Katheyondu Shuruvagide

Katheyondu Shuruvagide PosterSenna Hegde’s Katheyondu Shuruvagagide is a leisurely stroll through three different love stories that run alongside the tale of one man’s struggle to keep his hotel business going. It’s ‘slice-of-life’ storytelling that works thanks to the rich dialogue, detailed characterisations and excellent performances from the entire cast. However, it’s also reminiscent of European movies that take a slow approach to story development, so this is one more for those who prefer emotions and character-driven drama over fast action.

Tarun (Diganth Manchale) runs a small hotel somewhere on the coast of Karnataka near an absolutely stunning beach. Despite the gorgeous setting and well-appointed rooms, the hotel is struggling and at the beginning of the film Tarun is seen heading to the airport to pick up his only guests for the week – a married couple from the north of India. The opening scenes also establish Tarun’s bachelor status in his ultra-cool pad with a totally awesome wall light, and introduce his relationship with his Uncle Shankar (Babu Hirannaiah) and Aunt Radha (Aruna Balaraj). The other characters in the hotel make a brief appearance here too – chef Kutty (Prakash K. Thuminadu), driver and general dogsbody Pedro (Ashwin Rao Pallakki) and hotel receptionist Swarna (Shreya Anchan).

When Tarun arrives at the airport he finds only Tanya (Pooja Devariya) who explains that she has been recently widowed but asks Tarun to keep her status secret from the other hotel staff. This is in an attempt to prevent sympathy which she feels unable to handle. And indeed she is visibly upset and struggling to cope. At various times Tanya breaks down in tears and on the first occasion Tarun responds by chivalrously handing her a box of tissues from the car. However, as the week goes on he becomes more and more intrigued by Tanya and eventually offers her a shoulder to cry on.

While Tarun takes Tanya out sight-seeing and provides her with a ready ear for her problems, Pedro is desperate to let Swarna know that he is in love with her. Swarna on the other hand is getting ready to go to Dubai where her NRI fiancé is located. The two spend time chatting online while Pedro plots how to best persuade Swarna to stay in India with him instead. He’s aided by Kutty who bases his suggestions on talk-back radio, ensuring plenty of gentle comedy as the rather naïve Pedro tries to win over the much more sophisticated Swarna.

The third romance is the long-standing relationship between Shankar and Radha, and the interactions between the two suggests a love marriage that has only deepened over the years. However, Radha reveals a rather different story when chatting to Tanya, providing good contrast to the other threads and showing a different side to love. Their story is beautifully developed and both Babu Hirannaiah and Aruna Balaraj suit their roles perfectly. Their scenes are the typical day-to-day reality of an older couple and yet still allow their characters plenty of scope to flourish. The only odd note is Shankar’s advice for Tarun to find a partner to help solve his monetary woes, I’m not sure if this was supposed to be a reference to dowry or just to have support through his troubles, but either way this seemed to come out of nowhere.

All the characters are excellent and the slow development suits the realistic nature of the story. Tarun’s back-story of living in the US before returning to Karnataka to realise his dream seems plausible and his attempts to rescue the business rather than sell out to a developer also ring true. Diganth does a good job in the role and has good chemistry with his co-star, Pooja. Pooja is fantastic and manages to make Tanya a totally relatable character despite initially declaring that she has decided to come on her honeymoon even after being widowed. It’s that  ‘already booked and I needed to get away’ rationale that has worked for movies like Queen but it’s Pooja’s attitude that really makes this so believable. She varies between genuine grief and attempts to be distracted by the scenery which comes across as totally understandable given her circumstances. Even the final scenes which reveal all is not quite as it seems are entirely plausible while writer Abhijit Mahesh’s dialogues are the icing on the cake that makes Tanya’s character really come alive. Although Pedro and Swarna’s story is mainly lighter and used as comedy, the dialogue here too is excellent and hits plenty of truths along the way.

The events of the film take place over a week, but rather than focusing on the romance between Tarun and Tanya the story follows the characters through their normal day-to-day lives – for example, conversations between Pedro and Radha as she readies the hotel room for Tanya, or between Pedro and Kutty as they prepare breakfast. Nothing happens quickly and the focus on the minutiae of each day adds authenticity to the story. Added reality comes with discussions about reviews on traveller websites and the problems Tarun has had as a result of posted complaints about the food.

