Maari 2

Balaji Mohan revisits the concept of the bad Don that everyone loves to hate, but this time gives the titular character a best friend and a heart of gold that unfortunately reduce Maari’s onscreen impact. The standard mass formula doesn’t help either and the story feels tired despite attempts to refresh it with Sai Pallavi as Maari’s love interest and Krishna Kulasekaran as bestie Kalai. Still, in terms of generic gangster flick it’s not totally terrible, and there are a few flashes of the ‘old Maari’ while Tovino Thomas is better than the script deserves as the film’s villain. Overall the film is entertaining enough for a one-time watch, but as a sequel Maari 2 doesn’t come close to matching the appeal of the original.

Maari 2 opens well with the 100thassignation attempt on Maari’s life after which the gang celebrate his continued survival in plenty of style with cake and a party. A few years have seemingly passed since the end of the first film, and Maari’s boss Velu has died, leaving the leadership of the gang open. This is where Balaji Mohan adds in the new character of Kalai (Krishna Kulasekaran), the son of Velu and Maari’s best friend since they were both kids. While everyone wants Maari to become the leader (which in itself is a major turnaround from the first film), he proposes Kalai takes charge while he remains in the background.

Maari is seen to be trying to do the right thing, even as he cracks the usual jokes and slaps around his henchmen, Sani (Robo Shankar) and Adithangi (Kalloori Vinoth). Despite the loud shirts, sunglasses and gold chains, this Maari is a totally different character, with one of the biggest changes being the attitudes of the people around him – the only people who hate him now are the rival gangs. Adding to this newfound popularity, Maari has a stalker in the form of auto driver Aanandhi (Sai Pallavi) who refuses to be put off her attempts to coerce Maari into a relationship, despite Maari’s truly appalling treatment. The reason for her devotion is revealed later in the film but appears simply as a blatant attempt to appear feminist-aware and completely misfires given the film’s general attitude towards women and Aanandhi in particular. 

Aanandhi states that she isn’t a “loosu ponnu”, but she veers uncomfortably close while her character initially appears mainly as a butt for numerous jokes. Although Aanandhi tries to give as good as she gets, she’s limited by her determination to make Maari fall in love with her, and as a result does look just like any typical mass film heroine. The hearty demeanour of the character and over-the-top attempts to gain Maari’s attention don’t work well either despite Sai Pallavi doing her best to make her character sympathetic. Where she does shine however is in the songs, and her dancing in Rowdy Baby in particular is simply superb. Her energy is amazing and she matches Dhanush step for step, in some parts even surpassing him for passion and commitment to the routine. Prabhu Deva provides the choreography and ensures that Rowdy Baby is the most memorable song of the film.

Tovino Thomas plays the villain Beeja, aka Thanathos. Although he is first seen in a prison cell, Beeja is portrayed as a more intellectual gangster, speaking in English and using the name of the Greek god of death as his alias. However, he’s still the crazy psychopath Tamil cinema loves to have as a mass villain, since he sports dreadlocks, a gold tooth and has scrawled the words “Kill Maari” all over the walls of his prison cell. No doubts at all then about his plans for the hero. Tovino Thomas is an accomplished actor, and in the first half of the film he does a better than average job of making Beeja a more menacing character than his overdone theatrical traits would suggest. Unfortunately, he is let down by the plodding dialogue and nonsensical storyline in the second half, while the final fight sequence doesn’t do much for either Tovino or Dhanush. The later channels his inner Salman Khan in a rather unnecessary shirtless fight scene, while Tovino’s character rolls over much too easily for someone who has made the death of his opponent his driving force for the last few years.  

Varalaxmi Sarathkumar makes yet another appearance as a respectable member of government, this time as IAS Officer Vijaya Chamundeswariin charge of law and order. It’s a role with a rather similar feel to her last appearance in Sarkar and she really only gets to look stern or concerned in roughly equal measures as she hunts for Maari as a potential witness. The rest of the support cast are fine in equally narrow roles, mostly reprising characters from the first film. Worth a mention is Aranthangi Nisha who has a small comedic role as one of the other auto-drivers also named Aanandhi. Most of the fight scenes are well choreographed by Stunt Silva, but there isn’t anything that stands out as particularly new or innovative. The music too from Yuvan Shankar Raja works well enough within the film, but apart from Rowdy Baby none of the songs are memorable after leaving the cinema. Om Prakash captures the colour and energy of Maari and his sidekicks and I did like his contrasts between the worlds of Maari and Beeja. Both are gangsters in the same area of Chennai, but Maari is always bright while Beeja revels in dark costumes and equally dark lighting.  

