Raja Rani (2013)

Raja Rani

I didn’t manage to see this in the cinema in Melbourne, but did manage to get a DVD copy with English subtitles.  Rather strangely it was also the only film they had on the bus in Tamil Nadu this year and I ended up watching the opening scenes over 10 times on the way to various villages in TN.  This added exposure gave me enough time to appreciate just how outlandish Nayanthara’s make-up looks, and just how uncomfortable Arya appears in his suit at the opening wedding which is a good precursor to how their relationship develops. In fact, the lead couple are rather uninspiring throughout this film – at least when paired with each other – but thankfully co-stars Jai, Santhanam and Nazriya Nazim are more appealing and their presence does make Raja Rani worth a one-time watch.

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The story starts with the arranged marriage of Regina (Nayanthara) and John (Arya) who are going through the matrimonial motions for the sake of their respective families.  Or so we are told.  Except as the film progresses this wedding seems to make less and less sense.  The couple obviously dislike each other and I cannot see why Regina’s relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan father would agree to marry her to someone like John.  He seems to have neither the requisite high flying job nor appropriate family background for such a match.  However, as completely random as it seems, and despite the lack of any reasonable explanation the wedding goes ahead even with the bride forgetting her prospective partner’s name and both parties complete lack of enthusiasm throughout the ceremony.

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It’s a match that seems doomed to end in divorce.  John spends his days at work and his nights drinking with his friends before returning home, usually to a locked door.  Regina hogs the bathroom, sobs into her pillow at night and generally ignores her husband as much as she can.  It all feels very unrealistic and overly dramatic – after all there is a large couch in the other room where Regina could sleep if she wanted, and surely John could organise a key to their apartment rather than sleep on the doorstep?  All the OTT drama makes it difficult to care about either John or Regina since they are equally obnoxious to each other, and I really had little interest in their relationship.  That’s not to say that Arya and Nayanthara are particularly terrible, but all Arya has to do in the first half hour is pretend to be drunk while Nayanthara doesn’t stop crying or complaining long enough to do anything remotely interesting either.

Thankfully there is relief in sight, but until we get there Santhanam lightens the atmosphere and is mildly amusing as John’s best friend Sarathy.

Finally there is an incident which prompts John to find out a little more about his wife.  There is some very dodgy medicine on display as Regina has an epileptic fit while her husband seems totally incapable of any sensible reaction, although he does eventually manage to call an ambulance.  Needless to say, despite all the thrashing around and foaming at the mouth (sigh – when will Tamil cinema consult a doctor for some plausible medical problems?) Regina manages to come through the whole episode with her make-up and eyelashes intact. That’s a relief!

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However, after being berated by her doctor for not knowing anything about his wife’s condition, John does discover the reason behind her ‘illness’.  Lost love – of course!

The film gets much better when we head to a flash-back to Regina’s first love, although to be fair this doesn’t have the best of beginnings either.  Jai is excellent as love interest Surya, an incompetent call centre employee, and finally there are some real emotions and reasons to empathise with one of the characters.  Regina is as obnoxious as before, but the role of spoilt rich brat suits her better when she’s a student and she does seem to be more tongue in cheek with her tantrums.  Sathyan makes an appearance as Surya’s friend Iyappan and his comedy shtick complements Jai’s weedy persona well enough to make a reasonably funny duo. Although the romance is typically filmy there is some chemistry between the two actors and while we can see the unhappy ending coming, Regina never does and is devastated by losing her first love.

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It turns out that John has his own sob story, and although it’s another predictable run of the mill tale, again it’s a more believable romance with good chemistry between the actors.  In particular Nazriya Nazim is scintillating as Keerthana and she is the best thing about the whole film.  She has an excellent introduction and her cheeky impishness lights up the screen whenever she appears.  She has much more personality and is much livelier than in Naiyaandi, which just goes to show the difference between a well written character and one that basically isn’t!

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Arya is also transformed into a younger, fitter John who is more personable and likeable, and again there is some reasonable chemistry between him and Keerthana.  It’s not all good though – Santhanam suffers under the burden of some terribly bad hair which seems to make him more pathetic and less amusing than in the first half, but it works out for the best as Nazriya has the comedy covered too.

The main problem I have with Raja Rani is that the relationship between John and Regina never generates any appeal or gives an opportunity to feel sympathetic towards the characters.  There are some interesting issues brought up  here but they are dealt with in a shallow and filmi way which results in a lack of connection between the characters and the audience.  There is no apparent reason for the couple’s actions towards each other, considering that they don’t appear to have met before the wedding, and it seems strange that they would behave so badly to each other right from the start.  The concept of an arranged marriage between two people who have both lost their first love has potential but Atlee wastes it by playing the relationship for laughs and never giving his characters a chance to behave like rational adults.  I found it incredibly frustrating to watch  Arya and Nayanthara appear so wooden and lifeless for most of their on-screen time together, when the difference was so obvious when Arya was partnered with Nazriya and Nayanthara with Jai.  A little more time spent on developing the relationship between Regina and John at the beginning along with a more adult treatment of their problems would have made this a more entertaining watch.  However I did enjoy seeing a better performance from Nazriya and I liked the idea behind the film, even if the execution didn’t quite live up to expectations.  3 ½ stars.Raja Rani

