Thupparivaalan

Thupparivaalan

And he’s back! Mysskin has returned with a murder/mystery thriller which has more commercial elements than his previous films Yutham Sei and Anjathey, but still features plenty of his distinctive style. Thupparivaalan has more than a passing nod to the recent Sherlock Holmes films and Mysskin acknowledges these influences in his opening credits, but this is still a very Indian take on the detective genre. Vishal is excellent as the quirky investigator trying to solve the mystery of a dead dog, but Prasanna is just as good as the trusty sidekick, while the twists and turns of the story keep the film engaging right to the end. This still isn’t your standard mass fare despite some excellent fight scenes and the odd explosion or two, so expect to engage those little grey cells while enjoying the overall spectacle.

The film opens with a couple of quick deaths before switching to a frenetic Kaniyan Poongundran (Vishal) dashing around his apartment in a tizz as he hasn’t had an engrossing case for a while. Kani has a distinctive sense of style that extends from his fashion sense to the furnishing of his apartment. One wall is a huge bookshelf and there are copies of paintings by Vermeer and Degas that work their way into the narrative, while the wing chairs and comfy sofas evoke images of English country homes and roaring fireplaces. Kani himself doesn’t step outside without his cravat and jaunty cap, but it’s not just what he wears, but his movements and decisive walk that are part of his overall look. Kaniyan has principles too – he knocks back a huge fee for finding a businessman’s lost daughter as he reasons out what has happened and thinks the father will react badly to her return. Instead he accepts a commission from a young boy who brings his pocket-money to fund an investigation into the death of his pet dog.

It’s not long before Kani has linked the dead dog to the murders from the opening scenes, and along with his associate Manohar (Prasanna) he cajoles, bribes and deceives his way to the information he needs. Eventually the police invite him on to the case and with their help Kani and Mano start to find a more devious plot than they first imagined.

Mysskin still has an obsession with feet, and many of the shots are from ground level, but to add a new perspective, Kani has a height obsession and prefers to sit at the top of his bookcase ladder. As always with Mysskin films the staging and dressing of each scene are just as important as the protagonists and the action taking place. At one point Kani and Mano speak to Mrs Dhivakar (Simran) whose husband and young son were killed by a lightning strike and we see her in profile reflected in a mirror that’s reflected in a mirror and so on. It’s a poignant view of her pain that is very effective, and this is just one brief moment in a film filled with such insights. There are layers upon layers and I know it will take repeated viewings to pick up every detail Mysskin has managed to place throughout the movie.

There is a sort of romance too. Mano falls foul of some pickpockets in a subway that ends up with Kani taking them on as a kind of project. The eldest is Mallika (Anu Emmanuel) who is trying to look out for the rest of her siblings and protect them from an abusive uncle. In a shockingly brutal scene Kani employs Mallika as a housekeeper, and it’s hard to decide if her smile after being thrown to the floor is because she is accepting of the abuse or because she understands the implication of Kani’s strong reaction to her presence. However, Mallika’s green tea isn’t any more acceptable to Kani than Mano’s attempts and while Mallika obviously has feelings for Kani, he doesn’t reciprocate until it’s too late. Perhaps as compensation Mysskin adds a strong female character on the other side (Andrea Jeremiah), who is intolerant of harassment and perfectly capable of fighting her own battles, and for the most part Kani’s treatment of Mallika is no different to how he treats the rest of the world.

The villains in this case are a particularly nasty group of assassins for hire led by the uncompromising Devil (Vinay). Over breakfast it’s casually revealed that there is a body in the fridge, while Mysskin adds beautiful soaring violin music to a scene where Devil uses a chainsaw to dissect a corpse. I also wondered about the significance of Devil’s choice of beverage as coffee, which always appears drinkable, compared to Kani’s green tea which rarely seems acceptable. Such are the thoughts that go with any Mysskin film where every small detail may be important. Or possibly not – and that’s what keeps you hooked every time!

The gang’s actions are chilling, mainly due to the matter of fact and almost casual approach to their brutality, and their lack of emotion as they carry out their crimes. They kill a child with no apparent remorse, the death of Muthu (K. Bhagyaraj) is particularly grotesque and a scene that involves seppuku is frighteningly authentic. In contrast, Kani and Mano have a warm friendship despite Kani often racing ahead of Mano in the deductive process, and neither are afraid to make mistakes in their search for answers or become emotionally involved in the outcome.

