2.0

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Shankar’s 2.0 is an amazing visual spectacle with incredible special effects and jaw-dropping action, but despite all the thousands of Rajinikanths, clouds of flying mobile phones and an unusually charismatic Akshay Kumar as the villain of the piece, it fails to fully impress due to a garbled and, at times, dull story. Not that the lack of a credible story really matters for a large-scale Superstar movie, but the transition between one incredible VFX scene to another really needed some sort of rationale to develop a relationship with the characters and bring in some suspense. And 2.0 just doesn’t have that connection. No matter how good Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar are in their roles, or how truly magnificent the visual effects are, at the end of the day for me the film needs a little more soul.

The film opens with mobile phones suddenly gaining a life of their own and zooming off into the sky all over Tamil Nadu. These opening sequences are excellent as Shankar shows just how pervasive mobile phone use is, including the moment when we see an entire family all staring at their phones just as the father announces that of course he spends quality time with his family. Everyone is here – those obsessed with taking selfies, people using their phone for work, for family connections, even one man using a mobile phone as a plaything for his child, and it for a time it seems that Shankar might be making a statement about overuse of mobile phones. But it’s not that simple.

Naturally Chennai is thrown into total chaos by the “great mobile phone disappearance” but the problems are only just beginning. A massive cloud of mobile phones transforms into a bird’s talons and starts ripping cell towers out of the ground, prominent mobile carrier company owners are attacked and a gigantic bird, formed out of mobile phones starts attacking people in the streets. This is seriously inventive stuff, and Shankar has allowed his imagination free rein to create magnificent visuals that really are spectacular, while the fast-paced action just never stops.

Dr Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) is aided this time round by an android called Nila (Amy Jackson) whose body proportions are reminiscent of a Barbie doll, but who does at least get the chance to show off her superhuman skills in the battle against the villain, Pakshi Rajan (Akshay Kumar). Pakshi Rajan is an eminent ornithologist who ends up suiciding after he fails in his attempts to stop the radiation from mobile phones killing off his beloved birds. Thanks to ‘negative energy’ and all those dead birds, he somehow transforms into an entity capable of animating mobile phones, and sets out to destroy the humans who have caused all the problems in the first place. There is a flashback sequence that paints Pakshi Rajan as an environmental hero with Akshay Kumar playing him as an old, broken man who wears baggy cardigans and weeps for a dead sparrow – so naturally he’s a more sympathetic character than the self-absorbed Dr Vaseegaran. And that’s part of the problem I have with the entire film. Dr Vaseegaran seems to simply want to bring Chitti back to life, and show off his new-fangled invention to save the day, while Pakshi Rajan has a legitimate issue and a real crusade that’s easy to support. So, when Chitti arrives on the scene, it actually appears that he’s fighting on the wrong side since Pakshi Rajan doesn’t come across as a bad guy until much later.

Thankfully when the 2.0 reboot Chitti takes over, his swagger and snappy dialogue helps lift the second half, ably helped by the excellent visuals and inventive ways that a cell phone can be used to kill. Pakshi Rajan develops a villain-worthy sneer and his casual disregard for the thousands of people who end up having to dodge bullets and large pieces of football stadium during the finale does start to make him seem a least a bit nastier. Team Chitti though has an equal disregard for bystanders and finally pulls a stunt with pigeons that’s even more vicious than all of Pakshi Rajan’s gory killings. That has the effect of making Pakshi Rajan actually seem more moral than Team Chitti despite his murderous tendencies. To try and compensate, the last scene makes some attempt to promote Pakshi Rajan’s cause while still chastising him for killing so many people, but it just doesn’t work, although the final action sequences are brilliantly done.

I’m not usually a fan of Akshay Kumar, but he is impressive here and he does an excellent job of humanising Pakshi Rajan and giving him an almost plausible reason to attack mobile phones. I also appreciated his bird-like mannerisms when he transforms into a giant birdman and his dedication to the role by using feathers for eyebrows. For the most part he simply screams at the camera in bird form, but during the flashback sequence he does display the demeanour and despair of a broken man very well.

