakshi meet, pretending to be Maya and Kalidasan and their chemistry is evident. Manu pursues “Maya” for himself and Meenakshi is keen on him too. So when Maya and Kalidasan each decide to stop the pretence and meet for real, what will happen?

Lal’s performance brings the solitary Kalidasan to life. He is a man who has grown accustomed to his circumstances even though he sometimes wishes there was a bit more to it. Usually a sensible and organised man, his occasional drunken antics range from appealingly silly dances to temper tantrums. Lal puts it all together to add depth and shade to the character, and has bit of teddybear charm behind the growly voice. Kalidasan has some self-awareness and is not afraid to offer a heartfelt apology or reflect on his own behaviour so he remained sympathetic despite, or sometimes because of, his almost adolescent outbursts.  Despite his reserve, Kalidasan has a handful of good friends and he warms to Manu immediately, making him a welcome addition to the household. He seems like a nice, slightly quirky, guy.

Shweta Menon is perfect as Maya, a dubbing artist. Maya cooks partly to connect with her memories of her mother. She connects with Kalidasan when he recounts the story of a cake made to celebrate a soldier’s return to his wife, and they make their own versions. Shweta Menon gives us a heroine who is a woman not a giggling stick insect in minimal clothing. She is articulate, attractive but not glam, and wants love not transient lust. Like Kalidasan she has a few close friends. They sit on the roof terrace and get drunk, telling stories and making plans. Maya usually hides her feelings but sometimes the façade cracks and she is a sensitive, hopeful girl that wants a nice guy to love her as she is. Maya is an independent lady and she navigates the various challenges at her workplace and home every day. She knows she has to do things for herself, even when it seems difficult.

Asif Ali and Mythili are both good in their roles and I liked Manu and Meenakshi despite their occasional selfishness and dimwitted behaviour. I wasn’t as convinced by their relationship developing as I was by Maya and Kalidasan but there was enough substance there to make it seem likely. Maybe my personal preference for not pretending to be someone else and dislike of lying and sneaking around is tinting my view. Manu is a manchild, and Asif Ali had the right blend of innocent enthusiasm and delusions of hotness. I have to say he seems to kiss with the finesse of a St Bernard pup which was a worry. Mythili played up the glam and Meenakshi came across as that girl who had always been pretty and popular and had total confidence. This pair were featured in a romantic duet that not only put them in bed, but also in matching sarees. Or maybe his ‘n’ hers togas.

One of my favourite scenes is Kalidasan going to meet a prospective bride and returning single but with their excellent cook, Babu. Baburaj plays another in that long line of filmi stalwarts, the cook/confidant/general factotum. Babus’ observations give an insight into Kalidasan and while their relationship is often tested by Kalidasan’s demands, the mutual respect and affection shines through. I enjoyed seeing Kalpana as Maya’s landlady Mary. She is one of my favourite filmi aunties and while her role is small, she is expressive and fun to watch. I liked the running jokes that Maya’s moods were a result of the project she had been dubbing for. Apparently family soaps make you child-intolerant. Vijayraghavan plays Kalidasan’s colleague and friend, and doles out some sensible observations at the right time. Everyone has a backstory and enough detail to make them plausible.

There are some refreshingly low key moments. When a director (Dileesh Pothan ) propositions Maya, she makes it clear he is dreaming. He is not a creepy rapey villain, but a guy who likes lairy shirts, fancied a shag, and thought he saw an opportunity. (The subtitles said ‘togetherness’ but my ears heard ‘sex’. I wonder why.) If this was a typical mass film, he would have spent the next hour or so plotting Maya’s downfall, but as it happens he chose a completely different approach.

The film is set in Trivandrum and looks to have been filmed on location. City life permeates the action as Maya and Kalidasan move between the hectic streets and their residences, even unwittingly crossing paths. Kalidasan’s house is gorgeous but fusty, full of family mementoes and old fashioned furniture. His car is a character in her own right (and even gets a credit). Maya has crisp modern textiles and a light airy room, a space she has made for herself. It’s easy to believe in these people and their lives.

