Sneham Kosam

K.S Ravikumar’s film gives us double the Chiranjeevi in an outstanding dual role performance, and about three times the plot of a normal film. There is a lot going on in this convoluted tale of family strife and the meaning of friendship. The last 20 or 30 minutes alone has enough revenge, melodrama, blood, sweat, and tears for any average film. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

Chinnayya (Chiranjeevi) is the valued servant of the landlord Peddayya (Vijayakumar). Chinnayya is bossy and dramatic, as is the landlord. They have a warm relationship and the other servants enjoy their regular tiffs. Peddayya has cut off his daughter Gowri (Sithara) and son-in-law Peddabbayi (Prakash Raj) although it’s clear Gowri wants to reconcile and she tries over and over. When his youngest daughter Prabhavati (Meena) comes home, she also wants the family reunited but she has a different method in mind. She sets her cap at Chinnayya, and sets him up for an accusation of rape. Having kicked him out of the house her true feelings become clear. She blames him for the separation of her father and sister, and cannot stand to see him living comfortably in a home he ruined. And then Simhadri (also Chiru) returns after doing time for killing Prabha’s mother. Peddayya is delighted to see his old friend, the servants seem cautiously accepting, but both Chinnayya and the girls furiously reject him.

I love Chiranjeevi’s acting in both roles but I really do not like the decision making in this film. I don’t think there is a single significant life choice made that didn’t have me muttering “oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding”. Anyway, back to the plot. Simhadri took the blame for Lakshmi’s murder so as not to make Gowri the wife of a murderer. Because it is better to be married to a murderous weasel than it is to be divorced, widowed, or single? Eventually justice must be served and it is, in spades.

The Megastar stamp is all over the opening credits, but Chiru is in actor mode and delivers excellent characterisation as well as buckets of tears and adrenalin.

Chinnayya is a more typical hero role for him, and he breezes through the fights, the dances, and all the shenanigans. But there are emotional currents that run deep, and when Chinnayya confronts Prabha over her scheme to ruin him, Chiranjeevi blazes with fury.

Simhadri is both intensely lovable and kind of infuriating. He sacrifices everything for his landlord boss, everything, but never shows anger or resentment. I believed absolutely that Simhadri would do anything for his beloved friend and boss, but I didn’t need so much of the “he is our god-like benefactor, we’re nothing without him” hand-wringing over the master servant relationship. Regardless, Simhadri is such a vivid and quietly commanding presence. His feeling of guilt and responsibility was misplaced but achingly raw, and those Mega Eyes conveyed volumes. The scene where he had to sneak a glance at Chinnayya via a mirror just to see his son’s face could have been ridiculous but it works because of Chiranjeevi. I liked Chiranjeevi’s use of similar but subtly altered mannerisms and posture to convey both the resemblance and the differences. Chiru’s expression is softer and more world-weary as the father, and while Chinnayya is a chip off the old block he doesn’t have quite the same substance. And when you get Chiru emoting at Chiru, it’s just too too good.

While this is Chiranjeevi’s film, I liked that other characters were given some depth and development. Prabhavati is a bit of a nutter, and has minimal self-control when it comes to getting what she wants. She wants it NOW. Meena is screechy at times but when she needs to command attention, she does it despite all the macho chest beating going on around her. I found Prabhavati too neurotic and impulsive to be relatable but I felt the conviction in the performance. Her teary declaration that since she had no mother she wanted to be her sister’s daughter was both moving and mind-boggling. Her duplicity was breath-taking and audacious in execution. She was no passive victim, although she had been sadly misled. Meena’s rapport with Chiranjeevi was patchy but that was befitting this half fake half real love hate thing going on. They were a good match in terms of energy and commitment to the role, both in the fun scenes and the more intense moments.

And while I don’t concur with the sentiment that a man with laser eyes who can make another man’s head explode into flames is necessarily ideal husband material, her imagination was fertile and that can help a girl through some bad times.

Sithara starts out as a wet rag, crying all over the place, but in the flashbacks and the post revelation scenes she gives Gowri some spirit. Poor Gowri got a raw deal on pretty much everything. Her husband was a rat, her father disowned her for no good reason other than the rat, and she had no idea of the truth. But I liked that she kept trying to mend fences, even though she couldn’t work out what was really wrong. She was persistent and resilient. And finally, she chose doing the right thing over supporting her husband.

