Udaharanam Sujatha

Udaharanam Sujatha

Udaharanam Sujatha tells the story of Sujatha, a hard-working single mother, and her attempts to ensure her daughter Athira studies and passes her year 10 school exams. Sujatha has big plans for her daughter, but the problem is that Athira isn’t interested in studying and rather than thinking about her future, her dreams involve movie stars instead. Phantom Praveen has directed this Malayalam remake of Hindi film Nil Battey Sannata by Ashwini Iyer Tiwari (who has also remade the film herself in Tamil), with a more Kerala-centric screenplay from Naveen Bhaskar and a few changes to the lead characters. It’s a simple story that focuses on the mother-daughter relationship and features excellent performances from both Manju Warrier and Anaswara Rajan as her somewhat rebellious daughter. I did have a few issues with some parts of the film, but the overall feel good factor and balanced mix of drama and humour ensures Udaharanam Sujatha is well worth a trip to the cinema.

Sujatha (Manju Warrier) gets up well before dawn to start her seemingly endless round of jobs to raise enough money to pay for her daughters education. Sujatha herself left school after 9th standard which she feels has severely limited her choice of occupation, and as a result, she resolves that her daughter needs to do well at school. However Athira (Anaswara Rajan) doesn’t care at all about her studies and has no thought for her future. She lives in the present, watching music videos on TV, playing with her friends and day-dreaming about Dulquer Salmaan. Athira doesn’t appreciate the long hours that her mother works to fund her education and even tells Sujatha that a doctor’s daughter will be a doctor and an engineer’s daughter will be an engineer, so since she is the daughter of a kitchen maid, that is all that she will become. Since Athira also regularly and quite spectacularly fails her tests at her school it seems unlikely that Sujatha’s grand plans will succeed no matter how hard she pushes Athira.

For one of her jobs, Sujatha works for prominent script writer George Paul (Nedumudi Venu) who listens to her daily recitation of her worries and fears about Athira with a surprising amount of tolerance. He finds a friend (Alencier Ley Lopez) who runs a tutoring service and who is willing to offer Sujatha a substantial discount, but only if Athira scores more than 50% in her maths exam. When Sujatha complains to George about the unlikeliness of Athira reaching this target, he suggests that Athira needs some competition and persuades Sujatha to go back to school herself and complete her Year 10 education.

A scene where Athira discovers her mother’s plans and attempts to cajole her mother with promises of improved study interspersed with pleas and general teenager angst is brilliantly written and perfectly performed by Anaswara. Her mother’s response is just as good and gets to the heart of the relationship between the two. Sujatha is determined to make her daughter succeed in life and is willing to go through the humiliation of going back to school to force her daughter to study. Athira’s subsequent tantrums and her refusal to acknowledge her mother’s presence in the classroom are also well handled, while Sujatha’s gradual acceptance by the other students seems plausible given her ability to cook! The good points though are mixed up with some terrible clichés such as the bespectacled nerd of the class who helps Sujatha understand maths, and the horribly abusive teachers who seem out of place in a film about the benefits of education.

Also problematical is the inference that doing a job such as working in a factory or as a maid is somehow shameful and to be avoided at all costs. While I can sympathise with Sujatha’s desire that Athira gets a good education and has options to choose from, it doesn’t follow that working in these jobs is wrong. Every parent wants the best for their child and particularly would prefer to see that they have a comfortable life, but this doesn’t mean that a house maid should be looked down on, just because of her occupation. However, aside from these points, the rest of the story is a heartening tale of the importance of a good education and how Sujatha manages to change her daughter’s attitude. It’s surprising that Sujatha manages to attend school at all, given her busy schedule of work but Naveen Bhaskar doesn’t let logic get in the way of a good story and after all, perhaps Sujatha has a time-turner hidden away somewhere.

The star here is undoubtedly Manju Warrier who is excellent as the harried mother desperate to wake some ambition in her daughter. Her work ethic is amazing and well portrayed, but what really stands out is the love she has for her daughter and her strength of will to make sure that nothing will get in the way of her dreams. She is fantastic as a concerned mother and completely inhabits the character of a cook/pickle-maker/house-maid/cleaner from a slum area of the city. Anaswara Rajan is also excellent as the bratty and ungrateful Athira who resents her mother’s interference in her life. Her whining is brilliantly irritating and her self-absorption typical of a teenager who naturally knows better than her mother. Together the two actors make a formidable team and it’s the warmth of their relationship that takes the film up a level to make it more than a simple moral tale about the value of education.