I largely enjoyed the humour and the relaxed interplay between characters.  However the whole Mooppan subplot is completely unnecessary and went nowhere. The Joan’s Rainbow cake sequence is one of the few false notes in the film, largely due to the endless simpering by yet another awful European extra. I did like the different cake construction and decorating style that Kalidasan and Maya chose. (If I was judging, Maya’s cake would be the winner.) Ahmed Sidique’s character was annoying and pointless. Considering the film runs under 2 hours, Abu spent too long on these tangents.

There are only a few songs, and they range from the appetising Chembavu which lists food after food, through a few inoffensive ballads (all by Bijibal), to the indescribably naff closing song by Avial. It seems Keralan “alternative rock” is not my thing – although I enjoyed the video for the segments with the actors playing starry versions of themselves.

Director Aashiq Abu has created a film romance that is smart without being too clever, has warmth without excessive histrionics and is populated by likeable people who possess (varying degrees of) common sense. 4 stars!

Dumm Dumm Dumm

The charming and fun Suja of Music to My Ears has been in Melbourne and very kindly invited us over to watch a film. It was so nice to meet her and natter about films we love. Suja was generous in sharing her knowledge of Tamil language and culture as well as music so we got to appreciate a bit more of the subtlety than is possible just from subtitles. And to top it off – she is an excellent cook!

We chose Dumm Dumm Dumm on the basis of the cast, lead by Madhavan and Jyothika, the music by Karthik Raja and the beautiful rural settings. I have seen the film before and it’s one I enjoy because of the charm of the actors rather than the plot, although some intelligent writing makes the rom-com a bit more interesting and believable. The production values are high, as to be expected from a Madras Talkies production (Mani Ratnam also gets a writing credit), and the film looks beautiful.

Suja will be writing in more detail about the music of Dumm Dumm Dumm, so you must go read her blog post. You should read her work anyway if you have an interest in Carnatic music as well as some filmi music.

In a nutshell, Adityan (Madhavan) and Ganga (Jyothika) have their marriage arranged by family but neither is ready to settle down. He has women to chase and true love to find, and she has a seat at an engineering college. In order to avoid family disgrace, they try many ridiculous tactics to have the engagement dissolved. But all the time they spend on plotting brings them close together and when they are separated, they realise they have made a mistake. How this on/off relationship is resolved is the story.

Jyothika portrays Ganga as strong, not a squeaky voiced air head, and she has presence. Ganga is a good girl who doesn’t want to upset her family but she is also determined to make a life for herself and to support her sisters in their education. Her father Veluthambi (Murali) is so proud of his daughter’s academic achievements that it surprises Ganga to find her imminent marriage arranged without her knowledge. Jyothika is a curvaceous but athletic looking woman and this was much commented upon in the film with characters referring to her as a pumpkin girl amongst other interesting epithets. Having Suja on hand certainly gave us more insight! Ganga pushes Adi to take more responsibility in his life and to stand up for what he wants – and to make it clear if what he wants includes her. It was nice to see a female character be fairly low key, nice, intelligent, and handle her life and relationships in a thoughtful way.

Maddy plays that familiar character – the good middle class boy that every mother wants as a son-in-law. Adityan is self centred but not unpleasant – just a bit privileged and aware he is a catch. He does take to manipulation like a duck to water (he is a lawyer after all) but he lacks the necessary commitment to letting people believe the worst of him so most of his plans fall through. Adi is all talk for most of the story, and what action he takes seems to go awry. Maddy does very well at showing the change in Adi’s feelings for Ganga over time, and their relationship grows as they get to understand each other. Ganga sees a less confident and polished side of Adi emerge, and begins to appreciate him. While this is a typical nice guy role, it did give him the opportunity to show many moods of Madhavan. Here is a little sample for you – feel free to ‘name that mood’ via the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The schemes and obstacles to the relationship fall into filmi cliché but the story keeps things moving along even when the limits of coincidence were straining. Vivek as Adi’s friend Jim is annoying, goes slightly evil and is rarely (intentionally) amusing. Manivannan as criminal lawyer Sivaji is very good, playing it for laughs but also providing some quiet common sense at times. His performance is well modulated and he seems to have fun tormenting Adi. The various family members are all quite good, and the dynamic between the two fathers is interesting. Ganga’s father has moved up in village social ranks and was treated courteously by his senior, Adi’s dad (Delhi Kumar). They were friendly until an incident, and following that Veluthambi was seen as getting above his station. There were layers of resentment that were exacerbated by the engagement. This back story made things feel vaguely credible. The theme of arranged versus love marriage was woven in, but the film doesn’t belt you round the ears with one viewpoint. Director Azhugam Perumal takes a more discursive approach to some social questions and it is all the more engaging for that.

