Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota

Vasan Bala takes all the required masala ingredients and tosses them around. And throws in some real talk about love, loss and growing up, wrapped up in offbeat humour, visual gags, movie references, and tons of Hong Kong film style action.

I knew I was probably going to like this film from the get go when the hero flashes back to when he was still in utero…with his parents watching Chiru dancing to It’s A Challenge in Aaj Ka Goonda Raj!

Surya grows up under the care of his dad (Jimit Trivedi) and granddad (Mahesh Manjrekar) after his mother is killed in a bungled theft. He has congenital pain insensitivity and according to the movie medicine, will probably die by the age of 4. So his anxious dad almost literally wraps him in cotton wool. His only childhood friend is Supri, a neighbour who is his opposite in many ways. She never says anything but she feels pain. Her abusive drunk dad is the opposite of Surya’s too. Ajoba feeds Surya a diet of action and masala movies to try and teach him what pain means and how to recognise injuries, and insists that he stay well hydrated. There is some sense in teaching the kid how his body works and what could go wrong but it didn’t help his emotional development. Both kids become obsessed with Karate Man, a one-legged karate master who once beat 100 men in a single fight. Surya believes that life will conform to the rules of films, and he is a hero – the next Karate Man. So when people treat him as a villain, he is bewildered and annoyed. The family moves out of town to his grandfather’s house and Surya loses touch with Supri.

Adult Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) quotes his grandfather who said “Behind every mind blowing story are some pretty bad decisions”. He is an unreliable narrator, often rewriting scenes on the fly or drifting into a filmi fantasy before the world crashes in. He is as influenced by Bruce Lee and the Terminator films as he is by Amitabh and Rajinikanth. And he’s not particularly bright so he is almost guaranteed a succession of mind blowing stories. Dassani has classic chocolate hero looks, an exuberant acrobatic physicality, and an expression of intense innocence that can be hilarious or can make me want to deliver the one tight slap he sometimes needed.

Supri (Radhika Madan) re-enters his life in a beautifully choreographed fight underscored by Kishore Kumar singing “Nakhrewali”. I really loved that rather than race in to take over, he watched her kicking arse and was utterly enchanted by her skills and strength. It took a while for them to recognise each other but Karate Man divided them and brought them back together. Radhika Madan clearly worked hard for this role. She does a lot of physical action and portrays Supri as strong but not invincible, and not just a comedy prop for the men in fight scenes. I liked her performance a lot and found her character a necessary and welcome counterpoint to Surya’s more cartoonish perspective. She is resilient, and a sound thinker who doesn’t carry shame or guilt that isn’t hers to own.

Supri’s life was no fairytale. I cringed to hear her dad tell her boyfriend Atul to just slap her if she was difficult. It so unusual for films to even hint at domestic violence issues that I was pleasantly surprised when Supri and her mum had some real talk. Ma doesn’t want Supri to throw her life away on a bad marriage but Supri is struggling to know what else to do. She doesn’t earn, they need money for medical care, and she simply doesn’t know where to start. Mother and daughter talk about their feelings and the demands of life and there is no drama, just love. Supri says her mum sacrificed to nurse an abusive husband back to health so it is her turn now. But Ma is an interesting woman and she says she can’t break her internal programming to keep supporting her husband, but she doesn’t want Supri to follow in her footsteps. She encourages her to get out and live her own life.

Gulshan Devaiah rounds out the main cast in a brilliant dual role performance. We get the history of Mani and Jimmy in a funky flashback as one becomes a cliché drunk karate master and the other a cliché psychotic villain. How good is this retro funk sound?

Gulshan hits all the right notes in both roles and he commits. I loved his Karate Man style and if there was an award for best use of citrus fruit in a fight sequence, he would win it hands down. Mani is Supri’s mentor although he knows Atul is giving her grief and pushes her away for her own good. He reluctantly acquires Surya as a sidekick on his quest to get the locket back. Jimmy is grandiose, verbose, and constantly disappointed and dismayed by his goons and their lack of style. And when they are together, it’s like they’re both 9 years old again.

The film comes across as a loving tribute to movies and action, not just a piss take. It’s often laugh out loud funny, with a succession of blink and you’ll miss them references. Karan Kulkarni and Dipanjan Guha riff on some classic sounds and the songs are generally well placed. I loved the use of old filmi songs in the background, and the hoardings and murals that featured movie stars. Apart from being lovely it helped fuse Surya’s inner life to the world where this action was taking place. Bala uses some visual gimmicks to allow viewers to be aware of what was going on in real time, but the fight scenes are real and very physical with none of the bad CGI so prevalent. At its heart the movie is full of old school mass goodness.

The movie is on Netflix so you have no excuse. 4 stars!