Vijayakumar as Peddayya is the other pillar of the drama. His petulance and dramatic flouncing is tempered by the respect and loyalty he shows his friend Simhadri and the boy Chinnayya. He genuinely treats Simhadri as a mate, scandalising his servant with hospitality and unselfconscious affection. There is not a lot of subtlety in the drama but Vijayakumar draws out some strong emotion, especially in his scenes with Chiru and with Sithara. I just couldn’t get past his willingness to let Simhadri take the fall, and also to lie to his daughter and then disown her partly because of that lie.

But his character solved most disputes with Simhadri with a song and a tickle fight so he’s not all bad.

Prakash Raj is so slimy and craven, I was itching to slap him and frequently booed as he weaselled his way around. He gives a great performance as a horrible person. Peddabbayi prefers to wheedle his way out of trouble but if that doesn’t work he flies into a rage. I’m glad they cast a good character actor in this role as if they’d gone for a comedy uncle villain, it would have sapped a lot of the energy from the quite exhausting climax.

The support cast is loaded up with comedy uncles but they are low key and their characters serve some purpose. Brahmanandam is effective as Prakash Raj’s nasty sidekick with minimal gratuitous comedy uncle shtick. MS Narayana, Babu Mohan, and Kota Srinivasa Rao are among the more heavily featured household staff and like Brahmi, are comparatively restrained. Nirmalamma is cheeky as Simhadri’s gambler mother. Sujatha makes an impression in her few scenes as the much loved and lamented Lakshmi. And poor whatsisname who played Chinnababu made it seem he may have taken after his older brother but was actually a decent boy, left devastated and jilted at the altar.

The film looks beautiful, and the few special effects are used wisely. And I think they employed all the camels in Rajasthan for one day. While it probably could do with a more assertive edit, I really enjoy almost every moment of the film. Unless I get too riled up about Simhadri assuring Gowri’s marriage to a homicidal mongrel and her father’s 15 year temper tantrum.

The Hindi dub is on YouTube with English subs, or you can do what I do and grab those subs for your Telugu copy and tinker with the timing because hearing another voice coming out of Chiru’s face is All Wrong. 4 ½ stars! (A tiny deduction for terrible decision making, and for the director’s cheesy guest appearance, another dodgy decision.)

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Drishyam (2013)

Drishyam

I started to watch Drishyam late one night intending to just watch the first half, but found I couldn’t tear myself away until I’d seen all 2 hours and 44 minutes of the film – it’s that kind of movie.  Although it starts simply enough by drawing a picture of a fairly conventional family, it develops into a fascinating thriller where it’s difficult to predict exactly what will happen next.  The very ordinariness of the family makes their reactions and those of the other characters unexpected, while the developments in the plot are surprising at every turn.  There are a few moments where the story falters a little, but overall it’s intelligently written to show the effects of a sudden crisis and how important it is for a family to stick together when faced with adversity. Great performances by all the cast and beautiful cinematography contribute to make Drishyam compelling viewing and it’s definitely one of the best Malayalam films I’ve seen recently.

The film has a fairly slow beginning as writer/director Jeethu Joseph spends the first hour developing the characters of George Kutty and his family, focusing on their day to day interactions with each other and various other people they meet.  George Kutty (Mohanlal) operates a cable TV business in a small village near Thodupuzha.  He’s an orphan who never made it any further than 4th standard at school, but he has a wealth of knowledge gleaned from watching films all night long in his office.

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George Kutty is married to Rani (Meena) who generally seems content with her life despite putting up with her husband’s absences at night and his obsession with saving money.  They have two children, Anju (Ansiba Hassan) and Anu (Esther), and the family lives in a pretty house surrounded by banana trees and woodland. It all seems, if not idyllic at least comfortable and happy, although there are of course the dull routines and petty squabbles that occur in any family.  Jeethu Joseph uses each family member’s small ambitions to round out their characters and define their relationships while gradually building up the background for the rest of the story.  What also stands out is that despite the bickering and George Kutty’s somewhat eccentric lifestyle, there is a lot of love in the family and the marriage is built on very solid ground.

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When not in his office or sitting at home, George Kutty spends his time in a local tea shop where he uses his knowledge of films to solve other people’s problems and if that just happens to antagonise the moderately corrupt Constable Sahadevan (Kalabhavan Shajohn), so much the better.  Sahadevan is a bully who extorts money through a variety of petty schemes and his character is best summed up by a brief scene where he happily steals money from a man whose child is in hospital.  Such a nasty man, and beautifully played by Kalabhavan Shajohn who does a fantastic job of displaying Sahadevan’s mean-spirited character and giving his emotions free rein. Part of the intrigue of the story is that this dishonest policeman becomes the unlikely pursuer of justice although his methods are definitely unethical and disturbing.