Udaharanam Sujatha

The other characters all have a small but significant part to play in the drama, and do it well. Joju George is excellent as Sreekumar, the headmaster and maths teacher who reluctantly agrees to take Sujatha on as a student. His role provides much of the humour, but he also succeeds in making his eccentric character more sympathetic than first appears and he plays a part in assisting Sujatha to further her own dreams. Nedumudi Venu is excellent throughout and he also adds some more light-hearted moments as does Sujatha’s potential suitor while Abhija Sivakala provides drama as a coconut seller who has lent Sujatha money and wants it paid back. Mamta Mohandas is also good in a small role as the local collector who takes on the task of bringing a supply of drinking water to Sujatha’s area and acts as the inspiration for Sujatha’s dreams.

The songs from Gopi Sundar are generally upbeat and suit the mood of the film, but one or two in the second half slow down the narrative and could have been excluded without losing anything from the story. Technically the film looks good, although Manju Warrier’s face is distractingly shiny at times, presumably due to the lack of make-up to give her character more authenticity. The moral message is hammered home a little too heavy-handedly at the end, but for the most part it’s the drama between mother and daughter that takes centre stage and gives the film its appeal. I like that Sujatha has the confidence to go back to school to improve her prospects and that she sees education as vitally important to secure her daughters future. It’s also heartening that she doesn’t need a man to prove her worth and prefers to manage alone despite having a suitor with a good job who could make her life easier. There are enough good points here to balance out the few negatives, and even if the dialogue is occasionally a tad shaky the performances are excellent and the story captivating. Recommended for Manju Warrier, Anaswara Rajan and a reminder that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

 

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Big B

In term of its story development, production and editing Big B seems more like a Hollywood film than a typical Southern Indian action film, so I wasn’t really too surprised to learn later that it was based on a US film called Four Brothers. However there is plenty of local flavour and like all Malayalam films I’ve seen the cinematography is first class with great scenic shots, despite the film being primarily an action thriller. I haven’t seen the American film but after watching Big B I really can’t imagine anyone else but Mammootty in the lead role. Although the other characters are almost all well cast and give good performances, it’s Mammootty who makes an impact as the rather dour and resolute Big B of the title, and it’s his film the whole way through.

The film opens with the murder of Mary John Kurisingal (Nafisa Ali), more commonly known as Mary Teacher, or just Teacher. She’s well known in Kochi for her social work which mainly involves looking after orphans, and over the years has adopted 4 of them.  The opening scenes of Mary as she goes about her daily life helping the poor are very powerful and director Amal Neered succeeds in painting a detailed picture of a compassionate woman in just a few moments. And despite her lack of physical presence, Mary appears throughout the film in lots of small gestures and in body language as her adopted children mourn her loss when they notice the empty place at the table or are reminded of her as they move through her house.

We are introduced to the four brothers through the eyes of SI George (Vijayaraghavan) as he explains to ACP Balaji (Pasupathy) who’s who in the funeral procession and it’s an efficient way of letting us know a little about the characters.  While second eldest brother Eddy (Manoj K. Jayan) has been living in the area with his wife and daughters, working in a tourist restaurant and generally helping his mother, the youngest brother, Bijo (Sumit Naval), is a student in Coimbatore and Murugan (Bala) is a stunt director in the film industry. However the eldest brother Bilal (Mammootty) was banished by Mary Teacher after he killed a man in a street brawl and his entrance into the film is dramatic as befits a character with such a dark past. Bilal’s feet appear first as he gets out of his car into the rain-drenched streets and slowly walks across to join the funeral cortege. It is very OTT but effectively establishes Bilal as a force to be reckoned with.

After the funeral the brothers get together to try to discover exactly who killed Mary Teacher and why. They have no faith in the police investigation believing that corruption in the force and general apathy will lead to a cover-up. There are various other subplots including a couple of romances, but the focus of the film is firmly on the search for Mary’s killers. When Bilal left Kochi he had quite a reputation and he certainly hasn’t mellowed in the intervening years.

