Iraivi (2016)

Iraivi

Karthik Subbaraj’s third film is rather darker than his previous two, with less comedy and a serious theme about women who have to endure the poor decisions of weak men. It’s a film where the female characters are defined by the men, and the story is told through male eyes although the women generally are stronger and less flawed than their husbands. While the relationships are the core of the film, there is an overlying story that involves theft, murder and deception and although it’s another excellent film from Karthik, I kept thinking throughout that this would have been more powerful if he had shown more of the women’s viewpoint. However, highlighting the flaws in his male characters and ensuring that they don’t appear heroic is in itself a departure from the norm in Indian cinema, as is focusing on the plight of the women trapped in realistically troubled relationships. In Iraivi, Karthik has made another film that is not easy to define but one which will hopefully start conversations and make audiences think a little harder about the definition of abuse.

The film starts and ends with the women, even beginning and finishing with the same image of a hand outstretched in the rain. The rain is used throughout as a metaphor for freedom, with each of the women expressing a wish to stand in the rain and get ‘drenched’. In the images and dialogue shown over the opening credits, Ponni (Anjali) is a schoolgirl, with the acknowledged somewhat old-fashioned dream of making a good marriage and living the rest of her life in domestic bliss. Vazhini (Kamalinee Mukherjee) is shown to be a strong and confident woman who has defied her family to marry the man she loves while Meenakshi (Vadivukkarasi) is upset by her husband’s demeaning attitude towards her, which has been an unceasing constant throughout their life together.

When we next see Yazhini and Meenakshi, each has been changed by the men around them, while we get to see Ponni’s transformation during the story. Meenakshi has had some kind of fall and/or stroke. She is reaction-less in a bed in hospital and her two sons, Arul (S.J. Surya) and Jagan (Bobby Simha) blame their father Dass (Radha Ravi). He admits to being the cause of his wife’s hospitalisation, but despite the fact that she never moves and never speaks, Meenakshi has become their focus for any of the problems Arul and Jagan face. No matter that she cannot communicate, she is still their mother and that bond is as strong as always.

Yazhini is married to Arul, a film director whose last film is being held hostage by his producer after the two had a falling out. Arul is living in limbo until he can secure his film’s and has become an alcoholic as a result. He gets into fights in bars when drunk but is not physically abusive to his wife and daughter, but instead subjects them to his mood swings and depression, and the general uncertainty of living with an alcoholic. S.J. Surya is excellent in his portrayal of a weak and selfish man who cannot cope with his loss and has become bitter and completely self-absorbed in his misery. Kamalini too is very good in a role that captures well how many women become trapped by their circumstances. She threatens Arul with divorce but at the same time still loves her husband and tries very hard to be as supportive as she can. However, Arul’s alcoholism and refusal to move beyond his own self-pity makes it difficult to Yazhini to see any other recourse other than to leave, taking their daughter with her. The dialogues between the two are excellent, and the sense of frustration and despair from both Arul and Yazhini underpins every scene. As the story unfolds, it’s Yazhini who emerges as the winner, able to change and adapt she moves on with her life while Arul is stuck in the same self-destructive pattern. Even after going to rehab, his selfish nature has not changed and everything is still about getting his film released – even losing his wife isn’t enough of a jolt to dislodge him from the familiar rut of self-pity and single-minded focus on his film above all else.

Michael (Vijay Sethupathi) grown up with Arul and Jagan and considers them as family with Arul as his best friend. He is in love with a young widow Malar (Pooja Dewariya) but she has no interest in anything other than a physical relationship and rejects his proposals of marriage. Malar is an interesting character – she is a woman who knows what she wants and is not bothered about societies perception of her behaviour, but I felt that there was something rather contrived about her character and despite Pooja’s best efforts, Malar didn’t quite ring true for me compared to the other characters.