The action too is well executed. There are a number of fight scenes that mainly feature hand to hand fighting but here again Mysskin veers away from the norm. In a restaurant brawl, none of the tables or chairs are broken despite the knife-wielding assassins being thrown around the room. Another in an abandoned room with hanging shreds of fabric is as beautiful as any choreographed ballet with clever use of the space. The final scenes though are gory enough for any SI film aficionado, but here too Mysskin ensures there is a puzzle that needs to be solved before we can reach the final climax.

The film focuses heavily on the lead pair of Vishal and Prasanna and they work brilliantly together – just as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional Holmes and Watson. Mysskin has caught the nuances of Holmes/Watson relationship perfectly here and the two actors buy into it superbly. There is emotion, comedy, drama and plenty of excitement as they work together, with Kani always that ten steps ahead of his friend. Vinay is an effective antagonist too, and he delivers an excellent performance as a heartless killer for hire. The rest of the cast, including such veterans as Jayaprakash and Thalaivasal Vijay, all fit well into their roles with John Vijay particularly good as the sleazy Kamalesh. Anu Emmanuel doesn’t have a big role to play but she manages to give her character a reasonable presence in the limited amount of screen time she has and generally does a good job. Everything else is as meticulously crafted as expected with excellent cinematography from Karthik Venkatraman showing a keen eye for the detail of each scene. There are no songs in the film but the background music from Arrol Corelli is evocative and fits well with the narrative without overpowering the action.

Thupparivaalan is an excellent return to form for Mysskin and I’m really hoping that it’s the start of a franchise of Kani and Mano films as recently reported. Although Vishal produced the film, this is definitely Mysskin’s show and he’s managed to deliver a rather more commercial film without losing any of his trademark style. This is stylish, clever and packed full of detail while still remaining a visual feast. I really enjoyed Thupparivaalan and thoroughly recommend watching for Vishal, Prasanna and trademark Mysskin style.

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Pa Paandi (aka Power Paandi)

Pa Paandi

I watched Dhanush’s directorial debut in Mumbai which meant no subtitles, but the story came across clearly despite a few dialogue heavy scenes. It’s a sweet tale about an older man and his quest for meaning in his life after his non-conventional ways annoy his son one too many times. There are a few overly sentimental moments, but the film succeeds thanks to excellent performances from all involved, a better than average soundtrack and the novel premise of a sexagenarian hero who still packs a punch!

Rajkiran is Paandian Pazhanisami aka Power Paandi, a retired film stuntmaster who has a shelf full of memories after working with the great heroes of Tamil cinema. I love that he is introduced in true filmi style and throughout the film his characterisation is similar to a typical modern day hero – this in spite of the fact that he is in his sixties and retired.

Paandi lives with his son, daughter-in-law and their two children, but unintentionally creates tension in their house with his activities in the neighbourhood. Paandi is a born meddler, whether it’s helping his young neighbours find true love or facing off with the local drug dealers, he can’t seem to help but get into trouble. His son Raghavan (Prasanna) prefers a quiet life and is constantly at odds with his father, prompting Paandi to remember similar incidents from Raghavan’s childhood. It’s a good illustration of how the power in their relationship has shifted over the years and how Raghavan now looks at his father as more irresponsible than his own children. However, for the most part Raghavan is tolerant of his busybody father although it’s clear he resents the extra work caused by his father’s attempts to ‘help’, while his wife does her best to keep the peace. The conflict between the generations is at times clichéd and overdone, but for all that there is a simple sincerity to the relationship, helped by the contrast in Paandi’s friendship with his young neighbour that bolsters the story in the first half.

For his part, Paandi is aware of how he frustrates his son and attempts to keep out of his hair by getting a job. His previous experience in the film industry leads him to try his hand at acting, with Gautham Menon providing a cameo as the exasperated film director trying to make Paandi to deliver his lines. Paandi then goes back to what he knows best and his success in an action scene allows him to relive the past glories of his youth. This is beautifully written to show just how much being appreciated, even in such a small way, means to Paandi. Here is an older man with plenty of experience and much to offer the world, but he has been made to feel irrelevant and unwanted by his family. When Paandi completes his sequence in one take, the accolades of the other stuntmen and the praise of the director (Stunt Silva) are all balm to Paandi’s ears and reaffirm his worth, despite his advanced years. Suddenly he has reason and meaning to his life again and the years drop away.

