Vivegam

Vivegam

What is it with Siva and bad opening sequences? Vedalam started off with a dodgy assassination, and Siva tries to do something similar here with equally disastrous results. Vivegram sees Ajith’s character take out two generic bad guys in a forest somewhere in Serbia with plenty of improbable action sequences and pre-placed explosives. The dubbing is bad, the set-up too over the top to be believable and the final moments are absurd. Unlike Vedalam however, Vivegam (Prudence) doesn’t morph into a decent action film after the first act. Instead Siva continues with a series of fast-paced fight sequences, loud declarative speeches delivered through gritted teeth and incredibly loud music. Which isn’t to say that its bad, just that Vivegam is a completely mass film produced solely for Thala fans where logic and story take a very big second place to showcasing Ajith as an all-out action hero.

The plot here revolves around a secret government agency somewhere in Europe, where everyone apparently speaks Tamil. There may have been some disclaimer about this in the opening credits, but since these weren’t subtitled I can’t tell and to be honest, it’s not the most implausible part of the film. The Counter Terrorism Squad have a very flash looking control room with lots of cool holographics, but nothing that a competent 007 hasn’t achieved before with a laptop and pen drive. Bizarrely a number of agents sit around calling out incredibly obvious observations from street surveillance cameras and wireless earpieces while it seems that any basic blocking tactic shuts off their contact with the outside world. Technologically advanced they may be, but little thought seems to have gone into the HQ apart from making it look snazzy.

Ajith is Ajay Kumar (aka AK), an agent who is presumed by his bosses to be dead, but who remerges to upset the agency when he takes out the head of the Russian mafia and the chief of Europol in the action at the start of the film.

The agency thinks that AJ has gone rogue and brings in his old colleagues to help hunt him down. Chief of these is Aryan (Vivek Oberoi) who is better than expected in a role that requires him to constantly extol the praises of his nemesis as he tries to track him down. Also on AK’s old team are Sean (Aarav Chowdhary), Rachael (Amila Terzimehic) and Mike (Serge Crozon-Cazin), who join in the hunt for their old partner.

However, all is not as it seems, and a flashback sequence traces the group’s last mission where they were trying to neutralise a weapon that was used to trigger earthquakes. A top hacker Natasha (Akshara Haasan) holds the key and the team, along with almost everyone else in Eastern Europe, are attempting to find her to gain control of the weapons. The action here involves a gang fight in an apartment block, where the bad guys get flung out of windows and down stairwells, and a couple of sniper attacks where we learn how it is actually possible to shoot through bullet proof glass. But while each individual fight scene is good, they just keep coming with faceless villains that last less than a second before being shot, blown up or defenestrated depending on location.

There is also a total lack of logic – when AK is left for dead on the snow-covered mountains of Europe, it’s just plausible that he might manage to survive and keep training, but his acquisition of tons of explosives and automatic weapons is amazing given that he doesn’t appear to have any backing.  His ability to drive halfway across Europe in a few hours is just as miraculous, as his amazing talent in avoiding being shot despite being one man against literally thousands of bullets. But then, he is a suviva!

Kajal Aggarwal shows up as Yazhini, AK’s long-suffering wife who runs a restaurant and musical school somewhere in Europe. Again, the staff all speak excellent Tamil, to the extent of being able to sing Tamil songs, while Yazhini seems to have no problem with her husband vanishing for a few months on various missions. At least Siva gives his female cast something to do – Akshara Haasan is excellent as the hacker who ends up out of her depth and Yazhini is way more vengeful than expected, but there isn’t a lot of chemistry between her and Ajith which lets the romance side of the story down.

The problem I have with Vivegam is that it never comes together as a complete story. Everything is peripheral to ensuring Ajith is front and centre all the time. All the action revolves around him, the speeches are all either Ajith declaring ‘never give up’ or his opponents discussing how amazingly wonderful he is. Everything comes so fast that it’s hard to keep track of which particular group Ajith is fighting next and the loud soundtrack and frenetic pace end up leaving the audience behind.

It’s a shame as there is a lot that is good here too. Ajith is excellent and carries the weight of the film well. Vivek Oberoi gets to do plenty of strutting around and pontificating in a grand manner (which suits him well!) and both Kajal Aggarwal and Akshara Haasan are good in their respective roles. The music from Anirudh is excellent and there is a good mix of heavy and light tones, or there would have been if the volume had been just a tad lower! The fight sequences are all beautifully sequenced too, with slow-mo bullets and some clever ideas, but there is just so much of everything that the screenplay gets a bit lost in all the sound and fury.

Vivegam is what happens when Siva tries to make a Hollywood style action film, keeping a mass approach and sacrificing screenplay for effects. Sure, it’s great to see Thala dodge bullets and smash villains into the ground but a little more light and shade to his character would have made for a more approachable story. One for fans.

