Padayappa

Padayappa

Many thanks to regular readers Violet and KB for suggesting Padayappa (1999) when I asked for Ramya Krishnan film recommendations. I believe that director K.S. Ravikumar cast her after seeing Ammoru, and I understand why. Padayappa has an amazing cast, an often incredible story, and all the trappings of a revenge drama custom built for superstar hero Rajinikanth. It also has a strong female antagonist that was perfect for Ramya Krishnan, who won the Tamil Filmfare Best Actress for the role. The support cast includes such talented actors as Sivaji Ganesan and Soundarya, along with Manivannan, Lakshmi, Nasser and even a brief appearance by Prakash Raj.

Padayappa (Rajinikanth) comes home to attend a family wedding. He falls in love with poor but honest Vasundhara (Soundarya) however overseas educated rich girl Nilambari (Ramya Krishnan) decides she must have him for herself. Her branch of the family is riddled with self-serving weaklings and their machinations help hasten the death of Padayappa’s father, played by legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan. Padayappa stays in the village to support his mother and sister, sort out the cheating relatives, and also to try and woo Vasundhara. The conflict between Nilambari and everyone who gets in her way is the main focus, although there are the obligatory comedy tracks and lots of rousing speeches.

Padayappa-SuperstarPadayappa-Padayappa the hero

In Padayappa Rajinikanth is Superstar Rajni the Hero rather than using his considerable acting skills for a fully developed character that required any subtlety. The thing I always find admirable about Rajni is that he commits to the role and to the style of film he is in, and that conviction makes even the most preposterous shenanigans seem somehow right.

Padayappa is moral, righteous and has absolutely no self-doubt. He has all the trademark Rajni mannerisms from the snappy salute with whooshing sound effects, the cigar trick, the ability to force his enemies to attack him one by one and at a pace that allows him to win, the power to make multiple cars explode just by looking at them. There is some light and shade as Padayappa gets all silly and tongue-tied around Vasundhara, or as he grieves for his family’s losses but he is less a character and more a personification of Heroic Values.

Padayappa-against the oddsPadayappa-Flexing

Confession – I am so fond of Rajni that I really don’t care that his fight scenes are implausible or his ‘dancing’ quite terrible. But I could have done without the shirtless flexing.

I rarely take issue with the (usually considerable) age gap between Rajni and his heroines. Maybe it’s because I discovered him comparatively recently so to me he has always been an elder statesman of film. And to some extent his reputation overshadows any character he plays.  He’s Rajinikanth!

Padayappa-NilambariPadayappa-Ramya Krishnan 2

Nilambari is compelling yet totally unlikeable. A spoilt girl who never took no for an answer, Nilambari often does things more likely to be done by the hero – she stalks the hero, she grabs him and kisses him in front of everyone at a wedding then saunters off casually, she torments her rival (the lowly Vasundhara) and threatens anyone who tries to obstruct her.

Padayappa-Ramya Krishnan 3Padayappa-Nilambari and Vasundhara

Ramya Krishnan gave Nilambari a beautiful façade over a twisted and arrogant core. It is great to see an actress capable of such expression and subtlety and who is not afraid to reveal the ugliness of a character’s dark side. She took it up to Rajinikanth and more than held her own in their confrontational scenes.

Padayappa-beauty status and talentPadayappa-contrast

Nilambari’s outfits improved but her attitude never did.

There is a village tradition that couples should only marry when both want to, either through love or mutual agreement. Padayappa rebukes Nilambari saying a good woman should be well-mannered and demure, so it’s not exactly progressive but I liked seeing girls get a voice too.

Padayappa-Soundarya (2)Padayappa-awkward

Vasundhara (Soundarya) is Padayappa’s ideal woman. She is a servant in Nilambari’s household, but her family used to be wealthy. Devout and domesticated as well as very pretty, Vasundhara obviously likes Padayappa too. She and Rajni seem to have nice rapport and the courtship is more about shy conversations and sideways glances. It’s quite cute if predictable. Soundarya does well to build up a character that is only lightly sketched out by the screenplay and dialogue. I did yell at Vasundhara a couple of times to STOP TRUSTING NILAMBARI. Luckily her devotion earns her some snake assisted escapes from near certain death.

Padayappa-Soundarya

Soundarya also does an excellent job of dancing around Rajni in their songs together. She often has a cheeky smile on her face, so Vasundhara might have a colourful fantasy life to balance her dutiful side.

