Kandukondain Kandukondain

Kandukondain Kandukondain is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and one of the first Tamil films I saw. It’s still one of my favourites, largely due to the good performances and the strong screenplay. Tabu and Aishwarya Rai play the sisters – sensible, thoughtful Sowmya, and the mercurial Meenakshi. Rajiv Menon retains some of the novel’s ambiguity about whose way is ultimately better, and he and dialogue writer Sujatha focus on the characters and how they develop.

The heroines’ characters required little adaptation. Regency heroines and filmi ones tend to spend a lot of time waiting for the right man or angling for a suitable husband so it probably wasn’t much of a challenge. The suitably ladylike occupations of music and teaching are retained which happily allows for more songs than one might expect from Jane Austen. The female characters in the film are memorable, distinct and very appealing. And I do like the image of big burly film directors reading Austen or Georgette Heyer for their inspiration!

Tabu has a lovely gravity that makes Sowmya very sympathetic. There are small things that make her seem so real – in scenes talking to her ailing grandfather Tabu’s face was sweet and serene, but the sudden slight tension in her throat gave away her real feelings. Tabu’s performance was wonderful, and I totally believed it when Sowmya decided to open her heart to a persistent suitor only to find that she may have been mistaken.

True Love rarely runs smoothly and there are obstacles, real and imagined, that try Sowmya’s patience and resilience, challenging her apparent acceptance of her lot in life. Her confusion and disappointment over Manohar was palpable.

Sowmya thinks that her bad luck has relegated her to a life of service and domesticity in the family home. Her journey towards accepting that she has a right to her own love and happiness is one of the elements of the novel that I enjoyed. She avoids being a stereotypical Regency novel spinster – she is intelligent, personable and has a sense of fun. Sowmya also has a decent job and shows determination in pursuing a career and financial independence.

This is one of the films that made me decide Aishwarya is a capable actor but needs a director who can coach her. She has a lively spark that suited this version of Marianne Dashwood, and Meenu’s feisty streak was always in evidence. The opening song shows off Meenakshi’s extrovert nature, features some excellent dancers and lets Aish show off her animal impressions including a valiant attempt at tiger face.

Aish and Tabu had great rapport and details like the way they leaned in to speak to each other, or would catch each others hand as they talked were really charming. But Meenakshi wasn’t all sweetness.

When she was angry she let fly, and Aish was excellent in those high energy dramatic scenes. Meenu confronted her mother over a family secret, and threw Bala’s love back in his face with no compunction. But she wasn’t malicious so much as impulsive and emotional, and I think the script and the performance combined to show this clearly.

Meenu grows to realise that love encompasses respect and friendship, not just passionate attraction to a dream hero. She doesn’t exactly become her sensible sister but she decides what she needs from her life partner and chooses to look beyond the obvious. When Srikanth makes an offer he thinks she won’t refuse, things become crystal clear to Meenu. She sets about getting her way with all the vigour she had previously put into avoiding Bala.

Mammootty is excellent as the embittered drunk with a loosely fitted prosthetic leg, Bala (based on Colonel Brandon). Living with his war injuries and a sense of disillusionment he seems intent on pissing his life away. He is drawn to Meenakshi’s beauty but I think it is her fiery temper and cheeky disrespect that really captures him. Mammootty transforms from angry man to shy boy and then seems to regain his love of life and enjoyment of people, resuming a full and happy life with no booze and less anger.

Unlike Colonel Brandon, he has loyal sidekick Sivagnanam (the excellent Manivannan) to provide strategic advice and moral support. The ‘talk to the hand’ scene was sweet and very funny. Bala had the maturity and patience to deal with Meenu, and the intelligence to realise that she would come round or not but he couldn’t force it.

He helps the family from decency, not to buy Meenu’s favour. His thoughtfulness and generosity made Bala a hero. And of course he does save her life.

When it looks like Bala might see his dreams come true, Mammootty shows the underlying vulnerability gradually give way to joy. It’s such a well judged performance and he supports Aish beautifully.

