Padayappa

Padayappa

Many thanks to regular readers Violet and KB for suggesting Padayappa (1999) when I asked for Ramya Krishnan film recommendations. I believe that director K.S. Ravikumar cast her after seeing Ammoru, and I understand why. Padayappa has an amazing cast, an often incredible story, and all the trappings of a revenge drama custom built for superstar hero Rajinikanth. It also has a strong female antagonist that was perfect for Ramya Krishnan, who won the Tamil Filmfare Best Actress for the role. The support cast includes such talented actors as Sivaji Ganesan and Soundarya, along with Manivannan, Lakshmi, Nasser and even a brief appearance by Prakash Raj.

Padayappa (Rajinikanth) comes home to attend a family wedding. He falls in love with poor but honest Vasundhara (Soundarya) however overseas educated rich girl Nilambari (Ramya Krishnan) decides she must have him for herself. Her branch of the family is riddled with self-serving weaklings and their machinations help hasten the death of Padayappa’s father, played by legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan. Padayappa stays in the village to support his mother and sister, sort out the cheating relatives, and also to try and woo Vasundhara. The conflict between Nilambari and everyone who gets in her way is the main focus, although there are the obligatory comedy tracks and lots of rousing speeches.

Padayappa-SuperstarPadayappa-Padayappa the hero

In Padayappa Rajinikanth is Superstar Rajni the Hero rather than using his considerable acting skills for a fully developed character that required any subtlety. The thing I always find admirable about Rajni is that he commits to the role and to the style of film he is in, and that conviction makes even the most preposterous shenanigans seem somehow right.

Padayappa is moral, righteous and has absolutely no self-doubt. He has all the trademark Rajni mannerisms from the snappy salute with whooshing sound effects, the cigar trick, the ability to force his enemies to attack him one by one and at a pace that allows him to win, the power to make multiple cars explode just by looking at them. There is some light and shade as Padayappa gets all silly and tongue-tied around Vasundhara, or as he grieves for his family’s losses but he is less a character and more a personification of Heroic Values.

Padayappa-against the oddsPadayappa-Flexing

Confession – I am so fond of Rajni that I really don’t care that his fight scenes are implausible or his ‘dancing’ quite terrible. But I could have done without the shirtless flexing.

I rarely take issue with the (usually considerable) age gap between Rajni and his heroines. Maybe it’s because I discovered him comparatively recently so to me he has always been an elder statesman of film. And to some extent his reputation overshadows any character he plays.  He’s Rajinikanth!

Padayappa-NilambariPadayappa-Ramya Krishnan 2

Nilambari is compelling yet totally unlikeable. A spoilt girl who never took no for an answer, Nilambari often does things more likely to be done by the hero – she stalks the hero, she grabs him and kisses him in front of everyone at a wedding then saunters off casually, she torments her rival (the lowly Vasundhara) and threatens anyone who tries to obstruct her.

Padayappa-Ramya Krishnan 3Padayappa-Nilambari and Vasundhara

Ramya Krishnan gave Nilambari a beautiful façade over a twisted and arrogant core. It is great to see an actress capable of such expression and subtlety and who is not afraid to reveal the ugliness of a character’s dark side. She took it up to Rajinikanth and more than held her own in their confrontational scenes.

Padayappa-beauty status and talentPadayappa-contrast

Nilambari’s outfits improved but her attitude never did.

There is a village tradition that couples should only marry when both want to, either through love or mutual agreement. Padayappa rebukes Nilambari saying a good woman should be well-mannered and demure, so it’s not exactly progressive but I liked seeing girls get a voice too.

Padayappa-Soundarya (2)Padayappa-awkward

Vasundhara (Soundarya) is Padayappa’s ideal woman. She is a servant in Nilambari’s household, but her family used to be wealthy. Devout and domesticated as well as very pretty, Vasundhara obviously likes Padayappa too. She and Rajni seem to have nice rapport and the courtship is more about shy conversations and sideways glances. It’s quite cute if predictable. Soundarya does well to build up a character that is only lightly sketched out by the screenplay and dialogue. I did yell at Vasundhara a couple of times to STOP TRUSTING NILAMBARI. Luckily her devotion earns her some snake assisted escapes from near certain death.

Padayappa-Soundarya

Soundarya also does an excellent job of dancing around Rajni in their songs together. She often has a cheeky smile on her face, so Vasundhara might have a colourful fantasy life to balance her dutiful side.

