Kaithi (2019)

Kaithi was recommended to me as a must-see by many people but the film didn’t release in Australia until this weekend. Word of mouth has been so good that the cinema was full despite reaching Melbourne a week late. And after all the hype – is the film worth it? A resounding yes! Kaithi is a tense action thriller that doesn’t miss a beat, while all the cast are simply terrific, including Karthi in a role that sees one of his best performances. No songs, no dances and no romance track, just all out action, intelligently plotted drama and even a dash of comedy all ensuring that Lokesh Kanagaraj’s latest film is one not to be missed.

The film opens quietly, introducing a young girl in an orphanage who is told to expect an important visitor on the following day. We’re left in the dark as to who she is, and who the important visitor will be, but not for too long. Dilli (Karthi) is a paroled prisoner who is on his way to see his daughter for the very first time. Flashes of his daughter’s restless night as she waits impatiently for morning are interspersed with the action of the rest of the film, adding a strong emotional thread to the narrative as well as upping the stakes for Dilli as he battles his way through the various obstacles in his path. Importantly these scenes add some space around the high-impact action sequences and give us a reason to invest in the outcome of Dilli’s struggles. After introducing Dilli’s daughter the film shifts into fast-paced action with the introduction of numerous characters and the basic story all given in quick succession, which makes these small interludes a clever way to accentuate the action without breaking the overall level of tension in the film.

The action starts with Inspector Bejoy (Narain) and his team capturing a lorry load of drugs and other smuggled goods, although Bejoy is injured in the raid. For some political reason the raid has been kept secret, so Bejoy and his men stash the drugs under the police station while throwing the smugglers into the cells above. The team head off to the Chief Commissioner’s retirement bash along with all the senior officers, leaving a few junior police and recent transferee Napoleon (George Maryan) from Tirunelveli at the station. The action then switches to the gangster hideout where Anbu (Arjun Das) is plotting how to get the drugs back and also ensure that the police never know that they have his brother and gang leader Adaikalam (Harish Uthaman) in custody. The smugglers plan to drug the police officers at the retirement party and while they are incapacitated, break into the police station and grab the drugs and Adaikalam. All of which would work except for Bejoy and his decision to co-opt Dilli to drive the truck carrying the drugged police officers to hospital.

The events all occur over the course of one night which adds to the suspense and increases tension as Dilli and Bejoy battle to save the police officers, stop the gangsters getting to the stash of drugs and prevent Anbu from freeing Adaikalam. Along the way there are double agents on both sides, a group of students who end up barricaded in the police station along with Napoleon and the owner of the truck, Kamatchi (Deena) who is dragged along against his will. The action is a mix of the road trip across rough terrain to get medical attention with periodic attempts by the gangsters to stop Dilli and Bejoy by any means possible, and a siege of the police station by Anbu and his men, all anchored by the strong presence of Dilli who will do anything it takes to ensure he can get to the orphanage and meet his daughter.

The action sequences are well choregraphed by Anbariv who uses a mixture of one-on-one fights, inventive ambushes and stunts with the lorry to add novelty and interest to the film. Sathyan Sooryan’s cinematography makes the most of the night setting, highlighting the cabin of the truck where Bejoy, Dilli and Kamatchi are literal lights in the darkness of the war against drugs as the gangsters circle around in the darkness of the forest. Car headlights, torches and burning carts provide background lighting for the fight scenes with Dilli in the truck, while the police station, boarded up by Napoleon and the students is lit by moonlight as they attempt to keep the smugglers out.

Each member of the cast is fantastic, starting with Arjun Das as the erratic and bloodthirsty leader of the smuggling gang. He creates an atmosphere of violence simply by snarling at the camera and is a plausibly dangerous villain. Although Harish Uthaman has limited screen time, he is suitably menacing, particularly as he emerges from the gloom of the police cell to threaten the engineering students who have devised inventive methods for preventing his escape. George Maryan is outstanding as the ageing constable, fresh in from the country who ends up the sole defender of the police station and pulls the students into the fight. He is steady as a rock, perhaps because he doesn’t quite understand the magnitude of the force arrayed against him, but his attitude and strength of character are brilliantly written into the story and along with the students his fight against the gangsters is just as compelling and thrilling as that of Bejoy and Dilli.