Ajith is hampered by the least successful storyline. In the novel Edward Ferrars is gentry with strong principles and a secret engagement he is unable to break, torn by his love for Elinor and his duty. Making Manohar an ambitious film director didn’t carry the same limitations and so he came across as more selfish and whiny than noble.

Manohar made the decision to leave Sowmya until he had made his first film. There was no need to make such a choice and it was silly. I struggled to see him as the right man for smart sensible Sowmya. The supposed ‘other woman’, the top actress and action hero Nandini Verma (Pooja Batra) was lots of fun but again her occupation and personality didn’t match the dynamic from the novel and it fizzled. Instead of being worried about being forced to marry an unsuitable woman and lose the one he loved, Manohar often looked quite content with his situation.

Well, until the day he decided he was finally ready to claim Sowmya. Ajith was adequate in the role but the lack of credible tension in his story left me unconvinced.

Srikanth (Abbas) was perfect for the film’s Mr Willoughby. I don’t think he is at all attractive but his entrepreneurial character and silly floppy hair fit the style of the society man on the make. And talk about making an entrance…

The wet shirt scene was completely unnecessary and did him no favours in the inevitable comparison. Srikanth was self centred, self satisfied and avoided responsibility. His relationship with Meenu was based on his surface appeal and her dreamy silly notions and very pretty face.  Srikanth was devoid of substance and sense, and seemed genuinely shocked when things fell apart.

The supporting cast are all very good. Shamili as little sister Kamala, Srividya as the mother who wanted the best for her girls and Manivannan as Bala’s friend were all great. Rajiv Menon and dialogue writer Sujatha gave the support actors lots to do which helped reinforce the domestic feel. Bala’s mother (I think) is obsessed with weddings, and long suffering Sivagnanam even gets the family cats married to keep her quiet. Thankfully the comedy is centred on necessary characters and incidents.

The soundtrack is lovely but the song picturisations are a mixed bag. Some look amazing and others are like something from a high school rock eisteddfod. Some have a bit of both!

Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran made the most of the lovely rural locations, and also captured the more enclosed and subdued lighting of the city. He certainly made his leading ladies look stunning.

It’s a beautiful film, with a quality AR Rahman soundtrack and some excellent performances. And it’s one of the more successful adaptations of a novel I know well and am very fond of.  4 stars!

Heather says: I’m generally not a fan of adaptations of Jane Austin. I fell in love with her books as a child, in fact Sense and Sensibility was the first I read, and so far nothing on either the big or small screen has lived up to my expectations. Kandukondain Kandukondain is no exception, although I do think it is one of the best adaptations I have seen.  Despite that, I failed to connect with the characters and although the whole film looks beautiful and has some lovely songs in the soundtrack, it’s not a film I really enjoyed.