Rajinikanth is on screen for most of the film in one or more of his different characters – Dr Vaseegaran, Chitti or 2.0. He is as charismatic as ever in every appearance, although Dr Vaseegaran is even more annoyingly self-absorbed here than he was in Endhiran. Despite playing a robot, as Chitti and his alter ego 2.0, Rajinikanth gets to display plenty of personality and each time he appears he brings life and energy to the screen. Thankfully the annoying Sana only appears as a whingey voice over the phone this time round, while the rest of the cast only appear briefly, either to be killed by Pakshi Rajan or as part of the government trying to cope with the crisis. Sudhanshu Pandey appears as Dhinendra Bohra, the son of Bohra from Endhiran, but this seems to be a real wasted opportunity and his character isn’t well utilised despite a promising start.

I’m not sure exactly what Shankar was trying to say here – if indeed he was trying to say anything at all. Could this be a film against mobile phones and the way they have come to take over our lives? Is there really an environmental message here about radiation and the dangers purportedly associated with cell towers? It’s all rather muddled and the emotional back-story for the villain doesn’t help matters either. However, as an all-out action adventure 2.0 works well enough. A.R. Rahman’s music is used sparingly throughout the film, although there is one montage song and a dance track over the end titles, which is fun. Thanks to Rekhs for the excellent subtitles (in yellow too, so very readable) and kudos to cinematographer Nirav Shah for making the regular shots just as good as the VFX. Yes, most of the money has been spent on the effects in this film, and little on the screenplay, but given the end result I’d say overall it’s money well spent. I didn’t see the 3-D version, but even in 2-D the effects are simply superb and for that alone the film really does need to be seen in the cinema. For the rest, Rajinikanth is excellent, Akshay Kumar totally nails being a murderous birdman, Amy Jackson does well as an animated robot, and best of all with this plot, no-one was using their cell-phone during the show. That’s definitely a win!

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Thalaivaa (2013)

Thalaivaa

Thalaivaa is the latest release for Vijay, and although it’s not as instantly entertaining as his last film Thuppakki, it’s still a mostly enjoyable watch.  Vijay is excellent (although he doesn’t tread any new ground), and impressive performances by Santhanam and Amala Paul add to the overall impact, but it’s really Sathyaraj who steals the show as the reluctant saviour of the people.  Thalaivaa is also the latest film to release here in Melbourne with English subtitles, and I can only hope that this trend will continue.  Thanks to the Powers That Be in Chennai who have finally started to distribute subtitled films to locations outside of the US and UK – please can you start on the smaller releases now too?

A.L. Vijay’s Thalaivaa is really a story of two halves.  It starts off with some political shenanigans in Mumbai which sets up the story for the rest of the film.  Ratnam (Nasser) is a political leader who is targeted by his opponents during a riot.  However he is saved, along with his young son by Ramadurai (Sathyaraj), who pays for his brief foray into politics when he himself is later ambushed and his wife killed.  Ramadurai hands his son over to Ratnam in the hope that he will have a better and safer life overseas, while Ramadurai stays and fights for the rights of the underprivileged Tamil people in Mumbai.  After such a serious and well-constructed beginning, the film suddenly changes direction completely as we move to Sydney where Viswa (Vijay) and his ‘brother’ Logu (Santhanam) are running a water bottling company.

ThalaivaaVijay and Santhanam

Although Viswa seems to be doing incredibly well with his small company given his expensive apartment with views of the bridge and waterfront, he also has ambitions to make the big time as a dancer.  The first half is light-hearted and there is plenty of humour as Viswa and Logu compete for the affections of Meera (Amala Paul), the daughter of one of their bottled water customers (Ponvannan).  Sydney provides a picturesque backdrop for the songs, although the entire dance competition storyline is very contrived and unrealistic, not that there is anything unusual in that. However the really dumb entrance by Meera chasing a CGI butterfly is offset by her feisty and assured character who even gets to show off her dancing skills and proves to be just as good as the guys.  Amala Paul is excellent as Meera and manages to create a believable personality with just a few scenes.  Sadly she has much less screen-time in the second half and her character becomes even more clichéd, but she does a good job with her limited material, and she looks stunning too.

