Thiruda Thiruda

thiruda thiruda poster

Thiruda Thiruda is a 1993 action film from Mani Ratnam that follows the exploits of two thieves when they inadvertently become involved in a major bank robbery. It’s a real ‘action’ film as almost every scene involves either a fight or a chase of some kind (using nearly every single kind of transport you can imagine), and the heroes are always on the move. At almost 3 hours, the film is rather long, but there is so much happening on screen that it’s an entertaining if not completely edge-of-your-seat watch. However the real reason to watch the film is the excellent music from A.R. Rahman which mixes opera, disco and electronic music with more traditional themes to give one of his best and most interesting movie soundtracks.

The film starts with the printing of new bank notes, destined to be sent all over India in specialised containers that require a computer card to gain access. For added security the containers also require a password, but since this is printed on the computer card, there may not be quite the level of protection the Finance Department think they’ve achieved. The card looks more like a plastic credit card than the key to a sophisticated locking system, but maybe it looked like modern technology back in 1993 and does mean it’s easily transferred between the various thieves. The card is also amazingly impervious to damage and works even after prolonged submersion in water – that does also apply to the truck carrying the money and the container full of money too though so perhaps it’s the water that has the special properties!

Criminal mastermind T. T. Vikram (Salim Ghouse) has various lackeys in India who steal the money for him, but his chief accomplice Ashok (Ajay Ratnam) is quickly apprehended and arrested by CBI chief Laxminarayana (S. P. Balasubramaniam), prompting a rather juvenile temper tantrum from the boss. However after an unpromising start, Salim Ghouse settles into the role of evil mastermind and enjoys himself immensely as he executes people who displease him after he heads to India to find his money. I like that his gang mange to arrange themselves artistically before starting to menace their targets and even the initial robbery is carried off with precise timing and a pleasing display of acrobatic moves on a moving train.

Before his arrest, Ashok manages to send the vital computer card and a cryptic message to singer Chandralekha (Anu Agarwal) who skips out before the CBI manage to arrest her too. Meanwhile petty crooks Kathir (Anand) and Azhagu(Prashanth) are on the run from the police after looting a safe belonging to one of the rich men in their village. During the robbery they stop Rasathi (Heera Rajagopal) from committing suicide, but rather than being grateful she decides to go with them to reclaim her share of the jewellery they have stolen.  Kathir and Azhagu don’t want to be burdened with a village girl so they unsuccessfully try to dump Rasathi, until they learn that she is escaping from an unwanted marriage with her uncle and become sympathetic to her plight.

The unlikely trio cross paths with Chandralekha and get drawn into the race to find the money while trying to stay one step ahead of the law and simultaneously avoid T.T. Vikram and his merry band of thugs. Things move along quickly with a little romance and some attempt at comedy, but mainly there are chase sequences (many, many chase sequences), as Kathir, Azhagu and Rasathi escape from the police, Rasathi’s uncle and his henchmen, the CBI and Vikram and his gang, although not all at the same time. Mostly these are well choreographed with bicycles, motorbikes, cars, horses, buses, trucks, trains and even elephants being used at some point or another, while the art of disguise and misdirection are also used to good effect.

The action sequences ensure that the film keeps moving along at a fast pace, which may be why the various characters are relatively under developed and the script somewhat lacking at times. Kathir and Azhagu should have had an easy camaraderie given that they are two thieves who have been working together since childhood, but here their relationship is clunky. This is particularly noticeable when a love triangle develops between the two thieves and Rasathi and there is little rapport or emotion during their scenes together. It may be the fault of the subtitles but the dialogue between the two is also awkward and fails to deliver the idea of two great buddies out to con the world together.

Heera Rajagopal is much better as Rasathi and even manages a bonding session with the sophisticated Chandralekha which gives Anu Agarwal the chance to make her character more sympathetic than she first appears. Despite her overdone entry scene, I really liked Heera and her portrayal of Rasathi. Every time I felt she was in danger of becoming a typical heroine, moping around and waiting for someone else to save the day, she actually got up and did something about her situation instead. Anu’s Chandraleka was also a much stronger character than anticipated and although the two female leads have less to do than the men, they give the film some much needed shading and depth. S.P Balasubramaniam is in fine form as the CBI officer chasing after the thieves, and fares better than the leads as far as characterisation goes. He has more of a back story and shows good rapport with his co-workers while showing off his excellent interviewing skills. His Laxminarayanan is one of the more interesting characters along with Malaysia Vasudevan as the police inspector, while Ajay Ratnam, Madan Bob and the rest all provide good solid support throughout.

