118

Poster

K.V. Guhan moves from DOP to director in this paranormal thriller starring Kalyan Ram and Nivetha Thomas. It’s fast-paced, to the extent that at times plot points feel rushed as K.V. Guhan packs a lot of story into the 2 hour runtime. This dilutes some of the tension, as do some rather gaping plot holes, but for the most part 118 is an entertaining and even occasionally surprising tale.

The film opens with the graphic and violent beating of a woman which is quickly revealed to be a dream so shocking that it wakes up investigative reporter Guatham (Kalyan Ram). The time on the clock is 1.18am so Gautham wipes his fevered brow and goes back to sleep before heading out the next morning on a jeep safari. He doesn’t appear to think any more about the dream, until 6 months later when he has exactly the same dream again, waking at the same time in the same room at the same resort. The room is #118, the time is again 1.18am and this time Gautham takes it as ‘a sign’. It’s never explicitly mentioned that this seems to be some sort of ghostly visitation – not even when Gautham tracks down other guests who stayed in the same room, but the implication is that this is an imprint of a horrible event rather than a foretelling of one that’s yet to come.

Gautham has a helpful police officer friend, courtesy of a big political money laundering scam he helped to bust previously. This lets him track phone calls and find out confidential information that he would never manage to elicit by himself. A missing girl in the same location eventually gives him the information to identify the woman in his dream as Aadya (Nivetha Thomas) and aided by his fiancée Medha (Shalini Pandey) and friend (Prabhas Sreenu) he starts to investigate what happened in room 118.

One of the problems I have with the film is that everything happens a little too easily for Gautham. As an investigative reporter, stories just seem to fall into his lap, and there are a few too many coincidences during his inquiries that lead him to various clues. He finds the site where in his dream he saw Aadya’s car being pushed off a cliff rather too conveniently, and then, without even stopping to consider the consequences, he jumps into the water to see if there is indeed a car at the bottom. And even though the police are aware of the missing persons cases, they don’t seem to be investigating at all, giving Gautham free rein to trample all over potential evidence and alert possible suspects at every turn. The villains too are rather clichéd, resorting to the usual threats, ineffective ambushes and intimidation by road rage. Their grand plan is also nonsensical and would never have had any chance of succeeding but then to be fair that does apply to most filmi villains.

There is also some very shonky pseudo-science as Gautham consults a ‘dream-doctor’ (Nasser) who helps him experience what he calls ‘lucid dreaming’ (which is an actual phenomenon, although not quite as described here) to help get to the bottom of his dream. This involves wires attached to his head (of course) and pretty pictures of neurones firing but is really just a way for Gautham to quickly find the answer without going through some more rigorous investigative processes. Nonetheless, it’s a novel approach and works reasonably well given the paranormal theme of the film.

Kalyan Ram is good as the man trying to get to the bottom of a nightmare and at least his job gives him most of the skills he needs to be able to track down clues. However, the speed at which he discovers key points doesn’t leave much room for character development since the film moves quickly from one action scene to the next. He manages to get across the idea that Gautham is a man dedicated to discovering the truth and does a good job with displaying various emotions as the details of the case some to light. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kalyan Ram in a lead role before, and he carries the movie easily with good screen presence and enough charisma to make Gautham a likeable hero.

Although she doesn’t have much screentime, Nivetha Thomas is excellent in a flash-back sequence that explains exactly what Aadya was doing and how she ended up in room 118. She has the best developed role since she gets some back story, plus she has morals and principles which are a sure sign she is going to suffer for them. She’s an accomplished actor and has a serene presence that helps to explain why Gautham is so passionate about finding out what actually happened to Aadya. I really liked her in Chaappa Kurish and she’s even better here where she gets to take on a meatier role.

Prabhas Sreenu is fairly subdued in his role as Gautham’s friend who’s always that step of two behind, but he fits well into the role and provides a good sounding board as required. However, I couldn’t see the point of the romantic track with Shalini Pandey or why it was necessary to add some scenes with Gautham’s mother (Geetha Bhascker) since neither contributed anything to the story. Both are absolutely fine in their small roles, but they had little to do and even less relevance to the story.

While there are some issues with the film, the overall story and the performances of Kalyan Ram and Nivetha Thomas make this worth a watch in the cinema. The story moves along quickly and although there are some clichéd ideas, the investigation itself is different enough to be interesting. I enjoyed watching this, and did even jump once or twice although I did also laugh a few times at some of the more ridiculous notions. The film is well made, it generally looks slick and polished and Shekar Chandra’s soundtrack is better than average although this is mainly background music as there is only one song. At only 2 hours this one feels short and snappy too. One to watch for Nivetha Thomas , Kalyan Ram and the novel puzzle he has to solve.