Kandukondain Kandukondain is shot to make the best use of scenery and to accentuate colour in the landscapes as might be expected from someone with Rajiv Menon’s background.  The indoor scenes look just as good and I like the way the colour and light of the first half gives way to duller lighting when they move to Chennai and the family have to fend for themselves. In fact this is the best part of the film for me as I enjoyed Sowmya’s search for work which felt very realistic. Meenakshi’s singing and her career problems were also well depicted and I loved the way that Mahalakshmi was also secretly working. At this point I was able to forget any Jane Austin links and the characters started to come alive. But then the film went back to the respective love stories and I lost interest  again. I didn’t feel that the original characters from the book were well adapted into modern-day romances. While I thought the lives of the sisters were modernised and well written into an Indian setting, the men, (with the exception of Major Bala) seemed to be poor copies of the Jane Austin characters and I didn’t like them at all. Ajith was fine as the film director but like Temple I had problems with his decision not to marry until he had made his first film. Or rather not so much the reluctance to marry until he was established, which did have some legitimacy, but rather the long separation without any contact which just seemed ridiculous. Abbas looked too much like Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet for me to be able to see him without grinning. Especially when he donned a cloak in one of the songs! His character isn’t supposed to be likeable but I couldn’t even find him charming here, and Meenakshi’s devotion to him was only based on his ability to recite poetry. Again this follows the book to some extent but there is so much more to the whole romance than that and for me it wasn’t well brought out in the film. Aishwarya was absolutely stunning as Meenakshi, but I thought there was too much beauty and not enough depth in her portrayal. However I think this is more the fault of the character she played rather than a problem with her performance, which was actually quite natural and one of her best. Despite the changes in the story, I wasn’t able to forget that Meenakshi was basically Marianne from the book and in that context she wasn’t my mental view of that character. Although Sowmya was a more individual character and I thought that Tabu gave a good performance, I couldn’t connect with her at all. By the end I really didn’t care if she managed to get married or not despite having originally felt some sympathy for her. I wanted her to get on with her life on her own terms and not be so reliant on a rather weak man. But then, that’s often a problem with both film and regency romance heroines. The one character that I really enjoyed watching was Major Bala. Mammootty was fantastic and I did empathise with his situation and his attempts to win Meenakshi. His performance was the definite stand out and his interactions with his friend Sivagnanam were some of my favourite moments in the film.

There is nothing really wrong with Kandukondain Kandukondain and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been able to just forget about Sense and Sensibility. But I would much rather read the original book again rather than watch the film.   It still gets 3 stars from me but they are nearly all for Mammootty and a beautiful soundtrack.


Pranchiyettan and the Saint

Pranchiyettan and the Saint was one of a number of Mammootty films recommended to me after I watched Kutty Srank. It sounded quite different and since the film won a number of awards it quickly moved to the top of the pile. It’s a quirky film about the attempts of successful rice merchant Chirammal Enashu Francis (Mammootty) to get rid of his nickname and command more respect within his community. The film opens with Pranchiyettan paying his respects to his ancestors who appear as ghosts in the churchyard. Leading on with the spiritual theme, the icon of St Francis comes to life when Pranchiyettan goes into the church to pray and the subsequent story is told as a series of flashbacks as Pranchiyettan explains the circumstances around his visit to the church that night.

The first half of the film deals with Pranchiyettan’s attempts to become more recognised. In this he is ably abetted by Vasu Menon (Innocent) whose schemes inadvertently fail when reality doesn’t quite manage to live up to his vision. First there is a local club election which Pranchiyettan loses to his childhood rival Dr Jose. Next there is a welcoming ceremony for a celebrity which Pranchiyettan has sponsored, but again he is pushed out of the limelight and forced to take a back seat – literally. Finally he decides to try and buy a Padma Sri award and bribes some local politicians. But as may be expected, they take his money and run, leaving him in exactly the same position as before.

The film takes a lighter turn in the second half when Pranchiyettan meets a real life Padmashree (Priyamani). Although her name is the same as the award, Pappy is a feisty interior decorator with problems of her own. She gives Pranchiyettan a painting and ends up decorating his house so that there is an appropriate place to hang it. Finally Pranchiyettan tries to help his old schoolmaster achieve his goal of a 100% pass rate for his students by helping a young boy Pauli to graduate. In the course of this endeavour he starts to realise what is really important and seems to be on track to find contentment at last.

The film focuses more on relationships and characters rather than following a plot driven narrative. In fact it is more of a collection of stories although there is a progression of sorts with each sequence of events.  Mammootty is excellent as the nice guy who just can’t get a break. From his school days onwards he never had the sneaky gene that would have allowed him to fight back against people like the wily Dr Jose. He has remained true to his schoolyard love and seems stuck in the same mindset that he had as a student. He feels inadequate which he puts down to never finishing his schooling and tries to compensate with other achievements and public recognition. It seems doomed to failure, since his lack of confidence means he relies on other people’s ideas which don’t really seem to reflect his personality.