While there are a few flashes of the old Maari, for the most part he is a more considerate and thoughtful character this time round. This softening of the character is completed by the romance with Aanandhi and without the ‘gangster everyone loves to hate’ persona as a point of difference from other gangster flicks, Maari 2 is just another mass masala movie. Even Dhanush seems at times to be unsure exactly which role he is supposed to be playing as he switches between callous gangster, the infuriated target of Aanandhi’s advances, caring friend and concerned lover. It’s only in the first of these that Maari 2 really comes to life and these are without doubt the best parts of the film. Further déjà vu comes from numerous references to Rajinikanth films, particularly in the second half, and the overall unlikeliness of the story further reduces the impact of the film. However, if all that you want is a potboiler gangster story with plenty of fight scenes, some good comedy and the odd dance sequence then Maari 2 fulfils all of that and adds just a little bit more. 

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Dus Lakh (1966)

What happens when a vain and money hungry old man inherits millions? He alienates his family and hooks up with ne’er-do-wells who intend to part him from the money. Is this entertaining? Yes, surprisingly so. It’s the 60s so the design is of the more is more school, the songs are brought to life by Asha Bhosle and Rafi among others, and the cast is spot on. Devendra Goel keeps it all moving along despite the actors sometimes lapsing into melodramatic wallowing and scenery chewing.

Gokulchand (Om Prakash) is a widower, living comfortably with his married son and daughter-in-law (Ramesh Deo and Seema Deo), younger son (Sanjay Khan) and grandchildren (Master Ripple and Baby Sonia aka Neetu Singh). He is obsessed with money and feels that anyone else’s good fortune has somehow been at his expense. But finally his prayers are answered when his reviled brother dies and leaves him everything. Gokulchand tells Manohar to quit working, buys a big fancy house, and goes to a hill station to practice being rich and snobby. He meets Jerry (Pran!) and Dolly (Manorama), con artists who see him as easy pickings once they get his kids out of the picture. Is blood thicker than whisky and soda?

Om Prakash and Manorama get the bulk of screen time. While I have no patience with a vain, horny old man and his poor decision making I did quite like seeing the story develop around an older less glam pairing. But it is both funny and infuriating to see Gokulchand preening as Jerry and Dolly manipulate him so easily. Om Prakash is at his best when Gokulchand is very angry or very sad, and his moods permeate the whole family.

Dolly has a son, William (Brahmachari), to her Indian husband and a daughter, Kitty (Helen) to her English husband. Jerry fancies Kitty and money, Dolly likes booze and money, and Gokulchand takes to drinking and wearing shorty shorts like a duck to water. There is a lot made of English versus Indian manners and morals, with Dolly and Kitty representing the corrupting influence of Westernised women and Jerry as a Goan of convenient morality, and William as a simple lad who can’t afford long pants. Manorama does her usual shtick and her expressions are priceless. I really loathe Dolly as a character though, and not because she was a con. I allow that women had limited options and not everyone can be a builder’s labourer. But the way she pimped Kitty out was appalling, and William wasn’t treated much better.

Ramesh Deo and Seema Deo are charming as Manohar and Devki. Devki borrowed a diamond necklace from a friend to give to Rita as an engagement gift, promising to return it. Losing the necklace on top of being kicked out of the family home drove the little family to the brink. And while there was much agonising over loss of honour and standing, Manohar simply rolled up his sleeves and went to work as a labourer to make the money they needed. And so did Devki. I realised while watching the film again that their story reminded me a little of stories my Nan told me about how she and Poppy got through the Depression. I love a battler!

Manohar and Devki are too good to be true but even when the acting gets dialled up too many notches the actors stay connected to their characters and each other. Manohar slaps Devki in one scene but in context it was understandable while not being at all acceptable. And none of the bystanders held back on telling him off. So I was pleased to see the social rules in the film were anti wife-beating. They also had some really nice scenes talking about the family or their own relationship. And that is something that the film does well. People have to sort out their own problems, they need to talk about things, and then come up with a plan. And all that goes on in between everyone else erupting into dances, fights, and silly outfits.