Bilal is the driving force behind the investigation and seems to use his search as a way to atone for his previous crime which forced Mary to close her door to him. While Bilal gives Mammootty the opportunity to be menacing, cold and vicious there is a more compassionate side to his character and there are glimpses of this in the way he deals with his brothers. The relationships between the four forms the secondary focus of the film and their differences in background, religion and opinion all disappear when they have a common enemy. Their camaraderie is well depicted and although I’m not very familiar with the actors here, they do all appear to be well suited to their roles.

Manoj K. Jayan is excellent as Eddy and gets it right as the hard-working family man who is more concerned with protecting his wife and children than cornering his mother’s killers. This reluctance to get involved in the investigation ends up making the others suspicious and the scene where the three brothers interrogate Eddy is very well scripted and filmed. I love the way Eddy is framed in the shot here, with a background showing family pictures and his brothers glaring down at him. The cinematography is excellent and the script is fast paced and seems well suited to the action although sometimes the subtitles do seem strange – perhaps this refers to measured speech??!

Not everything works though. The romance between playboy Murugan and Rimy (Mamta Mohandas) is generally well depicted and Murugan’s affection does seem to solidify into something more permanent, but there is a rather oddly placed song featuring the two frolicking around on a beach. It seems as if the director felt a ‘romantic’ song was needed to tick all the boxes for an Indian film, so in it went without any real thought as to how well it fitted with the story – which in my opinion is not at all. However it’s a good song that just needed to be in a different film. I do like Rimy’s character though, as she knows exactly what she wants and goes out to get it. Innocent appears in a brief role as Rimy’s father providing some comedy relief which isn’t particularly funny, but isn’t too annoying or intrusive either.

There is also an item song at the villain’s rather swish lair, which again seems to be rather oddly pictured with lots of tourists roped in to dance around and provide a party atmosphere. Again it doesn’t really work for me as it doesn’t quite give the debauched tone that I think it was trying to convey (and it’s also a remix of a Shakira hit).

The other disappointment is the villain of the story. Tony (Sherveer Vahil) is a horribly hairy man with a disconcerting habit of rolling his tongue which does make him sound appropriately villainous. But he’s too much of a caricature with his depraved and immoral parties, drug taking and enjoyment in beating up his minions as a bizarre form of training. He seems too unbalanced and quite frankly too psychotic to be able to lead a gang competently, let alone organise the killing of Mary Teacher. His co-conspirators are better and are more menacing and believable as bad guys, with the much appreciated added benefit of not removing their shirts unnecessarily. I warn you – Tony has no such scruples.

Big B is a relatively violent film but it’s all integral to the plot and the fight scenes are excellently choreographed by Anal Arasu. The casual brutality that Bilal displays is as much a part of his character as his ability to reason through the connections to find his mother’s killer. Bilal’s links to the various figures in the underworld and his fearsome reputation are also essential elements to determining exactly who was involved in the murder. But each of the brothers has their part to play in the investigation and the final showdown has a good mixture of suspense and action.  The background music by Gopi Sundar seems to fit the film better than the songs by Alphons Joseph although the ‘Yo Big B’ theme music and the beautiful Vida Parayukayano are excellent. The clip below does feature Bilal’s attack on a street thug so skip from 2 min 45 to 3 min 15 if you don’t like violence but the song is lovely and beautifully sung by Shreya Ghosal.

Apart from horribly hairy Tony the support cast are all good and overall it’s a slick and well-made film that looks fantastic. Amal Neered started in the industry as a cinematographer and early in his career worked with Ram Gopal Varma which seems to have been an influence on his directing style. He makes very good use of cinematographer Sameer Thahir’s camera work and as ever Kerala looks amazing – even in the rain.  I’m a Mammootty fan and have enjoyed all of his films I’ve seen so far, but I love him in this film as he gets everything right – he’s cold and ruthless when he needs to be but there is still plenty of emotion raging away underneath. Big B is well worth a watch for his performance and for a film that is a little bit different in its approach. 4 stars

Temple says:

I’m not sure what Heather means by saying this film is more Hollywood in style. To me it bears many  hallmarks of South Indian cinema – beautiful visuals, a sense of place/locality (in Kochi), a story heavily centred on the male star, flashy editing and sound effects, an emphasis on family loyalty, songs whether the film needs them or not,  a flexible attitude to the law, and a long lead up to a crunching finale.