Padayappa-wedding wishesPadayappa-promise

The dynamic between Padayappa and Nilambari was interesting as this is an instance where the hero is quite passive. Padayappa doesn’t do anything to torment or punish Nilambari other than be happily married to the one he loves. She is insignificant to him, and that is what drives her insane.

The song picturisations have all the colour and excitement I expected. AR Rahman’s music is a good fit and his use of recurring motifs helps express the characters inner lives.

Minsara Poove sees Nilambari dancing her feelings for Padayappa as he sings for Vasundhara. It’s very pretty, apart from the bits that are happening in Nilambari’s fantasy. She really needed a better dream wardrobe designer. Suthi Suthi is colourful, with giant puppets and lots of costume changes for Soundarya and Rajni. Kikku Yerudhey is a little out of place in terms of the story and I think it was only there to get Rajni prancing about with lots of young girls (Padayappa’s daughter’s school friends) and drunk uncles. Or maybe just to let the director make his trademark cameo appearance.

Padayappa-carnage

There are fight scenes, cars stunts, a murderous cow (not a euphemisism for Nilambari) and all manner of excitement as well as the revenge and drama.

Padayappa-the dating advice committeePadayappa-advice gone wrong

Padayappa’s friends are largely there to provide comic interruptions but they also do an excellent line in relationship advice and support (and hiding behind trees).

Padayappa-Sivaji Ganesan and Lakshmi

The legendary Sivaji Ganesan had a small but pivotal role as Padayappa’s father and was still quite magnetic. Lakshmi made the most of her big scenes as the surprisingly fierce mother. The always excellent Manivannan made his character despicable and yet pitiful while Nasser was just despicable.

Padayappa-Prakash Raj

And a quite svelte Prakash Raj was a nice bonus as a police officer. The casting budget for this film must have been enormous.

At almost 3 hours Padayappa does drag occasionally but just as I was thinking that surely things must settle down, K.S. Ravikumar would ramp up the action. See it for a classic village family revenge masala style story with a first class cast and loads of colour and movement. 4 stars!

Sivaji (2007)

Sivaji is a wonderfully over-the-top film celebrating all things Rajinikanth. There are references to the superstar’s previous films and to his own life, plenty of classic Rajni style and he’s present in almost every frame. Sivaji also features stunning sets for the songs and a myriad of different looks for Rajinikanth throughout the film. While the story has an interesting plot involving corruption, the screenplay gets somewhat tangled in the numerous set-ups to introduce the next song or fight scene.  But in the face of so much else that is fantastic, the disjointed nature of the story doesn’t seem to matter. When the first song is as much fun as this, then the film is already a winner for me. This features Nayantara in a cameo role along with an incredible number of  men with round, jiggling painted bellies – I love it!

The film opens with Sivaji returning from the USA with truck-loads of money and deciding to set up a University and Hospital where everything will be available to the poor for free. His grand plans are opposed by local businessman Adisheshan (Suman) who blocks him at every turn. To make Sivaji’s life more difficult there is the practice of bribes and kick-backs that seems to be built in to the system at every stage. Despite his unwillingness to play along, Sivaji has no choice but to fall in line and pay everyone off if he wants to get his hospital and university built. I’m quite sure that all these people in yellow hats were the inspiration for minions in Despicable Me – or at least they should have been.

Ultimately this works to Adisheshan’s advantage when he contrives to have Sivaji arrested and charged in court. There Sivaji admits that he paid bribes to get permission to build and ends up losing everything. This might have been the end of the Sivaji foundation, but Adisheshan is the one person in Tamil Nadu who has no idea who he’s really dealing with and he rashly mocks his defeated enemy.  This sparks Sivaji’s quest for revenge, and the 1 rupee coin Adisheshan tosses at him to start his begging career becomes a talisman and also funds the start of the fight back. Sivaji devises a cunning plan to restore his finances and bring about Adisheshan’s downfall at the same time.