 

I loved Narain in Anjathey and he is excellent here as a police officer pushed to the limits by circumstance and desperate to do the right thing. He gets across the internal conflicts that result when he pulls Dilli and Kamatchi into the volatile situation with the gang, and he is also excellent at portraying Bejoy’s helplessness from his broken arm which prevents him driving the lorry himself. It’s a well nuanced performance despite the straight forward character arc, and Narain excels in the brief conversations with Dilli that expose his innermost struggles. Deena too is well cast in a role that adds some humour to the story, but he’s also effective as a voice of the common man who tries to do the right thing despite being terrified by the violence that erupts all around him.

I really like Karthi and have seen most of his films including the excellent Naan Mahaan Alla, Madras and Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru, and in Kaithi he produces another scorching performance to add to the list. As a prisoner, Dilli has learned to keep his eyes down and his mouth shut making Karthi’s slow deliberate movements and measured dialogue a perfect fit for the character. His obvious enjoyment of biryani, eaten while Bejoy is trying to load up the lorry with the drugged police officers is a satisfying nod to freedom and the simple joy of good food eaten leisurely. He’s also excellent when describing to Kamatchi how he ended up in prison, but it’s in the action sequences where he really excels providing a convincing portrayal of a man willing to risk everything to reach his daughter. He gets the emotions just right too, never dipping into maudlin or overly dramatic sentimentality, but still showing the mix of fear, elation and trepidation that would naturally be present in any father going to meet his 10-year-old daughter for the first time. The character is written quite simply, but Karthi adds plenty of depth and intensity that contrasts perfectly with Narain’s more desperate Bejoy.

 

There are no songs but C.S. Sam’s background music fits the narrative well and helps to drive the action forward. The two different tracks to the story work well with each other to keep the tension level high, especially when it always seems that the defenders will be overwhelmed by the gangsters, and the finale is just as over-the-top and Rambo-esque as befits the indestructible character of Dilli. The film doesn’t feel overlong despite the almost 2½ hour running time but instead stays thrilling and almost claustrophobic with the one-night timeframe and race against time to save everyone. With brilliant performances, a simple but well plotted storyline and plenty of action sequences, Kaithi is an excellent thriller and highly recommended for fans of the genre.

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Chithiram Pesuthadi

ChithiramPesuthadi

Chithiram Pesuthadi is the first Tamil film I’ve seen that thanks a roller skating stadium in the opening credits.  So – possibly not one of director Mysskin’s typically dark stories based on crime and murder then?

Well, no.  Chithiram Pesuthadi is billed as a love story, but even in this first film from Mysskin there are plenty of fights, numerous gangsters and an underworld theme added into the plot.  The features that I’ve come to expect from Mysskin’s film are also present, although less frequently here than in his subsequent films, but his trademark low angle shots of feet and a few odd camera angles from above still appear.  Despite the underworld theme, in many ways this is typical love story where a boy from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with a middle class girl and there are numerous obstacles to overcome. However there are enough fresh features to keep the story interesting, while Narain and Bhavana share good chemistry together, which makes the love story a little more believable than usual.

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Thiru (Narain) is an angry man. He’s angry about the bribes he has to try and pay to get a job, he’s angry at his mother because he feels she prevented him from completing his education (which would have helped him get a job) and he’s angry at his sister because she needs money to finish her education (which means he has to get a job).  This rage makes him an excellent an somewhat ruthless fighter, and when he inadvertently rescues local don Annachi’s son from a beating, he ends up recruited as a general enforcer and thug on call.  The job with Annachi (Kadhal Dhandapani) allows him to vent his rage on a variety of hapless victims, although this doesn’t seem to improve his general disposition.  However there is more to Thiru than his frequent flashes of temper suggest.  He has his own code of conduct which he tries to adhere to, he has three loyal friends who respect him and despite his tantrums at home Thiru is trying his best to support his mother and sister.

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Inevitably, Thiru clashes with a girl who is equally angry, although Charu (Bhavana) doesn’t seem to have any real reason for all her aggression.  She lives with her father and works alongside her uncle in an organisation which promotes the health and welfare of orphans. Charu is a crusader and is ready to leap to the defence of anyone she feels might need her support, whether they want it or not. This leads to several clashes between her and Thiru, whom she sees as a nasty vicious thug.

