Ninnu Kori

Ninnu Kori had the potential to be good. I like the concept, and it is rare to see a first love is not the only love story. Unfortunately Shiva Nirvana squandered a great cast on a badly written screenplay full of paternalistic BS.

Uma (Nani) meets Pallavi (Nivetha Thomas) when she suddenly decides he must teach her to dance. The moment he touches her, he falls in love. Pallavi takes longer to succumb, and their developing friendship and ensuing romance is among the few highlights. Uma rents the upstairs room at Pallavi’s family home, carrying on a clandestine romance under the eagle eye of her dad (Murali Sharma). Uma seems to have no family, is a PhD student with no job lined up, and he doesn’t seem inclined to try too hard. Pallavi begs him to marry her as while she will elope and upset her parents, she won’t disgrace the whole family by running away after they fix a match. He overhears her father interfering in another family’s elopement issue and the speech about what fathers know their daughters need hits home. Pallavi’s marriage is arranged in Vizag while Uma is studying in Delhi. She calls him in a last ditch attempt, but he talks over her about his own news. So Pallavi marries Arun (Aadhi Pinisetty) who seems nice despite a penchant for Disney songs. They move to the US and life is good. Until Uma turns up determined to “save” Pallavi from what he believes must be a loveless marriage.

The film sounds promising as it acknowledges that it is fine to have a past, and it is OK to move on from an unsuccessful relationship. Sadly almost every time someone made a good or thoughtful point, they then pretty much did the opposite of what they said. When Uma says not to interfere between Arun and Pallavi, the next scene is of Uma and others engineering a confrontation between the spouses.

According to Kona Venkat’s screenplay, under NO circumstances should you ask a woman what is important to her. Men must only ever discuss this with another man, preferably one with his own agenda or, even better, no idea at all. Rather than tell Pallavi the truth, Arun shared an admittedly touching scene with Uma where Uma was forced to realise he was the equivalent of a cocaine fuelled suicidal ex wannabe girlfriend. Several men in the audience applauded while I wondered why Arun couldn’t be honest with his wife but could spill his guts to the guy trying to replace him.

Shiva Nirvana takes all the cheap shots, and none of them necessary. Pallavi’s best friend Kavita had to be a fat chick and the butt of some mean one-liners. Addiction and mental illness were treated flippantly as a now you see it now you don’t excuse for Uma’s shenanigans. A black actor was cast as a knife wielding mugger while most of the other American extras were white.

At the end of the film Uma grandly states he has learned his lesson and will marry first, fall in love after. I have no issue with arranged marriages, but I take exception to the man who behaved like a dick being applauded for deciding to bestow himself upon some poor woman. He constantly put himself first, blamed everyone else if he didn’t get what he wanted, and took advantage of Arun and Pallavi’s kindness. What a catch. What a hero.

Nani is the Simon the Likeable of Telugu cinema and I blame him for making me stay beyond half time. In the first stage of Uma’s love for Pallavi, Nani plays him as a genuine, nice, boy next door type. He is playful and affectionate, and wants to get his degree and a job before marrying Pallavi. Once she marries Arun, Uma becomes an alcoholic which Nani demonstrates by sporting a beard and drinking so hard he almost bites the top off a hipflask. When Uma goes to stay with Arun and Pallavi he is all spite and manipulative snark. His snide remarks got lots of laughs but despite good comedic timing I wanted to kick him. Pallavi tells him she is happy, but Uma knows better. He couldn’t move on, how can she?

Pallavi starts out as a bit daft but eventually, perhaps in spite of the screenplay, Nivetha Thomas develops her character into a lovely young woman. Her grief at their break up and her anger at Uma’s selfishness are portrayed with restraint and judgement. When Pallavi thinks Arun has cheated, Nivetha made the melodrama feel grounded in Pallavi’s previous experience. She had some strong dialogue, and Pallavi was willing and able to articulate her feelings, but the men only listen to themselves. Pallavi was hurt to think that Uma was wallowing in pain because he assumed she was miserable while I was upset that he never listened to her.

Aadhi Pinisetty has a quiet energy that plays off Nani’s more extrovert childish antics. At first I thought Arun was a bit wet, but Aadhi shows the reaction and immediate squashing down of his feelings. He and Nivetha have a different chemistry, convincing as a settled couple. And because husbands are heroes, he also got to beat someone up. I was very distracted by his unfortunate 70s blow wave though. I’m going to blame the director because he bollocksed up so many other things he may as well cop the hair crimes too.

