Ethir Neechal (2013)

Ethir Neechal

Ethir Neechal is one of those films I’ve been meaning to watch for ages, mainly because I loved the soundtrack when it first came out, but also because I’d seen the video for Local Boys and thought it looked fantastic.  It also sounded unusual, with a story combining an attempt to run the Chennai marathon with a romance and some comedy, plus a reference to real-life track athlete Santhi Soundarajan added in to the mix.  Unfortunately though, despite a good beginning, the film loses its way in the second half where the light and breezy romance is suddenly pushed to one side by the trials and tribulations of a serious sports story and it never quite recovers.  Still, Siva Karthikeyan is a likeable hero and there is that excellent soundtrack which makes Ethir Neechal worth at least a one-time watch.

The film starts with the woes of a young man with an unfortunate name. Kunjithapatham (Siva Karthikeyan) has endured sniggers and laughter for years as the short form of his name is apparently a rude word in Tamil. His one childhood rebellion to try to change his name resulted in his mother falling ill, so he decides to put up with his name and just get on with life. He’s fairly successful too, but the combination of an insensitive boss and a romance that falls through when the girl hears his name means that finally Kunjithapatham decides to takes his friend Peter’s (Sathish) advice and change his name. Naturally this can’t be a simple decision and requires a visit to numerologist Gunasekara Raja (Manobala) to finally come up with the new name of Harish.

No sooner has he changed his name than good things start to happen for Harish. He meets up with teacher Geetha (Priya Anand) and falls in love straight away when she compliments him on his name. Harish also gets a new job and makes a clean break with his old name and old life. Everything seems to be going along fantastically well until Geetha finds out that he lied to her to hide his old name. She’s unimpressed and Harish resolves to achieve something that will allow him to make a name for himself and make Geetha proud of him.

Harish decides to run the Chennai marathon, and not just in an attempt to finish. Oh no – nothing that basic. Harish wants to win the race, despite only starting to train when he signs up a few months out from the event. This is where Valli (Nandita) enters the story as a trainer for Harish and the story suddenly turns serious.

After a run in with corrupt coach Raja Singh (Ravi Prakash), Valli was stripped of her medal at the Asian games when she failed a gender test. Harish learns of her story and this gives him another reason to win the marathon and beat Raja Singh’s current top runner. The problem is that there is an extended flashback showing Valli’s struggles as a young athlete and the issues she faced in trying to compete. While I appreciate R. S. Durai Senthilkumar’s attempt to raise awareness of the difficulties athletes in India face, Valli’s story acts as a road block and completely changes the mood of the film.

Valli is based on the athlete Santhi Soundarajan, whose real-life story is compelling enough to be a film in its own right rather than just as a brief add-on as seen here. It’s not just that Valli’s struggles don’t fit well with the rest of the film but her story doesn’t add anything to Harish’s attempts to be accepted – despite both characters having an ‘invisible handicap’ to overcome. Valli is also fairly unlikeable as portrayed here and with her prickly and antagonistic nature it’s difficult to warm to the character. Nandita seems dull and lifeless in the role, although she is better in the flashback in the scenes with her father (Sharath Lohitashwa), so I presume her grumpy attitude was due to the director. The happy romance of the earlier scenes is completely overshadowed by her serious and dour attitude, so it’s a relief when the film does move on to the actual race and the mental and physical struggle faced by Harish. Even though the film stays serious, Siva Karthikeyan is a personable hero and the marathon is well filmed with just enough tension in the race to keep it entertaining right to the end.

Siva Karthikeyan does a good job with his role and fits well into the boy-next-door type of romantic hero. He’s in his element in the comedy scenes and has a good partnership with Sathish as the two play off each other perfectly. There are some very good moments in the early scenes with Geetha too and Priya Anand is perfectly suited to her role as a primary school teacher. She has a wonderfully expressive face and makes a good partner for Siva Karthikeyan as the two slowly develop their relationship with a few misunderstandings along the way. They make a realistic couple and it would have been good to see more of their relationship and the effect of Harish’s new determination as he  started training rather than the shift in focus to a different story with Valli.

The best part of the film is undoubtedly the upbeat soundtrack from Anirudh, and thankfully the song picturisations are complementary to the music. In addition to producing the film and his guest appearance in the movie, Dhanush has collaborated in writing lyrics and by singing a few of the songs, while Anirudh also makes a brief appearance as a bar owner. Most of the early songs have a classic flash-mob feel as various apparently random members of the public join in, and the backing dancers range from obviously fit professionals to chubby lunghi-clad uncles in Local Boys.  Boomi Enna Suthudhe  has a particularly random and accident prone start that seems to perfectly fit Harish’s character.