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Thiru on the other hand doesn’t seem to think much about her at all, until finally one day he starts to see her in a different light.  Either that or he develops severe indigestion – it’s hard to decide from his expression but I’m pretty sure he falls in love.  Either way, we end up with this amazing song which, although it’s the ‘falling in love’ song in the film, it doesn’t seem to have anything much to do with love and romance.  Unless of course, I’ve missed some kind of symbolic significance in the way Narain is dressed as a Roman carrying a goat – or the many other bizarre situations in this song!

Naturally Charu also changes her mind about Thiru and without even a sniff of parental opposition the two end up setting a date for the wedding.  Of course Thiru’s decision to give up his life of crime and sell stuffed toys by the side of the road instead may have helped win over Charu’s father. But only, I suspect, if he didn’t actually see Thiru and his friends in these shirts.

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Charu and Thiru appear set for a life of wedded bliss when suddenly Mysskin appears to remember that this is a Tamil film and various tragedies beset the lovers.  But here again, Mysskin diverges from the traditional path and allows both of his characters to behave badly.  Both are selfish and unpleasant, although of the two, Thiru does get painted in a slightly kinder light.

Charu is abrasive, obnoxiously rude to her father and dangerously confrontational throughout.  When her relationship falters, she blames everyone but herself which showcases the immaturity of her character perfectly.  Bhavana does an excellent job and even manages to create sympathy for her character’s challenging persona.  Most importantly she cries convincingly and looks generally unglamorous and suitably ‘girl-next-door’ for the role. I found it quite impressive that she made me care about what happens to Charu (even if only superficially), as I really didn’t like the character at all.

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Narain also puts in a good performance, although he’s helped by the fact that his character is a little more sympathetic. Thiru is a man of contradictions and occasionally Narain splits his personality a little too much so that angry Thiru becomes too much of a caricature.  However his Thiru is likeable despite the angry outbursts and casual violence. Thiru’s loyal friends are equally impressive, with each developing a distinct personality through the use of just a few little quirks in their limited time onscreen.  I love how one of them is always eating – no matter how serious the situation or how inappropriate, he always has some food in his hands.  There are plenty of similar little touches that make the characters feel more real, including the way Annachi rules his area from his banana yard, discussing deals and deaths in between the more mundane day to day activity of selling fruit.

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While the story develops smoothly, the songs seem to be added rather haphazardly and don’t always add to the film.  There are also some very bizarre translations –  I have no idea what assembling eyes with fingers is all about, but it does sound interesting.

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And of course the roller skaters!

Chithiram Pesuthadi

There is a better than usual item number with Malavika, but again it wasn’t really necessary, and most of the songs appear to be used more because songs are expected rather than as a way to further develop the story.

Overall Chithiram Pesuthadi is an impressive début by Mysskin and illustrates why he has gone on to become such a successful director.  He has the ability to spin a good yarn and keep the plot interesting, even with unlikeable protagonists and relatively dark themes.   Good performances, a new twist on an old story and some clever character development combine to make Chithiram Pesuthadi well worth a watch, and definitely a cut above most other first films. 4 stars.

Anjathey

Anjathey is just over 3 hours long, tends to veer occasionally into OTT melodrama and only has 3 songs, but still manages to enthral with some good performances from the cast, excellent camera work and an engrossing storyline. Director Mysskin takes a story about two friends and the wedge that drives them apart, and weaves it through a crime thriller without losing any of the intensity he creates in the opening scenes. Its slick, the pace is relentless but the main characters are still clearly drawn and each has a well-defined role to play in the drama. There is so much that is different about Anjathey that it’s annoying when a few clichés do creep in, and the film does suffer from an overly long climax. But despite these few flaws and a truly terrible wig worn by one of the villains, it’s an impressive film and did inspire me to seek out Mysskin’s other excellent movies.

 

 

 

Anjathey starts with shots of the sky and the characters only appear as brief glimpses from an odd angle while the action builds. It’s a different approach, one of many unusual camera angles used throughout the film, and helps to build the characters of the two men by contrasting the first appearance of Kripa (Ajmal Ameer) with that of his best friend Sathya (Narain) who is shot more conventionally. Although the two are both sons of policemen and live opposite each other in the same colony, the similarities end there. Kripa is dedicated to his dream of becoming a Sub-Inspector in the police force and to that end he trains and studies every day. Sathya on the other hand is a drifter with no real aim in life and is happy to spend his days lazing around drinking with his friends. Sathya’s father is not impressed by his son’s lack of ambition and constantly compares him unfavourably with Kripa, which does nothing to improve their already strained relationship. Finally after a very public dressing down at a temple festival, Sathya decides to prove his father wrong and applies for an SI position at the same time as his friend.