 

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99 (2009)

99-Poster I generally enjoy heist or caper type films, and 99 is a fairly good example of the things I like most about the genre. Raj and DK have a keen eye for the little moments of absurdity and joy that pepper our lives, and the characters in 99 have hopes and schemes that are real world sized. Their ambitions fit within their neighbourhood – a really good coffee shop, a fresh start, a comfortable life with no running from the cops. Empathising with their flaws and stupid choices comes a little more easily when the dreams are so relatable. 99-the plan Sachin (Kunal Khemu) and Zaramud (Cyrus Broacha) are small time crims, working a technology angle rather than being standover merchants. They see themselves as perpetrating a victimless crime in a situation where nobody really gets hurt and lots of people benefit. Things go awry, as they often do, and while running from the police they steal and crash a Merc belonging to AGM (Mahesh Manjrekar).

AGM is an old school boss, the kind of bookie that newspapers here would have called a colourful racing identity. Rahul (Boman Irani) is separated from his wife, probably because of his gambling addiction. He keeps bargaining with God to win another hand, win another bet, and thinks he can beat the house. He places a bet on the cricket while having his own away game on conference in Mumbai, and is referred to AGM as his bookie. He goes home to Delhi, skipping out on the debt.

AGM sends Sachin and Zaramud to Delhi to recover the losses from Rahul, part of their agreement to work off their debt. Another character says they looked like Laurel and Hardy, and they do have about the same degree of acuity. Sachin uses AGM’s credit card to put himself up at a fancy hotel and meets duty manager Pooja (Soha Ali Khan). In between waiting around and menacing Rahul, he romances Pooja and generally looks on the bright side.

Rahul wants to win one more big bet to settle all his debts and maybe even get his wife back. The boys won’t wait, and they steal the money he is ‘borrowing’ from a client to settle the outstanding. But in a classic Delhi taxi scam their bags, including The Bag, are stolen. Rahul and Laurel and Hardy team up to win back the cash in another bet on the cricket finals, targeting high-roller JC (Vinod Khanna) as the key to success. The game is afoot! The cricket theme permeates all aspects of the characters’ lives. They’re all stuck on 99, waiting for the opportunity to make their century and claim success. None of them wants world domination or is chasing the money just for the sake of it, except maybe Rahul, they just want to get ahead. The match fixing scandal of 1999-2000 is well known so that adds another dimension as honest crooks rely on a match controlled by bigger crooks.

Kunal Khemu has a boyish charm that works well for Sachin, who isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. He and Cyrus Broacha have an easy chemistry that makes their scenes seem fresh even though the plot direction may be predictable. I could be underestimating Sachin as the subtitle team were a law unto themselves and even I know enough Hindi to know some dialogue was a bit mystifying. The boys make it up as they go and I enjoyed their antics as they tried to stay one step ahead of all their pursuers.

Boman Irani is quite restrained in terms of comedy excesses, but doesn’t shy away from showing Rahul as a jerk who will lie and wheedle his way out of trouble. He’s kind of seedy but respectable at the same time, an average man with a secret addiction. He is plausible and can be charming but there is a glint in his eye whenever he sees a chance. Rahul never learned any lasting lesson, but continued to coast on his luck and maybe God coming through on a bet or two.

Soha Ali Khan is adequate but for a film that works hard to build a little world, Pooja’s character is a bit lacking. I would have liked to see more of Pooja’s own decision making articulated. Initially she only agreed to help because Sachin whined at her, and while she did strike her own deal I didn’t really get why she would even consider getting involved to begin with. Simone Singh plays Jahnavi, Rahul’s wife. Like Pooja, although she is set up as a smart and down to earth woman there is little sense of anything about her other than her tension with Rahul. I didn’t have so many quibbles the first time I watched the film, but on a repeat viewing I felt that they existed to provide a foil for the relevant male character and not much else.

Vinod Khanna is perfectly cast as the smooth, slightly larger than life, JC. He is understated but faintly menacing under all the expensive charm. Amit Mistry and Pitobash round out the supporting cast with an entertaining blend of comedy, histrionics and sharp eyed opportunism. The soundtrack by Ashu is more bland than not, and quite formulaic – the whimsical acoustic song, the bhangra number, the sights of Delhi song, you know the drill. But they are integrated into the drama well and don’t derail the story at all. The song montages were often quite entertaining and let Raj and DK get a lot of slapstick out of their systems without dragging the main narrative down.

I hate to sound all hipster about Raj and DK but I do prefer their earlier stuff (I wasn’t blown away by Go Goa Gone) and 99 is lots of fun. While I am slightly disappointed with the female characters I genuinely like the good natured feel, the slightly dodgy characters, and the great use of locations. Even the opening titles incorporate the cast in the locations and foreshadow the twists and turns with some quirky angles and animation. The jokes take a swipe at everything from intercity rivalries to the film industry, and there are some zingy one liners courtesy of writers Raj and DK with Sita Menon. Of recent films in a similar genre I slightly prefer Ko Antey Koti and Delhi Belly, but I really have no complaints about spending a couple of hours in 1999 with these dudes. See it for a good modern robbers and more robbers caper with an appealing cast and a sense of humour about itself. 3 ½ stars!