Rajinikanth is truly in his element here as the crusading Sivaji. He still has his trademark tricks, but this new  health conscious Sivaji spruiks the ‘cigarettes are bad for you’ message, catching mints and tossing his sunglasses instead of cigarettes. It’s all a little contrived, but the tricks are so much a part of any Rajni film that Sivaji would seem incomplete without them. There areplenty of fight scenes, and these are well choreographed by Peter Hein. The final showdown features some Matrix style action and Rajinikanth pulls it off with great style. If he has slowed down a little in some of the fight scenes and songs, well, that’s understandable but it’s barely noticeable. As well as the romantic songs, there is a fabulous sequence where Rajinikanth impersonates Sivaji Ganesan, MGR and Kamal Hassan and he gets really gets the mannerisms of the different stars very well.

During the course of his crusade against corruption, Sivaji meets and falls in love with Tamizhselvi (Shriya) and despite her family’s initial reluctance and dire predictions of disaster from the priest, the two go ahead and get married. Thankfully Shriya is much less annoying than usual, perhaps because she is totally overshadowed by Rajinikanth, but I stand by my previous observations that the more clothes she wears the less irritating she is. Her main raison d’être here is to look pretty in the songs which she does very well.

Other than her presence in the songs, Tamizhselvi is the ‘perfect Tamil girl’ of Sivaji’s dreams and that ensures plenty of traditional outfits and a fairly restrained performance, making her more tolerable than usual. Someone in wardrobe really does have a grudge against her though because she does appear in some of the worst outfits I’ve seen in the song ‘Style’.  I’m not quite sure what to make of this song for many reasons. As a song extoling style it has some truly dreadful costumes and the whole white-skinned Rajni just seems very wrong. I’m always perplexed by the quest for paler skin in India, but then I’m equally as baffled by the drive for tanned skin among Europeans. I don’t like the melody or the lyrics of this song at all, but it does feature an incredible selection of amazing wigs for Rajni and is worth watching for that alone. Pick your favourite style!

And the contrasting faces of Shriya.

While the film deals with the theme of corruption, there is still plenty of comedy along the way. Although much of the humour comes from Rajinikanth and his various mannerisms, Vivek is excellent in his role as Sivaji’s uncle Arivu and provides many funny moments. Even though I’d normally cringe at Arivu’s match-making technique of parading girls in front of Sivaji, Arivu’s character is self-aware enough to make this funny rather than crass.  There is more slapstick comedy in the scenes with Tamizhselvi’s family who disapprove of Sivaji and his exuberant family. The actor playing Tamizhselvi’s father (Pattimandram Raja) has some excellent expressions and I love the way he looks as if he smells something bad every time he sees Sivaji.

On the other hand, Suman’s Adisheshan is a very mild mannered villain without any real evil tendencies. Although I’m sure this is meant to make sure that all eyes are firmly on Sivaji, he still seems rather unimpressive in comparison. His demeanour however is quite realistic as a businessman with political leanings and his reasons for opposing Sivaji are understandable considering how much the free hospital and university will cut into his profits. His methods of opposition are also consistent with his character and perhaps S. Shankar is trying to point out that corruption can be present in even the most reasonable appearing businessman.

The second half of the film relies more heavily on the effects and gimmicks, and it’s disappointing that Vivek’s character gets more sidelined. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch mainly due to Rajinikanth’s performance. The music by A. R Rahman is excellent apart from the Style song mentioned previously, and the high budget of the film is easily explained by the song picturisations. The sets and costumes are totally fabulous and both Thotta Tharani as art director and K. V. Anand as cinematographer deserve the awards they received for their work. There are guest appearances by a number of established Tamil stars including Raghuvaran and Manivannan and  the support cast are all very competent, although generally overshadowed by the superstar.

Although Endhiran (S. Shankar’s latest film with Rajinikanth), had a bigger budget and even more special effects, I prefer Sivaji. The story is engaging despite the way it jumps around and Shankar shows corruption within government systems in a way that seems quite plausible. Even though the one man crusade requires a leap of faith, it is after all Rajni and so anything is possible. It’s one to watch for the lavishness of the sets and the larger than life presence of Rajinikanth. And for all those wigs! 4 stars.

Temple says: Sivaji is what I have come to think of as a typical Shankar blockbuster in that it is all spectacle and very little plot. I think Heather is being overly kind in saying there is a theme to the story as I see it more as a collection of ideas that never really develops. Shankar introduces statements about corruption, the brain drain overseas as bright graduates pursue careers outside of India, the returning NRI and how they navigate between worlds, the obsession with all things American being seen as ‘better’ than local, the clash between tradition and modern living and the nostalgic ideals that may no longer exist. All interesting, and yet there is no real exploration of these notions as there is too much else happening. We move from fight to song to comedy to spectacular song and rarely pause for breath. It’s hugely entertaining, but it doesn’t really bear analysis.