ThalaivaaThalaivaa

Inevitably Meera and Viswa fall in love, but Meera’s father insists on meeting Ramadurai before the wedding can go ahead.  However Ramadurai is now Anna, an underworld figure who rules the slum areas of Mumbai and ensures his own brand of justice for his people.  As such, he’s wanted by the police, and Viswa’s arrival into Mumbai is a major headache for his father and his loyal followers.

Anna

There is an unexpected plot twist after Viswa lands in Mumbai and the film changes tack again into a more typical mass-style thriller with the expected chase sequences through back alleyways and eventual, rather predictable final showdown fight scene.  Viswa ends up taking over his father role and his transition from carefree dancer and small businessman to serious leader of the people isn’t well developed and seems rather too abrupt.   Abhimanyu Singh plays Viswa’s main rival Bhima and his character is also majorly underdeveloped despite a good starting premise.  I’d like to see Abhimanyu Singh do more than just flex and grimace at the camera as he seems to have done in his last few films, since he has played more nuanced characters in the past, and played them well too.  However, we don’t get any real depth from his character here and it makes absolutely no sense that the political power brokers decide to back such a demented thug with his wholesale plans of indiscriminate violence.  But back him they do, and despite a few unexpected twists, the story winds its way through the standard formula of good guy looking out for the welfare of the people vs. uncaring thug, only interested in power.

ThalaivaaThalaivaa

The second half drags in places as we tick off each point on the ‘standard Tamil thriller storyboard’, although there are some excellent scenes amid all the clichés which liven up proceeding again.  But its uneven and even the best efforts of Vijay, Santhanam and Sathyaraj can’t stop the feeling that we’ve seen all this before.

Thalaivaa

Still, the film is well shot by experienced cinematographer Nirav Shah with good use of the cityscape in Sydney, and equally good cinematography in the dock and slum areas of Mumbai.  The choreography is well suited to Vijay and Amala who share good chemistry together.  The songs by G. V. Prakash Kumar are generally catchy, apart from a more political song in the second half which could have been shorter.  Ragini Nandwani also puts in a good performance as a second love interest, and the rest of the cast provide able support to the main leads.ThalaivaaThalaivaa

Overall Thalaivaa is rather less than the sum of its parts, but there are enough individually good scenes along with polished and assured performances to make it mostly entertaining.  The story really needs to be sharper to offset the stereotypical characterisations but I still came away feeling that Thalaivaa is worth seeing on the big screen.  Watch for Sathyaraj, Vijay and those dance scenes around Darling Harbour and Circular Quay which really are excellent.

Vettai

After a lot of confusion about the date Vettai would actually release in Melbourne, the film finally made it onto a screen in one of the chain theatres on Saturday night. And it was well worth the wait! For anyone a little unsure, there are at least 3 reasons to see this film.

  1. Madhavan and Arya onscreen together (surely the perfect pairing!).
  2. English subtitles – even the songs (something that not even every Hindi film can manage).
  3. And the absolute winner – there are no comedy uncles!

It’s a really funny film with great one-liners but no separate comedy track since the humour comes from the two main leads. From some of their previous films I knew that both actors were good in comedic roles, but the two of them together make for some of the best and funniest comedy I’ve seen in a Tamil film. Add in two very strong female characters and an assortment of stalwarts in the support cast, and it all adds up to some great masala entertainment.

It’s a tale of two brothers. Madhavan is Thirumurthi, the elder of the two, and basically a wuss. He is upset by violence and is unable to stand up for himself in a fight. Luckily he has his younger brother Gurumurthi (Arya) to do this for him. No matter what the situation, Guru will come running to his rescue at the call of ‘Thambi’ but especially if it involves the chance to be involved in a major punch up. It’s a twist on the more usual story where the elder brother rescues the younger, and their relationship forms part of the comedy in the film. Although Madhavan could have played Thiru as a total coward, he makes him more timid and sensitive rather than just frightened, while Arya’s Guru is more caring and perceptive than first appearances would seem.