Innocent does a good job with the character of the ever helpful friend who comes up with more and more schemes to try and get Pranchiyettan the recognition he craves. There is plenty comedy between the two in their expressions and mannerisms as much as in the dialogue, and Ranjith has made their relationship feel very natural just like an old and good friendship should be. During the course of the various schemes Ranjith pokes gentle fun at exclusive clubs, corrupt politicians and the self-grandiose behaviour of dignitaries at reception functions. It’s all very ordinary and down to earth which makes Pranchiyettan a very appealing character.

Priyamani is lovely as the interior decorator Pappy. Her character has drive and purpose which makes her much more than just a romance interest. The only song in the film is pictured on Pappy and her conversion of Pranchiyettan’s home and it’s a refreshing change of pace in the film. She also upgrades his wardrobe at the same time and even gets him a new pair of glasses. I love these little attentions to detail and the very natural way that Ranjith allows his characters to interact. The final story with Pauli is marred a little by the inclusion of some comedy with a hapless tutor played (Jagathy Sreekumar). This really isn’t needed as the story already has plenty of much more subtle humour, and the actual drama of Pauli’s story is much more engaging.

My favourite character though is Pranchiyettan’s cook Ayyappan, played by Sasi Kalinga. He has a wonderfully expressive face and the humour from his character is very droll. Again it is the everyday normality of the characters and their actions which appeals and both Ayyappan and Supran (Tini Tom) as Pranchiyettan’s driver are used to very good effect. They play well off each other and Pranchiyettan to give a really believable dynamic. The other support actors are all very good in their smaller roles. Siddique appears only briefly as Dr Jose where he takes every opportunity to have a dig at Pranchiyettan. But he has affection for his old friend which comes across in some of the later scenes. Khushboo is perfect as Dr Omana, the wife of Dr Jose, and Sivaji Guruvayoor has a small role as the headmaster of Pauli’s school. The idea of St Francis as the confessor figure to whom Pranchiyettan spills out his problems is a clever idea and helps to link the different stories together.

The film relies heavily on Mammootty’s performance and without his presence I don’t think this film would have worked quite as well as it does.  But an excellent performance from him and the rest of the cast do make this an film very worth watching.  3 ½ stars.

Temple says:

If you’re one of those who believe all South Indian films are noisy, gory and lacking subtlety, this might be the film to set you straight. It’s a gentle character study with parallels to the life of St Francis of Assisi, who also plays a supporting role. St Francis was the son of a wealthy man, and became drawn to God and the Church following an illness.  Several of his attempts to promote the Church went awry as he didn’t really think things through. St Francis failed when he tried to make things happen, but seemed to succeed when he simply lived his values of acceptance, charity and humility. Mammootty gives CE Francis aka Pranchiyettan aka Pranchi a sadness that helps make his needy attention seeking more sympathetic. Ari Pranchi is the son of a successful man, and he also fails when he tries to force things to happen. When he follows his true heart the results are different, and this opens his life up. Despite the apparent mismatch between Priyamani and Mammootty, their romance is appealing as it plays more as a trusting affection and partnership. I really like Priyamani and while not all of her films have been great, I have enjoyed every performance of hers I’ve seen. Pappy learns to trust the solid businessman who can see a solution to her unsolvable problem but who isn’t too proud to take her advice in the areas she knows best. Their scenes are fun and heartwarming as Mammootty shows the awkward stirrings of flirtatiousness contrasting with the confident sass of Priyamani. And you know she transforms his home from tasselled pink brothel curtains to sleek monochrome modern lines. I mourned the loss of colour for a moment, but only as a viewer – living in the icecream coloured house would have done my head in and may have contributed to Mammootty’s sour expression at times. I hope she left some of the statues and icons of St Francis though. The story with Pauli was designed to show Pranchi’s generosity, but I could have done without all the ‘comedy’. Those scenes actually had the effect of making Pauli seem like an incorrigible little git and not worth the effort. But saints have more patience for such things. And the message, which is not subtle, is a nice one. Don’t stress about rewards and titles – live with generosity of spirit and help out where you can.