Padayappa-wedding wishesPadayappa-promise

The dynamic between Padayappa and Nilambari was interesting as this is an instance where the hero is quite passive. Padayappa doesn’t do anything to torment or punish Nilambari other than be happily married to the one he loves. She is insignificant to him, and that is what drives her insane.

The song picturisations have all the colour and excitement I expected. AR Rahman’s music is a good fit and his use of recurring motifs helps express the characters inner lives.

Minsara Poove sees Nilambari dancing her feelings for Padayappa as he sings for Vasundhara. It’s very pretty, apart from the bits that are happening in Nilambari’s fantasy. She really needed a better dream wardrobe designer. Suthi Suthi is colourful, with giant puppets and lots of costume changes for Soundarya and Rajni. Kikku Yerudhey is a little out of place in terms of the story and I think it was only there to get Rajni prancing about with lots of young girls (Padayappa’s daughter’s school friends) and drunk uncles. Or maybe just to let the director make his trademark cameo appearance.

Padayappa-carnage

There are fight scenes, cars stunts, a murderous cow (not a euphemisism for Nilambari) and all manner of excitement as well as the revenge and drama.

Padayappa-the dating advice committeePadayappa-advice gone wrong

Padayappa’s friends are largely there to provide comic interruptions but they also do an excellent line in relationship advice and support (and hiding behind trees).

Padayappa-Sivaji Ganesan and Lakshmi

The legendary Sivaji Ganesan had a small but pivotal role as Padayappa’s father and was still quite magnetic. Lakshmi made the most of her big scenes as the surprisingly fierce mother. The always excellent Manivannan made his character despicable and yet pitiful while Nasser was just despicable.

Padayappa-Prakash Raj

And a quite svelte Prakash Raj was a nice bonus as a police officer. The casting budget for this film must have been enormous.

At almost 3 hours Padayappa does drag occasionally but just as I was thinking that surely things must settle down, K.S. Ravikumar would ramp up the action. See it for a classic village family revenge masala style story with a first class cast and loads of colour and movement. 4 stars!

Murari

One day our friend Indiequill asked for film recommendations, specifying that she wanted to see Mahesh Babu as something other than a baby faced killer. Murari was a popular pick amongst friends on Twitter, and for that reason as well as our commitment to research and possibly a bit of persuasion by The Mahesh Fan, we watched it too. And it wasn’t bad. There is nothing really out of the ordinary in the story, the jokes or the material so the film had to rely heavily on the appeal of the cast and the production design to keep us engaged.

The film opens with a bonus appearance by Prakash Raj in a wig (according to Liz he may have been channelling Jackie Shroff in this avatar) and it was obvious he was No Good. After insulting the deity at a local temple, he is promptly despatched by a green CGI monster and leaves a curse attached to family.

Goodbye and thanks for coming Prakash Raj.

The film skips forward several generations and we learn that every 48 years a member of the family dies to fulfil the requirements of the curse. Why 48 years is never explained, at least in our subtitles, and it really doesn’t seem to matter except as a device to show a few grisly deaths.  When we see Mahesh Babu leap onto the screen it is not only obvious he is the hero, but we were also sure that he is marked for death. He plays Murari, a bit of a too good to be true type who defends the defenceless and all that, but is saved from being a total prig by his good natured pranks and teasing. These were actually pretty funny and captured the adolescent nature of our hero.

This was apparently Peter Hein’s first film as a fight director, and certainly there are several heroic scuffles with bad guys thrown through the air like so much sweaty confetti. And one interesting fight scene in the water. But no baby faced killer.

Murari is from a feuding family. During one attempt to bring the two sides back together he meets his cousin Vasundhara, played by Sonali Bendre. Sparks and insults begin to fly as instant dislike signals the love story to come. Romance blossoms over pranks and practical jokes, as does some more dodgy CGI work.

In order to facilitate the growing relationship, Murari is intent on resolving the family schism as his grandmother Sabari is equally intent on removing the curse. Murari is blissfully unaware of the danger he is in, but the gods seem to like Mahesh Babu and his elephant Ganesh keeps a watchful eye on his owner. There are lots of close calls, and we know Murari is drawing closer to his death a long time before the family priest bothers to check the horoscopes.

Murari’s family approve of him marrying Vasundhara, hers are eventually persuaded and then grandmother puts the veto on this union. She is obsessed with saving Murari (who was named for her husband who was a previous victim of the curse), and keeping Vasundhara from being left a widow. In the midst of all the domestic drama, death is lurking and only an arduous and lengthy ritual can save Murari. Since the angry deity in question is Durga, the price for absolution had to be blood; and that is spilled in abundance before the film ends. Although the climax was powerful in its visual impact  the outcome was rather predictable as Sabari had always known what was needed to lift the curse. Along with all that blood of course. Why she held off on taking action until this particular generation is never adequately explained.