The scenery is well shot to showcase just how beautiful the Indian coastline can be. The waters look pristine and the beaches sparsely populated, which made me wonder if this is the reality, and if so why I wasn’t already booking a trip! There are a few odd shots taken at approximately knee level which didn’t quite work as they pushed me out of the fly on the wall approach and made me lose contact with the characters. However there aren’t very many of these and the rest of Sreeraj Raveendran’s cinematography is stunning.

Sachin Warrier’s songs are good and well pictured with an appropriate mix of sad and happy tunes and a great party song too. Thankfully these were all subtitled which is always a plus, and the rest of the film had great subtitles too. Unfortunately though I missed the name of the subtitler.

Katheyondu Shuruvagide is a sweet film that doesn’t try to be anything other than a snapshot of life for a group of people in a small seaside resort. Senna Hegde has the mix of characters exactly right and the few others who appear briefly, such as Raghu Ramanakoppa as a coconut seller are smoothly integrated into the routine established by the main leads. It’s good to see such a character driven film with great attention to detail and well written dialogue. Slow-paced, yes, but definitely one to savour.

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Gultoo (2018)

Gultoo

Gultoo, the debut release from director Janardhan Chikkanna couldn’t be any more topical right now given the recent revelations of data-mining from Facebook. Data theft is central to the plot, and this cyber-thriller mixes action, romance and comedy with a story that fits neatly into Bangalore and the city’s IT industry. Although at times the images are shaky and the editing could do with some polish, the dialogue is snappy and on-target while the story is novel with plenty of sneaky twists along the way. Definitely a film to look out for, and the subtitles are pretty good too!

Alok (Naveen Shankar) is a scholarship student in engineering who has a flair for hacking his way into computer systems, something which gets him out of trouble at college. After graduation he has grand plans of a start-up company that will allow him to follow his dreams, but three years out from college he’s working in a coffee shop, while his best friend and roommate Aasthi (Ram Dhanush) works at an internet café. Alok also works part-time as an instructor in a small computer teaching centre where he meets Pooja (Sonu Gowda) on her first day in the job. Although Alok is initially rather shy, eventually a romance blossoms between the two as Pooja succeeds in drawing Alok out of his shell.

Aasthi on the other hand has no such problems and is a complete flirt, which provides some excellent comedy as he chats to various women on WhatsApp while also meeting his current girlfriend of the day at her flat. The two men are a study in contrasts – Alok is a typical computer geek, quiet and shy but he’s smart and has big plans for his future. Aasthi has no ambition himself and is waiting for Alok’s success with his loud, brash persona simply a front for his inability to make his own decisions in life.

Gultoo

Things take a sinister turn when a woman is found gruesomely murdered and Aasthi may be a suspect. At the same time, Alok and Aasthi are also implicated in a major data theft and are taken in for questioning by an investigator from Delhi, even though the evidence seems largely circumstantial. The film moves back and forwards throwing glimpses of past and present together and just as it all seems to be coming together, Janardhan Chikkanna throws in another twist that ups the tension even more. He also blends the action well with some comedy, even in some of the most blood-thirsty scenes, that works well to prevent the film from becoming yet another crime flick.

What works really well here is the plausibility of the plot. The theft of information is from a Government database called Sudhaar which collates personal information for every Indian citizen, including their bank data. There are some similarities with the current Government Aadhaar identity card scheme which makes it seem quite possible that such a situation could happen.  Alok and Aasthi are typical young men, but Alok has the knowledge and ability to break into a Government system. The question is, does he have a criminal mentality too? It’s a more cerebral crime than a simple credit card scam or bank fraud, and more credible too with anonymous hackers breaking into systems where security is lax. We all know that this occurs and it seems that every day there is yet another news story about a data breach.

I did love the excellent depiction of cybercrime as a shadowy underworld where thieves run amok stealing data and selling it to the highest bidder. Like much of the screenplay, it’s funny, smart and informative all at once. Alok’s classes for example, teach the audience just as much about computer programming as they do his students. The social references are all just as topical and the dialogue has plenty of current slang that fits the characters perfectly.