Kishore (Sanjay Khan) is the youngest son, indulged by his older brother and sister-in-law, and the hope of his father. He’s an engineering student and like so many filmi heroes, appears to have been studying for a long long long time. He is in love with girl next door Rita (Babita). Rita seems to understand that Jerry is a crook and that Gokulchand is an idiot well before Kishore does. Kishore is both annoying and impractical without her influence. I don’t like Babita but he is a sap.

Rita is a bit of a drama queen and doesn’t mind a mock fight for the fun of making up afterwards. But essentially she is quite pragmatic and gets things done. When she sees an opportunity to get the necklace back, she bargains hard with Kitty. Rita did look like she’d rather lick a slug but she lets Jerry hold her hand and then executes her plan perfectly. Babita faced Helen in a dance-off and then again in a collaborative dance of pre-nuptial snark so I give her points for trying.

Kitty (Helen) is not happy at being raffled off like the meat tray at an RSL, but she can’t just up and leave her family so she treads a line. She steals the necklace from Jerry, which Dolly thinks is brilliant. Kitty agrees to help Rita in exchange for Rita winning Jerry’s dubious affections and thus freeing her up for a more salubrious affair with Kishore.

While the kids are crooks, they look out for each other and try to help Kishore as they know he is being unfairly accused. Her brother William is probably the most decent of this bunch. He might steal but he doesn’t like to lie. Kishore apologises to Kitty at one point for misleading her and while she is too quick to forgive, I liked that he still felt she deserved an apology despite the taint of association with Dolly and Jerry.

Pran plays the reprehensible Jerry for laughs, and the occasional flashes of menace don’t quite land. He speaks a Yoda-esque English, saying things like “Leave not father rich” and wears loud checked suits. His expressions are even less subtle than Manorama.

I realise this doesn’t sound all that entertaining or comedic. But if you know that the finale takes place during Gokulchand and Dolly’s wedding which is also a costume party complete with a man in a giraffe suit, Helen and Babita playing keepings off with a bag of money, a duel between Kishore and Jerry, and Manohar languishing in hospital being transfused with what looks like a bottle of tomato sauce, then all is indeed well that ends well.

I have a lot of affection for Dus Lakh despite feeling that watching a family torn apart because of greed is not comedy gold. Babita and Sanjay do nothing for me but luckily they are not the main event. See it for excellent use of Helen and a whole lot of decent character actors getting more than just a comedy subplot. 4 stars!

Anegan

Anegan

Somewhat ironically I had to wait until I got back to Australia to see KV Anand’s latest film despite spending the last few weeks in Tamil Nadu.  I was keen to see Dhanush in a triple role, since the trailer looked promising and three times as much Dhanush can only ever be a good thing! I also loved both Ko and Ayan, and was hopeful that Anegan would be a return to KV Anand’s earlier form after the disappointment of Maattrraan. And overall I wasn’t disappointed with Anegan. The first half is a little slow, and Dhanush’s really quite terrible wig in his first incarnation is rather distracting, but the second half is much better with an improvement in the main relationship and some good plot twists. Although the story doesn’t really get going until after the interval, catchy songs, some stunning visuals and an entertaining story make Anegan well worth a trip to the cinema.

Anegan opens in Burma of the early sixties and tells of a romance between a Tamil labourer Murugappa (Dhanush) and the daughter of a high-ranking official Samudhra (Amyra Dastur). It’s all fairly typical stuff, including a damsel in distress and daring rescue scene, secretive meetings in full public view and the stiff parental opposition you would expect. What never fails to amaze me is how young Dhanush can appear to be when required – a shave plus a bad wig and suddenly he looks sixteen. Here he appears younger than his co-star despite her giddy antics and plaited pig-tails, and maybe that’s why the romance never seems to sizzle. It’s not the best start for a love story that is supposed to be strong enough to span time and involve a number of reincarnations, but there is a sweet song and at least the lead pair look reasonably cute together. Naturally fate intervenes when the military coup forces most of the Tamil workers to leave Burma and Samudhra tries to escape her abusive family by tagging along with the general Indian exodus.  However Samudhra’s escape is foiled by Mallika (Aishwarya Devan) who is jealous of Samudhra’s relationship with Murugappa and things don’t end well for the star-crossed lovers.