It’s a slight story in many respects but the structure of the narrative, the iconography and saintly presence, and the character development  make it engaging and memorable. Add great performances by Mammootty, Priyamani and supporting artists like Sasi Kalinga and I think it’s a winner. 4 stars!

Thalapathi

Thalapathi was one of the first Tamil films I saw. It was before my ‘Southern Film Industry Addiction’, I barely knew who Rajnikanth was and had absolutely no idea about Mammootty. In fact I’d totally forgotten he was in this film until I rewatched it recently – thankfully I know much better now.

Written and directed by Mani Ratnam, Thalapathi is at heart much more of a masala film than his usual fare. It features most of the necessary ingredients: an abandoned child, perpetually teary mother, romance, brothers who don’t know they are related, the essential Amrish Puri as the villain and a significant article of clothing. Add to that plenty of action and fight scenes, great songs, and beautiful cinematography, plenty of classical references and it all adds up to a very full 2 and a half hours of cinema.

The film starts in black and white with a young unmarried girl giving birth during the festival of Bogi. The opening scenes of Kalyani’s rejection by an older woman and shots of the rural countryside serve to explain that her child has no future in such a traditional community. She puts the baby into a train in the hope that somehow someone else will give him a better life. These opening shots are some of the best in the film and it’s a shame that my copy of the DVD seems to have lost the original quality.

The colour kicks in with the year of 1987 when the baby has grown up to be Surya (Rajnikanth). He is a man with a firm belief in justice who is determined to help others in his community in any way he can. This often seems to be by beating senseless an offender and in the course of such action he ends up fatally injuring Ramana, one of Devaraj’s men. Enter Mammootty in a very well played role as the head of the local gang of rowdies, who initially threatens Surya with dire consequences if his man dies.

However when Devaraj finds out Ramana’s crimes, he arranges for Surya’s release from jail and tells him that his actions were right and just. I can’t say that I agree with his assessment but it makes Surya become his loyal Thalapathi and the two become inseparable. Lots of drama here, so time for a song break.

Surya’s charitable reputation helps to legitimise Devaraj’s rather more shady one and they soon rule the entire area, much to the displeasure of Devaraj’s rival Kalivardhan (a dubbed Amrish Puri). There is bad blood between these two and it’s inevitable that there will be a clash. However most of the story concerns Surya’s relationship with Devaraj and sadly Kalivardhan is only seen occasionally throughout the film. Amrish Puri in a really terrible pair of glasses isn’t as menacing as usual but manages to be evil enough just when it really counts.

In the course of his good works, Surya meets Subbu (Shobana), a Brahmin girl who falls in love with him. Perhaps it was the wolverine hair-style or the commanding way in which he demands her jewellery but she’s obviously quite smitten.

Her father wants nothing to do with a thug who has no idea who his parents were and rejects the match. In the middle of all this, Surya’s real mother ends up moving to the area when her legitimate son Arjun (Arvind Swamy) is appointed as a Collector. Kalyani has married a very understanding man who knows all about her first baby, although Arjun doesn’t know that he has an elder half-brother. The two brothers have a common sense of justice but in every other way are complete opposites. Arjun is a good and law-abiding man who is committed to cleaning up the town, although perhaps he should have started with the police corruption rather than take on the town rowdies. There are inevitable clashes between Surya, Devaraj and the police as Arjun tries to stop their version of law and justice in the town. And Kalivardhan is luring in the background adding in his malicious attempts to get rid of the pair as well. Finally the significant cloth comes to light but Surya refuses to give up his friendship with Devaraj despite discovering his brother.

Although there is plenty of action in the film, the main focus is on the relationship between Surya and Devaraj. Mani Ratnam has based it on the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana from the Mahabharata and there are a number of references to this story throughout the film. It starts out with Devaraj as the leader and Surya as the faithful follower, but as their friendship develops they each begin to change the other and the dynamic between the two has altered by the final scenes. Both Rajnikanth and Mammootty are both excellent and work well together to bring their friendship to life. It’s mainly in the little touches, such as the way they only have to look at each other to acknowledge their next venture.