R. S. Durai Senthilkumar seems unsure if he wants to make a romantic comedy or a serious sports film, and really should have picked one and stuck to it. The first half of the film works much better for me and I’d give it 4 stars, but the slow pace and sharp change in mood means that overall I give the film 3 stars. Worth a watch for Priya Anand, Siva Karthikeyan and for a chance to sing along to the songs!

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Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

I’m really not a Hansika fan and tend to avoid her in movies as much as possible, but with nothing else releasing here this weekend I decided to risk it and headed out to watch the latest Sundar C. romantic comedy Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru.  Rather surprisingly I enjoyed it! Haniska wasn’t too annoying mainly due to limited time onscreen, the film made me laugh even without subtitles and judging by the audience reaction it was even funnier if you did understand the dialogue.  Siddharth and Santhanam make a good comedy team and with the help of a good support cast, the film turned out to be well worth the drive out to the bijou cinema at Monash.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

The story is fairly straight-forward, easy to follow and doesn’t break any new ground.  Siddharth is Kumar, a bit of a nerd who works in an IT company where he’s essentially just another anonymous worker. At home he has a loving family who have a history of romantic marriages and seem to care for Kumar despite his generally apathetic attitude towards life. Although he works in an office full of women, Kumar doesn’t seem to have much interest in romance, but then the beautiful Sanjana (Hansika Motwani) starts working at the same company and suddenly Kumar falls in love.  Sanjana has to put up with the masses of frustrated IT workers falling at her feet, but seems to show a preference for office hero and all-round overachiever George (Ganesh Venkatraman). This could be the influence of a string ensemble and massive bouquet of flowers, but to be fair with his looks, success at work and dedication to romance, George really has a lot going for him.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum KumaruTheeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

Seeing that his affair is destined to fail unless he takes some kind of action, Kumar consults love guru Mokia (Santhanam) to try and help him win the girl of his dreams.  With Mokia’s help, Kumar learns how to ditch the glasses and nerdy attitude but also discovers that devious deception is the way to win a girl’s heart.  Having used Mokia’s often dodgy advice, Kumar gets the girl but discovers that using unscrupulous means doesn’t mean that he will be able to keep the girl, especially when Mokia discovers exactly who it is that Kumar has been chasing.

Santhanam and Siddharth

The real star of the film is Santhanam who keeps the laughs coming and makes an effective partnership with Siddharth.  This is a role that Siddharth has played before but he is less hyperactive than usual and his geeky Kumar is just realistic enough to garner some sympathy for his ineptness. Santhanam suits this type of comedy where his character doesn’t just rely on one-liners but rather uses some physical comedy and his facial expressions to good effect.  Although his love guru is strictly in it for the money he does still manage to make Kumar more presentable and increases his confidence levels despite his rather dubious methodology.  Quite an impressive effort given what he had to work with and his own style choices.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

The support cast also add to the comedy and include a number of faces from TV including RJ Balaji and Bosskey who are both effective in their roles.  I don’t know the names of the actresses who played Sanjana’s friends at her lodgings, but they are good value and make the scenes with Hansika less excruciating to watch as well as having some genuinely funny moments of their own.  Manobala pops up as a brothel owner rather appropriately attired in red silk while Samantha and Vishal Krishna also make brief guest appearances.

Hansika doesn’t have a lot to do except look pretty and she actually does look much better than her last few films.  I’m not sure if she dubbed for herself in this film but her voice is rather screechy and irritating, although at least she doesn’t get a lot of dialogue.  Sundar C. has kept her role to a minimum and she is fine as the love interest, although there is minimal chemistry between her and Siddharth.

What doesn’t work so well though are the songs – the one above is probably the best of the bunch. All are pictured on Siddharth and Hansika and between Siddarth’s dreadful clothes and Hansika’s woeful dancing they really drag despite some pleasant locations. Hansika really can’t dance and to make her try to move in high heeled shoes and boots is just cruel, but somehow also quite amusing. In the pictures below you can see the high heels that she tries to dance in which perhaps goes some way to explain why she looks so stiff and inhibited.  There are times where it’s obvious she’s concentrating really hard on the steps, but that doesn’t seem to help and she looks very restrained compared to Siddharth.  Overall the choreography isn’t impressive and the backing dancers in Japan are particularly odd which adds to the overall disappointment.

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum KumaruTheeya Velai Seiyyanum KumaruTheeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru

If the songs are disappointing, at least the comedy is of a much higher quality and the cast do an excellent job of keeping the film from dragging.  Of course I noticed that Siddharth gets to wear some trendy glasses (as do quite a few of the cast) and there is a brief contact lens interlude which I appreciated. The humour is genuinely funny throughout and both Santhanam and Siddharth are engaging and work well to compliment each other.  Although the rest of the cast add to the comedy it’s all reasonably subtle (for Tamil comedy!) and best of all there are no terrible comedy uncles.   Overall Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru is a non-taxing and amusing watch which may not tread any new ground but does manage to entertain successfully.  And after all, that’s a lot more than I was expecting.