Naanum Rowdy Dhaan

Naanum Rowdy Dhaan

I’m loving the recent ‘new wave’ in Tamil comedy that seems to be producing hit after hit and some very funny films. Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is the latest release from writer/director Vignesh Shivan and it’s a perfect example of the genre, mixing a good story with great dialogue and brilliant performances from a very competent cast. As an added bonus the film even has grammatically correct English subtitles (I’m going to assume that they were accurate too), ensuring I was laughing at the right moments – or at least along with everyone else.

The story is set in Pondicherry, which is another plus for me since it’s only a few years since I visited and quite a few of the locations were familiar. Pandi (Vijay Sethupathi) first appears onscreen as a young boy (Surya Vijay Sethupathi – Vijay’s son?) sitting in a jail, occupied with filling in the front of a school notebook with his interesting ambition (given his current location) of joining the police force. However all is not as it seems. Pandi is the son of the police inspector (Raadhika Sarathkumar) and the real occupant of the cell is Raja, played by one of my favourite ‘bad guys’, Rajendran. Yay! While waiting for his lawyer and get-out-of-jail-free card, Raja tells the young Pandi a story about a rowdy and a cop, when Pandi asked which is the better job prospect. The subsequent tale has the effect of changing Pandi’s mind about his career choice and he carefully changes the word in his notebook from police to rowdy.

So it’s a little surprising then when we see grown up Pandi to find he is going through a battery of tests to become a police officer, although he spends most of his time telling others how much better rowdyism is compared to law enforcement. But once away from the testing area Pandi is indeed a rowdy. Well, kind of.

Because Pandi isn’t a very rowdy-like rowdy.

Along with his gang of friends he has a lair painted with fluorescent paint on the walls that lists fees for various acts of violence, but when it comes down to it he doesn’t actually do any of these things. Instead the gang enacts a drama, getting people to pretend to have been beaten up or injured and then sending a photo of the ‘injury’ to the client. Pandi’s biggest success is arbitrating in a schoolboy squabble and most of his ‘swagger’ is an elaborate act without any real substance.

But then he meets Kadambari and gets involved in the search for her missing father. Kadambari is hearing impaired after an injury and her father is a police officer on the cusp of retirement. It turns out that the story Raja told at the start of the film was based in fact with the rowdy, Killivalavan (Parthiban) getting the better of police officer Ravikumar (Azhagam Perumal). Kadambari wants her revenge and since true love means killing your girlfriends enemy, Pandi takes on the job. Or at least offers to hold Killivalavan while Kadambari stabs him to death. A true gentleman!

The jokes come thick and fast from the numerous attempts to kill Killivalavan (or at least get him to apologise) to Raja’s gun that has a silencer that mews like a cat. The dialogue is very funny and the cast all do a good job in delivering their lines for maximum effect. Even Nayantara, who has a brilliantly comedic scene when she is kidnapped by another rowdy (Anandaraj) which had everyone in the cinema in stitches. Generally Nayantara is much better here than she was in Masss, giving her character plenty of personality and managing good chemistry with her co-star. She does well with the comedy too, and shows just what a good actress she can be when given the chance.

Vijay Sethupathi looks amazingly different here from his previous roles such as Soodhu Kavvum or Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara. Without his beard he appears years younger and seems to have shed some bulkiness along with the age which suits his character well. He still has the same great timing and flair for comedy though, working well with RJ Balaji in the role of Pandi’s long suffering friend. Balaji plays it straight but has plenty of witty comments and his delivery is perfectly timed. Together the two make a great pair and the dialogue between them is written so well as to appear natural and unforced – something which is rare in most comedies. Pandi tries very hard to be a tough guy, and when push comes to shove he proves he can hold his own, but he’d much rather just show the ‘tude rather than court any confrontation, while Balaji wants nothing to do with ‘real’ rowdyism at all.

Anirudh Ravichander provides the music and the soundtrack fits into the mood of the story well. Vijay Sethupathi skilfully avoids any actual dancing, and the songs themselves work well to move the romance story forward. George C Williams is the man behind the cinematography and as in his earlier films, he has a sure touch with the camera ensuring the film looks perfect too. Overall Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is an excellent entertainer combining action and comedy with a dash of romance. Recommended for Vijay Sethupathi, Nayantara and a very funny screenplay.

Massu Engira Masilamani (Masss)

Masss

Venkat Prabhu is a man of many ideas – usually very good ideas – which have resulted in a number of successful films. However for his latest release Masss, he tries to cram as many ideas as possible into the first 20 minutes, and then continues to throw in yet more new ideas throughout the rest of the film. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not all of his ideas work and it’s even difficult to decide if they work or not because the film has already moved on to the next idea! As a result the confusion of the opening scenes feels like trying to cram a year’s work into 10 minutes before the start of an exam. Situations and characters flash by without a chance to work out who is who, what they are doing and how they fit into the story, and if I did have to answer questions on what was going on, I would fail miserably! However it does get better. Suriya is amazing, and his presence holds the film together even through the odd and even more oddly placed songs. The story starts to make sense and the pace slows down to manageable levels with enough comedy and action mixed in to make Masss well worth a watch and much better than the opening sequences would suggest.