It all sounds good on paper. But despite Mammootty delivering a compelling performance, there just isn’t enough to keep my interest throughout. I kept picturing the production team watching the rushes, congratulating themselves on bagging a brilliant actor and then one day asking each other that awkward question ‘Did YOU remember to write the rest of the story?’. The opening is brilliant and builds up the suspense and sense of loss very economically. But then the film wallows in repetitive scenes of the brothers’ unhappy reunion, and it starts to feel laboured. There isn’t enough conflict, character or relationship development to consistently keep my interest over the first hour. It’s all quite predictable, and while the actors are competent, I never cared much for the characters apart from Mary and Bilal. It is too easy to work out whodunit and who is marked for death so there is little suspense. Once things do ramp up in the quest for revenge, the story becomes more engaging but then goes off the rails again. As Heather said, Tony is a caricature. The opportunity for a real menace was lost so Bilal is the only convincingly scary bad guy in the final confrontation.

The songs were badly placed and poorly picturised, serving only to pad out the running time. The background score is probably OK if you like florid strings and angelic choirs but I found it intrusive and it detracted from the acting. Visually, there are far too many instances of the freeze frame, fast edits, quirky camera angles and accompanying sound effects when they aren’t really warranted. I felt that they were trying to inject some excitement into the draggy scenes by using effects. But what they needed was a bit more work on the story and structure.

See it for the excellent characterisation by Mammootty and the beautifully filmed scenery and interiors. 3 stars.

Yamadonga

And so we come to the third film in our “South Indian Cinema Induction Programme” – Yamadonga.
Yamadonga features enough gilt to dazzle even our well trained Bollywood eyes, demonic antics from Lord Yama and some fantastic and well choreographed fight scenes. This is a film from the same director as Magadheera, and SS Rajamouli certainly knows how to entertain. His stories are engaging and full of action. This is no exception!

Yamadonga also features NTR Jr, grandson of NTR and renowned as one of the best dancers in the business. NTR Jr although a fine figure of a man, somehow just does not look like a dancer despite his much vaunted weight loss and fitness regime of late. And then he just pulls some astonishing moves and we are left gasping and dumbfounded :‘how did he do that – that’s just not physically possible!’ His ability allows the choreographers to push their limits, and those of the poor backing dancers, in order to showcase the amazing technique of this star. His extensive classical dance training is evident in the balance and control he exhibits in both dance and fight choreography. He certainly seems to exemplify the current mould of South Indian Cinema leading men as an all dancing all fighting all action Hero.

The film starts with an amulet which has been blessed by Lord Narasimha and is given to the young Maheshwari, known as Mahi. She gives it to a boy she meets at the fair who appears to her as a prince on a flying horse when he rescues her from a broken merry-go-round. This is Raja, a thief even at this young age, who later tries to sell the amulet. On finding out it is worthless in monetary terms he throws it away, but it always makes its way back to him, in sometimes quite bizarre ways.

12 years later, the young girl is now treated as a servant by her grandfather’s family who have taken over the house and fortune left to her when he died. Raja is a con-artist and thief who stumbles across an attempt by Mahi’s family to eliminate her and assume total control of her fortune.

Raja and Mahi cross paths again when she is on the run from kidnappers (hired by her family) and mistakenly takes the dress Raja has been sent to steal. As he defends the dress (and incidentally Mahi) from the kidnappers, she once again sees a prince come to rescue her, but has no idea they have met before. Who else but Rajamouli would have his heroine hurtle around the street inside a gigantic wire ball, with the hero in pursuit battling goons, disrupting traffic and generally creating mayhem as he rescues her!

