K.G.F: Chapter 1

K.G.F: Chapter 1The first Kannada film I saw in a cinema was Ugramm, where I loved Prashanth Neel’s style and approach to story-telling, so it is reassuring that he has kept to a similar form for his latest epic KGF. The violence is bloody and excessive, the story ultra-masculine but with plenty of reference to the importance of mothers and the soundtrack is an important part of the film. But KGF has a grandeur and magnificence that comes with working with a larger budget and with a number of the Kannada industries top talent involved, KGF is an impressive venture indeed. There are a few issues, the lack of a decent female lead and some OTT and excessively dramatic dialogues for example, but Prashanth Neel has kept his eye firmly on the story, making KGF an excellent addition to the world of Kannada action cinema.

The film uses a framing device where TV journalist Deepa Hegde (Malavika Avinash) interviews ageing reporter Anand Ingalagi (Anant Nag) about his book, which was banned and burnt by the government of the time. Prime Minister Rimika Sen decreed that all mention of a certain ‘criminal’ should be wiped from history but Anand is prepared to share the story, although he jumps around in time which adds a non-linear aspect to the tale. In this way, Anand acts as a narrator of events, which span from 1951 to the present day and start with the seizure of land rich in gold by Suryavardhan (Ramesh Indira). Suryavardhan clears the land and establishes an illegal gold mine, worked by slaves and disguised as a limestone works. At the same time, local villager Saraswathi (Archana Jois) gives birth to a son she names Raja Krishappa Bairya who later becomes the infamous Rocky (Yash).

The story spans Rocky’s life from his birth to his infiltration of the mines in an attempt to assassinate Suryavardhan’s son Garuda (Ramachandra Raju). In between is the tale of Rocky’s rise to fame as a gangster in Mumbai and his desire to own ‘the world’ which eventually leads him into the gold mines. Along the way, Rocky has flashbacks to his childhood and to his mother’s words of advice which have helped to make him the man he has become. Since these are mainly words to make her son the richest and most aggressive man in India, they have stood Rocky well in his attempts to become the pre-eminent gangster in all of Mumbai. Rocky is a man who thinks nothing of killing anyone who stands in his way, often in the most bloody and gory ways possible. Luckily for our hero’s welfare, the thugs never manage to co-ordinate for more than two at a time to attack, and even when armed with guns they seem to forget how to aim to kill. However, I did appreciate stunt choreographer Anbariv’s goal of finding the most imaginative way to impale, garotte and otherwise dismember Rocky’s opponents – one of the best being with a handy anchor although Rocky’s prowess with a shovel was also superb!

Yash powers his way through his role as Rocky without ever demonstrating much emotion as the strong silent type who wades through rivers of gore to reach his objective. Although there are the flashbacks with his mother (featuring an excellent Anmol Vijay as the young Raja Krishnappa Bairya) and a rather uncharacteristic but brief romance with Reena (Srinidhi Shetty), for the most part Rocky is as stonyfaced as his nickname implies. However, to ensure that we know he’s not quite as much of a villain as his actions would suggest, Rocky is also shown to have a softer side, usually when faced with young mothers in extreme situations or when faced with gangs of poverty-stricken children. Nothing new or ground-breaking then, since this is typical Southern Indian hero behaviour, but it suits the character and storyline well, so there’s really no need to break the mould. 

The non-linearity of the story is one of its strengths and also works well to set up expectations for KGF:Part 2 as we are given tantalising glimpses into the next of Rocky’s adventures along with the puzzle of why the government decided to suppress his story with such assiduousness. Jumping around from the seventies (with flares and wide collars – love it!), where the action in the Kolar gold fields plays out, to adventures in Rocky’s youth explains much of his motivation and firmly establishes the other characters in the film. This is really helpful since there are multitudes of minor characters who are important to the story but who are all introduced quickly by Anand, making it difficult to remember who exactly is a gangster, who is a politician. And then decide if it even matters given they are all nasty pieces of work. This does allow for major complexity in Prashanth Neel’s world and he paints a grim picture indeed of corrupt politicians, lawless gangsters who have the police on their side and a poverty-stricken and joyless existence for the rest of the population. Into this dark world, it seems to make sense to inject some light by adding a romance, but the introduction of Reena with the usual stalking = love trope always feels like an add-on extra.

Reena is the daughter of Rajendra Desai (Laxman), one of Suryavardhan’s accomplices in the goldmine and as such she is portrayed as arrogant and heedless of the general population. Rocky sees her and is instantly smitten, following up his initial advances with some terribly cheesy dialogue while Reena does her best to let him know she isn’t interested. Until she sees his compassionate side, which is apparently enough to change her mind. Sigh. Srinidhi Shetty doesn’t have enough screen time to make any impression, but for the most part she too is fairly dour, grim-faced and like Rocky, prone to making declarative speeches. Rocky doesn’t have much dialogue at all, but when he does speak it’s generally overly dramatic and interspersed with plenty of threats and promises of violence. Even the minor characters rarely seem to speak normally to each other and instead there are bold announcements of bravery and threats of violence that do start to wear after a while. The narrative from Anand is in stark contrast and is more minimalistic and factual although this is occasionally confusing when characters are only briefly mentioned once.

Ravi Basrur and Tanishk Bagchi provide the music which suits the atmosphere of the film well. There is one introductory dance number with Yash which is appropriately exhilarating and an oddly placed dance number with Tamannaah, but for the most part the songs are used to help drive the narrative forward. Along with the soundtrack, they succeed in adding emotion and suspense to the film, and unlike Ugramm the music here is kept to a reasonable volume. Cinematographer Bhuvan Gowda keeps the film to grey and dark tones, and doesn’t have much opportunity to vary the colour palette, although scenes in the mine and at a temple ceremony are beautifully done to add red tones to the darkness. Kudos to the fashion designers for recreating the seventies in a relatively subdued fashion and not dressing the characters in ridiculous costumes. The sets and clothes are set in the right time period but not ostentatiously so, and as such don’t take away from the action unfolding onscreen. Kudos to the distributors for ensuring reasonably good subtitles, although the white text was often obscured by the background. Still very grateful to have Kannada films subtitled – even the songs!

KGF is basically another gangster action drama, but what lifts it above the rest is the sheer scale and complexity of the narrative along with standout performances from Yash and the literal cast of hundreds that add depth and texture to the plot. Be warned that the film is incredibly violent, and the fight scenes are frequent, fast and furious but they do fit the story and act to showcase a world that is brutal and uncaring. The story points out that power is the only thing that matters and Rocky’s power is that of his fists. Throughout, it’s those with power who dictate events, and Rocky is determined to control the gold and therefore the money, giving him all the power in the world. There is a lot to take in with the story but the mixture of fast-paced action and slower framing narrative works well to bring it all together. Overall Prashanth Neel has crafted a good story, told it well and pictured it beautifully to draw out the desolation and despair of the gold fields, and the gritty underworld in Mumbai. After all the excitement of Chapter 1, I’m definitely looking forward to Chapter 2!

KGF

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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.

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.