When Michael’s parents arrange a marriage with Ponni he callously informs her on their wedding night that he has been forced into the marriage and can never be the man of her dreams. Her female relatives advise her that this is usually the case, but that Michael will change with marriage, however when Ponni tries to engage with Michael he shuts her out at every opportunity. In almost every scene with Michael or Ponni there are background details or snippets of dialogue which seem to foreshadow their relationship. When it seems that Ponni’s preganancy might be the turning point in their relationship, Michael is arrested and sent to prison, leaving Ponni to deliver and bring up her baby by herself. It’s again brilliantly written to illustrate the effect on Ponni as the happy-go-lucky school girl is transformed into a weary and accepting mother, managing to cope as best she can. Anjali is fantastic throughout and the dialogue again is perfectly written to illustrate the difficulties of women in what is a fairly typical relationship, no matter where in the world or whatever the cultural background. Vijay Sethupathi is on top form too as a man who is easily led by his friends and finds it difficult to admit to mistakes, even though at heart he isn’t a bad person.

The third character in the story is less successful, and Bobby Simha never quite manages to make his Jagan as believable as the other two. Jagan is jealous of Michael as he loves Ponni himself and decides to do something about it when he sees her distress when Michael goes to jail. Ponni’s reaction is certainly not what I expected in a film, but it is what could happen in real life, whereas Jegan’s monologues about the oppression of women and the evils of society seem more filmi and contrived than likely to occur in reality. However, Jagan does give an interesting contrast to the other two men, and is a more typical film character while providing the overlying story of artefact theft and deception against which the various relationships are all developed.

The story meanders about haphazardly while establishing the main characters and displaying their motivations. There are repeated themes and foreshadowing of events to come, but the final outcome is difficult to predict and the twists along the way are unexpected and genuinely surprising. What stands out are the individual performances from S.J Surya, Vijay Sethupathi, Kamalinee Murkharjee and Anjali, all of whom are superb. There is able support from all the other actors including a restrained appearance from Karunakaran as Arul’s friend Ramesh. The background music from Santhosh Narayanan is effective and the songs good, although in general these don’t add anything to the film. Sivakumar Vijayan’s cinematography is outstanding, often using the lighting to heighten the drama while ensuring that every scene is perfectly arranged for maximum impact.

Karthik has payed exquisite attention to detail, and the set-up and execution of every scene is beautifully planned to deliver maximum impact. On repeated watching, the small details start to emerge and the links between events become clearer. It’s a film that actually becomes better the second and third time around and I suspect that every time I watch Iraivi there will be another detail I missed the first time. It’s not perfect however; the film is long and some of the diversions taken don’t add anything worthwhile to the story, while despite starting off well, the female characters start to lose some of their definition and eventually only react to the actions of the men. It’s still an intriguing film and one I highly recommend for a different look at relationships between men and women. 4½ stars.

 

 

 

 

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Govindudu Andarivadele

Govindudu Andarivadele

Soaring melodrama, fantastically colourful sets and Prakash Raj are the stand-outs from GAV. Add in Charan, who has definitely improved on his emoting, and you have the bones of Krishna Vamshi’s family drama that mostly delivers what it promises. There are plenty of emotional scenes as Abhiram (Charan) attempts to reunite his family in England with the rest of his estranged relations in India, and of course there’s some local trouble and a romance thrown in for good measure. While most of the film seemed to live up to Krishna Vamshi’s preoccupation with family values, there are a few scenes here that seem to be a hold-over from a less pc era, and stand out as glaringly sexist and just plain wrong. However the rest of the film is entertaining enough despite a storyline so overused that the lack of subtitles was really never an issue!

The story opens with a déjà vu from K3G as Abhiram demonstrates just how well he can play rugby when the opposing team fail to follow the rules of the game and actually attempt to tackle. Real rugby players end up covered in mud and crushed under a few tons of Welsh full-back in my experience, but apparently not in Vamshi’s world. Abhiram lives in a very nice pad in London with his father Chandrasekhar (Rehman) and his little sister whose name I didn’t catch. Unfortunately Chandrasekhar misses out on an appointment to be Dean of Medicine at a London University and interprets this as karma due to an old rift from his own father.  No academic politics in Vamshi’s world either then, I presume!