Suriya plays Masilamani aka Mass, a con-man and thief who works with his best buddy Jet (Premgi) on a number of overly complicated heists that involve as much theatricality as they do actual thievery. But they make a mistake when they decide to rob a local don who takes exception to their activities. Mass and Jet only just manage to escape, but in doing so they have a serious car crash which has more implications than they first realise.

I had no idea about the story behind Masss and I think it works better when the events that occur are completely unexpected, so I will leave the details of the story there. Up to this point Suriya works his lovable rogue persona well and Premgi is relatively low-key as his best friend. After the first twist (one of many), Premgi takes more of a back seat in the proceedings which is an advantage to the storyline since he doesn’t quite have the acting chops required for such a major role, although his comedy does work well. Suriya takes centre stage and drives the story forwards with an excellent performance and plenty of charisma. There is a double role too, which is perhaps a little clichéd but still works within the format of the story. Plus double Suriya is always a benefit in my opinion (as long as they are not conjoined twins!).

Nayantara pops up as Malini, a love interest for Masss, but she has very little to do and doesn’t even manage a duet with the hero, so her role could have been skipped without too much trouble. She does look beautiful though, if perhaps a little unconvincing as a nurse, but has surprisingly little chemistry with Suriya. However I’m going to mark that down as not having any real opportunity to develop any sparkage due to the briefness of their time spent together rather than any real problem with Nayantara. Vidyullekha Raman makes an appearance as Malini’s friend and actually makes more of an impact than Nayantara, although sadly she too quickly drops out of the story. However they both fare better than Pranitha who appears totally mis-cast, or at least inappropriately dressed with terrible make-up, for her role as flash-back Suriya’s wife.

The film has a huge cast list and there are a large number of good actors who appear as assorted villains or who are part of a group who help Mass later in the film. Brahmi has a brief role as a corrupt doctor in Malini’s hospital, while Samuthirakani has probably the best realised villain role, although even he only appears occasionally. Parthiban manages a little more screen-time as a police officer on the trail of Mass and has some good one-liners while Karunas, Riyaz Khan and many others provide excellent back-up for Suriya. It seems a long time since I’ve seen Rajendran and it’s great to see him here in a small role as a member of the gang helping Mass even if again he only appears briefly.

The second half follows a more linear storyline, even with the flashback portion and the film settles down to an easier pace. What surprises me is that the film received a U certificate given that there is some fairly extreme violence and at times the film is quite frightening for a young audience, although the kids in Melbourne seem to be made of fairly tough stuff and seemed to take it all in their stride.

Masss is a little overlong and the at times it seems that Venkat Prabhu got a little too carried away with his special effect team. There are times when less really is better and there are a few moments here where more restraint would have had a greater effect. In addition, the songs don’t really fit, apart from one during the flash-back sequence and there are perhaps a few too many nods to other films in the screenplay giving the film a more derivative feel than I think it really deserves. However Suriya is excellent and the background score from Yuvan Shankar Raja makes up for any lack in the dance numbers. This is a film to watch for Suriya, the excellent support cast and for Venkat Prabhu’s occasional flashes of brilliance which occur just often enough to give Masss sufficient unexpected twists to entertain.

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum

Krishnam-vande-jagadgurum-poster

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum is complex, controlled, visually beautiful and highly entertaining. Taking themes ranging from corruption, environmental vandalism and the disenfranchisement of the poor to Telugu film standards of revenge and justice, director Krish keeps it all in hand, gathering momentum to the dramatic showdown.

B Tech Babu (Rana) is an actor in his grandfather’s traditional Surabhi theatre troupe, performing devotional plays as well as ones based on old films and stories. (I was delighted to recognise bits of Patala Bhairavi)  He is planning to leave the theatre and go work in the US. But Subramanyam (Kota Srinivasa Rao) dies and Babu feels compelled to ensure his final play is staged at a fair in Bellary. Devika (Nayantara) is in the region filming an expose of land grabs and illegal mining practices. She interviews workers and tracks down rural folks displaced from their lands. Boy meets girl, he is smitten, she is annoyed, but they both keep on with their work and their romantic relationship is a minor facet of the story. Their connection grows as they are thrown together under an external threat. Redappa (Milind Gunaji) is the villain of the piece. His goons threaten the theatre company and he is out to prevent any interference in his mining business so has his sights on Devika. He has a deeper tie to Babu than is initially apparent and his relationship to all the various players is gradually revealed.