The other selling point of the film is that none of the characters are simply black or white. There is plenty of ambiguity in everyone’s actions (except perhaps Aasthi who just wants to get laid), and no-one is exactly who they seem to be. This uncertainty ensures that the climax comes as a surprise and even though the film goes back to point out all the clues that were there all along, this feels like a revelation and not the writer gloating over how clever he is.

Naveen Shankar and Ram Dhanush are both appearing in their first film, but both do an excellent job with their roles and effortlessly get under the skin of their characters. Naveen is just serious and shy enough to be believable – he’s a computer nerd after all, while Ram Dhanush never lets his Aasthi get too much out of control. He’s a typical bloke, but not obnoxiously childish or patronising, and at heart he comes across as a nice guy. Sonu Gowda is also very good, especially in the second half where she gets the chance to really sink her teeth into a rather grey character indeed. Avinash is perfectly cast as the police officer determined to torture a confession out of his suspects, whoever they may be, as too is Rangayana Raghu as the ostensibly ‘honest’ Chief Minister Anantharamaiah. Pawan Kumar makes an appearance as a consultant IT specialist called Phaneesh and does just as good a job in front of the camera as he usually does from the other side.

Although I enjoyed the soundtrack, for the most part the dance sequences look awkward and more like the sort of routines you’d do in front of your bedroom mirror. The placing of some of the songs is also a little off, although this could partly be due to the clunky choreography which makes these sequences rather amateurish. Also initially confusing are the switches between past and present at the start of the film, since there is no timeline at this point, or any explanation of who the different characters are who only appear briefly and aren’t mentioned again until much later in the film. However, apart from these issues (mainly those dodgy dance sequences), the rest of the film really is excellent, with some very clever ideas and smart thinking behind an intelligent and carefully plotted thriller. Kudos too for the ‘loading’ symbol before the opening credits and the clever use of a film within a film idea that ensures the name of the movie is frequently repeated. Gultoo = Log Out for anyone who wants to know what the title means and hasn’t seen the movie’s FB page.

There is a freshness and vitality about this film and with great performances, a clever and realistic plot and very funny dialogue this is one not to miss. Highly recommended.

 

Kasturi Nivasa

Kasturi_Nivasa

I keep an eye out for any early Dr Rajkumar films with subtitles, and was lucky enough to find this 1971 classic on DVD. It’s a simple story, but one that’s beautifully told with mesmerising performances from the main leads. The film was written and directed by Dorairaj and Bhagawan, who were also responsible for the excellent CID 999 films, Operation Jackpot Nalli and Operation Diamond Racket, also with Dr Rajkumar. Although quite dissimilar in terms of content, Kasturi Nivasa has the same attention to detail as these movies, with creative cinematography and memorable songs and music from G.K. Venkatesh. The film was re-released in colour in 2014 and is available (but without subtitles) on YouTube in both versions.

Kasturi Nivasa is the ancestral home of Ravi Varma (Rajkumar), an industrialist who runs a successful match factory. Ravi is a widower whose only daughter also died in an accident, which has left him alone in the large house except for his servant Ramaiah (K.S. Ashwath). At the factory, Ravi notices new employee Chandru (Rajashankar) because he doesn’t laugh at Ravi’s jokes. Appreciating his honesty, Ravi makes Chandru the Chief Foreman and decides to send him to America for further training. But Chandru is also a widower and has a young daughter, so he is reluctant to make the trip and leave Rani behind. However, Chandru’s situation is so similar to Ravi’s that he offers to look after Rani until Chandru returns.

The early part of the film sets up the character of Ravi as a rich but philanthropic businessman. He has inherited wealth and knows that his place in society is to function as a role model while also helping others who are less fortunate. Ravi is very aware of his lofty status but attempts to bridge the gap between himself and his workers by telling jokes and by generally treating them well, although he still seems himself as being of a higher class than his workers. In contrast Bhojarajaiah (Balakrishna) is a terrible owner and suffers financial loss due to his poor treatment of his workers. While that sounds potentially revolutionary and egalitarian, Balakrishna forms part of the comedy track, so his loss of money and face is more about his poor attitude rather than any real concern about workers’ rights – although to be fair, at least there is acknowledgement that everyone deserves a living wage.

