Avane Srimannarayana

Welcome to the wild, wild West! Sachin Ravi’s Avane Srimannarayana is basically an old-fashioned Western featuring bad guys fighting the good guys over the spoils of a robbery that took place 15 years ago. Although over-long and a little slow in places, this is still a rollicking good adventure that has plenty of action and comedy with just a touch of romance. Written by a team of people including Rakshit Shetty who also stars in the film, Avane Srimannarayana references a slew of other films from Sholay to spaghetti westerns like A Fistful of Dollars and almost every gangster movie ever written. Think Quentin Tarantino meets Indiana Jones and Gabbar Singh in a small town in Karnataka, and that’s the general flavour of Avane Srimannarayana.

The film starts with a gangster clan led by Rama Rama (Madhusudhan Rao) confronting a theatre troupe who have stolen a treasure the Abhiras want for themselves. Unluckily, Rama Rama kills everyone apart from the Bandmaster (Gopalkrishna Deshapande) before discovering that the treasure is missing. With the Bandmaster traumatised and unaware of what has happened to the gold, the only clue is a garbled message from one of the actors just before he died. But before Rama Rama can fulfil his vow of killing all the actors’ family members and recovering the treasure, he too dies, leaving behind his legitimate son Jayarama (Balaji Manohar) and illegitimate son Tukaram (Pramod Shetty) to fight over the succession. It’s a forgone conclusion though and the brutal and vicious Jayarama takes over the Abhiras and the search for the treasure, while his exiled brother Tukaram starts a political party with a view to one day ousting his brother and regaining his rightful place. 

15 years later the search for the treasure is still unsuccessful, and Tukaram is still trying to outwit Jayarama. But now Inspector Narayana (Rakshit Shetty) and his capable Constable Achyuthanna (Achyuth Kumar) are drawn into the search for the lost treasure while trying to keep the peace between the townsfolk, Tukaram and the Abhiras under the leadership of Jayarama. Narayana also has to battle his own personal nemesis, reporter Lakshmi (Shanvi Srivastava) who always seems to be in the right place to catch Narayana failing in his duty. But is Narayana searching for the treasure to stop Jayarama’s plans to dispose of him? Or is it to appease Tukaram who is also out for Narayana’s blood? Or does he want the treasure to give to the townsfolk, or even the theatre troupe who are stuck in Amaravati, hiding from the Abhiras? Or, as seems more likely, is Narayana simply hunting for the treasure to keep for himself, provided he can outwit everyone else? 

Rakshit Shetty plays it ultra-cool as Narayana, always just one step away from being too clever and having all his various schemes fall apart at the last minute. He is ably assisted by Achyuth Kumar and the two provide some excellent physical comedy that is a mix of situational and slapstick, but works much better than sounds. The action sequences too are often just edging towards farce, but still edgy and exciting with some well thought-out stunts and special effects. However, at times the action team seem to get carried away by their own cleverness and there is just a little too much going on in some sequences which dulls the overall effect. The character of Narayana is also kept rather too ambiguous, particularly towards the end where it would have helped the story if he had been either a bit more heroic or a bit less self-absorbed. As the villains, Balaji Manohar and Pramod Shetty have more clearly defined characters, one being a typical violent gangster and the other a conniving politician, which, although more predictable, works in their favour during the long and rambling story. As Achyuthanna, Achyuth Kumar also has a more linear character arc and he does full justice to his role with an excellent performance that acts as a perfect balance to Rakshit Shetty’s more volatile Narayana.

More surprisingly, Shanvi Srivastava has a novel role and doesn’t follow the usual path of first hating and then falling in love with the hero of the story. Instead she has a major part to play in the search for the treasure and her machinations turn out to have serious consequences for Narayana’s own chances of success. While it’s disappointing that Lakshmi is the only main female character, it is good to see that she’s not simply a love interest but rather a fully fleshed out additional player in the search for the treasure. Although there is just a whiff of romance at the end, it feels more of a natural development and is so brief that it hardly counts as romance at all.