Mahesh Babu seems to be the actor who explains basic concepts in Telugu film, and we thank him for that. In Athadu he laid out the rules for killing and in Murari he explains the rules of obsessive filmi love. Apparently if he was thinking of Vasundhara, he needn’t worry about whether she loved him before going to politely kidnap her and bring her back to the family home. The reason he was thinking of her was that she was thinking of him. So his father told Murari there was no need for boring talking about feelings and plans and all that. She wanted him! It was all her fault! Just go grab her! Another filmi mystery solved!

It was interesting to see Mahesh Babu playing a young man who wasn’t a homicidal loner. This is also before maxi-layer Mahesh became quite so multilayered and developed his signature style. Although his favoured T-shirt and shirt combo make plenty of appearances there are quite a few scenes where only a single T-shirt was in evidence and nary a scarf in sight. We enjoyed his comedic flair in Khaaleja and he certainly milked the laughs from some of his scenes with Sonali. He did all the standard heroic stuff but this was much more character driven than action centred and relied on dialogue.  Sonali and Mahesh had some fun and flirty scenes that helped give the romance a bit more spark. Sonali is beautiful to look at and seemed to enjoy playing her more extrovert character in this.  She really excels at frustrated screams, and her performance appeared very genuine and heartfelt particularly in the latter half of the film.

Murari’s mother Gopamma was played by Lakshmi who did a great job of giving this teary filmi Ma some real character. She was very believable in her confrontational scenes when visiting her brother and family, and emanated a warm and loving personality in scenes with Mahesh Babu. The rest of the supporting cast were all OK without being exceptional. It’s often comforting seeing so many familiar faces in amongst all the cousins, uncles, aunts and servants but it does mean we tend to overlook them as they usually perform the same role over and over. The sets for the family homes were lovely and looked really lived in.

There were lots of knick-knacks and paintings scattered around to catch the eye and each house had a different feel that reflected the occupants’ tastes. The elephant fountain was fabulous and so was the actual elephant.

The music was forgettable, and so was most of the dancing although it was rather exuberant at times. See this film if you’re interested in watching one of the biggest stars in the industry before he adopted the cool calm killer persona and if you like a bit of domestic drama.

Temple says: This is an entertaining if unexceptional film. I like Mahesh Babu as an actor, and he did well in this romantic comedy hero style. It is kind of fun to see him playing such a young and flirty boy rather than the brooding loner role he has put his stamp on of late. Having seen Khaaleja recently, I am now surprised at how shocked everyone seemed to be at his ability to do comedy in that, as he had that under his belt in this film (along with snake wrangling skills). I particularly liked the teasing flirty interludes with Sonali as they each had their moments of triumph and of discomfort and the scenes flowed really well. I even tolerated the dreaded Filmi Child Actors as they were kept well under control and wore a pleasing array of stripey shirts. Speaking of costumes, Mahesh Babu in a lungi is always memorable (I’m thinking of you Jenni). It’s a shame the DVD copy is so bad as the visual design of the film is very nice, and it was a pleasure to watch – certainly these screencaps do it no justice. I don’t know that I would hurry to watch this again, but I did enjoy it for what it is – a romantic comedy with a bit of gore, a bit of divine intervention and excellent use of elephants. I give it 3 stars.

Heather Says: I liked Murari, but then it’s a romance and I’m a sucker for love stories. It also has elephants (an instant win), snakes (also a win), and the goddess revenge drama does spice up the storyline nicely. I enjoyed the way the two characters played it true to their supposed ages in the story and the little touches that were very typical of a guy trying to be macho and impress the girl. The teasing between Murari and Vasundhara appeared very natural and Mahesh showed that he has a natural flair for comedy. It was great to see him in a role where he wasn’t just a cool and competent killing machine, but had so much warmth and feeling. There seemed to have been quite a lot of thought put into the interactions between the various members of the two families as well, and I liked the way that they all had different characteristics within their roles in the family. Even the kids were ably utilised in this film, and the elephants weren’t just there for decoration.

My only complaint, apart from the terrible DVD quality, was that the ending dragged a little. The lead up to the climax was great, but then it seemed to take forever to actually get there. There were also perhaps a few too many near misses for Murari, especially since at least one appeared very contrived. However the rest of the film was fun and overall its an entertaining watch. I vote for more elephants and snakes in all movies! 3 ½ stars from me.