Arrambam (2013)

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Arrambam is yet another Southern Indian film to use Mumbai as its backdrop, but really this action thriller could be set anywhere and still have the same impact.  Although there are a few Mumbai landmarks seen, the story is less about the location and more about the motivations behind the lead character’s quest for revenge, so despite Om Prakash’s excellent cinematography the background just isn’t important.  The action takes off immediately from the opening frames and there’s no time to take a breather until well into the second half. It’s fast, furious and best of all lots of fun as Ajith and Arya take on corruption in politics, the police force and basically just about everywhere!  There’s an excellent extended guest appearance from Rana Daggubati and even Nayanthara gets a chance to get in on the action and show off her ruthless side.  On the minus side, the songs aren’t too inspiring and there are a few gaping plot holes, but there is enough going on to make Arrambam an entertaining mass masala flick despite the lack of logic.

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The film opens with a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this latest terrorist.  The man they are looking for is Ashok Kumar (Ajith), who has an unusual recruitment scheme to enlist the help of computer expert Arjun (Arya).  Also involved in Ashok’s master plan are his sidekicks Maya (Nayanthara) and Mango (Krishna) who assist Ashok with kidnapping Arjun and forcing him to hack into a number of computer networks.

Arrambam

Despite this rather inauspicious beginning, Arya’s character actually adds some light relief to the film, starting with a flashback sequence to explain why Ashok targeted him in the first place.  This features Arya heavily made up and wearing a fat suit as a stereotypical computer nerd at college.  Even with his daunting appearance and apparent flatulence, Arjun is still pretty popular due to his ability to hack into the college computer system and change grades as required for the other students. However when he encounters Anita (Taapsee Pannu) and decides that she is his soul mate, he’s inspired to exercise and loose the flab.

During a rather disconcerting song where a now trim and fit Arjun sprouts blue wings for no apparent reason, he manages to woo the girl and ends up heading to Mumbai for a job interview.  One which doesn’t turn out anything like the way he expected.  Arya still keeps the nerd mentality even though he’s updated his fitness levels and appears suitably geeky throughout while also managing to keep up with the action.  It’s helped by his choice of T-shirts, but he gets the attitude right and his lack of awareness of the world around him is absolutely classic. Taapsee is ditzy and rather shrill as his reporter girlfriend but thankfully she’s not on screen often enough to be too annoying.

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While Ashok keeps telling his various victims to ‘keep it simple’, he himself makes things incredibly complicated by kidnapping Arjun and using threats against Anita to force Arjun’s compliance.  The first half keeps the thrills coming as Arjun attempts to escape and inform Inspector Prakash about Ashok and his criminal activities while trying not to endanger his girlfriend.

But of course that’s only part of the story and the second half involves a long flashback where Ashok’s motives are explained and suddenly the tables are turned.  The fast pace of the first half isn’t maintained and the film slows down considerably in the second, but there are still some good action sequences including a shoot-out sequence with Ashok’s old partner Sanjay (Rana Daggubati) and a high speed boat chase in Dubai.

Arrambam

Ajith is in his element here and writer/director Vishnu Vardhan has kept Ashok’s character deliberately ambivalent while making sure he has plenty of charisma and charm.  Ashok punctuates the end of his sentences by putting on his sunnies (which at least lets you know the conversation is over), and he is always über cool and classy despite his terrorist activities.  The relationship between Ajith and Arya also works well although the sequences with Rana and Ajith stand out as some of the best in the film.  The camaraderie between the two actors feels very genuine and it’s easy to believe that they are long term friends and partners with their teasing banter and rapport during police operations.

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While Taapsee really is the drama queen the corrupt Home Minister Rane (Mahesh Manjrekar) describes, many of the other female roles have a strong presence.  Nayanthara gets to threaten, bluster and fight in many of her scenes and does an excellent job, keeping her fight sequences realistic and looking suitably athletic to carry it all off, while Suman Ranganathan is also very good in her small role.  I’m always happy to see Atul Kulkarni pop up although his role as the chief of police doesn’t really give him much scope here, and the rest of the supporting cast are equally kept mainly in the background.  Although I like Yuvan Shankar Raja’s soundtrack, the songs don’t work well in the film mainly because they disrupt the flow of the story. The item song featuring Akshara Gowda is particularly painful and seems completely pointless since it really doesn’t suit her character of the home minister’s daughter at all.  I don’t think that such a fast paced action thriller needs any songs other than the background score but at least the Holi song had more energy and made a little more sense in the context of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Arrambam.  It’s fast paced, slick and stylish with plenty of action and I loved that one of the female characters was involved in the mayhem too. You go girl! The excitement and tension of the first half isn’t sustained through the second, but with Rana added in to the mix the action is still full on. Worth watching for Ajith and Arya as long as you can ignore the lack of logic and just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Ajith boat