 

 

 

 

The different attitudes and personalities of the two friends are illustrated in the way they tackle the exam and interview; Kripa is tense and eager to excel, while Sathya is laid back and relaxed. He has already arranged for his influential uncle to ensure he gets a place and ultimately he has no real desire to be a police officer, so failure just means his father proves his point once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sathya is accepted as an SI, but Kripa fails the selection process which makes him resentful and bitter. To the dismay of his friends, he turns into a drunken layabout which in this film means a wild hairstyle and a tendency to abuse the local bar staff. Meanwhile Sathya discovers that he likes the deference he gets from the community in his new job and also enjoys the perks, although his early career of brawling hasn’t prepared him for the gruesome reality of life on the force.

 

 

 

 

The rather abrupt turnaround by Kripa is a little unconvincing given his early dedication and generally decent persona, but the gradual change is Sathya is well written and Narain portrays his growing pride in his uniform well. However this is also where those clichés start to appear, and Sathya quickly becomes a one man army capable of overcoming armed gangs of thugs with ease. Even more ridiculous is the ‘one by one’ attacking strategy employed by the gang when a concerted rush would have removed Sathya easily – how come the bad guys never know this? However the small details that show Sathya’s concern for his friend and his determination to become a good police officer go some way towards compensating for the filmi hero antics. The local police aren’t so much corrupt as lazy and their preference for the easy way doesn’t fit well with Sathya’s newly discovered ambition. But Sathya isn’t perfect either and the flaws and shading of his character are more in keeping with the realistic style of the film than his occasional forays into crime fighting superhero.

 

 

 

 

However, where Anjathey really excels is in the depiction of the criminal gang operating a kidnapping ring in Sathya’s area. The gang is strictly small time and there are no mega maniacal big boss scenes or ridiculous schemes to extort money. Daya and Logu, along with a couple of sidekicks, focus on kidnapping young girls who are kept unconscious in sacks before being ransomed back to their families. Their operation is basic but feasible and Prasanna as Daya makes a convincingly creepy villain. Full marks as well for managing to look menacing in that dreadful wig! The interactions between the characters are all very well written to give a sense of the different personalities and their very ordinariness makes their actions all the more chilling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandiarajan starts off well as Daya’s partner in crime Logu, but once the gang are on the run he becomes a whimpering coward and loses some of his credibility. Interestingly one of the other gang members is never shown in any detail and his face is never seen although he does appear frequently and has a major role to play in the gang. It’s one of the strengths of the film that the support cast have well written roles and create an impact even with their short time on-screen. ‘Bomb’ Ramesh who plays Sathya and Kripa’s friend Kuruvi deserves mention for his antics, but the old lady who helps Sathya with an injured man on the street and Vijayalakshmi who plays Kripa sister Uthra are all excellent.

 

 

 

 

Once Kripa is recruited into their organisation it’s obvious that the film is going to end up with a show down between the two friends, but the journey to get there is kept engaging by the police operation to track down the kidnappers. It’s kept reasonably realistic and there are no overly dramatic shoot outs or suicidal rescue attempts to interfere with what becomes a serious police drama. And I do always appreciate a good white-board moment.

The liberal use of free camera does suit the suspense of the police drama, but Mysskin also uses some odd camera angles and unusual shots. One scene is filmed entirely at a few inches about the floor, and it’s rather bewildering until the last few seconds where with one of the character’s actions it suddenly makes sense. Not all of the techniques work however, and occasionally it feels as if the director was trying out a variety of different styles just to see how they would look rather than to create a specific effect. But the cinematography by Mahesh Muthuswami is excellent and there is good use of shadows and unconventional lighting techniques to add atmosphere and tension to the plot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are only three songs in the film and at least two of them seem superfluous. The story isn’t one that needed an item song, or even a romance, although the relationship between Sathya and Uthra is kept very much to the background. However I really like this song featuring the friends’ dancing in the pub and it fits well into the story.

Anjathey is a complex film that  sucessfully combines a number of themes. It’s a story of friendship, a thriller, a crime drama and also throws in a touch of romance. Overall it’s compelling viewing and I recommend it as an entertaining and rather different style of film from Kollywood. 3 ½ stars.