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.

Arrambam

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.

Arrambam

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!

Ajith boat

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Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati LP

Some films benefit from being firmly of the past. Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati is a 1969 ‘romance’ that relies on pestering and stalking to cement the main romantic pairing. Distance and the lens of ‘then’ make this less unpalatable for me than a modern film that still relies on these notions. Bhappi Sonie gathers a charming hero, a reprehensible villain, a great soundtrack, an appearance by Helen in an acting role, and a whole lot of ‘they did what?’ only in films logic, and somehow the result is fun and melodramatic.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Deepali and Ajit

Deepali (Babita) enters and loses a beauty competition. Ajit (Prem Chopra) consoles her with a smooth line or two, and decides he might quite like a rich, pretty wife. Unfortunately for him he has a girlfriend, Sherry (Helen), who is pregnant. Nothing a short sharp shove off a cliff can’t solve, although there is time for a club number first.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Prem ChopraEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Helen

Sherry is saved by Preetam (Shashi Kapoor) and his friends. After a spot of mistaken identity Preetam also meets and falls for Deepali but she is in love with Ajit. Preetam decides to irritate her into loving him. Normally I would find this objectionable but when the alternative is Prem Chopra, I think stalking is the lesser evil. Preetam and Deepali eventually get together but fate and Ajit intervene. Multiple mothers and the whiff of incest or faux-cest add another layer of complexity. And there is more Drama and Act!Ing!  in the last 15 minutes than many films contain in their full running time.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Secrets and MasEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Preetam

The denouement is interesting. Most of the deception is justified by referring to a mother’s feelings or a woman’s duty to another woman. Even Sherry forgives Ajit because, you know, that’s what women are meant to do. Sigh. No one seems overly concerned with common sense or with the fallout from their decisions. Rama and Kaushaliya did what they did because of their superior sensitivity and feminine intuition and are beyond criticism. Just as well Preetam was a bit of an airhead and unlikely to sustain lasting damage.  But I did appreciate the explicit endorsement of the mother who raised a child being as much a mother as the one who gave birth to the child.

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Confession: I don’t particularly care for Babita. She is in many films I have enjoyed immensely but she is never the reason for liking a movie. Deepali is a spirited girl yet she doesn’t really do much apart from snipe at Preetam and simper at Ajit so she isn’t any more than The Heroine. I liked her forthright style when putting Preetam back in his place though Deepali doesn’t seem spiteful.

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When Preetam behaves himself she is happy enough to have a conversation or accept his help, but she is clear that her love is for Ajit. Until it isn’t. Babita’s performance is hampered somewhat by the vast amount of frosty blue eyeshadow she wears, and she was at the mercy of a vengeful yet slapdash hairdresser.

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Shashi is perfect casting for Preetam. He ranges from lovelorn swooning to silly pranks and gets more Ma drama than you can poke a stick at. Preetam struck me as a more of a manchild than a determined stalker. He just couldn’t quite see how anyone could find him resistible and also wanted to assure himself he had tried all he could to get the girl.

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That he knew nothing about her to inspire this except what she looked like is beside the point. Shashi’s charm carries a lot of the story so if you don’t buy that, the first half of the film would be a struggle. Once things get more dramatic, Shashi emotes fiercely and often hilariously, and the pace accelerates towards the final showdown.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Deepali likes to cry

An urban middle class stalker romance doesn’t immediately hint at tribal shenanigans but since almost everyone is a keen hunter, we get a bonus comedy jungle interlude.

The gorgeous Laxmi Chhaya appears as a tribal princess, and is hooked up with Preetam’s bestie, perennial bachelor Ram Bharose (the sweetly daft Rajendranath) for her troubles. The support cast is rich with excellent character actors. Om Prakash is Deepali’s uncle who seems to be more in love with Preetam than she is, Dhumal plays the king of the jungle, Sudhir and Snehlata get substantial screen time despite having little to do with the main plot, Sulochana and Kamini Kaushal play Preetam’s mothers. Babita’s father, Hari Shivdasani, has a small role as a filmi doctor too.

I love everything about that song. I really like Kalyanji-Anandji’s tongue in cheek dramatic sensibility that plays beautifully with this very filmi drama. And Shashi’s muppety style works a treat with the bouncy Western infused dance music. I also like that we see Laxmi’s transformation into a groovy city chick in that song.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Shashi and Rajendranath

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati is a dated but entertaining muddle of romance and drama. The visuals are retro and stylish without being exceptional, and the performances are on a similar scale. See it if you like the appealing cast or have an interest in filmi medical ethics and philosophy. And if you don’t like regressive attitudes to the role of women, have a drink handy and warm up your eyerolling muscles. 3 ½ stars, mostly for Shashi and Helen.

Here, have a bonus screencap of Prem Chopra with a teacosy on his head.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Prem Chopra in a teacosy

Namak Halaal (1982)

There is no shortage of plot in Prakash Mehra’s Namak Halaal and yet, when you boil it down, not a lot really happens. It is by no means a great film, but I am inordinately fond of the excesses of masala story telling and I have a sneaking affection for this one. Released in 1982, it has a very 70s masala feel right down to the casting and music, with a touch of cartoon action and comedy. Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor star, supported by Waheeda Rehman, Smita Patil, Om Prakash and Parveen Babi.

