Kadaikutty Singam (2018)

 

Kadaikutty Singam

Pandiraj’s latest film is a village-based family drama with an extended cast and surfeit of relationships that ends up feeling more like an over-stretched soap opera. The story focuses on the only son of Ranasingam (Sathyaraj) but it’s his various sisters, their husbands and Ranasingam’s two wives that make the most impact in the rather wandering screenplay. The film includes a number of social messages and the story tends to disappear under the requirements to include the benefits of a career in farming and a myriad of moral issues associated with ‘traditional’ village life. However, Karthik does a good job with his role, the support cast are excellent and the film is full of colour and light, even if it does have an overly melodramatic finale.

The film starts with the story of Ranasingam and his quest for a son. His first wife Vanamadevi (Viji Chandrasekhar) has four daughters which leads to Ranagingham casting his eye about for a second wife. He ends up marrying Vanamadevi’s sister, Panchamadevi (Bhanupriya) who promptly also has a daughter, but before Ranasingam can marry for a third time, Vanamadevi falls pregnant again, and this time the baby is a boy. By the time Gunasingam (Karthi) has grown up, his five sisters have all married and two have grown up daughters of their own. The expectation is that Gunasingam will marry one of his two nieces, but when he sees Kannukiniyal aka Iniya (Sayyeshaa) he is immediately smitten, making a family marriage seem unlikely. Luckily for Gunasingam, Iniya reciprocates his feelings and the two happily embark on a relationship. However, there are a few obstacles to overcome, such as Iniya’s politician uncle Kodiyarasu (Shatru) and Gunasingam’s sisters who all vociferously object to the match.

What works well here are the relationships between Gunasingam and his sisters, and between his sisters and their various husbands. Mounika, Yuvarani, Indhumathi, Deepa and Jeevitha play the five sisters who all have distinctly different personalities, and are all convinced that they know what is best for their younger brother – that’s marriage to either Aandal (Arthana Binu) or Poompozhil (Priya Bhavani Shankar) and a life spent running the family farm. Gunasingam has no problem with the latter half of that plan as he’s proud to be a farmer, and makes a point of announcing his monthly salary (1.5 lakhs) and giving expensive gifts to his family. However, Gunasingam only thinks of his nieces as ‘family’ and he’s determined to marry ‘soda-girl’ Iniya, so-called because she runs a soda business. These parts of the story are well nuanced and I like that Iniya has a successful life by herself and isn’t just on the look-out for a husband to take the place of her Uncle Kodiyarasu. Apparently Iniya’s family follows the same uncle/niece marriage idea, but that’s mainly a method for Kodiyarasu to irritate Gunasingam. Kodiyarasu is a politician, but he’s firm on the idea of caste and involved in an honour killing which leads Gunasingam to report him to the police. The feud between the two men seems mainly to be an excuse to include the message that casteism is bad, and of course, the obligatory masala fight scenes.

While the arguments with Kodiyarasu go on in the background, Gunasingam attempts to deal with his sisters who try everything in their power to break his relationship with Iniya. Being family, they know exactly where to attack for the most impact, and eventually the argument leads to a schism in the family. Added to the rift between the sisters, Panchamadevi leaves Ranasingam, but unfortunately, despite being potentially the most interesting thread in the drama, this gets only brief screen time and isn’t fully developed, presumably because there is so much else going on at the same time. Much of the writing here is excellent, and it’s a shame that the rather more predictable ‘villain’ thread keeps intruding into the more compelling family drama.

The romance between Iniya and Gunasingam mainly takes place during a song, which is probably enough time given that it’s the fall-out from their relationship that is more interesting. Although Sayyeshaa looks somewhat out-of-place in a Tamil village drama, she is otherwise fine in the role. Her Iniya has plenty of charm and personality despite limited time on-screen, and her romance with Karthik is plausible. Karthik too is good as a confident and dedicated farmer who buckles under pressure from his family. He’s energetic in the fight scenes and dance numbers, and his various speeches about how wonderful it is to be a farmer aren’t as pompous and patronising as expected. He also has good rapport with the various members of his family and gets his inner conflict across well. His best relationship is with his nephew (who is roughly the same age) Sivagamiyin Selvan (Soori), which is used to add light-hearted comedy that’s mostly relevant to the story. Soori is actually very good here and he handles the role intelligently which helps add more depth to Karthik’s character.

I enjoyed the songs from D. Imman which are catchy enough in the cinema, although not particularly memorable. The film looks good too, and cinematographer Velraj captures both the colours of the countryside and the warmth of the community. A word too about the subtitles from Rekhs and team, which are easy to read and in proper grammatical English – yay! Rekhs has also subtitled any significant written signs which is a delight and really does help with understanding the story.