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While the first half of the film introduces George Kutty and his family, the second half deals with what happens when the police suspect they are complicit in the disappearance of the Inspector General’s son.  Geetha Prabhakar (Asha Sarath) plays the part of the IG, and it’s a pleasant surprise to have a high ranking female officer as a main character.   Perhaps this is as a counterbalance to George Kutty’s firmly held belief that a woman belongs at home, but it also brings a very different dynamic to the film.

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Geetha is the one making all the decisions while her husband (Siddique) is the voice of reason and conciliation in the background.  The missing Varun Prabhakar (Roshan Basheer) is a typically spoilt rich kid, and there is the inevitable cliché here that rich kids are bad, while kids from lower and middle socio-economic backgrounds are always good and righteous. Geetha doesn’t believe George Kutty’s version of events and is determined to prove that his family are lying even though the local police officers (with the exception of Sahadevan) are convinced of George Kutty’s innocence and are reluctant to get involved.

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It’s mesmerising and even though the audience knows the true sequence of events, subsequent outcomes are impossible to anticipate as everyone brings their own needs and responsibilities into the mix.  Keeping to the thriller aspect of the film, there are only 2 songs in the whole film.  Both are well used to describe George Kutty and the dynamics within the family.  The first shows them on a happy shopping expedition while the second illustrates the change in family attitude when the police start to suspect they may have something to hide.  This is the first happy song which does an excellent job of summing up the family and their personalities.

Part of the film’s effectiveness is due to the high standard of acting from all involved.  Mohanlal is outstanding as are the two young actors who play his daughters.  Meena, Asha Sarath and Kalabhavan Shajohn are all also excellent and from Sahadevan’s brutal interrogations and shifty plotting to Geetha’s desperate attempt to balance her police persona with a mother’s concern for her missing son, the actions all feel genuine and typical of the characters involved. The dialogue seems natural, even with the barrier of subtitles, and the only apparent misstep occurs at the very end where Geetha appears to act a little out of character.  However it’s a small thing and does allow the story to be completely wrapped up Hollywood style.  Personally I would have liked a little less explanation and have been left to form my own theory, but that could be just me.

DrishyamDrishyamDrishyamDrishyamThe film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Sujith Vasudev and once the family is under suspicion the threat of prison is accentuated by the number of shots behind barred windows.  There are also some good contrasts between George Kutty’s family and the extended ‘family’ of the police and the lone outsider of Sahadevan.  By the end of the film a number of small throwaway moments are shown to have more significance than they appeared to have at the time, which shows just how effective good story development and intelligent writing can be.  Everything was there to be seen for anyone who looked, but the film shows that what we see can be easily manipulated and misinterpreted when it is outside expectations. Definitely recommended viewing but be warned not to start watching too late at night as it’s impossible to stop!  4 ½ stars.

Muta Mestri

Muta Mestri is a masala film with a message, featuring Chiru with director A Kodandarami Reddy, and dialogues by the Paruchuri brothers. Overall the blend of ideas and drama and action is balanced. The action is full throttle, the dancing energetic, the ladies outfits are frequently hideous and the message is generally one I can get on board with. What works, works well but there are some heavy handed moments and a few assumptions around values that left me cold.

Chiranjeevi is the very patriotic Subhash Chandra Bose, the ‘Labour Contractor’ at a local market. He gets an excellent introduction when Sukkamma bets Brahmi a nudie run that the porters can’t unload waiting trucks in less than 10 minutes.

Whenever Bose arrives by bike, he just lets the bike careen off into the distance. It oozes confidence and a dash of silliness which is perfect for this role. Oh and she loses the bet.

The market is a harmonious community of men, women, Hindus and Muslims all working together. There are some statements to the effect of unity equalling strength.

Allu Ramalingaiah plays a teacher who educates the children about Independence, Gandhian principles and the like and regulars Brahmi and Ali lurk in the support cast too. It’s the India that should be, according to the vision of this film. Kasim is one of the more prominent support characters and he and his son are well liked. They celebrate their Hindu friends’ festivals and the Hindus respect and understand Muslim religious practice. Indeed, knowledge of prayer times sparks a crucial plot development towards the end of the film. Diversity is shown as beneficial, not just something to be tolerated.

Atma (Sharat Saxena) is the villain of the piece. He is more of an ascetic style of villain, believing he has a relationship with god that allows him room to negotiate indulgence for bad deeds. He wants to use the land the market is on for a new development. The market folks turn to Bose for help and he stages a non-violent protest outside Atma’s house.