Savitri (Waheeda Rehman) and Bhim Singh (Suresh Oberoi) are devoted to their employer, Sanyal (Kamal Kapoor). When Sanyal is killed by enemy Girdhar in an ambush, a dying Bhim Singh makes his wife promise to look after Sanyal’s son Raja even if it means losing their own boy, Arjun. It is a veeeeeery long deathbed speech with lots of detail. Savitri takes Arjun to his grandfather (Om Prakash) and the old man blames her for his son’s death. She cannot prove her innocence so leaves and agrees to stay out of Arjun’s life. Savitri is honest and a competent businesswoman and manages the hotel empire while Raja is educated abroad.

The adult Raja is played by Shashi Kapoor. Looking a bit old and tired for the playboy role, Shashi nevertheless makes a stylish entry via a downhill ski race assassination attempt.

The beanie is not a good look, especially compared with Bob Christo’s splendid headgear.

Meanwhile Arjun has been raised poor but honest in Lakhanpur. His grandfather despairs of Arjun being able to stand on his own feet once the old man passes on, so decides to send him to the city to make a man of him. Prakash Mehra posits a correlation between libido and intelligence that I found quite amusing – hopefully it was meant to be a joke! Arjun is simple but not stupid, and quickly takes the measure of those around him. Amitabh’s performance is the element that holds everything together. He gives as much nuance and conviction to the silliest dialogues as he does to the most dramatic moments. His physical comedy is a treat and even when scenes drag on far too long (e.g. a fly induced slapstick fight) he keeps me watching.

Mumbai being the vast metropolis it is, of course the same dozen or so people see each other everywhere. Thank heavens there are no actual bells that sound for every cosmic coincidence in the film or I would have been deafened. Arjun is helped by his friend Bhairon and via the classic Pag Ghungroo (mixing comedy, dancing and lyrics that give the club audience a dressing down), scores a job interview at a fancy hotel owned by Raja and managed by Girdhar’s son Ranjit (Ranjeet) who is out to kill Raja on daddy’s instructions.

Ranjit took very little persuasion to go to the dark side, but his outfits were very subdued, one of my few real disappointments in this film.

Raja has become convinced that Savitri is trying to kill him to inherit the family fortune. His bitterness is evident in cryptic dialogues and he tries to offend her at every turn. In contrast, Arjun is a happy, simple fellow whose life is good. Arjun is a loyal employee and quickly tumbles to the danger his boss is in.

Actually if you don’t already know what Namak Halaal means, you will by the end of the film it is said so often! He takes it upon himself to protect Raja.

Waheeda is elegant as ever, and she gives Savitri both backbone and presence. Savitri speaks up for herself and refuses to accept blame when she is not in the wrong, but is pragmatic about her ability to change anyone’s mind. It was odd seeing her as Shashi’s Ma when they are around the same age but she was far more convincing as Savitri than he was as Raja! The filmi principle that you can’t grow up to be a complete person without being raised by your birth mother is quite strange to me. I was really pleased to see Arjun stick up for Savitri when Raja dismissed her as not a ‘real’ mother.

Of course as soon as he finds out his mother is alive and who she is, his life is perfect and she insta-loves him back, but whatever. I did giggle a bit at his definition of maternal love.  Eventually even the very obtuse Raja forgives the blameless Savitri albeit for the flimsiest of reasons.

Poonam (Smita Patil) can’t resist Arjun and he is certainly smitten with her. She works at the hotel and lives alone with her blind brother, and I think feeling supported and having a laugh were probably the things missing in her life. Smita Patil is a good match for Amitabh and their characters are the most likeable in the film. They have issues, but after an initial jump to conclusions they talk things through and it seems so nice and sensible. Maybe that is just in comparison to everyone else. They share one of my all time favourite rain songs. I like the way their relationship plays out, Amitabh is so gleefully naughty, and the backdrop is like a mini-golf course version of Bombay. It’s just a delight. And Smita must have been in that rain for a while as the colour bleeding from her sari border is quite noticeable at some points.

Parveen Babi is terrible as Nisha, the femme fatale caught under the thumb of Girdhar. She has such a lovely face, but only one expression. The sparkly costumes display her figure to good effect but her dancing is awful. She has one of the best ever disco cabaret stages in Jawani Janeman and her sole contribution is to block the view of the sets.

As she is supposed to be a seductress it might have been nice if it looked like she had a pulse. But she and Shashi are well matched as both are at less than their best.

Om Prakash is his usual grandfatherly type here, and he does some not very funny comedy when he tries to surprise Arjun. It did result in the fun drunking song Thoda Si Jo Pee Lee but still, overall I could have done with less of Daddu and his woe-is-me-ing. The support cast includes Kamal Kapoor, Satyendra Kapoor, Suresh Oberoi, Viju Khote, Chandrashekhar, and Ram P Sethi all doing what they do. Tun Tun makes a brief but unforgettable appearance as a party guest.

Bappi Lahiri provided the music with Kishore Kumar in excellent singing form for Amitabh and Asha Bhosle adding fun and flirty vocals. It’s a fun soundtrack that works best in conjunction with the picturisations.

Beth kindly listed many of the insane goings on, so if you feel the need to do more research before jumping in do take a look at her review. Otherwise, just take the plunge! I can almost guarantee that you won’t have seen anything quite like this. 3 ½ stars!