Overall Kadaikutty Singam has too much going on to be truly successful. It’s also let down by an overly dramatic finale that fizzles just when it should be starting to heat up. However, the family relationships are well done and I love the realistic interactions between the sisters and their husbands. There are a few too many moral messages too, although it’s hard to complain given that they fall into the – ‘girls can do anything’ and ‘caste isn’t a barrier to relationships’ baskets that still need more promotion in cinema. It’s also good to see farming portrayed in a more positive light with a nod to the importance of the people who feed the nation. Worth a one-time watch for Karthik, Soori, the excellent support cast and the well-written family relationships.

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Thaanaa Serndha Koottam

Thaanaa Serndha Koottam

I really enjoyed Suriya’s latest movie, although I haven’t seen the original Special 26, and wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a rollicking heist movie, with Suriya playing a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, albeit in 1987, as he and his merry gang thieves disguise themselves as CBI officers to rob various high-profile victims of their ill-gained wealth. With Suriya on top form, the support cast generally excellent and plenty of humour in the engaging screenplay, Thaanaa Serndha Koottam is well worth catching in the cinema if you can.

The film is a remake of Neeraj Pandey’s 2013 hit, Special 26, although director Vignesh Shivan has apparently given it a Tamil twist. Both films are based on a real-life robbery that took place in Bombay in 1987, and Thaanaa Serndha Koottam is set in the same timeframe, allowing for some period features such as the white ambassador cars that Iniyan and his gang use to pose as Government officials, and posters of old films displayed in the background. It also means we get such delights as the costumes and sets in this wonderfully OTT song from Anirudh Ravichandra:

The story goes like this. Suriya is Iniyan, an aspiring CBI officer who is rejected for his dream job mainly because corrupt officer Uthaman (Suresh Chandra Menon) holds a grudge against his father (Thambi Ramaiah). At the same time, many of Iniyan’s friends are struggling to find work due to corruption within the system and the high bribes needed to secure a position. Iniyan’s solution is to gather together a team of like-minded people who are willing to take part in his audacious scheme to rob the rich. And because the money they steal hasn’t been declared to the government, the victims are unwilling to report the crime, ensuring that Iniyan and his team escape scot-free every time.

Iniyan then gives all his ill-gotten loot away, ensuring that his character keeps an altruistic image despite his criminal activities. As the heat builds in Tamil Nadu, the gang move their operations to Hyderabad where they can’t speak the language. I could totally relate to their default use of words they had learnt from Telugu movies, although I’ve never found it to work quite so well for me, and the resultant confusion is perfectly developed into a very funny scene. Brahmi makes an understated appearance as a Telugu CBI officer while the Charminar is visible in almost every shot to make sure we know the action is now happening in Hyderabad!

There is a romance too as Iniyan falls for a girl who is drawn into his schemes. He doesn’t ever seem to find out her name, and I wasn’t clear on her connection to the original robbery, although to be honest I suspect there may not actually be one. Keerthy Suresh is fine as Iniyan’s love interest but really has little to do apart from appear in the songs and create the odd diversion in the storyline.

The rest of the gang get better characterisations and even some back story to flesh out their various personas. Ramya Krishnan in particular is fantastic here and makes a scarily believable CBI officer. As “Jhansi Rani’, she uses her piercingly chilling glare (perfected in Baahubali) to excellent effect as she storms into various establishments demanding they hand over their illegal savings. Then in a blink of an eye she becomes regular housewife Azhagu Meena, planning her eldest daughter’s wedding and dealing with her disabled husband. I love her in this role, and it’s fantastic to see her in such a strong and effective role that combines comedy and drama so well.

The others in the team, KP (Senthil), Ondi (Sivashankar) and Muthu (Sathyan) have smaller roles, but still add plenty of interest to the proceedings, and ensure that the team appears as a real gang rather than just an odd collection of people Iniyan has gathered together.

Against them are the real CBI officers and Kurunjivendhan (Karthik), an honest if somewhat overly enthusiastic police officer who helps Uthaman in his search. Nandha is also good in a small but important role as a rookie police officer who is conned by the gang while Yogi Babu, RJ Balaji and Anandaraj all have successful cameos.

Anirudh Ravichander just keeps producing the hits as he delivers yet another great soundtrack, managing to make the songs all sound as if they really do all come from the eighties. For the most part they’re well integrated into the film too with appropriate picturisation that suits the ambiance.