There are only a few songs and for the most part they are rather underwhelming. I feel that there wasn’t enough musical arrangement – given the lavishness of the sets and the intricacies of the plot, the songs feel rather bare-bones and almost an afterthought. B. Ajaneesh Loknath’s background score is more effective, although again I would have preferred more orchestration to match the grandeur of the visuals. I do like the dance moves though in Hands Up and the overall commitment to the Western Genre throughout.

The film could have done with more editing and there are a number of scenes that don’t add much to the overall story. Some of the action sequences too are overlong, resulting in a rather more bloated screenplay than seems necessary. At just under 3 hours  for the international print (just over for the Indian release) the film is a long watch and it does drag at a few points in the second half. However, it is incredibly well made, with excellent attention to detail and the fictional world of Amaravati is richly portrayed. The entire cast turn in perfect performances and the story is engaging with some good and unexpected twists. There is so much that is good here and despite a few flaws Avane Srimannarayana is well worth watching as part of the new and exciting genre of films coming from Kannada cinema. One to watch in the cinema to fully appreciate the sets and visual spectacle of the film, but make sure you have a comfy seat and the large bucket of popcorn.

Thani Oruvan

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Thani Oruvan pits a dedicated police officer against a corrupt scientist in psychological thriller that has plenty of drama and action. The writing collaboration between director Mohan Raja and Subha results in a cleverly plotted story with some unexpected twists, but the real success lies in the detailed development of the two main characters. Neither is completely black or white, although the shades of grey are relatively muted, while the cat and mouse relationship between the two provides good structure to the film. Excellent performances from the whole team but particularly Arvind Swamy as the villain of the piece ensure that Thani Oruvan is a better than average police drama and one that’s well worth a watch.

You know a film is going to be pretty epic when the story starts with a dramatic birth. Sengalvarayan (Thambi Ramaiah) is a party man through and through to the point where it’s more important to him that he ties flags for his leader’s appearance rather than take his heavily pregnant wife to hospital. The leader senses an opportunity for some good publicity and sure enough, the baby is born in the back seat of the politician’s car leading Sengalvarayan and his new son Pazhani to develop a relationship with the man who will later become Chief Minister (Nassar). The significance of these events doesn’t become apparent until later on but they provide an instantly intriguing start to the film.

After the dramatic opening, the story moves to a group of young police officers in training and their vigilante-style activities against the local criminal community. Despite the group’s best efforts, the crooks never stay in jail and Shakthi (Ganesh Venkatraman), Suraj (Harish Uthaman), Kathiresan (Sricharan) and Jana (Rahul Madhav) all look to their friend and natural leader Mithran (Jayam Ravi) for a solution. Naturally Mithran has a plan, having spent the last few years investigating all known criminal activity and discovering that all crimes are interlinked and ultimately committed by a small group of individuals. As a result he’s made it his mission in life to eliminate one of these top 15 criminals responsible for all of the crime in India, and of course his buddies want in on the action. He has a shortlist of three possible men to choose from; Ashok Pandian (Nagineedu), Perumal Swamy (Madhusudhan Rao) and Charles Chelladurai (Saiiju Kurup) who between them (according to Mithran) account for 80% of the criminal activity in the country.

Mithran’s biggest problem is which one to choose, although I’m not entirely sure why he couldn’t decide to eliminate all three given that he has his whole career ahead of him and could work on knocking off one every 10 years or so. Regardless, while he is working out which one to target, he discovers that all three actually work for a much bigger villain – highly respected scientist and Padma Shri awarded Siddharth Abimanyu (Arvind Swamy). Siddharth is known for his work in the pharmaceutical field but in reality he’s the mastermind behind all sorts of criminal activity and not a nice man at all, despite his designer suits, fashion model wife and impressive collection of University degrees.

Siddharth is of course the grown up young boy from the start of the film and his inept father is now the Health Minister in Nassar’s government, allowing Siddharth to do basically whatever he wishes. Mithran and Siddharth cross paths when an American drug company owner comes to India to open access to lifesaving medications – something that Siddharth and his associates will go to any lengths to prevent. Once Siddharth becomes aware of Mithran and his attempts to put him out of business, the contest between the two begins in earnest with each determined to eliminate the other no matter what it takes.