The music really is the stand out performer in Thiruda Thiruda and A.R. Rahman changes from full chorus and orchestral score for the big production numbers to the evocative and very effective a capella song Rasathi, and pretty much everything in between. The mixture of Western and Indian music works well here and it’s probably my favourite Rahman soundtrack just because it is so varied. The accompanying cinematography from P.C. Sreeram is also excellent and the staging of the songs ensures each fits fluidly into the storyline. This is probably my favourite though – a lovely song, beautifully sung by Shahul Hameed with simple but powerful picturisation.

While there are a many Indian films that feature bank robberies, I haven’t seen many that follow this style of heist caper more typical of Hollywood films. It doesn’t work as well as it should due to the lack of rapport between the two male leads, but the various chase sequences are fun to watch and the storyline does have a few reasonable plot twists. For a film that does have so much action, there isn’t much suspense but the characters are likeable, the songs enjoyable and overall the film does entertain. Worth watching for the songs, Heera Rajagopal and S.P Balasubramaniam. 3 ½ stars.

Thiruda Thiruda

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O Kadhal Kanmani

O Kadhal Kanmani

Mani Ratnam’s latest film is a modern take on romance that works primarily due to the charisma and energy of the two main leads. Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen breathe life into their respective roles as an ambitious game developer and an aspiring architect in Mumbai, and are helped along with excellent support from Prakash Raj and Leela Sampson. The romance is light and breezy for much of the first half, but the film falters a little in the second when events seem a little too contrived. However the relationship is sweet and beautifully developed, the characters are engaging and the ‘feel good’ factor is high making OK Kanmani simply a very watchable romance that lets you leave the theatre with a smile.

The film is set in Mumbai and Aadi (Dulquer Salmaan) immediately wins support for developing a new game set in Mumbai and made specifically with the denizens of that city in mind. I do like a good idea for the opening titles and OK Kanmani has an excellent start with the credits shown over an animation based on Aadi’s game.  Aadi’s initial enthusiasm is a bit of a worry, but he soon settles down to show his zest for life balanced with genuine care and compassion when he moves in as a lodger with Ganapathy (Prakash Raj) and his wife Bhavani (Leela Samson). Initially Ganapathy allows Aadi to move in under sufferance and presents him with a confronting list of rules and conditions. However Ganapathy’s gruff exterior hides a softer heart and it’s not long before Aadi comes to respect Ganapathy and appreciate the love and tenderness he shows for his ailing wife. The relationship between Ganapathy and Bhavani is the central core of the film and becomes the yardstick against which Aadi and Tara (Nithya Menen), and ultimately the audience, measure the strength of their own relationship.

Tara is working as an architect in Mumbai but has plans to attend university in Paris to further her training. Refreshingly she has no desire to get married, although she bases this on the failure of her parent’s marriage rather than anything more radical. However she has dreams and desires that are personal goals to achieve and she doesn’t base her worth on her marriage prospects. Aadi too has no desire to get married but does want a relationship with Tara, at least until she moves to Paris and he realises his dream of moving to the USA. Again, in contrast to most SI love stories, there is no stalking required here. Tara likes what she sees of Aadi and is happy to have a relationship with him until she leaves – no strings attached, just two people enjoying each other’s company.

Mani Ratnam is careful to show that the relationship not a one-sided affair, and that Aadi and Tara have an equal attraction to each another. Both characters have reasons to act as they do, and the equal development of both the hero and the heroine is a welcome departure from many recent films with their expendable and interchangeable heroines. In addition, both Tara and Aadi have a fairly casual attitude to their romance and it’s fantastic to have a female character that isn’t afraid of declaring her desires just as loudly as her male counterpart, and act on them too. Aside from giving both characters equal voices in the romance, Mani Ratnam also perfectly captures the delight and excitement of the early stages of their affair; helped along by the excellent on-screen chemistry shared by the two actors.