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Bhaagamathie


Anushka carries Ashok’s hodgepodge of horror and suspense, reinforcing her credentials as a leading actress. While the concept is good, the visuals are (mostly) impressive, and the cast is strong, the pacing is a little off and Ashok is heavy handed with the “twists”.

In an attempt to stymie man of the people Minister Eswar Prasad (Jayaram) in his path to the CM job, hard nosed Vaishnavi (Asha Sarath) and an ACP with convenient ethics (Murali Sharma) are told to get the dirt. Eswar’s former secretary, IAS officer Chanchala (Anushka), is serving time for killing her fiance who just happens to be the ACPs younger brother. She is taken from her cell for an unofficial interrogation and relocated to a decrepit old mansion in a spooky forest setting. What could possibly go wrong?

Chanchala and Vaishnavi play cat and mouse as Chanchala insists she is answering truthfully while not saying what Vaishnavi wants to hear. But after the interrogation sessions, Chanchala is confined to quarters with only the work of the VFX team to keep her company in the mouldering splendour of Bhaagamathie’s palatial home. And who is Bhaagamathie? Local legend says she is a demon, history may indicate she is a queen who trusted the wrong person, or is she just a figment of Chanchala’s imagination? Is Chanchala haunted, mad, or possessed? Murali Sharma (whose character name I forget) wants Chanchala dead and is quite happy to see her suffer at the hands of unknown possibly demonic tormentors. Comedy officers played by Prabhas Sreenu, Dhanraj and Vidyullekha Raman bumble around and add credence to Chanchala’s claims of supernatural goings on. What is really happening in that house? And if Chanchala is playing at being mad, what is her end game?

Anushka takes everything in stride and delivers a superb performance. Ashok throws in some Arundhati references, but Chanchala is a different woman. She is rational and curious, and goes looking for what caused that bump in the night. She knows the game the CBI is playing and will not perjure herself just for her own freedom. She is strong and ethical, and people maybe should have paid more attention to that facet of her character. Her fear and determination to survive are palpable. There are times where Chanchala seemed to be playing a game with her captors and I genuinely didn’t know what to believe, was she duplicitous, or you know, possessed and innocent. I was impatient to get back to Chanchala when she was not on screen. Whether you believe her condition is spiritual, psychological, or fraudulent, Anushka’s performance packs a wallop.

The supporting cast is strong but most of the roles are cookie-cutter and have no subtlety or sense of inner life. Jayaram is too good to be true as the people’s pick. Murali Sharma does well as the conflicted cop, but his character is written with little ambiguity so there is not much tension when it comes to crunch time. He does what the script needs, not so much what his character’s past actions might have indicated up to that point. Asha Sarath is strong and Vaishnavi is a good foil for Anushka but again, Vaishnavi is following the demands of the plot and sometimes they forget to write her brain into key scenes. It was nice when it made a come back. Unni Mukundan appears in several flashbacks as Shakthi, Chanchala’s murdered fiance. He was fine, but again his character was written to do things to fill a gap in the plot so he was limited with what he could bring to the table. Thalaivasal Vijay plays a character that surely had to be a reference to the doctor in Chandramukhi or Manichitrathazhu. And then he disappears, never to be mentioned again.

While the visual design is excellent and the atmosphere really works to add a sense of mystery and creepiness, Ashok messes up the pacing of some of the revelations and the logic doesn’t always bear scrutiny. He seems to prefer to show and tell and show again rather than assuming his audience has seen the same movies he has or that they can follow the breadcrumbs and reach their own conclusion. There are nods to Manichitrathazhu, Arundhati, the Usual Suspects, but not all are seamless or successful. The first half is all about building the supernatural element and reinforcing Chanchala’s status as a murderer. Then when she is finally removed from the scene after a night rich in incidents and mayhem, there is a sudden shift. The supposed revelations come one after the other and there is no time to absorb and reflect back on the prior events and reset your expectations before Ashok throws in another twist and shows all the details. But for all the surveillance technology and supposed experts observing via CCTV, nobody asked the same questions I was asking myself. A flaw in the writing, or was I really destined to be a highly successful filmi villain?

Thaman’s soundtrack is mostly confined to adding loud dramatic underscoring, just in case you didn’t realise you were supposed to be scared. Or maybe to let the audience know they should terminate their very loud phone conversation and pay attention to this bit coming up. In deference to this genre, there was only one duet and no big musical production numbers.