Bose allies with MLA Sundaraiah and the CM (Gummadi) and eventually moves into politics – a position that Atma wanted for his son Dilip. Dilip is the kind of baddie who pulls up outside a school and plays loud crappy music to drown out the pure sweet sound of innocent school children singing the national anthem. And adding insult to injury, he then dances badly in the street. Obviously Bose wil deal with him severely.

Bose brings a direct and action oriented approach to politics. There is a great sequence of Bose being wheeled from one photo op to another with the emphasis on being seen to feed orphans or plant trees rather than actually doing it. Bose reprimands his advisors and starts making his own decisions based on what he sees as right. He upsets the applecart and the CM loves him for it, as do the people. This is a major theme in the story and there are recurring examples. The film also makes a point about the quality of people in politics, and the shift from people who wanted to change the world to those who just want to profit from it. People have a responsibility to try and fix things, not just leave them for someone else to clean up. For all the idealism Bose spouts, it’s a deeply cynical film.

Atma realises that the only way to hurt Bose is to attack his loved ones and discredit him. Bose realises that he can’t sort out Atma while he is part of the government. It is a similar idea to the cop/vigilante issue raised in other films. Justice is located outside of the legal system and good men can do illegal things as long as they are doing them for the ‘right’ reasons.

The action scenes are energetic and impressive, and Chiru is in excellent form. The fights are fast and athletic, and suit his character’s style. Actually, Bose has multiple fight styles and uses them to entertain people watching him belting the daylights out of the baddies. I liked Bose’s interactions with the other guys at the market and Chiru has a gleam in his eye when he gets into the rousing speeches. His dancing is excellent, and especially when he has the opportunity to go for it.  A lot of the comedy is Bose bumbling his way through the intricacies of political life, and the hassles of being a chick magnet so it isn’t too intrusive even if it is very silly. Chiranjeevi looks great in simple working attire, although he does veer into acid wash denim territory which is less pleasing. The song costumes are an outlet for the frustrated wardrobe team. I keep saying this, but Chiranjeevi is such an accomplished actor. He finds opportunities to give his character more depth and complexity than a mass film may require, making the overall result more engaging and credible.

There are some things I took issue with. Bose’s sister Jhansi gets home late from college and because he sees the neighbours watching, Bose slaps her. There is a tearful repentance that follows, and the upshot is that avoiding reputational damage is the responsibility of women. That scene will come back to haunt Bose in a major way but it left a bad taste in my mouth, especially when Jhansi basically apologised for making him feel the need to hit her. Grrrr. At the same time, Bujamma (Meena) is very forward in chasing Bose and there is no penalty for that. So his sister has to be perfect and virginal but he will marry who he chooses and think no less of her for trying to get her hands on him before the wedding. Sigh.

All of the females in the film are given short shrift. Bujamma is, as Bose repeatedly tells her, loud, crass and stinks of fried food from her snack stall. She keeps trying to transform herself to be more like what he wants but cannot change her nature. Some of it is quite funny, as in a challenge to stay silent for 24 hours, but some of the dialogues are just plain mean. Meena is pretty and lively enough as Bujamma although her performance is a bit grating. Kalpana (Roja) is Bose’s secretary, and as Bujamma sees her the main rival for Bose. Roja doesn’t get much to do apart from stand around and look decorative although she is afflicted with ‘comedy’. Brahmi decides to help Bujamma keep Bose and Kalpana apart by telling Kalpana that after six…she’d better watch out.

Despite that excellent piece of advice, it’s a stupid and unnecessary diversion as Kalpana keeps fantasising about Bose’s possible sexual advances and fainting all over the place.  Although it did lead to this song:

She seems to think that was a nightmare. Ahem. (Note – if you want the film on DVD, the Moser Baer DVD doesn’t include that song but the EVP one does.) Koti’s music is not particularly memorable but the picturisations and costumes made an impression. If that isn’t enough costume WTFery for you, please be my guest:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite an escape plan that uses a detailed model, Bose catches up and Atma and Dilip are dealt with in excellent and elaborate style.

If ‘cross-country arse-kicking’ was an Olympic event, Bose would have taken gold (and possibly also silver and bronze). Justice is done, at least for some.

It’s an entertaining enough film, but not quite enough to make me want to watch it too often. There is some substance lurking under the cheese, but I have issues with the treatment of Jhansi in a film that was otherwise very positive about equality and community. See it for Chiru’s dancing, the outfits and the come-uppances. 3 ½ stars.