However, this success is short-lived, as Paandi cannot resist a fight with drug dealers that results in yet another trip to the police station and a more serious argument with Raghavan and Prema (Chaya Singh).  In the aftermath Paandi decides to leave on his treasured bike to search for something to bring meaning back into his life. A chance encounter with a group of similarly aged bikers on the road solidifies his quest into a search for his first love Poonthendral (Revathi).

Naturally there is the obligatory flashback to Paandi’s past – but despite the clichés the romance adds to the story and gives deeper dimension to the character of Paandi. Madonna Sebastian is charming as the young Poonthendral, while Dhanush’s young Paandi does seem exactly the sort of youth who will grow up to be the ageing hero of the first half. The romance is simply told, and it works well with good performances from all of the support cast including Vidyullekha Raman as Poonthendral’s cousin.

When the film moves back into the present day Dhanush seems to hit his stride as director, and the final scenes are well written and effectively filmed to ensure empathy with Paandi and Poonthendral. Revathi is wonderful here and gives her character poise and respectability with just a smidge of mischievousness that makes her instantly likeable. It’s inevitable that we want Paandi to succeed with his romance and there is only one ineptly placed fight in a car park that mars the final half of the film.

The best part of the film for me is the tongue-in-cheek approach to Paandi’s character as a modern-day hero. The usual filmi standards apply, so that Paandi is as quick to get into a fight as any other hero, and similarly with just one blow of his fist he can effortlessly knock the villains into the middle of next week. Rajkiran is excellent in the role and has plenty of charm and enthusiasm, making Paandi a likeable character despite his tendency to solve problems with his fists and his occasional naiveté. The mix of kind-hearted grandfather, lonely retiree, soul-searching wanderer and rejuvenated suitor is well blended with a natural progression that works well as the story develops. One of my favourite moments is after the reunion when Paandi messages Poonthendral on his phone while hiding under the bedclothes. The young man of the flashback is re-captured in that instant, but it’s the experienced older man who turns up on Poonthendral’s doorstep asking why she hasn’t replied.

There are some dips into obvious sentimentality as Dhanush pushes the lack of appreciation for elders by the younger generation, but for the most part he lets the characters just get on with the story. There is also a tendency for the first half to resemble a TV series rather than a movie, but these wrinkles are smoothly ironed out in the second half of the film and overall Dhanush has produced a good directorial début. Perhaps it’s a consequence of working with experienced actors, or possibly as an actor himself Dhanush knows how to get the best from his performers, but everyone here seems perfectly cast and the performances are all excellent. Even the two young actors Chavi and Raghavan are good in their roles and Rinson Simon is superb as Paandi’s young neighbour. The music is good too with Sean Roldan’s background score and songs fitting both the modern and the flashback sequences well.

Writing with Subramaniam Siva, Dhanush has produced a good masala blend with plenty of feel-good vibes for his first film. While technically the film has a few issues, the story works well and the choice of an older hero makes the film individual enough to rise above other romances. Worth watching for Rajkiran, Revathi and the premise that even at the age of 64 it is still possible to find your true-love.

