Karvva (2016)

Karvva poster

Karvva released earlier this year in India, and we finally got a chance to see the film here in Melbourne last weekend. I’m not usually a fan of horror films but the blurb about Karvva suggested that it was a combination thriller/ghost story, so I ventured out to the cinema in the hope that it may be another RangiTaranga. However Karvva turned out to be a fairly formulaic and not particularly frightening (or even thrilling) film, but despite the inevitability of the storyline there are a few good features that make it worth a one-time watch.

The film is a mix of two separate but related stories, one based on a documentary film crew out to debunk a rumour about a haunted house and the other recounting the kidnap of a rich businessman’s daughter. The connection between the two is the house; is a classic ‘renovator’s delight/fixer-upper’ mansion located somewhere in the Karnataka countryside.

When an NRI attempts to sell his ancestral property he finds that it has a nasty reputation as a haunted house, and in an attempt to improve his chances of a sale he enlists the help of a documentary filmmaker specialising in investigations of supernatural events. The TV crew has some kind of spiritual advisor and a boffin with a machine that measures ghost activity so obviously they’re the right people for the job. However despite all their gadgets and scepticism, the TV crew find more than they bargained for in the abandoned house which lives up to its reputation. Naturally they have to wait for an auspicious time to go back and try to exorcise the spirit which leaves the scene set for the next reckless visitors to the mansion.

The second part of the story focuses on Thilak, a spoilt, rich kid who lives the high life but who is brought down to earth when he loses a lot of money at a casino. He tries to get some money out of his father (Devaraj) by pretending he needs cash for a business deal, but his father decides that enough is enough and refuses to bail Thilak out. Anisha Ambrose is Thilak’s sister, who tries to persuade her dad to cough up some money for her brother, but before she can achieve very much she is kidnapped and a ransom note sent to Devaraj. The kidnappers choose Thilak to deliver the ransom money and the directions he follows take him to an abandoned mansion somewhere in the Karnataka countryside. Yes – this is the same Raja bungalow that we’ve already seen is haunted by a vengeful ghost, but Thilak is only concerned about finding his sister and isn’t too concerned by his surroundings. He also approaches the house from the back which looks much less creepy and isn’t quite as festooned with cobwebs as the front of the house either.

Events conspire to leave Thilak, his sister and three friends stuck in the house overnight. As the ectoplasm starts to swirl and the friends find out the history behind Raja bungalow it’s clear that they’re not going to have a peaceful night and indeed may not even last until morning.

The basic plot is a fairly standard ghost story but there are a few twists, particularly in the second half which make the film more interesting. Unfortunately, although the visual effects are good, each even remotely spooky moment is accompanied by loud screechy music and distorted screams that quickly remove any suspense from the scene. There are numerous points where one of the characters is shown from behind with the suggestion that someone (i.e. the ghost) is creeping up behind them. It would have been so much more effective to cut out all the noise altogether, or even go for some slightly more clichéd breathing rather than the loud cacophony that occurs every time someone turns their back on the camera. More effective are the shots where a vague figure appears when the lights go out, and where there are half seen flickers in the periphery, but as the film goes on the effects get more and more obvious and subsequently less and less frightening. The inclusion of a comedy track of sorts with Vijay Chendur reduces any suspense that might have built up with the initial ghostly effects while the loud soundtrack and OTT make-up towards the end mean that the final scenes are funnier than I think they were meant to be.

The actors are occasionally overshadowed by the effects, but Thilak is fine as the sceptical and stalwart hero of the hour. Mostly he just has to ignore all the odd happenings and boldly go forward to investigate the latest black-out, noise or other unusual occurrence, but he does so with a reasonable amount of attitude and is good at the end when everything is explained. However RJ Rohith as one of Thilak’s friends is rather wooden and inexpressive although some of this may be due to his rather dour character, which doesn’t give him scope to do much else. Anisha Ambrose and Anu Poovamma are both good and escape the usual fate of female characters in a horror movie by being braver than seems plausible, while Vijay Chendur is funnier than expected and makes an impact despite only having a short time on-screen.

Navaneeth wrote and directed the film and there are some good ideas in there, even if the ghost story and horror element is somewhat formulaic. The NRI desperate to sell his house works well and there are some satisfyingly scary moments with the TV crew as they search for clues. The initial kidnap scenes are also well thought out and the events when the friends first find themselves stuck in the house are effectively written. However as the horror part of the story kicks in the film starts to lose its novelty and the final explanation can even be partly anticipated given the events of the night in Raja bungalow. Still, the cinematography by Mohan is excellent, there are a few good spooky scenes and I like that the female characters are braver than some of the men! Worth watching for the set-up in the first half, the twists in the second and a good performance from Thilak Shekar.

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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.