After the death of their father, Thiru allows himself to be ‘persuaded’ to become a police officer and thus follow in the family tradition. After his training, he is posted to Thoothukudi district where two gangs of rowdies are feuding with each other and generally terrorising the town. As the newest police officer, Thiru gets roped into dealing with Annachi (Ashutosh Rana) and Mari (Gaurav) although in reality it’s Guru who takes care of his assignments while Thiru basks in the praise of his fellow officers.

Sisters Vasanthi (Sameera Reddy) and Jayanthi (Amala Paul) are introduced by an excellent song where they discuss the ideal husband – no pencil thin moustaches and no big bushy historical ones either seems to be quite a reasonable requirement to me. It’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Nirav Shah and it’s great to have a song with just the two lead actresses by themselves. Vasanthi meets Guru after an incident in the street and despite their initial clashes Guru advises his brother that she would make him the ideal wife. Meanwhile Guru falls in love with the rather less acerbic Jayanthi although the two have to negotiate the obstacle of a potential NRI groom (Rajeev Ravindranathan) picked out by Vasanthi for her sister.

The second half is a little darker and the fight scenes become more intense and threatening as Annachi and Mari try everything they can to get rid of Thiru. Annachi attempts to terrorise Vasanthi which doesn’t work at all, and his next ploy to kidnap Guru and force Thiru into submission backfires as spectacularly as expected. The final showdown is brilliantly executed and it’s great to see the two heroines with important roles to play in the climax rather than being shuffled off or used solely as victims.

Although the story itself is fairly predictable and there are some rather large plot holes, overall Vettai is great fun. Madhavan and Arya have fantastic chemistry together as the on-screen brothers and both seem perfectly cast. Madhavan looks slightly over-weight and’ soft’ which befits his character although later on in the film he does buff up a bit as he starts to fight back. And yes, I did enjoy those scenes! Madhavan has some great expressions as he shows how flattered Thiru is by the respect he gets purely as a result of his uniform and contrasts it with his horror at the violence he sees around town. He gets it just right to make Thiru a sympathetic character rather than solely a figure of fun as he tries to dodge the rowdies and accept the lavish praise from his boss.  Nasser is hilarious here in a cameo role as Thiru’s over enthusiastic superior officer and makes the most of his short time onscreen.

Arya is literally a one-man army and looks amazing as he punches his way through entire gangs of rowdies, but still has time to rescue an injured dog. What style! He keeps his facial expression very deadpan during some of his funniest dialogues, but there is a gleam in his eye and he totally looks the part of the ultimate bad boy. He’s a force to be reckoned with in every respect. Guru’s protectiveness of his older brother is really very sweet and underneath the tough exterior it’s obvious that he really cares. The brothers’ relationship is very well written by Lingusamy, but it’s the performances that make it come to life and give the film such a solid base to build the story.

Sameera Reddy and Amala Paul are both very good in their roles. Sameera’s Vasanthi is a very strong and forceful character and she manages both the comedy and the drama equally well while establishing good chemistry with Madhavan. Amala Paul was very impressive in Mynaa (the only other film I’ve seen with her) and she’s equally good here. Her character has excellent rapport with Guru and there is plenty of sensuality in her portrayal without resorting to skimpy outfits. There is one song where she had Western clothes but the hemlines are kept reasonable and the outfits fairly respectable (by film standards at least!). Other than that, both sisters have some stunning outfits and look absolutely beautiful throughout.

I really like the songs by Yuvan Shankar Raja and they seem to suit the overall feel of the film. Sadly Madhavan really only dances in the first song, but Arya more than makes up for that with some great moves in the others.  Amala Paul just manages to keep up with him. The fight scenes are well choreographed, and although Ashutosh Rana isn’t a very villainous villain, his various side-kicks and henchmen are plenty vicious and nasty instead. Vettai is a film that balances the action, comedy and romance very well, and the star power of the leads makes it a step above a standard masala flick. I loved it and thoroughly recommend watching!