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Arrambam (2013)

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Arrambam is yet another Southern Indian film to use Mumbai as its backdrop, but really this action thriller could be set anywhere and still have the same impact.  Although there are a few Mumbai landmarks seen, the story is less about the location and more about the motivations behind the lead character’s quest for revenge, so despite Om Prakash’s excellent cinematography the background just isn’t important.  The action takes off immediately from the opening frames and there’s no time to take a breather until well into the second half. It’s fast, furious and best of all lots of fun as Ajith and Arya take on corruption in politics, the police force and basically just about everywhere!  There’s an excellent extended guest appearance from Rana Daggubati and even Nayanthara gets a chance to get in on the action and show off her ruthless side.  On the minus side, the songs aren’t too inspiring and there are a few gaping plot holes, but there is enough going on to make Arrambam an entertaining mass masala flick despite the lack of logic.

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The film opens with a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this latest terrorist.  The man they are looking for is Ashok Kumar (Ajith), who has an unusual recruitment scheme to enlist the help of computer expert Arjun (Arya).  Also involved in Ashok’s master plan are his sidekicks Maya (Nayanthara) and Mango (Krishna) who assist Ashok with kidnapping Arjun and forcing him to hack into a number of computer networks.

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Despite this rather inauspicious beginning, Arya’s character actually adds some light relief to the film, starting with a flashback sequence to explain why Ashok targeted him in the first place.  This features Arya heavily made up and wearing a fat suit as a stereotypical computer nerd at college.  Even with his daunting appearance and apparent flatulence, Arjun is still pretty popular due to his ability to hack into the college computer system and change grades as required for the other students. However when he encounters Anita (Taapsee Pannu) and decides that she is his soul mate, he’s inspired to exercise and loose the flab.

During a rather disconcerting song where a now trim and fit Arjun sprouts blue wings for no apparent reason, he manages to woo the girl and ends up heading to Mumbai for a job interview.  One which doesn’t turn out anything like the way he expected.  Arya still keeps the nerd mentality even though he’s updated his fitness levels and appears suitably geeky throughout while also managing to keep up with the action.  It’s helped by his choice of T-shirts, but he gets the attitude right and his lack of awareness of the world around him is absolutely classic. Taapsee is ditzy and rather shrill as his reporter girlfriend but thankfully she’s not on screen often enough to be too annoying.

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While Ashok keeps telling his various victims to ‘keep it simple’, he himself makes things incredibly complicated by kidnapping Arjun and using threats against Anita to force Arjun’s compliance.  The first half keeps the thrills coming as Arjun attempts to escape and inform Inspector Prakash about Ashok and his criminal activities while trying not to endanger his girlfriend.

But of course that’s only part of the story and the second half involves a long flashback where Ashok’s motives are explained and suddenly the tables are turned.  The fast pace of the first half isn’t maintained and the film slows down considerably in the second, but there are still some good action sequences including a shoot-out sequence with Ashok’s old partner Sanjay (Rana Daggubati) and a high speed boat chase in Dubai.

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Ajith is in his element here and writer/director Vishnu Vardhan has kept Ashok’s character deliberately ambivalent while making sure he has plenty of charisma and charm.  Ashok punctuates the end of his sentences by putting on his sunnies (which at least lets you know the conversation is over), and he is always über cool and classy despite his terrorist activities.  The relationship between Ajith and Arya also works well although the sequences with Rana and Ajith stand out as some of the best in the film.  The camaraderie between the two actors feels very genuine and it’s easy to believe that they are long term friends and partners with their teasing banter and rapport during police operations.

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While Taapsee really is the drama queen the corrupt Home Minister Rane (Mahesh Manjrekar) describes, many of the other female roles have a strong presence.  Nayanthara gets to threaten, bluster and fight in many of her scenes and does an excellent job, keeping her fight sequences realistic and looking suitably athletic to carry it all off, while Suman Ranganathan is also very good in her small role.  I’m always happy to see Atul Kulkarni pop up although his role as the chief of police doesn’t really give him much scope here, and the rest of the supporting cast are equally kept mainly in the background.  Although I like Yuvan Shankar Raja’s soundtrack, the songs don’t work well in the film mainly because they disrupt the flow of the story. The item song featuring Akshara Gowda is particularly painful and seems completely pointless since it really doesn’t suit her character of the home minister’s daughter at all.  I don’t think that such a fast paced action thriller needs any songs other than the background score but at least the Holi song had more energy and made a little more sense in the context of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Arrambam.  It’s fast paced, slick and stylish with plenty of action and I loved that one of the female characters was involved in the mayhem too. You go girl! The excitement and tension of the first half isn’t sustained through the second, but with Rana added in to the mix the action is still full on. Worth watching for Ajith and Arya as long as you can ignore the lack of logic and just sit back and enjoy the ride!

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