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Iru Mugan

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Vikram is on fine form playing a dual role in Anand Shankar’s latest action thriller, but the film is hampered by oddly placed songs, gaping plot holes and a meandering screenplay. There are some plus points – the action sequences are good, Nayanthara looks stunning and plays an interesting character, but none of it is quite enough to overcome the lack of suspense and surprising dullness of the storyline. Iru Mugan is a thriller without many thrills despite the best efforts of the cast, make-up department and stunt crew.

At least the start of the film is excellent. We see an old man queuing for a visa in the Indian Embassy in Malaysia, but rather than wait his turn, instead he uses a rather unique way of demanding attention. The result is classed as a terrorist attack against India and when the link is made between the pharmaceutically enhanced actions of the terrorist and über-villain Love, ex-RAW agent Akhilan Vinod (Vikram) is called back into service to discover exactly what is going on in Malaysia. Akhilan’s last action before he left RAW was to kill an illegal drug manufacturer by the name of Love (also Vikram), however Love is the chef suspect behind these latest attacks and Akhilan has a personal reason to find out if Love is really dead or not. Love was the man behind the death of Akhilan’s wife Meera (Nayanthara), although Akhilan has systematically slaughtered anyone else who was involved – hence the ‘retirement’ from active service.

Vikram’s Akhilan is a dour and haunted man with major anger management issues. He believes that violence is the answer to any problem no matter – whether he’s dealing with a suspect, a fellow agent or his boss. However, Malik (Nasser), head of RAW decides that his best option is to send Akhilan to Malaysia along with rookie agent Aayushi (Nithya Menen). So far so good, but Akhilan is the stereotypical ‘lone-wolf’ agent and displays every single hackneyed characteristic possible. Even worse, Aayushi is just as clichéd as a young inexperienced female agent. Her main role is to dress as a prostitute in order to get into a drug manufacturing lab. Really? That was the best option they could come up with? It’s trite, unoriginal and basically a complete waste of Nithya Menon’s acting skills.

Along with the frustration of watching a good actress in a badly written part, the first half suffers from a never-ending plague of flashbacks to Akhilan’s happier time with his wife. Unfortunately, these mainly occur as songs which act as effective speed breakers for the plot and completely destroy any tension that Anand Shankar has finally managed to build. The switch from drug labs and chemically enhanced violence to sundrenched beaches and Nayanthara in skimpy outfits is awkward and makes the film feel dated. Adding to this general late 90’s vibe is Thambi Ramaiah as a bumbling and inept Malaysian police officer and Riythvika as an exploited sex slave.

Vikram also plays the villain Love, a gay/transgender pharmacist who has managed to create a drug that gives superhuman strength and reaction time, but only for 5 minutes. Love is flamboyant and frequently feminine while maintaining his ruthless attitude and determination to cause mayhem with his invention. Although at the end of the day it’s the money that matters, selling the drug to terrorist organisations who will use it to attack governments worldwide is a bonus Love can’t pass up.

Despite all the clichés, it’s Vikram’s performance here as the two separate characters that makes Iru Mugan worth watching. The contrast between surly Akhilan and extravagantly ostentatious Love is excellent and although the two characters are somewhat extreme stereotypes, once both are together on-screen the deficiencies of each seems lessened. Perhaps this is where the ‘two faces’ of the titles comes in, since each character is ruthless in their own way and both are equally quick to jump to a lethal solution for any perceived problem. Nayanthara also makes an impression with her role as another RAW agent and does a good job with both her romantic and more action-orientated scenes, although her character would have better with just a little more depth. But then again Akhilan has very little backstory and Love even less, all of which adds to the scrappiness of the plot. It would have helped to have some idea how Love became such a genius pharmacist and why he decided to fuel international terrorism rather than turn his skills to more altruistic uses since there is a reason given for Akhilan’s excessive use of violence.

There are some more positives; the film looks slick and R.D. Rajasekhar makes the most of the Malaysian backdrop, both in the songs and for the chases through the city. Vikram’s transformation into Love is well done, and the fight choreography is impressive although it does get somewhat repetitive after a while. And although the placement could have been better and the picturisations a less abrupt change of pace, Harris Jayaraj’s songs are catchy and generally the soundtrack is good.

Overall Iru Mugan isn’t a terrible film, it’s just a lot duller than expected given the potential in the storyline. A drug that makes ordinary people into super-soldiers for 5 minutes should have made for a more exciting film than Anand Shankar ends up with here. Worth watching for Vikram, Nayanthara and the Malaysian backdrop, but go in prepared for the slow exposition and numerous plot holes.