Tanikella Bharani is understated in a small role as Uma’s professor and mentor, in as much as a mentor calls on an ex to sort out his most brilliant student’s life. Balireddy Pruthviraj is Lovababu, Pallavi’s (comedy) uncle. I can’t really fault any of the support actors, except for the usual “any white person will do, especially one in a bikini” extras.

Gopi Sunder’s soundtrack is adequate without being memorable. The background score is hamfisted with crashing percussion to indicate drama, and strings and synths denoting romance. The visual language is clunky, and things that probably sounded cool look amateurish in execution (e.g. Uma splashing water on his face cutting to a crashing wave).  There are vague attempts to paper over some plot holes and some very awkward exposition. The pace is uneven, wallowing in Uma’s angst while speeding past pivotal moments.

The film is a mansplainer’s delight and Uma, who behaves appallingly, is constantly rewarded for being an arse. I was disappointed by Ninnu Kori, and don’t recommend it because of the stupidity and toxic messages disguised as respect for tradition and the power of love.

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Gentleman (2016)

 

Gentleman_posterFans of the duplicate hero genre will not be surprised by the plot developments in Mohan Krishna Indraganti’s Gentleman, but it is an enjoyable film with some very good performances. Unfortunately the trailer doesn’t do the film justice. But here it is.

Aiswarya and Catherine meet on an international flight heading back to Hyderabad. In a stilted “hey I know how we can fill in the time” scene, the ladies decide to tell each other about the men in their lives.

Cathy tells her self-described cinematic story of meeting Gowtham, and falling head over heels. Now, Gowtham is the typical filmi hero stalkerish won’t take no for an answer guy, but Catherine sends him encouraging signals. Their dates are actually very cute, they have fun together, and they do seem to genuinely like each other. She had to leave him to go do a VFX course in the UK, and can’t wait to see him again.

Aiswarya tells Cathy about her perfect fiancé Jai. Where Catherine and Gowtham were endearingly real, Jai and Aiswarya are annoying, privileged and clueless. They can get in the sea. They go on a roadtrip for two days, and ostentatiously leave all their money in their checked baggage. Aiswarya makes up rules about not working or trading things for money and not calling home. This is to test them and their compatibility. So they whinge the whole way to their destination, except for a brief break for Rajnikanth impressions, and take advantage of the hospitality of poorer locals. In one of many brilliant decisions, Jai feeds Aiswarya magic mushrooms then freaks out when the hallucinogens kick in. Finally they decide they must be each other’s soulmates because really, who else could stand either of them?

Imagine Catherine’s surprise when she sees her new bestie walk up to Gowtham’s double at the airport. And imagine her shock when she goes to Gowtham’s home only to be told he was killed in an accident. Was there a connection between Gowtham and Jai? Was Gowtham’s death really an accident? What does her friend Aishu really know about the man she is going to marry? And now imagine the rest of the story! Or, just wait until the end when two characters do an awesomely committed bit of “As you know Bob” exposition and explain the entire plot for the convenience of an eavesdropping character and anyone in the audience who hasn’t worked it out.

Gentleman-Catherine and Gowtham

Niveda Thomas is fantastic as Catherine. Her acting is quite natural, and she has a healthy realistic beauty. Her chemistry with Nani was great, whether he was playing her boyfriend or the suspiciously perfect man going to marry her rich friend. When she started to question Jai’s integrity she took action herself and was as rational as someone so invested in the outcome could be. I also have to give some credit to whoever styled her for choosing a wardrobe that a normal young woman would wear instead of having her teeter around in high heels and higher skirts. Niveda has screen presence beyond what I’d expect for a 21 year old woman in an industry not known for developing actresses beyond their cup size.

Gentleman_Jai and Aiswarya

Surabhi was less impressive as Aiswarya, but that was likely due to the limitations of the character. Aishu was ignorant of the suspicions about her fiancé so was mostly the bubbly happy bride to be. She certainly looked the part of a pampered girl with an optimistic nature, and her scenes with Nani were generally good (if nauseating).

Nani’s characters developed from different directions. Gowtham was a bit of a pest who revealed his heart of gold as Cathy got to know him, while Jai started sweet and considerate, then revealed more of his ruthless side. Nani is always likeable, but he managed to make Jai creepily perfect so that everything he did after a certain point became suspicious, regardless of how innocuous it was. Even his 70s cop show blow wave seemed to indicate menace. Gowtham seemed less calculating, more of a take it as it comes kind of guy, and a bit glib. Gowtham’s fight scenes were very tongue in cheek and entertaining, which suits Nani to a T.