It is a little complicated but I felt I followed most of the plot despite this being another Adventure Without Subtitles. I had to really concentrate on who was who, and was completely taken in by one of the plot twists until the truth was revealed. I saw this with two friends – one who dislikes seeing unsubtitled films and the other had only seen one other Telugu film – and they both found it hard going. The audience were whistling, cheering and laughing at a lot of the dialogue, real belly laughs at that, so I am looking forward to seeing this with subtitles. Hopefully the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.

KVJ backstage Babu

I think this is easily Rana’s best performance to date. When Babu’s grandfather died, there was no weeping and chest beating but a definite sadness and quiet loss. There are lighter moments and some glimpses of vulnerability as well as the heroics. Rana’s dialogue delivery and the costumes for the plays within the movie were lots of fun.

KVJ Babu takes a break

He switched between young lad about town and theatrical mode with ease. I got a sense of the character’s struggle with tradition and his fundamental sense of fair play. The fight scenes were excellent and Krish knew how to use his hero to best effect. All Rana did in one sequence was stand suddenly and the audience cheered madly as the bad guy’s knee and hip joints popped and crunched. Plus Rana has Toes of Death.

Despite his ability to carry off a choreographed fight Rana cannot do the same for the other kind of choreography. He can execute dance steps but has no timing at all. The editing was very kind, and it largely worked in Ranga Marthanda, but his shortcomings were all too evident. I wonder if now Charan and Bunny are married, they don’t have time to coach their mate. Poor Rana. But he has an excellent heroic run and he is very tall. My rowing coach used to say to me whenever I had had a disastrous training session ‘you can learn technique but you can’t learn height’.

KVJ Devika at work

Nayantara is glammed up with false lashes and shiny perfect hair, but Devika is primarily focussed on her film and the cause she hopes to help. She has some contact with the CBI and I am not sure whether they were using her to get evidence or she was informing to them. There is a tough side to her and she doesn’t just sit back and wait for the men to sort things out.

Nayantara and Rana

There is no chemistry between Babu and Devika at first as the interest is on his side and he got her offside by acting like an idiot, but it does develop. Devika described Babu to her mother on the phone but that was based on him just being in front of her and looking good so I think she was giving her mum a wishlist rather than declaring an interest. Regardless, the romance is not necessary to make the story development make sense as the characters have other motives for their actions. Nayantara conveyed a sense of purpose and resilience often lacking in filmi heroines.

KVJ Venkatesh Sameera and Rana

The music sounded too familiar at times so I wondered if Mani Sharma had recycled some of his other work. The songs pop up all over the place but they provide a timeout from the action or explain important theories like ‘media is a circus’. If you have ever wondered what Rana would look like as a dwarf, on stilts, or wearing a lilac sequinned cowboy hat ‘Spicy Spicy Girl’ will provide answers. And they solved his dancing issues by getting him to flex to the beat. Venkatesh made a guest appearance in a fun item number with Sameera Reddy and the audience went nuts. The second item was not strictly necessary (are they ever?) but Hazel Keech was just dire. Oh for the love of Helen –  hire a girl who can dance!

KVJ Theatre Company

This is such a beautiful production. Backstage glimpses of the theatre company are dominated by jewel tones, gilding and rich fabrics in honeyed light while the town scenes are sun bleached with harsh shadows. The fairground lights and shapes were used effectively without being overwhelming. The contrast between the forest and the mines could not be more pointed.  People were dressed appropriate to their characters and apart from the songs, the costume team only got away with one lurid shirt – Redappa’s main enforcer wore a fetching mauve satin with shiny spots. A special shout out to whoever designed the theatre costumes for Rana – his Narasimha look was quite something.

KVJ Rana as Narasimha

A lot of the violence was directed at mouths – people had their tongues cut out, their lips pulled at, were forced to swallow boiling water. It was disturbing at times but seemed to be a literal representation of power silencing the poor and unrepresented. The action scenes use a lot of wire work and different film techniques to heighten the drama. The climax fight merges the symbolism of Narasimha with the film hero style in extravagant and memorable fashion.

The support cast includes Brahmi in a pointless gig as a rival actor, Satyam Rajesh and Raghu Babu as members of Subramanyam’s troupe, Murali Krishna Posani as a comedy taxi driver, Adithya as Babu’s murdered father, Murli Sharma in a pivotal role and many others. I liked seeing Krish’s attention to detail in the background scenes. The Surabhi company members were often seen repairing costumes or organising props and makeup and it felt like a working theatre group.

I found Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum immensely satisfying and never dull. Krish balances dialogue driven and action scenes, and draws out the themes to make a cohesive and substantial narrative. Rana excels as the modern hero with traditional inspirations and Nayantara was appealing as a heroine with a brain. This is one of my favourite films in 2012.  I’m crossing my fingers the DVD doesn’t take as long to release as Vedam did.