The minor supporting characters are all good, and many of them are familiar as That Uncle, That Friend, That Guy from other films. Pattamma, played by Kalpana is a standout.

She is a comedy aunty and the butt of many jokes which is par for the course. But she features in one of the prettiest song picturisations (which also blends farce and drama), and her character gets a sweetly romantic moment too.

And that’s what makes this film such a pleasure. The detail and respect in the characterisations and writing extends to the minor players as well. There are people bustling around, having side conversations and going about their lives and chores. Suja recognised so much of the activity around the wedding preparations, confirming the realism of those domestic scenes, and it really does feel like you’re a fly on the wall at times.

The cinematography by Ramji is a highlight. The lush green countryside and rich earthy tones in the village are beautiful. The rural settings have a luminosity that is lost once characters relocate to Chennai and the lighting becomes sharper with more contrast. The wardrobe for the ladies is quite nice, and the colour palette is intense but muted so there is a lovely harmony in group scenes. Ganga switches from a half saree to a salwar kameez when she is in the city, and the characters’ appearance reflect their background whether they are townies like Adi or from the country. Ganga was slightly scandalous in the village as we noted her lack of upper cloth on more than one occasion – that would never have got past Suja’s grandmother!

The songs are fun, and the country folks get the best melodies. Desingu Raja has stunning locations (at Thanjavur) and costumes, and Maddy doing excellent drama hands – plus that moustache!

The subtitles on my Ayngaran DVD are very special indeed. They range from the literal to the completely mystifying. No nipping out for a cuppa on this subtitle team’s watch! Suja confirmed some of them are very literal translations and quite correct but others were less helpful.

Dumm Dumm Dumm is a fun film to revisit, and seeing it with someone who knows the language and culture was an added bonus. I’ll never understand the nuances of dialect or accent so those subtleties usually escape me. The performances help the film stand up over repeated viewing and the cast work very well as an ensemble. The comedy is easily ignored when it is not integral to the scene and Vikek as Jim was slapped and beaten repeatedly so I had some vicarious revenge. It has nice scenery, good music and likeable actors in a not-too-stupid romance. 3 ½ stars!

Heather says: It was lovely to meet up with Suja and watch a film together.  We had a fantastic time chatting about Indian cinema and music, and as Temple says got a very useful insight into what we miss because of inaccurate subtitling of Tamil DVD’s and not getting the regional variations.

Dumm Dumm Dumm has excellent music, a fun romantic storyline and very beautiful cinematography particularly in the first half. I really like the characters of Ganga and Aditya as they are realistically drawn and their initial dislike of each other which slowly develops into attraction is well portrayed. Jyothika is excellent as the feisty girl who is determined to make it to college. I love the way she rolls her eyes as Aditya ineptly tries to follow along with her various plots to derail their proposed marriage. I also like that she doesn’t just have a hissy fit and refuse to get married but instead has a plan and tries to stop the marriage without actually hurting her parents’ feelings. She is a more successful schemer as well, so her frequent frustration with her co-conspirator is understandable. Madhavan has a flair for comedy and he puts it to excellent use here. His committed bachelor is a character with plenty of charm and his dramatic changes in expression were excellent.  Jyothika’s Ganga is more serious and more committed to her studies and I liked that her chosen profession was engineering rather than something more fluffy. I do like Jyothika as an actress and she really does seem suited for these roles where she has something to get her teeth into and isn’t merely a passive heroine.

The first half of the film is a different take on romance with the depiction of two people trying to get out of an arranged marriage, but it is back to more usual territory for the second half of the film. What started off so promisingly does become a little more of a routine love story with an irritating comedy track once the characters move to the city. However both Madhavan and Jyothika keep their characters entertaining and the love story is sweet enough to want them to finally succeed in reconciling their families. 3 ½ stars from me.