Sreemukhi is Nitya, a straight talking journalist who takes an interest in Jai’s business dealings and seeks Catherine out to help confirm her suspicions. They had a nice dynamic and it was good seeing another sane career woman in the ensemble. Srinivas Avasarala is good as Vamsi, Jai’s suspiciously agreeable cousin who doesn’t seem to mind being ignored continuously in favour of the golden boy. Vennela Kishore was amusing as highly strung work supervisor and Youtube legend. Tanikella Bharani has a small role as Jai’s uncle Mohan. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it gig so maybe he was just doing a favour for a mate. Vinay Varma is Catherine’s creepy uncle David, and I shed no tears for his character. This film was very smart in how it showed their relationship and Catherine’s reaction without getting into voyeuristic rapeyness. It was all wrong, and no more needed to be said. Rohini played Gowtham’s mum, and every time I see her on screen I just love her. Her acting is excellent, and she and Nani still had the rapport that I loved so much in Ala Modalaindi.

Saturday Night Fever had a dorky fun feel, with the main cast doing enthusiastically uncoordinated dancing that helped gloss over the song’s lack of freshness. Mani Sharma’s songs are standard formulaic film fare, and most add little either visually or musically. The engagement song at Aiswarya’s house (Dintaka Dintaka) was nice mostly for seeing the character actors get their moment in the spotlight.

I liked the use of graphic novel style effects in some early scenes but that seemed to go by the wayside later on in favour of standard dodgy looking breaking glass VFX and the like. Odd considering Catherine’s career, they didn’t seem to invest in getting that right.

While I was overjoyed to have subtitles, there were some silly errors in them. Broachers for brochures, one excellent instance of comma for coma, and my favourite – missionary for masonry (as in, the reinforcing rod is embedded in the missionary masonry). It did deflate a very tense scene.

See this for a complex and yet fast moving plot carried by Nani’s rock solid skills, and Niveda Thomas’ excellent heroine who does stuff that won’t make you facepalm all through the film.

Eega

A friend asked me what the movie I was going to see was about. “A man is killed. He reincarnates as a fly. He seeks revenge”. They seemed unconvinced but Eega really is wonderful. Despite word of subtitled prints, we knew wouldn’t get them in Melbourne. Luckily fly is a universal language, and we are always up for an adventure without subtitles!

Nani (Nani) is in love with Bindu (Samantha). Sudeep (Sudeep), a local tycoon and possessive psycho, decides he must have her so he kills Nani. Fate intervenes and Nani is reborn as a fly, eventually recovering memories of his past life. He sets out for revenge and to protect Bindu. This may sound silly, but it is a tribute to writer/director SS Rajamouli and his cast that I absolutely went with it and was caught up in the drama, the action and the hi-jinks. I had reservations about the post-reincarnation relationship as clearly Bindu had not moved on and it was never going to work despite the fact that she could see his inner beauty – he’s a fly, she’s a human…Yes I became emotionally invested in the love life of a CGI insect.

Nani is good in his role. Because the basic plot was well publicised, I did feel like I was waiting for him to die. I really like Nani (the actor), but his role in the story limited my interest in his character.

While human Nani showed charm and some skills, the fly was simply amazing. He knew engineering, physics, ballistics and who knows what else. He also retained his penmanship, using Bindu’s fallen tears to write a message (presumably ‘Hey it is me! Nani!’) He was the real hero with all the trappings. Eega-Nani had a training montage as he built his strength up in a gym made of household objects, he had a victory dance, and he had right on his side. The fly’s character developed over time as he became tougher, more lethal, and better at turning a disadvantage to an advantage. I like the decision not to give him a voice so all his communications were via gesture or charades. The animators did a superb job of making him very expressive but still a housefly. I suspect Eega-Nani and Bindu had some written exchanges off camera as I am not sure mime would have conveyed the more complex elements of their scheme. He wrote a very clear death threat to Sudeep as well so he had good communication skills.

 

Samantha is lovely as Bindu. Her flirtation with human Nani was mostly carried out through facial expressions and she was really good, with excellent comic timing. She was also quite convincing in sadder scenes. Considering most of her scenes were with a CGI fly, she does very well to make it ring true. While Bindu’s back story seemed flimsy at best, she seemed nice and actively tried to do good through the NGO she ran. Her hobby of micro-art came in very handy when Nani needed teeny tiny equipment and weapons. The partnership also kept their fledgling romance alive which was sweet and yet all wrong (with him being a fly and all).