The characterisations are the key here and while Mithran doesn’t have all the answers he uses a methodical approach and informed reasoning to work out what Siddharth will do next. Almost too good to be true, Mithran is depicted as a dedicated and passionate police officer with a strong sense of social justice, who is almost hyper-aware of crime in his surroundings. However as he gets drawn into a battle of wits with Siddharth his obsession threatens to take over his life while his friends and allies become tools to use in his fight. His motto is that a man’s capability is defined by the quality of his enemies and by that measure he needs to be very capable indeed. Mithran’s passion for justice is what makes him get out of bed in the morning, so he has none left over for potential love interest Mahima (Nayantara) and as time goes on, little patience to deal with his friend and colleagues either. These shades of grey give Mithran more credibility and offset his tendency to indulge in pompous and long-winded speeches about truth, justice and the rights of all to obtain cheap pharmaceuticals when required. Jayam Ravi is perfectly capable as Mithran but he is very serious and it would have been good to see an occasional smile outside of the obligatory song with Mahima.

Siddharth is a more cerebral villain than usual and uses his political influence to neutralise any threat from Mithran while his quick reactions and scientific knowledge also stand him in good stead to outwit the police officer at almost every turn. He doesn’t throw tantrums, swear vengeance or send out gangs of thugs as Tamil criminal masterminds are wont to do, instead he simply adapts, moves on and changes direction.

Arvind Swamy is excellent as the criminal mastermind, with the beauty of his characterisation lying in just how very ordinary his Siddharth is. He’s rich  – designer suits, trophy wife and beautiful house all attest to how wealthy he is, but on the surface he could be any scientist working on medical breakthroughs with no indication of how cruelly callous he can be when required. Those moments when he casually orders someone’s death or explodes into controlled violence are almost totally unexpected and seem to come out of nowhere, making Siddharth a very effective and chilling villain despite his generally debonair persona.

Nayantara’s character Mahima is interesting too. On one hand she’s the typically dumb love interest who thinks that by following the hero around and declaring her love at every eventual opportunity she will eventually wear him down – and to be fair that is what happens here too. But on the other hand, she’s a forensic scientist who has some good ideas to help Mithran’s investigation, and appears coolly capable and professional in her work. If only Mohan Raja had avoided the ‘love at first sight’ cliché and given Mahima and Mithran a more plausible and realistic romance I would have liked her character more. But Nayantara does give Mahima professional competency and a no-nonsense approach most of the time that fits well with the overall tone of the film.

The rest of the cast are good with Thambi Ramaiah providing some laughs as an inept politician, but mainly giving a further insight into the character of Siddharth. Rahul Madhav is the best of Mithran’s friends, Vamsi Krishna is suitably menacing as Siddharth’s hitman, while Mugdha Godse is good in her brief but important role as Siddharth’s wife. The film looks good too, with effective use of split scenes and an effective mix of technology and good old-fashioned fight scenes. There are a few leaps of faith required but they aren’t too ridiculous and mostly the plot makes sense.

Thani Oruvan is an intelligent thriller with a good mix of action and drama and excellent characterisations. It is a little overlong, but the story keeps moving along at a good pace and like any good page-turner it’s always worth finding out what happens next. Worth watching for Arvind Swamy’s villainous scientist and the psychological cat and mouse game between Siddharth and Mithran. 4 stars.

 

Goli Soda

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Goli Soda is a masala movie with a difference – there is the usual mixture of action, comedy and romance, but this time the protagonists are four adolescents from Koyambedu market in Chennai and the action mainly takes place within the confines of the marketplace. The four are all orphans who have grown up in Koyambedu and Goli Soda follows their struggle to discover their own identities and what happens when their livelihood and self-respect is threatened. While the scale of the story may be small, the theme of teenagers trying to fit in and develop their own self-worth is universal, even if most don’t have to face quite the same obstacles or start with quite so little. S.D. Vijay Milton’s film has engaging characters and an interesting and rather different story to tell, making Goli Soda well worth a watch.