Anjathey

Anjathey is just over 3 hours long, tends to veer occasionally into OTT melodrama and only has 3 songs, but still manages to enthral with some good performances from the cast, excellent camera work and an engrossing storyline. Director Mysskin takes a story about two friends and the wedge that drives them apart, and weaves it through a crime thriller without losing any of the intensity he creates in the opening scenes. Its slick, the pace is relentless but the main characters are still clearly drawn and each has a well-defined role to play in the drama. There is so much that is different about Anjathey that it’s annoying when a few clichés do creep in, and the film does suffer from an overly long climax. But despite these few flaws and a truly terrible wig worn by one of the villains, it’s an impressive film and did inspire me to seek out Mysskin’s other excellent movies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anjathey starts with shots of the sky and the characters only appear as brief glimpses from an odd angle while the action builds. It’s a different approach, one of many unusual camera angles used throughout the film, and helps to build the characters of the two men by contrasting the first appearance of Kripa (Ajmal Ameer) with that of his best friend Sathya (Narain) who is shot more conventionally. Although the two are both sons of policemen and live opposite each other in the same colony, the similarities end there. Kripa is dedicated to his dream of becoming a Sub-Inspector in the police force and to that end he trains and studies every day. Sathya on the other hand is a drifter with no real aim in life and is happy to spend his days lazing around drinking with his friends. Sathya’s father is not impressed by his son’s lack of ambition and constantly compares him unfavourably with Kripa, which does nothing to improve their already strained relationship. Finally after a very public dressing down at a temple festival, Sathya decides to prove his father wrong and applies for an SI position at the same time as his friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The different attitudes and personalities of the two friends are illustrated in the way they tackle the exam and interview; Kripa is tense and eager to excel, while Sathya is laid back and relaxed. He has already arranged for his influential uncle to ensure he gets a place and ultimately he has no real desire to be a police officer, so failure just means his father proves his point once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sathya is accepted as an SI, but Kripa fails the selection process which makes him resentful and bitter. To the dismay of his friends, he turns into a drunken layabout which in this film means a wild hairstyle and a tendency to abuse the local bar staff. Meanwhile Sathya discovers that he likes the deference he gets from the community in his new job and also enjoys the perks, although his early career of brawling hasn’t prepared him for the gruesome reality of life on the force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rather abrupt turnaround by Kripa is a little unconvincing given his early dedication and generally decent persona, but the gradual change is Sathya is well written and Narain portrays his growing pride in his uniform well. However this is also where those clichés start to appear, and Sathya quickly becomes a one man army capable of overcoming armed gangs of thugs with ease. Even more ridiculous is the ‘one by one’ attacking strategy employed by the gang when a concerted rush would have removed Sathya easily – how come the bad guys never know this? However the small details that show Sathya’s concern for his friend and his determination to become a good police officer go some way towards compensating for the filmi hero antics. The local police aren’t so much corrupt as lazy and their preference for the easy way doesn’t fit well with Sathya’s newly discovered ambition. But Sathya isn’t perfect either and the flaws and shading of his character are more in keeping with the realistic style of the film than his occasional forays into crime fighting superhero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, where Anjathey really excels is in the depiction of the criminal gang operating a kidnapping ring in Sathya’s area. The gang is strictly small time and there are no mega maniacal big boss scenes or ridiculous schemes to extort money. Daya and Logu, along with a couple of sidekicks, focus on kidnapping young girls who are kept unconscious in sacks before being ransomed back to their families. Their operation is basic but feasible and Prasanna as Daya makes a convincingly creepy villain. Full marks as well for managing to look menacing in that dreadful wig! The interactions between the characters are all very well written to give a sense of the different personalities and their very ordinariness makes their actions all the more chilling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandiarajan starts off well as Daya’s partner in crime Logu, but once the gang are on the run he becomes a whimpering coward and loses some of his credibility. Interestingly one of the other gang members is never shown in any detail and his face is never seen although he does appear frequently and has a major role to play in the gang. It’s one of the strengths of the film that the support cast have well written roles and create an impact even with their short time on-screen. ‘Bomb’ Ramesh who plays Sathya and Kripa’s friend Kuruvi deserves mention for his antics, but the old lady who helps Sathya with an injured man on the street and Vijayalakshmi who plays Kripa sister Uthra are all excellent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Kripa is recruited into their organisation it’s obvious that the film is going to end up with a show down between the two friends, but the journey to get there is kept engaging by the police operation to track down the kidnappers. It’s kept reasonably realistic and there are no overly dramatic shoot outs or suicidal rescue attempts to interfere with what becomes a serious police drama. And I do always appreciate a good white-board moment.

The liberal use of free camera does suit the suspense of the police drama, but Mysskin also uses some odd camera angles and unusual shots. One scene is filmed entirely at a few inches about the floor, and it’s rather bewildering until the last few seconds where with one of the character’s actions it suddenly makes sense. Not all of the techniques work however, and occasionally it feels as if the director was trying out a variety of different styles just to see how they would look rather than to create a specific effect. But the cinematography by Mahesh Muthuswami is excellent and there is good use of shadows and unconventional lighting techniques to add atmosphere and tension to the plot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are only three songs in the film and at least two of them seem superfluous. The story isn’t one that needed an item song, or even a romance, although the relationship between Sathya and Uthra is kept very much to the background. However I really like this song featuring the friends’ dancing in the pub and it fits well into the story.

Anjathey is a complex film that  sucessfully combines a number of themes. It’s a story of friendship, a thriller, a crime drama and also throws in a touch of romance. Overall it’s compelling viewing and I recommend it as an entertaining and rather different style of film from Kollywood. 3 ½ stars.