 

Speaking of creepy – Sudeep. From suavely unpleasant kingpin, through a spiral of aggravation and irrational behaviour to outright craziness, Sudeep was hilarious and scary. He had a gun wall in his home so that was an early sign. As Eega-Nani pestered him, Sudeep became less and less stable. Sudeep’s reactions to the fly were increasingly frantic and extreme but he melded it with gradual deterioration in his mental stability and health that made it good acting and not just slapstick. I imagine the direction went something like “ear, ear, nose, other ear! nose! gone..where did it go…gone, relax, EAR!!!!” His security team swapped guns for fly swats, his house became a fortress against bugs, his attire was more and more peculiar. The blend of comedy and threat is brilliant. There is nothing likeable about Sudeep’s character and yet I looked forward to his scenes. For the faint-hearted there is a scene requiring pixilation as Sudeep attacks the Eega with the only handy weapon – the pink towel he was wearing. It’s a wildly uninhibited scene and I laughed so hard I almost cried.

Adithya (as Sudeep’s sidekick) did get the rough end of the pineapple in the hair department, having both the wavy mullet and the manband in play. His reaction to his employer’s insanity (and then proof of Eega-Nani’s unnatural abilities) was very funny. But the psycho villain’s sidekick has a precarious, and rarely a long, life. The supporting actors are not prominent, which is wise considering most scenes combine multiple points of view and there are some complex interactions.

The camera follows Eega-Nani through all manner of mayhem and danger, and the choreography and planning of those scenes is meticulous.I really loved a moment when fragments of shattered glass reflect a fighter plane formation of flies surrounding Nani.  It’s as dramatic as if a human film hero was in a fight for his life, and gets the adrenalin pumping. But it’s not all action and there are scenes that are just pretty or sweet. There are some very dark moments, but the message that killing a bad man to do the right thing is entrenched in Telugu film so I guess it wouldn’t have surprised the kids in the audience.

What made Eega work so well was the well plotted story and the restraint in using effects. The CGI served to further the story, and there was never a dull moment. SS Rajamouli has an impressive ability to get a story on screen and make it engaging. There are nods to other films and stars, and the Telugu heroic tropes all get a workout too. I have some quibbles, but they are insignificant on balance. The timing, the pace, the effects, the cast are all pitch perfect. Loved it!

(Pssst – Make sure you stay for the end credits)

Edited to add:

ReleaseDay is streaming Eega with subtitles so now you have no excuse not to see it! You will need to create a login to the site and it’s a festival print which I am told is around 20 min shorter than the theatrical release. You can also check  out http://blog.releaseday.com/ for articles and news on Telugu films. 

Heather says: Loved it, loved it loved it! I’d read very little about this film and I’d only seen the trailer once, but when I saw a needle lightly indenting a cornea I knew this was going to be an excellent film for me. Plus it’s Rajamouli so of course it was always going to be a good story, and it didn’t disapoint.

I do really like Nani, and I liked his rather self-sacrificing character here too. His one dance routine was fun and his obvious adoration of Bindu was quite sweetly portrayed. Nani did show some early signs of his engineering know-how by quickly constructing a parabolic light reflector from a satellite dish and an old chip packet, but his intellect certainly blossomed when he returned as Eega! Some of the ideas here were simply ingenious and Rajamouli totally captured just how irritating a fly can be, let alone one that’s out for vengeance. The CGI was of a very high standard and I was amazed at how easily different emotions and attitudes were conveyed by Eega-Nani. The fly charades where Eega-Nani made his requirements known to Bindu were hilarious and I have to say that she is much better at this game than I could ever be.  In fact Samanatha was very impressive here as Bindu to the point that I didn’t realise who the actress playing Bindu was at first! I’ve never thought too much of Samantha as an actress in her previous films so it was a real revelation to see her put in such a fantastic performance here. I have a theory that similar to Shriya, her hairstyles have a lot to do with it. The longer and more curly Samantha’s hair is, the worse her acting and since here Bindu has lovely straight hair Samantha really shines in the role.  This got me through the rather bizarre romantic scenes between Bindu and Eega-Nani since my reaction was more of a: ‘Samantha can emote – who knew!’ rather than concentrating too much on the fact that their relationship was never going to end well! Samantha also got some beautiful costumes to wear, and I loved her fringed tops which suited both her and her character very well.

But despite Samantha’s amazing performance and even with the antics of Eega-Nani to contend with, the real star of the film was without a doubt Sudeep. He was brilliant in every scene and as Temple has described perfectly, the change as his initial evil and sinister businessman became very disturbed and unstable was superbly done. The scene with the towel was one of the best in the film (I’m laughing now even thinking about it) and his more and more frantic attempts to escape Eega were totally hilarious. Considering that Sudeep was in general having to react to a nonexistent opponent during filming, I think he did a fabulous job and his reactions were totally believable. I can’t think of anything in this film that I didn’t enjoy and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s easy to understand without subtitles and the many references to other films just add to the whole experience. Go! Watch! Enjoy!