Overnight Abhiram decides that he will be the one to make all right for his father, and heads off to India to do what he can to bring the families back together. Sadly though, he doesn’t take time to remove his rather odd pony-tail which I can only assume must have been an attempt to look ultra-hip and cool – London-ishtyle. Not my favourite look for Charan, but it did grow on me as the movie went on.

GAV - Charan

Things definitely look up once Abhiram makes it to India, does all the usual touristy things, and then heads off to his grandfather’s village. Following the standard family reconciliation template, Abhiram makes contact with the rest of his family anonymously by pretending to be a visiting agricultural student who wants to learn from family patriarch Balaraju (Prakash Raj). Balaraju runs his family and the village with a benevolent but very traditional hand while stopping his brother (Kota Srinivasa Rao) from clearing and developing the area. Living in the wonderfully pink and majorly over-decorated mansion is also Chandrasekhar’s wastrel brother Bangari (Srikanth): a man with an unfortunate propensity for mesh singlets and garish shirts. Oh, and he drinks, gambles and tries to kidnap and rape his potential bride, Chitra (Kamalinee Mukherjee). This is one of those scenes that really should never have made it in to a film in this day and age, and it does feel completely anachronistic with the rest of the story. Equally disturbing is Abhiram’s use of some photographs he has taken of his cousin Satya (Kajal Agarwal) dancing in Western clothes as a way to blackmail her. This is straight out bullying and sexual abuse, and I find it hard to believe this got past the censors in an otherwise ‘family-friendly’ film. Thankfully Satya does manage to effectively deal with Abhiram’s harassment, but it makes their subsequent romance initially less believable and Abhiram appear as a bit of a prat.

The rest of the film is much better, and that’s mainly due to excellent performances from Prakash Raj and Charan. Prakash Raj is perfect as Balaraju and he knows exactly how to play the strict but compassionate head of a large family. He never puts a foot wrong and wrings every possible drop of emotion out of his time on screen. He even manages to make stick fighting and motorbike riding emotional events, as he unknowingly bonds with his grandson. Jayasudha is just as good as Abhiram’s grandmother, and again she manages to take her overly emotional scenes and tame them down to something more realistic and believable.

Charan gets a chance to show that he can play more than just an action hero and he definitely rises to the challenge. His Abhiram has more shading than other characters I’ve seen Charan play, and he conveys plenty of emotion and feeling in his speeches, even though I couldn’t understand a word! Despite the initially rocky start, there is plenty of chemistry and some major sparkage in the romance between Abhiram and Satya. Charan is one of the few actors that interacts well with Kajal in this respect and their romance really does light up the screen. Charan does manage to stick close to his real love though, as seen in this song mainly set in and around Petra. I wonder if it’s written into every contract that he must get at least one scene with horses? Kajal gets rather short-changed in the choreography here, although Charan doesn’t actually get to dance much either and sadly most of the songs have more emoting than dancing.

The rest of the cast are all capable and fit well into their roles. Rao Ramesh, Posani Krishna Murali and Adarsh Balakrishna are part of Kota Srinivasa Rao’s opposing family but never feel terribly menacing. Adarsh’s character is mainly just very shouty and aggressive, and the various fight scenes, which appear to have been structured around rugby tactics, aren’t up to Peter Hein’s usual high standard. The film looks gorgeous though. The pink palace is amazing – Satya has a stunning peacock painting on her wall, and most of the other rooms are similarly adorned with fantastical artwork and gorgeous furniture. I would live there!

GAV - the pink palace

The emotional quotient does head into overload at times and the ending is particularly excessive, but that doesn’t really seem to matter since the whole point of the story is overblown sentiment. As a straightforward family drama GAV works well enough despite the cliché-ridden storyline and the strong performances help push it over the line. Well worth watching for Prakash Raj and Charan, particularly when you can marvel at the wonders of the pink palace as a bonus.

Anand (2004)

If there is such a thing as a good kind of stalking love story, Anand is probably it. Sekhar Kammula builds characters that have quirks and flaws, and his effort translates into an engaging modern romance. Although the film is called Anand, it’s actually well balanced between Anand (Raja) and Rupa (Kamalinee Mukherjee), at least in the director’s cut version.