I enjoyed this for the way Ashok built his film world, and for Anushka tearing it up. I don’t think anyone could be genuinely completely surprised by the twists and turns but the journey is largely entertaining. With a couple of good minor “Boo!” scares into the bargain.

 

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham

Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham is the début film for Sai Dharam Tej and as to be expected for the launch of Tollywood’s latest hero, it’s a mass action adventure with plenty of comedy and a smidgeon of romance. Although there is a fine and distinguished support cast, the camera focuses mainly on the latest member of the mega family to make an appearance on the big screen, and Sai Dharam Tej succeeds in holding attention centre stage for the 2 hours and 12 minutes screen time.  Chiru’s nephew has inherited the mega-family dancing genes and more than a little of his uncle’s charisma, although for most of the film he reminds me of a Labrador puppy, boisterous, exuberant, and just needing a little bit more time to grow into his personality. It’s not an outstanding movie, but it’s perfectly fine for a debut, and director A.S. Ravi Kumar Chowdary delivers an entertaining hero-centric story that does have a few unexpected twists along the way.

The film begins in fairly traditional mode with two politicians, Gangaprasad (Sayaji Sjinde) and Prabhakar (Prakash Raj), vying with each other for the position of Chief Minister.  Gangaprasad is outed as corrupt by investigative journalist Shafi (Shafi), who seems content to announce such major news on an apparently relatively small TV network. Perhaps that is why Gangaprasad feels that no-one is likely to notice if Shafi disappears immediately after these revelations, and sends his tame thugs to dispose of the journalist and his wife. How could anyone be suspicious of the politician involved, if the journalist revealing corruption goes missing immediately after said revelations? Hm. Gangaprasad also orders the death of Siri (Regina Cassandra), which is the threat that starts the politician’s eventual downfall, although the reasons why her death is necessary aren’t explained until later in the story.

Maisamma (Jagapathi Babu), the rowdy sheeter (according to the subtitles – I have no idea what a rowdy sheeter actually is, but it seemed an adequate description) charged with carrying out these orders receives a visit from Seenu (Sai Dharam Tej) who asks to be killed by the gang. The explanation involves a flashback to the story of the romance between Siri and Seenu, but despite that being the ostensible reason for the whole charade, the romance is given short shrift overall. There is very little chemistry between the two actors, probably because in true college romance formula, Siri initially can’t stand Seenu and it takes some time for their relationship to develop. Once a couple, they also don’t spend much time together at all; not even in the songs, which are focused more on showcasing Sai Dharam Tej and his undeniable skills in that area. Needless to say, although he’s a rowdy with a penchant for dealing in death, Maisamma is reluctant to kill by polite request, and demands an explanation which forms a large part of the rest of the first half.

The tone of the story is set early on when Seenu breaks into dance to illustrate his romance with Seenu and the gang of rowdies join in. I loved this, partly because there is nothing more amusing than watching big tough guys try to dance, but also because they all look as if they are really enjoying themselves. So good to see these guys do more than just hang around looking grim and then being beaten into a pulp by the hero. The comedy continues with Maisamma’s right hand man, Raghu Babu who along with Prabhas Sreenu and Ahuti Prasad, provides most of the humour for the film. No sign of Brahmi or Ali, thankfully, and the comedy feels much fresher as a result, even though it’s mostly the usual slapstick and innuendo. Sathya Krishna is excellent and very funny in a small role as Raghu Babu’s wife, and demonstrates just why I think she deserves larger roles in more films.

The second half does drag a little as Seenu manipulates everyone into doing what he needs them to do, but overall it’s funny and there is just enough action to keep the film moving in the right direction. Part of the lull may be because the first three songs are over quickly in the first half, and of the remaining two, one is used over a fight scene. That does work well and is clever use of the track, but does mean there is less peppy dancing later in the film. However Jagapathi Babu and the rest of the support cast are excellent as they try to chase down Seenu and Siri, and along with Sai Dharam’s Tej’s enthusiasm the lulls are temporary.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the film is that Seenu isn’t a hero with amazing fighting skills, although he can fight when he has to, but rather he relies on his wits to get him out of trouble. Although his manipulations get ever more unrealistic and the comedy becomes improbable, Seenu has enough charm to carry it off. His dancing to Anoop Rubens excellent soundtrack is an advantage, and although he isn’t quite as smooth as his cousins, Sai Dharam Tej is definitely someone to look out for in the future. Regina Cassandra is also very good in a role that doesn’t give her too much scope, but she showcases a wide range of emotions effectively and looks to be capable of more. With an entertaining storyline, excellent support cast and likeable hero Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham is worth catching in the cinema for some good choreography and more than a few laughs.