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.

Sivakasi

Let’s cut to the chase. Watch Sivakasi for the highly enjoyable songs, and you might find a few other little gems along the way. Perarasu (writer/director) has made a movie of two halves that doesn’t quite succeed in being a cohesive entertainment and is a bit too long. But likeable stars, some excellent action scenes, vigorous dances and a commitment to always choosing the silliest solution help the time pass pleasantly enough.

Vijay is the hero, Sivakasi. The police are largely useless against local thugs and he looks after the shop owners and residents of his area. His every gesture is underlined by a sound effect, he wears hideously embellished trousers and his eyes turn red whenever he is enraged.

In case that isn’t enough, a colour effect often emphasises the many (bad) moods of Sivakasi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perarasu also introduces himself by way of introducing Sivakasi, which amused me greatly (as did the spelling).

Sivakasi spends a lot of time blow-torching the same piece of perforated metal sheet so I am not sure how successful his business was. I suspect he was on commission at a local glazier as the number of window panes broken in fight scenes was HUGE. The character of Sivakasi is self-righteous and inflexible, and I could understand why he was single and stuck with a comedy gang as his only close friends. Vijay is good as a boyish prankster but once he has to deliver more serious dialogues, he is a bit lightweight and tends to overact in compensation. I can’t help comparing him with the other baby-faced killer in South Indian films and he just doesn’t stack up. But he is brilliant in the physical scenes, whether fights or dancing, and that is where I can more readily understand his star appeal.

Asin is Hema, the rich girl who sees no need to feel bad about being rich. She takes on Sivakasi at his own game. It’s a Tamil film with a big name hero so there was no danger of the story being skewed by her perspective but I enjoyed watching her challenge the hero.

Sivakasi told Hema off for dressing skanky and western and said if she wore a sari men would treat her like the goddess Laxmi rather than trying to cop a feel. So when she arrives in a sari with a gang of sari-clad aunties and hijras, Hema calls his bluff.

Hema is a smart girl with a good heart and a healthy dose of mischief so she is not overwhelmed by the domineering Sivakasi. Asin more or less holds her own in the dancing too, going for maximum energy and not overly concerned with technique. She is a good counter to Vijay in all regards.

Her romantic song fantasy puts Vijay in a vintage pink suit so perhaps she has a more vengeful streak than was immediately apparent. I don’t like the female vocals at all in that song (Deepavali), but the dancing is fun.

The relationship between Hema and Sivakasi starts as a cartoonish battle of the sexes, with each trying to put the other in their rightful place. It is fun but goes on longer than it needed to. Eventually the two declare their feelings but Sivakasi’s pride and temper keep getting in the way. Finding out he is an orphan, Hema accuses him of not knowing how to be a decent person as orphans can never understand love or affection. He then tells her his tragic backstory. Sivakasi chose his alias based on a horrible incident in his past, but he is really Muthappa, estranged from his well-off family. Hema says she can’t possibly marry someone who would desert his responsibilities over such an issue as it is likely he would do the same to her. She will only accept him if his family come to make an offer, showing that he has mended those fences.

And this is where the story takes a turn into flashback and revenge. Rather than just turning up at home, establishing his identity and setting things to rights, Muthappa embarks on a long and complex series of  manipulations.

It becomes a bit tedious but there are some highlights. Prakash Raj is in good form as evil older brother Udayappa and sports a pleasing array of colourful shiny shirts. He is a local politician/industrialist/landlord/standover merchant. Some of Muthappa’s shenanigans work quite well. Having found a bunch of vintage film star impersonators to support his sister, Muthappa discovers Udayappa has one-upped him and hired Nayantara (as herself)  for his rally. She ends up lured into a dance-off with Vijay, which is actually one of his more practical schemes.

Muthappa isn’t really that much better a person than Udayappa when you get down to it. He manipulates his sister to ensure her election win – reprehensible behaviour, but it does produce one of my favourite campaign images.

There is a large support cast but they made little impression as the action is all about Sivakasi/Muthappa. No one really goes beyond the stereotype of crying Ma, suffering wife, comedy sidekick, bad guy, poor but honest villager etc, so they could have been played by anyone. Lakshana as Muthappa’s sister had the outline of an interesting character as the wronged woman turned politician, but true to the mass hero style everything was handled by her brother.

Hema and the Chennai gang turn up to see Muthappa, drawing all the storylines into one place. The stakes escalate as there are abundant hostages for the taking and the unscrupulous methods of both sides come to light. But there is nothing that can’t be fixed with an all in brawl or a group hug. There is little substance to any of the characters or the situations, despite all the dramatics. I found the ending neat but unsatisfying and I think that sums up the movie.

The songs (by Srikanth Deva) are what I expected – upbeat, loud, with colourful picturisations and flat-out dancing in exuberant mass filmi style. I must compliment the backing dancers, especially the guys. They are great fun and really enhance the dances with their facial expressions and uninhibited prancing. I particularly like this song, which is Muthappa’s romantic fantasy about Hema and again demonstrates his terrible taste in clothes.

Speaking of clothes, when I saw this film something niggled away at my mind. And then it hit me. I know plots and songs get recycled – but costumes?

Vijay has at least 2 costumes very similar to those worn by Bunny in and as Bunny in the song Bunny – the red & white ensemble and the silver and yellow number. Surely there are enough costume designers to ensure a rich and varied wardrobe for all?

Perarasu also made the dreadful Thirupaachi – I made Heather buy me lunch as compensation for forcing me to watch it – so I had low expectations when I watched Sivakasi and I was pleasantly surprised. Vijay and Asin are likeable and Sivakasi is more light and cartoonish than the usual gloom and nastiness common in Tamil romance films. 3 stars!

Heather says: I first saw the opening song for Sivakasi on a bus in Tamil Nadu with the local health workers singing and dancing along which at least partly contributes to why I like this film.  Then I bought a song DVD featuring Vijay in that awesome pink suit which was enough of a reason for me to sit down and watch the entire film, even if none of his other outfits in the movie come close to matching it.   Sivakasi is a typical mass entertainer to Vijay’s well-tested and regular formula, but since that formula does work well for him it’s worth a watch.  The first half really is all about the comedy and is a bit more hit and miss, although I do like the way Hema takes on Sivakasi’s prejudices and at least attempts to stand up for herself before the inevitable declaration of love.  When the action takes over in the second half the film gets much better and no-one can beat Prakash Raj when he fully embraces the evil villain character.  I also liked Lakshana as Sivakasi’s sister, both for her performance and the rather better than usual way her character is used, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen her in any other films.  I do get a little annoyed by the alternate mild violence towards women followed by the worshipping of mothers in this film, but it’s all so cartoonish that a mild irritation is the most I can feel.  The dancing is excellent even if sometimes the choreography is less so and the Vijay-Asin combination works well considering they don’t actually spend a lot of time together.  Even though every character is painted with very broad strokes it’s still an entertaining film, and definitely better than Thirupaachi (I don’t think I’ll ever be forgiven for that one!). One of Vijay’s better efforts.  3 ½ stars.