 

 

 

Engeyum Eppothum

Engeyum Eppothum

Engeyum Eppothum starts with a fairly gruesome bus crash, so it’s clear straight away that there isn’t going to be a happy ending – particularly since the rest of the film is a flashback of events leading up to the fatal accident.  However the journey to get there is just as important, and on the way to the death and mayhem there are a couple of enjoyable love stories that make you wish that there was actually going to be a happy ending.  One of the stories is set in Trichy, and it always makes me happy to see the city on screen, especially when they seem to have filmed in a number of places I recognise.  It’s the same with the bus station in Chennai, which also looks very familiar, and the whole film brings back memories of travelling by bus in India – although thankfully without the horror ending. One of the buses is a private bus running from Chennai to Trichy, while the other is a government bus travelling in the other direction, and the four main leads are passengers on one or other of the two.  Flashbacks introduce the four and tell their story in the lead up to the accident.

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Amudha (Ananya) arrives in Chennai for a job interview, but is completely at a loss when her sister fails to pick her up due to a family emergency.  Luckily for her though, Gautham (Sharwanand) just happens to be dropping a friend at the bus station and Amudha manages to persuade him to show her to the bus stop.  She’s so totally lost in the city that despite her suspicions of him, Gautham ends up spending the whole day taking her to her interview, waiting for her and then taking her to her sister’s house.

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Ananya plays the mistrustful girl from the country flawlessly here which is mainly why this love story feels so real.  Her mannerisms, and the way she relies on her sister’s instructions rather than believe Gautham when he tells her it is time to get off the bus are perfect ‘small town girl in the big city’ behaviours which I recognise from my own move from the country.  Her reaction when she sees girls in tight Western clothes is just perfect, as is the way she behaves in a restaurant when Gautham finally manages to persuade her that he is really quite harmless.  Her character is very well written to show the awe and trepidation of being somewhere where everything is unfamiliar, and Ananya does a fantastic job of portraying all that angst along with the wonder and amazement.

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Sharwanand seems very wooden and unemotional in contrast, and while that does work to some extent for his character, there is very little emotion, and nothing to suggest that he would go to Trichy to look for Amudha later.  There really needed to be more open engagement with Amudha and at least some reaction to her character which doesn’t occur until near the end of the film when it is all a bit too late.

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Engeyum EppothumThe second romance is set in Trichy where Kathiresan (Jai) watches Manimegalai (Anjali) every morning as she gets ready for work.  I love that this takes place in the back streets behind the Rock Fort Temple and that they meet in Mukkambu Park (both places that I know very well), which makes their romance seem that little bit more real to me.  Kathiresan has a good job, but is also from the country and is rather shy.  Rather than approach Manimegalai, he is content to watch her from a distance and co-ordinate his shirt colour to whatever she happens to be wearing that day.  This is a little known but obviously effective form of courtship, since Manimegalai does indeed notice his wardrobe choices.

Manimegalai doesn’t have the same reticence problem at all.  She is forthright and downright bossy, forcing Jai to skip work to meet her, sign up for organ donation and confront her previous suitor.  Naturally she’s a nurse.  Their story the best part of the film and Anjali steals the show with admirable support from Jai.  He is perfect as the quiet young man, completely swept away by Manimegalai and totally out of his depth.  And yet he still adores her and that comes across plainly in Jai’s body language and facial expressions.

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It’s a fantastic performance but he is still upstaged by Anjali.  She is superb, from her initial domineering persona to the ruthlessly efficient nurse who manages to keep it all together in the aftermath of the crash.  It gives her final breakdown more impact too, and suddenly Kathiresan’s devotion makes perfect sense.  Throughout the romance both Jai and Anjali have good chemistry together, and as their love story develops their characters also acquire depth and back-story which also makes their relationship more convincing.

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Woven through the film are small vignettes about other passengers on the bus which, while emphasising the point that every stranger has a story to tell, do make the film seem more of a road safety video.  Still, the developing romance between two students and the various other interactions between the passengers help round out the film and make the final scenes more engaging.  The bus crash is unnecessarily graphic with severed limbs and gore in abundance, none of which really adds any more to the story.  The crash alone would have been catastrophic enough and director M. Sarvanan does drive home the road safety message with a very big hammer.

Thankfully, with much of the subject matter being the accident, there are no big song and dance numbers and most of C. Sathya’s music is used to move the story forward with montages of the two couples.  The film title translates to Anytime, Anywhere and seems to relate to both romance and tragedy – you can meet your soul mate where and when you least expect to, and disaster can strike in exactly the same way.  As such, the film plays on the very normality of every scene, any of which could happen to anyone at any moment and the characters are all very normal, everyday people.  It’s a simple story and yet insightful, and one that resonates with anyone who has ever sat on public transport and wondered about the stories of their fellow passengers.  4 stars.