Rupa is orphaned after a drunk driver hits her family’s car. Forward 8 years and Rupa (now played by Kamalinee) is a bit of a control freak, and preparing for her wedding to Rahul (often heard but not seen playback singer, Anuj Gurwara). His family are wealthy and traditional, and she is under pressure to modify her behaviour to suit them. She is scared of her future but trusts to god and her own spirit to help her through the challenges she expects lie ahead.

Rupa has pride and a belief that she deserves love and a good future. When Rahul reveals his weakness in the face of family disapproval, she realises she may be making a mistake. Finally, after a showdown with the domineering mother-in-law to be over wearing her mother’s heirloom saree, Rupa calls the wedding off.

I like that there are consequences, but it’s not over the top. Her life goes on, and while there is some embarrassment and explaining, her friends are all there for her, as is her old job. She supports herself financially, and seems to have a good life. It makes a refreshing change from all the filmi orphans living Cinderella type lives on charity from relatives.

The drunk driver is a presence throughout the film, although Rupa doesn’t know this. The shock of causing the accident made Gopalan (played by Gururaj – I think) revert to a childlike state. Initially I had some reservations about whether he was a necessary character, and how his condition would be portrayed. However, I enjoyed his presence and I give due credit to Gururaj for his performance.

Gopalan is loved by his family, and included in all their activities. He isn’t swept into a corner, and no one distances themselves from this damaged man. It was sweet seeing the family in conference, with Gopalan doing that Dad thing of dozing in front of the TV while Anand and his mum argued. They all know what happened, and Anand even describes it as an oddly positive change – a driven man finally happy with simplicity. It isn’t quite as syrupy as that sounds. I really liked the decision to show a content middle-class family who had achieved comfort in their lives at this point.

Anand (Raja) sees Rupa and decides he wants to get to know the real person. He knows her history (she doesn’t know he knows) and while he has sympathy for her, that isn’t his primary motivation. His mother is keen to marry him off, and Anand is tired of the marriage treadmill. He knows he is eligible and doesn’t trust first impressions, and he isn’t really keen on settling down unless he feels he has met his life partner. When he sees Rupa breaking her wedding off, he is intrigued as well as attracted to her. He concocts a story, rents a spare room at her house, and starts to work on getting to know her. He isn’t sure what he feels for Rupa, and he knows there is more to a relationship than just chemistry, so I think the decision to spend some time with her was wise but the method is questionable.

It is a kind of stalking, he does conceal his identity from her, and he manipulates circumstances where possible. It didn’t totally put me off because he is aware of his intrusion into Rupa’s life and he is open about his motives when her friends challenge him. And he can take ‘no’ for an answer. Raja is very much part of an ensemble, not a dominant hero type. He has a pleasant enough boy next door style but wasn’t outstanding.

Better known for directing than acting, Anish Kuruvilla is Anand’s cousin Raju. He is the voice of reason and logic, so of course no one ever listens to him. He supports Anand despite his misgivings, and has an excellent array of pained expressions. Raju is also a colossal snob, and this allows Kammula to introduce some points around discrimination and entitlement. It’s a funny, likeable performance despite the occasionally irritating character. Really, since he seems determined to avoid directing another film in my lifetime (hint Anish, HINT) I don’t see why he doesn’t act more.

Satya Krishnan as best friend Anita has a slightly acerbic yet affectionate nature, and her down to earth comments add a realistic level of dissent and question to the dialogues.

She and Raju have the job of watching their friends fumble with the burgeoning relationship, and their wry observations often deflate the drama or add a dash of humour. I liked the film in-joke when Anita has an Indra flashback and asks Raju if he has ever been in movies. She and Kamalinee took the acting honours in my book. And I love her husky voice – such a nice change from all the super squeaky heroines!

Rahul reappears on the scene, and Rupa and Anand are torn from their comfortable little routine. Rupa finally admits to herself that she loves Anand, but what to do? Anand leaves the next steps up to her.  I like the resolution. I felt it suited Rupa’s character completely and I appreciated that Anand hadn’t gone bitter and started hating her. He accepted that her decision and opinions were valid and essential to any possible future together.