Bhojarajaiah also tries to set Ravi up with his daughter Prabhu, but she prefers Bhojarajaiah’s brother-in-law Sampath (Narasimharaju) and the various contortions the couple go through to avoid Bhojarajaiah make up the rest of the comedy track. While Balakrishna and Narasimharaju are acknowledged comedic actors, their performances here seem somewhat flat in comparison to other films I’ve seen, while the comedy track doesn’t fit well with the rest of the narrative. I’m guessing that it was added because there ‘has’ to be a comedy track, since otherwise there seems to be added value to the characters of Bhojarajaiah and Sampath.

Ravi looks after Rani and recruits his secretary Neela (Jayanthi) to be a substitute mother for the little girl. (My subtitles say Leela, but Ravi seems to be saying Neela which is the name given on most character lists that I’ve seen.) The child actress here is excellent and very sweet, although she’s a fair way towards being spoiled given that Ravi caters to her every whim. Neela too sets Rani up as the sole purpose for her existence, so it’s hardly surprising that Rani throws tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wishes. When Chandru comes back, Rani is so used to Neela as her mother that she insists Chandru and Neela sleep with her together in their bed. This leads to Neela and Chandru getting married, which devastates Ravi as he was in love with Neela, but never actually approached her about his feelings.

Things continue to go wrong for Ravi as he loses business when Chandru starts up his own factory using more modern manufacturing methods. As Ravi’s situation deteriorates further, Chandru buys Kasturi Nivasa and to his credit tries to help his former boss. However, Ravi’s pride leads him to refuse all offers of help, which in turn seriously affects Neela who still has feelings for her ‘boss’. Jayanthi looks stunning and she does a fantastic job of portraying Neela’s conflicting emotions and loyalties as she is torn between her former employer and her husband. The situation leads to problems between Chandru and Neela, and eventually Ravi succumbs to a suitably dramatic and tragic end, symbolising the end of an era.

Dr Rajkumar is simply wonderful here and imbues his character with dignity and charm that suits his rather old-fashioned persona. Ravi is wealthy and generous, seeing himself as a benefactor for the poor and as someone who upholds traditional values. Chandru in contrast is more modern and practical, and Rajashankar plays him as intelligent and hard-working but impatient with the old order. Chandru is the one who sees the potential in upgrading the factory and on moving with the times, ending up successful as a result of his own hard work. Both actors excel in their roles and work well together to accentuate these differences which lie at the heart of the story. Ravi is old money and the class system, Chandru is equality and success based on personal achievement. Kasturi Nivasa then is a lament for the old order, for rich landlords who looked after their poor tenants and for an opulent lifestyle that few can continue to afford. It charts the rise of the new order– modern manufacturing techniques, the loss of a class divide as workers rise up to become equal with their former bosses, but with an associated loss of morals, seen here by Chandru’s addiction to alcohol and his violent behaviour.

What I find most interesting here is the large amount of symbolism used throughout to convey the message. The way Ravi and Chandru are contrasted with each other is also cleverly done to enhance the story. Both men run match factories and believe in treating their workers well, but while Ravi sells Dove matches, Chandru has branded his product with an Eagle, presumably to signify his more aggressive nature. As Chandru comes up in the world he starts wearing suits like Ravi, while Ravi wears the same suit for long enough that it starts to develop visible holes. The transfer of power is seen by their appearance as well as by the changes in the living standards of the two men, but it’s also interesting how they are both affected by having money and prestige. Dorairaj and Bhagawan seem to be suggesting that you need to be born with money to know how to use it properly – wealth corrupts those who come into money later in life.

The songs too continue the symbolism, particularly this one about a doll that always gets back up and cannot be knocked down. Sadly for Ravi, although this may have been his philosophy, he appeared to be getting less able to get back up again after each successive set-back

Kasturi Nivasa is deservedly called a classic, with stirring dialogue and the captivating and powerful combination of Rajkumar, Rajashankar and Jayanthi. G.K. Venkatesh’s songs are wonderful and beautifully pictured, while there is a socially important message underlying the excellent screenplay. Although I watched the black and white version, the richness of the house comes thought well, and the contrast between Kasturi Nivasa and Chandru’s house is perfectly set out. Although the concepts addressed here are rather dated and some of the beliefs now seem quaint and old-fashioned, there is still a powerful message here, and regardless of the date, the film has an ageless quality due in part to the spellbinding performance from Dr Rajkumar. Highly recommended, this is one of those films that should be on everyone’s checklist – 5 stars.