Fast forward to the present day, where Madhu (Amyra Dastur again) is undergoing regression therapy to help her deal with the stress of her job in a large gaming company in Chennai.  The story of Murugappa and Samudhra is revealed to be her ‘memory’ of a past life and Madhu is convinced that the different incarnations of Murugappa she remembers mean that he is her soul-mate, and that they are destined to finally be together. The previous lives she remembers all have the two separating in quite horrible circumstances, generally involving murder and death, but this possible outcome doesn’t seem to worry her at all. Instead Madhu’s only concern seems to be that she hasn’t managed to meet her ‘soul-mate’ so far in her current lifetime.

Naturally that is remedied almost immediately and Madhu meets Ashwin (Dhansh again), an IT expert, also working for the same company. Yet again he’s from a lower class family but unlike Madhu, Ashwin has no memories of a past life and very little interest in Madhu other than as a work colleague. But soon event start repeating – Ashwin steps in to save Madhu from serious injury, and co-worker Meera (Aishwarya Devan again) is a potential rival for Ashwin’s affections, while Madhu is relentless in her pursuit of Ashwin as her long-lost love.

For most of the first half Madhu is erratic and completely annoying as she veers between bratty rich girl behaviour and total mental instability, although I put most of her crazy psychotic behaviour down to the drugs she is taking from her therapist mixed with the natural remedies from the family’s guru. Her attitude makes her a rather unlikeable character for most of the first half and her attempts to convince Ashwin that they are MFEO should have been enough to see him run for the hills. But instead he seems to suffer from a similar mental disorder and for no particular reason at all (unless it’s her inherited millions – which would at least make sense!) Ashwin decides that he’s in love with Madhu.

Thankfully Madhu becomes somewhat less irritating in the second half. The film moves back in time again while she relives her past life as Kalyani which turns out to be one of the best parts of the film. Perhaps the effect of the wigs wears off after prolonged exposure, but Dhanush’s Kaali is vibrant and likeable while Kalyani is less naïve than Amyra’s other incarnations, leading to some definite sparkage between the couple. The present day scenes also step up a pace in the second half as Ashwin and Madhu work with Commissioner Gopinath (Ashish Vidyarthi) to find out what happened to Kali and Kalyani and Madhu’s boss Ravikiran (Karthik) starts to take an interest in his employee’s mental deterioration. Dhanush is excellent throughout and makes his three separate characters (four if you include one who only appears in a song) quite distinctly different personalities. Murugappa is sweet and innocent, Kaali is a rough and tough rowdy with a heart of gold while Ashwin is the quintessential computer nerd, who still manages to fight like a pro, filmi style. Ashwin provides the thread that binds them all togther, but the most successful is Kaali, and Dhanush looks as if he is having the time of his life dancing and singing through the streets in a mesh singlet!

Anegan is a good blend of romance and action with a reasonable thriller element woven into the story, and generally strong characterisations. There are a few totally unrealistic moments, Madhu speeding through the traffic in Chennai is one (hah! nope – couldn’t happen in Chennai traffic!), and the attempts to make Ravikiran a hip and trendsetting boss fall rather flat, but mostly the screenplay from KV Anad and Subha works well.  Amyra is rather overshadowed by Dhanush and her theatrics in the opening scenes are particularly wearing, but she does improve as the film progresses. Aishwarya Devan is better is her small role  and it’s a shame she didn’t have a longer time on-screen. The rest of the supporting cast including Jagan as Ashwin’s friend and Mukesh Tiwari as Madhu’s uncle are all good, and Om Prakash ensures the film looks stunning with the scenes in Burma particularly well shot. Harris Jayaraj’s songs fit the film well and the background music is also excellent. Overall the film mixes plenty of action, comedy, suspense with the romance, and even if the story is fairly predictable the different incarnations of the lead characters ensure the story feels fresh and engaging. Anegan may not be quite in the same league as Ayan, but it’s definitely a large step in the right direction and well worth a watch –  and not just for the multiple incarnations of Dhanush!