Anand’s family acknowledge a sense of obligation to Rupa, and want to help her secure her future, but there is also trepidation at how they could live together after the truth comes out. It’s a very filmi situation but the emotions feel real – how will that sense of indebtedness balance the anger and resentment, and is forgiveness truly possible? I think Rupa blames herself so much for the accident that she had never considered blaming anyone else until confronted with the man responsible. Having to come face to face with the truth sparked another stage of grieving and she had to forgive herself as well as Gopalan. Kamalinee was convincing in her grief, and rather than loud histrionics she used her physical expression to show the transformation.

I like the realistic touches in the background detail. Rupa has a kitchen with packets of cereal and jars on the shelves, she gardens and washes her own clothes. People use public transport and their idea of a big night out is going to the movies. The house that Rupa lives in is located in an oasis like compound, but it looks a little ramshackle. There are people who fail exams and still have a happy enough life, and people with high aspirations. It’s all very easy to relate to.

I have a few dislikes. There are horrible cutesy kids and I could have done without them. Their performances were fine it’s just a directorial choice I disagree with. And the background soundtrack is a bit too whimsical for my liking. The songs by K.M. Radha Krishnan are great, and are a little classically influenced so it’s quite a contrast to the cheesy background score. I really like Shreya Ghoshal so her singing is a bonus. There is little dancing, although I see in Wiki Sekhar Kammula gets a credit for choreography.

As  modern film romances I prefer Avakai Biryani and Godavari to Anand, although that may be a bit of rural romanticism on my part as the locations were nicer. But I liked seeing a smart woman in control of her own life as a heroine,  people I could relate to, and the non-preachy social observations. 3 and 1/2 stars!

Heather says: There are a lot of things I really like about this film. Sekhar Kammula has the knack of telling a simple story in a very realistic way with genuine characters. And although the story is simple, there is enough complexity in the way it is told to keep it interesting and fresh. The characters are all down to earth and act in very believable and normal ways to the different situations throughout the film. Rupa does have a tendency towards melodrama but I think that is just part of her character and since I have quite a few friends who behave similarly (it must be all the Bollywood we watch!) I found her over-reactions to be just another facet of her personality. And I think a bride approaching her wedding day is entitled to a little drama anyway. There are a lot of little touches in the film which are very simple but help to convey an idea of the various personalities. Rupa’s regular morning coffee and Anita’s morning runs give us insights into their character and their lives seem very typical of the average person. I think Kamalinee Mukherjee is excellent at showing Rupa to be a strong minded and compassionate woman who has some issues due to her past, but is determined to make her own way in the world. I also really like Anita’s character, and think that Satya Krishnan is very good in this role. Her visualisation of a scene from Indra when Anand’s cousin is talking to her was excellent, and I can really understand exactly what she is thinking as a result.

What I don’t like as much was the character of Anand. Although Raja is perfectly fine in his portrayal of the character, I just don’t warm to Anand at all. He seems selfish and lazy and I can’t see why Rupa would want to get involved with him having just broken up with another selfish and lazy man. Anand relies too much on his cousin to help him out whenever he needs something done, and although his interaction with Samatha and Anita is good, it’s just not enough to make me like his character. I do like Anand’s speech to his Raju though, where he seems to realise that he hasn’t actually ‘fallen in love at first sight’ but that it’s more of an attraction. So it seems much more realistic when he says that first of all he has to get to know Rupa and she has to get to know him, and then they will see where it leads. This is a more reasonable approach than many other films where the boy declares his love and then stalks and harasses the girl until she agrees to marry him. And although I didn’t particularly like Anand his character was well developed and his relationship with Rupa was well portrayed.

The other support characters are all good and Rahul’s mother in particular seems to relish her role as the evil mother in law to be. Rahul’s character is well developed and the portrayal by Anuj Guwara was spot on. I agree withTemplethat it was lovely to see AnishKuruvilla on the other side of the camera and he was excellent as Raju. He really did have some of the best expressions.

The film has a great soundtrack and I do really like all of the female characters. It’s an enjoyable story with some lovely performances, but I just would have liked Anand’s character to be a nicer person.  3 ½ stars from me.