Aadi and Tara are independent and both are living away from their families, which gives them the freedom and opportunity to live as they please. They decide to move in together, and given the shortage of housing in Mumbai and the fact that Tara lives in a women’s hostel that means that they have to beard the lion in his den and face Ganapathy. However Ganapathy’s initial objections are overcome by the delight he sees on Bhanvani’s face when Tara sings with her, and as easily as that he agrees to the arrangement.  Naturally Aadi’s brother and Tara’s mother are appalled when they learn of the relationship and find out that the couple are living together. The couple also have to deal with the looming separation as Aadi gets his chance to move to the States and Tara’s date to start University is finalised. Weaving through their struggles is the example set by Bhavani and Ganapathy – proof that perhaps love can be enough.

Both Nithya Menen and Dulquer Salmaan are excellent and fit easily into their roles. Dulquer is a good fit for an enthusiastic but respectful young professional and there is no hint of the obsessive man-child more often seen in Indian romances. Nithya is perfect as the fiercely independent and strong-willed architect and provides a good partner for her co-star without straying into overly glamorous heroine territory. However Prakash Raj is the absolute star performer here and he easily steals the show every time he is on-screen. His facial expressions convey more than the dialogue and he has an easy rapport with Nithya and Dulquer while maintaining a perfect relationship with his onscreen wife. Leela Sampson is also superb and completely nails the quiet confusion required from her character while still maintaining her dignity. The scenes between Ganapathy and Bhavani are some of the most moving I’ve seen in recent times and are a good counterpart to the happiness and excitement of Tara and Aadi’s relationship. This second romance is what lifts the film above most love stories and compensates immensely for the somewhat disappointing end to the film. At least for me.

Spoiler alert – stop now if you don’t want to know how the romance ends and skip down to after the next images.

 

What is disappointing is that the film suggests that Aadi and Tara can only be faithful to each other and maintain their long distance relationship if they are married. I find the assumption that they would drift apart without that commitment a slap in the face for all the wonderful development of their romance that has gone before. I cannot see how marriage is the answer to their problem when they could have done exactly the same thing without getting married and probably had the same outcome – especially when the rest of the film does so well at banishing stereotypes and conventional attitudes. It’s a small point, but one that I found annoying given that it seemed so unnecessary – I have more faith and belief in the characters than it appears their creator does, although I did wonder if this was perhaps just a way to get past the censors given the live-in relationship portrayed – food for thought!

End of spoiler!

Aside from my minor quibble about the end of the story, OK Kanmani is a beautiful romance that perfectly develops a balanced relationship and deals with many of the trials and tribulations of modern life for a young couple. The characters are believable, the situations generally realistic and the performances exemplary from the entire cast. Add in the upbeat and catchy soundtrack from A.R. Rahman and O Kadhal Kanmani is definitely a film I recommend and one I will watch again and again.  Just wonderful!

 

Mouna Ragam (1986)

Mouna Ragam

If you’re in the mood for a classic love story with just a touch of mushy sentimentality, you can’t really go past Mouna Ragam. Mani Ratnam’s beautiful 1986 film takes an arranged marriage between a compliant groom and a reluctant bride as the starting point for a look at relationships and how two strangers can learn to live with each other. It’s well worth watching for the excellent performances from the main leads, Mohan, Revathi and Karthik, but also for the simple but effective storyline and wonderful music.

The story follows Divya (Revathi) a fairly happy-go-lucky student whose world is shattered when her family arranges her marriage. The groom is Chandrakumar (Mohan) and even though Divya lists all her worst qualities on their uncomfortable first meeting, Chandra likes her honesty and decides that she will be the perfect wife for him. The opening scenes add to the realistic feel of the film as they illustrate just how young Divya is, playing tricks on her older sister and husband, and showing her simplistic and childish ideas to counteract the unwelcome marriage proposal. However, against all her objections, Divya is pressured into the wedding by that age-old family drama – a threatened heart attack / medical collapse. Divya is just as susceptible as every other film heroine and without further ado her husband whisks her off to a new life in Delhi.

The relationship is shown as difficult right from the start. As Chandrakumar shows Divya around his house in Delhi after the wedding, Divya’s body language makes it obvious that she doesn’t want to be there, while Chandrakumar is clearly feeling the hostile vibes but trying to be as welcoming as possible. This awkwardness seems exactly what I would expect from two strangers suddenly having to live together and Mani Ratnam has captured their uneasiness perfectly. I don’t know, never having been through it, but this seems to be a plausible reaction to the abrupt intimacy between two people who have only just met. It’s thought-provoking and one of the things I love about the film, that just a few moments can invoke such a complicated emotional response from me.