Surya’s relationships with his mother, Subbu and others are important to the overall story but his character is defined by his strong sense of justice and unwavering support of Devaraj, no matter what. Even when Devaraj persuades him to marry Ramana’s widow Padma, Surya is unable to say no. Rajni has plenty of action scenes and is exuberant in these, but he also makes the most of his more dramatic moments. So much is conveyed in one particularly memorable scene in the temple, where both Suyra and Kalyani both look yearningly towards a train as they hear the distant whistle. They are both standing close together but neither have any idea who the other is and their obvious sadness is all the more poignant as a result.

Mammootty is more restrained in his role as Devaraj relies more on fear and his entourage rather than actual physical violence. He has Surya for all of that after all. His portrayal of the more corrupt and devious Devaraj is excellent and he brings a real sense of authority to the character. The other members of the cast are all very good in their supporting roles, especially Srividya who is convincing as the mother who can never forget the child she lost. I was surprised that she had told her husband about her first baby, but Jai Sankar brought a lot of compassion to his role as Arjun’s father and was very credible as a supportive husband and father.

The other standout feature of the film is the music by Ilaiyaraja. The sad Chinna Thayaval is beautiful and recurs as background music throughout the film. The other songs are all upbeat with some great dancing and I wasn’t surprised to see that Prabhu Deva was one of the choreographers.  The rather different Sundari Kannal is interspersed with some Samurai action and seems to be a tribute to director Akira Kurosawa. I haven’t included it here as it is very long and I’m a little concerned about the horses in some of the fight sequences but Rajni in a top knot is definitely worth a look.

The only issue I have with this film is that it is very violent in parts. The first fight scene with Ramana and the episodes of police torture are quite graphic and go on just a bit too long for me. But to counter that, the two leads are fantastic and really at their best, the music is beautiful and memorable, and it’s a very well told story. 4 stars.

Temple says: I like watching earlier Rajni films (and this is the 90s) as it reminds me just how good an actor he is, legend status aside. I have recently watched Darna Veera Suura Karna, so the story was fresh in my mind and I think this translation to modern gang empires was very effective. Deva and Surya are full of certainty and righteous power, and stride through the landscape looking larger than life. Mammootty and Rajni are brilliant and play off each other so well, and that’s a good thing as other elements of the story are underdone. Deva’s gang members were just a vague presence, and I don’t think I recall any of their names. They were just there for contrast and to portray Deva’s court of followers. The female characters are strong in concept but weak in presence apart from a couple of key scenes. Shobana was lovely as Subbu, which is all that was required of her,  and Bhanupriya gave an excellent and near silent performance as Padma. Srividya was good but her character was quite static and she didn’t do much more than weep so I was left wanting to see more from a woman who clearly had a complex situation to navigate. I admired Santosh Sivan’s artistry as he used light and camera angles to create a feeling that these men were almost forces of nature, and the landscapes were stunning. The fight scenes in the rain were lovingly filmed to capture the beauty of the splashing water and the bodies were more of a method of breaking the trajectory of the showers than the object of the scene. I don’t think it’s an overly violent film as many of the gory scenes are shown as aftermath rather than explicit or graphic scenes of how people got into that state. What was explicit was also shown to have consequences so it isn’t mindless violence either. It all fit into the relationship of Deva and his general with their warlike mentality. I don’t love the soundtrack, but I do like it well enough and thought most of the slower songs were excellent. I was ready to stick a fork in my ear at the umpteenth reprise of Chinna Thayaval but I blame Mani Ratnam for that as it was just relentless and overused. It’s a great action infused tale of loyalty and conflict, it looks stunning, and it features two of the best actors working in Indian cinema. 4 stars from me!