Rajnikanth is in excellent form and this is his film from go to whoa. Sure he is way older than his character, but it somehow works as he deadpans his youthful dialogues, daring you to not believe,  and throws himself into the action with gusto. The fights have been tailored to suit him, and the music shop sequence is one of my all time favourites from any film industry. Shriya can range from terrible (e.g. Kanthaswamy) to pretty good,  and this is one of her better performances. She handles the comedy really well  (I love her expressions in the “Chandramuhki” sequence), isn’t completely overshadowed by Rajni, and does justice to the massive song sets and costumes. And she manages to look like she isn’t staring intently at Rajni’s wigs in the romantic moments so I decided Shriya may be a better actress than I had previously thought.

See this for the spectacular sets and design, for a Superstar who can dominate the hyperactive pace and attention grabbing visuals, for the music (except Style) and for the filmi equivalent of a crazy amusement park ride. You’ll be dizzy and none the wiser at the end, but it was so much fun while it lasted. 4 stars!

Dumm Dumm Dumm

The charming and fun Suja of Music to My Ears has been in Melbourne and very kindly invited us over to watch a film. It was so nice to meet her and natter about films we love. Suja was generous in sharing her knowledge of Tamil language and culture as well as music so we got to appreciate a bit more of the subtlety than is possible just from subtitles. And to top it off – she is an excellent cook!

We chose Dumm Dumm Dumm on the basis of the cast, lead by Madhavan and Jyothika, the music by Karthik Raja and the beautiful rural settings. I have seen the film before and it’s one I enjoy because of the charm of the actors rather than the plot, although some intelligent writing makes the rom-com a bit more interesting and believable. The production values are high, as to be expected from a Madras Talkies production (Mani Ratnam also gets a writing credit), and the film looks beautiful.

Suja will be writing in more detail about the music of Dumm Dumm Dumm, so you must go read her blog post. You should read her work anyway if you have an interest in Carnatic music as well as some filmi music.

In a nutshell, Adityan (Madhavan) and Ganga (Jyothika) have their marriage arranged by family but neither is ready to settle down. He has women to chase and true love to find, and she has a seat at an engineering college. In order to avoid family disgrace, they try many ridiculous tactics to have the engagement dissolved. But all the time they spend on plotting brings them close together and when they are separated, they realise they have made a mistake. How this on/off relationship is resolved is the story.

Jyothika portrays Ganga as strong, not a squeaky voiced air head, and she has presence. Ganga is a good girl who doesn’t want to upset her family but she is also determined to make a life for herself and to support her sisters in their education. Her father Veluthambi (Murali) is so proud of his daughter’s academic achievements that it surprises Ganga to find her imminent marriage arranged without her knowledge. Jyothika is a curvaceous but athletic looking woman and this was much commented upon in the film with characters referring to her as a pumpkin girl amongst other interesting epithets. Having Suja on hand certainly gave us more insight! Ganga pushes Adi to take more responsibility in his life and to stand up for what he wants – and to make it clear if what he wants includes her. It was nice to see a female character be fairly low key, nice, intelligent, and handle her life and relationships in a thoughtful way.

Maddy plays that familiar character – the good middle class boy that every mother wants as a son-in-law. Adityan is self centred but not unpleasant – just a bit privileged and aware he is a catch. He does take to manipulation like a duck to water (he is a lawyer after all) but he lacks the necessary commitment to letting people believe the worst of him so most of his plans fall through. Adi is all talk for most of the story, and what action he takes seems to go awry. Maddy does very well at showing the change in Adi’s feelings for Ganga over time, and their relationship grows as they get to understand each other. Ganga sees a less confident and polished side of Adi emerge, and begins to appreciate him. While this is a typical nice guy role, it did give him the opportunity to show many moods of Madhavan. Here is a little sample for you – feel free to ‘name that mood’ via the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The schemes and obstacles to the relationship fall into filmi cliché but the story keeps things moving along even when the limits of coincidence were straining. Vivek as Adi’s friend Jim is annoying, goes slightly evil and is rarely (intentionally) amusing. Manivannan as criminal lawyer Sivaji is very good, playing it for laughs but also providing some quiet common sense at times. His performance is well modulated and he seems to have fun tormenting Adi. The various family members are all quite good, and the dynamic between the two fathers is interesting. Ganga’s father has moved up in village social ranks and was treated courteously by his senior, Adi’s dad (Delhi Kumar). They were friendly until an incident, and following that Veluthambi was seen as getting above his station. There were layers of resentment that were exacerbated by the engagement. This back story made things feel vaguely credible. The theme of arranged versus love marriage was woven in, but the film doesn’t belt you round the ears with one viewpoint. Director Azhugam Perumal takes a more discursive approach to some social questions and it is all the more engaging for that.