Saetu (Sree Raam), Kuttimani (Murugesh), Pulli (Kishore) and Sitthappa (Pakoda Pandi) are all friends who live and work together in the market. They unload produce during the early hours of the morning, working for Aachi (Sujatha Sivakumar) who pays them according to the amount of bags they have carried into her business. The boys live rough in the market and spend the rest of their time running amuck, ogling the local girls on their way to school and wasting time with market porter Manthiravan (Imman Annachi). The relationship between the four is well depicted with the expected amount of teasing and banter in any group of young men, but there is also plenty of support for each other and together they form a tightly knit family. This is perfectly illustrated when they all share the same ‘best’ t-shirt to wear as they wave at their chosen girl from the safety of the building roof. Regardless of the fact that none of the girls can probably see exactly what they are wearing, they swap the t-shirt so that each feels he looks his best with the limited resources they have. It’s a brief moment but shows their easy camaraderie and how much they rely on each other.

When Aachi finds out that one of the girls they are chasing is her own daughter Yamini (Chandhini) she convinces the four that they ned to do something more with their lives and approaches market kingpin Naidu (Madhusudhan Rao) for a loan. Naidu gives them the use of an unused godown which the boys turn into a small restaurant, named Aachi’s mess in honour of their mentor. They are surprisingly successful too, and take everything very seriously, even down to selecting the right covering for their makeshift tables. They’re helped in their endeavours by Aachi and Yamini and also by Vanmathi (Seetha) another friend who has her own share of problems but manages to take a glass half full approach to life. However Vanmathi is quite committed to her philosophy of one plant, one flower in relationships and only being willing to help if it is definitely true love and not just time-pass!

Problems arise when Naidu’s brother-in-law Mayil (Vijay Murugan) starts to frequent Aachi’s mess, demanding alcohol and non-veg dishes, even spending the night there with his cronies. The subsequent fall-out when the boys turn on Mayil threatens Naidu’s hold over the market and it seems as if Saetu, Kuttimani, Pulli and Sitthappa will lose everything, including possibly their lives as they battle to hold on to the little they have. Aachi, Yamini and Vanmathi are also all affected and in a departure from the normal masala formula, the two girls end up taking part in the fights with Naidu’s men and help the boys in their campaign to regain their restaurant.

What Goli Soda does is take the usual masala issues of bad guys vs good guy and translate them into the world of four adolescents. Instead of land grabbing politicians and gangsters we get petty criminals who take over the boys’ space and take away their sense of self in the process. That space is important as it’s the first Saetu, Kuttimani, Pulli and Sitthappa have had that is theirs to do with as they please – or at least as much as they can in a rented shop. Their insistence on choosing the tablecloths and making tables and benches for the restaurant becomes significant as it’s the first time they have ever had any say in their surroundings. The restaurant becomes their space and defines how they appear to the rest of the market – they are no longer simply nameless coolies, but instead are Aachi’s mess boys.  The successful business confers a sense of self-worth they did not have before and makes each someone rather than just another orphan. Loss of their space means they are back to being nothing – and that’s not something they are going to let happen if at all possible.

The film has a number of fight scenes where the four adolescents take on Mayil and his gang. This could have been ridiculously unbelievable, although perhaps not any more so than in the usual mass film where the hero is able to fling villains around without too much effort, but the choreography here is better than that. There is a lot of slapping and basic survival tactics which makes it seem less incredible that the boys could take on grown men and not suffer horrendous injuries, while the casual brutality of the gang seems plausible. The story overall works as the boys are all typical young men with the usual wants and desires – new clothes to look cool in front of the girls for example, but they also have a sense of responsibility which comes from having something which is theirs alone. All the young actors are fantastic in their roles and each is completely believable – even down to the blubbering and pleading when they are first faced with the prospect of being beaten up by Mayil and his gang. Sujatha Sivakumar is also excellent in her role as Aachi, giving the boys a constant in their lives and imbuing discipline without losing their respect.

Although it’s a simple story, Goli Soda packs a lot into 2 hours. All the masala elements are there, but trimmed of any excess to suit the younger protagonists, making for a neat and crisp narrative that easily pulls the viewer into the world of Koyambedu market. The dialogue is fun, snappy and suits the characters while the documentary-style of the camera makes the scenes in the market feel very natural. Goli Soda is something just a little bit different and recommended viewing for a movie with a message that avoids being preachy or overly sentimental. 4 stars.