Raja tries to get rid of Mahi before he finds out that she is an heiress, whereupon he changes tactics and tries to ransom her to the family who really don’t want her back. Earlier, following a failed heist, Raja and his friend Sathi ended up drunkenly abusing Lord Yama, who overheard (of course he overheard – he’s a God!) took offence, and decided to arrange for Raja’s death. Once in Yamaloka (or Heaven as our subtitles call it) Raja manages to create havoc as he ends up in control of the realm. In order to get rid of him, Lord Yama has to return him to life. Things get even more complicated when Raja sees the truth and genuinely falls in love with Mahi, and Lord Yama comes to Earth to try and make Raja sin so that he will have to return to Heaven. There are many twists and turns with some great dancing and inspired fight scenes before Raja finally gets the girl and she gets her prince!

The movie does drag a little before the intermission when Raja is in Heaven. This whole sequence could have been shortened in our opinion without losing any of the story. However it does allow for a couple of great dance sequences and a chance for yet more gold and sparkle.

The dance scenes are a real highlight of this film. NTR Jr is a beautiful dancer and SS Rajamouli has made very good use of his talents. There is even a picturisation cleverly worked to look as if NTR and NTR Jr are dancing together– an awesome idea, sadly not fully realised due to some pretty clunky CGI work in a couple of spots. Rajamouli’s team make excellent use of modern technology with the sweeping camerawork adding to the sense of speed and movement in the dances.

SS Rajamouli’s love of CGI tigers is shown again in one of the best filmi hero entrances when the tiger transforms into NTR Jr!

The tiger/leopard/big cat of your choice theme is used throughout the film:

Heaven is wonderfully sparkly and golden, and you can imagine the artistic director just covering anything that didn’t move fast enough in gold paint. Lord Yama and Raja (when he is in Heaven) are fantastically costumed.

Priyamani as Mahi is beautifully moving as the girl badly treated by her abusive, grasping family and just joyous when she is falling in love with the oblivious Raja. She is an actress we will watch out for, after this and her pivotal performance in Ravanan. Mamta Mohandas makes the most of her role as the “other woman”, the scheming fence and loan shark Dhanalakshmi, and is great fun in scenes where Lord Yama assumes the form of Dhanalakshmi in order to tempt Raja. There are many clever visual and musical motifs recurring throughout the film, adding to the feeling of destiny at work.

Heather says: This is another fantastic film from Rajamouli. He really does know how to tell a story! This is also a great showcase for NTR Jr who combines his awesome dancing skills with some very good acting.  In particular his comedy is very well executed, and between Raja, Lord Yama and Chitraguptudu (nicely played by Brahmi) the comedy is very well integrated into the story.  Mahi’s character was also beautifully and sympathetically played by Priyamani.  Despite playing a downtrodden character for most of the film, she managed to show Mahi as capable of fighting back, and was excellent in her scenes with NTR Jr.  Also a word of praise for Mamta Mohandas who really was a delight to watch and did a fantastic job as Lord Yama pretending to be Dhanalakshmi.  This was the first NTR Jr film I watched and he totally blew me away with his dancing.  Needless to say I now have seen most of his films!  Yamadonga does tend to drag a little in the middle when they are in heaven, but the glorious costumes somewhat make up for the slower pace.  Overall an excellent film and I give this 4 1/2 stars.

Temple says: Yamadonga is a very engaging film, despite the flaws in pacing. I watched it again recently with a friend and it still keeps my attention. One major distraction for me was, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, the appalling hairstyle of NTR Jr. I don’t mind the long hair, but if you’re going to straighten your hair, do it properly! And that includes the back of your head! Anyway – apart from the unfortunate 70s era blow-waved Tarak, the rest of the film looked brilliant. Heaven looked so sparkly and fancy and rather like a Faberge egg – it was gorgeous and the attention to detail was lovely. I enjoyed little touches like Yamadharmaraja handing his mace to two soldiers who immediately buckle under the weight, and the cavalcade of NTR avatars. I really liked the wardrobe for the leading ladies too – the colours and fabrics looked great and seemed really appropriate for each character. The songs were a highlight, particularly for the dancing. Priyamani made a fantastic effort to keep up with NTR Jr and her energy was so appealing. On the downside, I really didn’t like Ali’s character in this film, and found his “comedy” track to be irritating. He is my least favourite Telugu comedian at this stage – perhaps because his characters are often a bit sleazy or negative. The film loses a star from me because of the draggy midsection and the really stupid tribal statue skit. I give this 4 stars.