Despite her classy new abode, which is a world away in size and conveniences from her family home, Divya is very unhappy with her marriage. So much so that when asked what she would like most from her new husband, her immediate answer is a divorce. This is a pivotal scene and it’s beautifully played out by Mohan and Revathi. Chandrakumar’s shock and hurt are palpable while Divya appears to be no more than a sulky school girl trying to be as obnoxious as possible.  Needless to say as a rejection it works well, and since she follows it up with more nasty remarks it’s to his credit that Chandrakumar manages to keep his cool. This is the turning point of the film for me with Chandrakumar’s character partly due to his emotional responses (which make me feel sorry for him), and partly because he shows more personality in interactions with his work colleagues. It’s an important change since up until this point he’s fairly bland and unexciting, making Divya’s reluctance to go through with the marriage relatively understandable. But Chandrakumar seems a good catch. He’s got a good job, a nice house and is considerate and understanding, particularly when faced with Divya’s immature taunts. With just a few simple scenes, Mani Ratnam turns the story around, and suddenly it’s Divya’s reactions and inability to make the best of things that become difficult to understand and instead of wanting her to get divorced, I want Divya to fall in love with Chandrakumar and be happy in her marriage.

Eventually Chandrakumar asks Divya exactly why she is so against the idea of their marriage (possibly something he should have done before the wedding), and she tells him about her first love Manohar (Karthik), who was killed just as they were about to get married. The story of Manohar and Divya is told in flashback and although Karthik only has a small role, he’s an excellent romantic partner for Revathi and the two share great chemistry together.  The difference between the two relationships stands out clearly. Divya and Manohar have a light and happy relationship, their scenes together are full of life and there is a sense of energy that is missing between Divya and Chandrakumar. Karthik is very appealing here as the quintessential ‘bad boy’ who is of course not really bad at all. However, while the romance is well told and Divya with Manohar is happier and nicer person, she also seems quite mature, which seems at odds with her juvenile responses to Chandrakumar, and her earlier carefree attitude as a student.

In the face of such strong contempt from Divya, Chandrakumar tries to arrange a divorce, but the law states that the couple has to be together for a year before they can apply. Naturally over this time Divya comes to see the good side of Chandrakumar and slowly develops feelings for him, while Chandrakumar gets a little of his own back by throwing her earlier remarks back at her and ignoring her attempts to be more friendly. This being a Tamil film it’s not guaranteed that there will be a happy ending, and the developing relationship is compelling viewing as the deadline for the divorce looms.

There is so much to enjoy here. Revathi is excellent in her role as Divya and her self-realisation and development of maturity is captivating. Initially she lets her emotions track across her face just like any young girl and her petulance and hostility is perfectly nasty. Just think of how obnoxious any group of schoolgirls can be – that is exactly what Mani Ratnam has captured here. With Divya’s slow acceptance of her husband there is a softening of her expressions, and when the realisation of what she has done sinks in there is maturity in her actions too. However she is still a young girl at heart, as shown by the tricks she plays on the driver Sanjit Singh. I love the way Mani Ratnam emphasizes her isolation by moving the couple to Delhi where Divya cannot understand the language and is confused by the cultural differences. It adds to the problems she has and ensures that she has to resolve her problems by herself. There is no convenient family or friend to help her, although the lack of interference from Chandrakumar’s family is a little surprising.

Mohan is just as good and although his Chandrakumar initially seems too perfect to be true, he becomes more human and therefore more likeable in the second half. He does an excellent job of portraying a ‘nice guy’ and has just the right amount of revenge on Divya without becoming cruel or spiteful. He’s an ideal contrast to the passion of Karthik, and I kept thinking of the old proverb ‘still waters run deep’ when the camera focused on Chandrakumar’s patience and tolerance.

Although the story is nothing new it’s beautifully told using a simple style with well developed characters and situations. As an added bonus the music by Ilaiyaraaja is excellent and this song Nilaave Vaa, sung by SP Balasubrahmanyam is just beautiful.

Mouna Ragam rightly deserves to be called a classic and despite the fact that I know what is going to happen, I get drawn into the story every time. Each character is perfectly drawn, the actors all fit their roles easily and there is none of the overblown melodrama which usually infects similar love stories of the time.  It’s one of my favourite romances, and I thoroughly recommend watching. 5 stars.