The only real miss in this film is the end, where the story switches gear and becomes a more typical Tamil herocentric finale with action, drama and a few too many pontificating speeches. It’s a disappointing end to an otherwise engaging film, but thankfully there are some last-minute shenanigans over the end credits to make the audience leave with a smile.

Overall this is a fun film and with such a great cast of characters and the always charismatic Suriya, Thaanaa Serndha Koottam turns out to be an enjoyable and overall very funny watch. Worth catching for Suriya, Ramya Krishnan and Anirudh’s soundtrack.

Railway Children (2016)

Montage

Railway Children is a docudrama from writer/director Prithvi Konanur that is partly inspired from the book Rescuing Railway Children by Lalita Iyer and Malcolm Harper. The subject matter isn’t pretty – the film looks at the fate of young runaways in India who end up living on or near the railway station, but the story is told using a documentary style and the kids are simply awesome, making Railway Children an excellent film with a message of hope at the end. Railway Children was shown in Melbourne as part of the Indian Film Festival and has been shown at various other festivals including Mumbai International Film Festival and Zlin Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

The film starts with Raju (Pari) hiding from ticket inspectors on a train as he makes his way to Bangalore without a ticket. Arriving at the railway station, he’s immediately singled out by various people who prey on the new arrivals. First is ‘the Mongoose’ who works for an NGO that tries to reunite the children with their parents. However Raju suspects her motives and when she goes to buy him food is then picked up by Solution (Yash Shetty) who runs a gang of children based at the station. The children sleep in concrete pipes and spend their days collecting discarded water bottles which are then refilled and sold by more of Solution’s gang. The older and more trusted children such as Pappu (Syed Pervez) sell water, while Jollu (Manohara) is instructed to show Raju where to find water bottles and anything else that Solution can use.

Like most of the children, Jollu is addicted to glue-sniffing and he forces Raju to inhale the fumes too. The kids call the glue ‘solution’ and (presumably this is where Solution got his nickname), they buy it at the end of the day after Solution has paid them their wages for their work. Initially Solution seems to be a petty criminal who looks after the children by feeding them and giving them shelter, but selling them glue is just one of the ways he keeps the children under control. Solution is also a paedophile, and he drags the children off individually to abuse them whenever he feels they need disciplining. He also threatens to sell them to the beedi makers, where they will be kept in a factory all day and die from the chemicals, a threat that along with refusing to give them ‘solution’ keeps everyone in line.

Raju is smarter than the average kid though, and he has managed to run away with some money which he hides as soon as possible. He also regularly calls home to his girlfriend Usha, asking her to run away to Bangalore as he feels the freedom there is worth the rough living. Despite the harshness of the life, it seems to be better than Raju’s experiences at home and he starts to make the most of what he has. Although Jollu initially shows Raju the ropes, Raju quickly realises that they won’t make any money by selling bottles to Solution, and with the aid of Karthik (Karthik) and Jollu he sets up a scheme to sell water himself. However, his success is short-lived when Pappu finds out what he is doing, and Raju and Jollu eventually end up in the care of the Mongoose (Divya) in the NGO shelter.

According to the website, most of the characters are played by non-actors and Pari is actually a rescue child being looked after by an NGO. Given this background, Pari’s performance is outstanding, particularly in the way emotions such as helplessness and hope are portrayed. Manohara too is excellent as Jollu, and his scenes where he enacts the violence and despair of an addict being deprived of his fix are very well done. Yash Shetty is also good in an interesting role that explores the contradictions of the railway gangs. There is the predatory nature of using the children to make money, but Solution is telling the truth when he explains to Raju that the NGO will simply give him back to his parents, and his descriptions of the government homes seem chillingly true. Solution does provide the kids with an alternative and although much of what he does is self-serving, he does give them food, water and shelter and protect them from the other predators around the station. There is another thread to the story which adds an unusual twist at the end. I don’t want to reveal too much, but one of the highlights of the film for me was Divya’s reaction when she learns the truth about Raju – this was unexpected as I really thought she would be intolerant of the situation given her usually dour demeanour, but her compassion and understanding did bring a tear to my eye!

 

Life for these children is difficult and dangerous. As well as the predators like Solution, there is violence from other gangs, drug addiction, the ever-present danger of the trains and the risk of being caught by the police or social workers. The stories they tell of their home lives explain why many prefer to live rough rather than return home, and there is some happiness in the shared camaraderie of the gang. The documentary style of the film keeps it simple and works well to distance the film from the emotional impact of many of the scenes, although they still make a considerable and lasting impression. Railway Children is a fascinating look at an underside of Indian society and despite the bleakness of the children’s lives it does end with hope that there can be a different outcome.