The minor supporting characters are all good, and many of them are familiar as That Uncle, That Friend, That Guy from other films. Pattamma, played by Kalpana is a standout.

She is a comedy aunty and the butt of many jokes which is par for the course. But she features in one of the prettiest song picturisations (which also blends farce and drama), and her character gets a sweetly romantic moment too.

And that’s what makes this film such a pleasure. The detail and respect in the characterisations and writing extends to the minor players as well. There are people bustling around, having side conversations and going about their lives and chores. Suja recognised so much of the activity around the wedding preparations, confirming the realism of those domestic scenes, and it really does feel like you’re a fly on the wall at times.

The cinematography by Ramji is a highlight. The lush green countryside and rich earthy tones in the village are beautiful. The rural settings have a luminosity that is lost once characters relocate to Chennai and the lighting becomes sharper with more contrast. The wardrobe for the ladies is quite nice, and the colour palette is intense but muted so there is a lovely harmony in group scenes. Ganga switches from a half saree to a salwar kameez when she is in the city, and the characters’ appearance reflect their background whether they are townies like Adi or from the country. Ganga was slightly scandalous in the village as we noted her lack of upper cloth on more than one occasion – that would never have got past Suja’s grandmother!

The songs are fun, and the country folks get the best melodies. Desingu Raja has stunning locations (at Thanjavur) and costumes, and Maddy doing excellent drama hands – plus that moustache!

The subtitles on my Ayngaran DVD are very special indeed. They range from the literal to the completely mystifying. No nipping out for a cuppa on this subtitle team’s watch! Suja confirmed some of them are very literal translations and quite correct but others were less helpful.

Dumm Dumm Dumm is a fun film to revisit, and seeing it with someone who knows the language and culture was an added bonus. I’ll never understand the nuances of dialect or accent so those subtleties usually escape me. The performances help the film stand up over repeated viewing and the cast work very well as an ensemble. The comedy is easily ignored when it is not integral to the scene and Vikek as Jim was slapped and beaten repeatedly so I had some vicarious revenge. It has nice scenery, good music and likeable actors in a not-too-stupid romance. 3 ½ stars!

Heather says: It was lovely to meet up with Suja and watch a film together.  We had a fantastic time chatting about Indian cinema and music, and as Temple says got a very useful insight into what we miss because of inaccurate subtitling of Tamil DVD’s and not getting the regional variations.

Dumm Dumm Dumm has excellent music, a fun romantic storyline and very beautiful cinematography particularly in the first half. I really like the characters of Ganga and Aditya as they are realistically drawn and their initial dislike of each other which slowly develops into attraction is well portrayed. Jyothika is excellent as the feisty girl who is determined to make it to college. I love the way she rolls her eyes as Aditya ineptly tries to follow along with her various plots to derail their proposed marriage. I also like that she doesn’t just have a hissy fit and refuse to get married but instead has a plan and tries to stop the marriage without actually hurting her parents’ feelings. She is a more successful schemer as well, so her frequent frustration with her co-conspirator is understandable. Madhavan has a flair for comedy and he puts it to excellent use here. His committed bachelor is a character with plenty of charm and his dramatic changes in expression were excellent.  Jyothika’s Ganga is more serious and more committed to her studies and I liked that her chosen profession was engineering rather than something more fluffy. I do like Jyothika as an actress and she really does seem suited for these roles where she has something to get her teeth into and isn’t merely a passive heroine.

The first half of the film is a different take on romance with the depiction of two people trying to get out of an arranged marriage, but it is back to more usual territory for the second half of the film. What started off so promisingly does become a little more of a routine love story with an irritating comedy track once the characters move to the city. However both Madhavan and Jyothika keep their characters entertaining and the love story is sweet enough to want them to finally succeed in reconciling their families. 3 ½ stars from me.