K.G.F: Chapter 1

K.G.F: Chapter 1The first Kannada film I saw in a cinema was Ugramm, where I loved Prashanth Neel’s style and approach to story-telling, so it is reassuring that he has kept to a similar form for his latest epic KGF. The violence is bloody and excessive, the story ultra-masculine but with plenty of reference to the importance of mothers and the soundtrack is an important part of the film. But KGF has a grandeur and magnificence that comes with working with a larger budget and with a number of the Kannada industries top talent involved, KGF is an impressive venture indeed. There are a few issues, the lack of a decent female lead and some OTT and excessively dramatic dialogues for example, but Prashanth Neel has kept his eye firmly on the story, making KGF an excellent addition to the world of Kannada action cinema.

The film uses a framing device where TV journalist Deepa Hegde (Malavika Avinash) interviews ageing reporter Anand Ingalagi (Anant Nag) about his book, which was banned and burnt by the government of the time. Prime Minister Rimika Sen decreed that all mention of a certain ‘criminal’ should be wiped from history but Anand is prepared to share the story, although he jumps around in time which adds a non-linear aspect to the tale. In this way, Anand acts as a narrator of events, which span from 1951 to the present day and start with the seizure of land rich in gold by Suryavardhan (Ramesh Indira). Suryavardhan clears the land and establishes an illegal gold mine, worked by slaves and disguised as a limestone works. At the same time, local villager Saraswathi (Archana Jois) gives birth to a son she names Raja Krishappa Bairya who later becomes the infamous Rocky (Yash).

The story spans Rocky’s life from his birth to his infiltration of the mines in an attempt to assassinate Suryavardhan’s son Garuda (Ramachandra Raju). In between is the tale of Rocky’s rise to fame as a gangster in Mumbai and his desire to own ‘the world’ which eventually leads him into the gold mines. Along the way, Rocky has flashbacks to his childhood and to his mother’s words of advice which have helped to make him the man he has become. Since these are mainly words to make her son the richest and most aggressive man in India, they have stood Rocky well in his attempts to become the pre-eminent gangster in all of Mumbai. Rocky is a man who thinks nothing of killing anyone who stands in his way, often in the most bloody and gory ways possible. Luckily for our hero’s welfare, the thugs never manage to co-ordinate for more than two at a time to attack, and even when armed with guns they seem to forget how to aim to kill. However, I did appreciate stunt choreographer Anbariv’s goal of finding the most imaginative way to impale, garotte and otherwise dismember Rocky’s opponents – one of the best being with a handy anchor although Rocky’s prowess with a shovel was also superb!

Yash powers his way through his role as Rocky without ever demonstrating much emotion as the strong silent type who wades through rivers of gore to reach his objective. Although there are the flashbacks with his mother (featuring an excellent Anmol Vijay as the young Raja Krishnappa Bairya) and a rather uncharacteristic but brief romance with Reena (Srinidhi Shetty), for the most part Rocky is as stonyfaced as his nickname implies. However, to ensure that we know he’s not quite as much of a villain as his actions would suggest, Rocky is also shown to have a softer side, usually when faced with young mothers in extreme situations or when faced with gangs of poverty-stricken children. Nothing new or ground-breaking then, since this is typical Southern Indian hero behaviour, but it suits the character and storyline well, so there’s really no need to break the mould. 

The non-linearity of the story is one of its strengths and also works well to set up expectations for KGF:Part 2 as we are given tantalising glimpses into the next of Rocky’s adventures along with the puzzle of why the government decided to suppress his story with such assiduousness. Jumping around from the seventies (with flares and wide collars – love it!), where the action in the Kolar gold fields plays out, to adventures in Rocky’s youth explains much of his motivation and firmly establishes the other characters in the film. This is really helpful since there are multitudes of minor characters who are important to the story but who are all introduced quickly by Anand, making it difficult to remember who exactly is a gangster, who is a politician. And then decide if it even matters given they are all nasty pieces of work. This does allow for major complexity in Prashanth Neel’s world and he paints a grim picture indeed of corrupt politicians, lawless gangsters who have the police on their side and a poverty-stricken and joyless existence for the rest of the population. Into this dark world, it seems to make sense to inject some light by adding a romance, but the introduction of Reena with the usual stalking = love trope always feels like an add-on extra.

Reena is the daughter of Rajendra Desai (Laxman), one of Suryavardhan’s accomplices in the goldmine and as such she is portrayed as arrogant and heedless of the general population. Rocky sees her and is instantly smitten, following up his initial advances with some terribly cheesy dialogue while Reena does her best to let him know she isn’t interested. Until she sees his compassionate side, which is apparently enough to change her mind. Sigh. Srinidhi Shetty doesn’t have enough screen time to make any impression, but for the most part she too is fairly dour, grim-faced and like Rocky, prone to making declarative speeches. Rocky doesn’t have much dialogue at all, but when he does speak it’s generally overly dramatic and interspersed with plenty of threats and promises of violence. Even the minor characters rarely seem to speak normally to each other and instead there are bold announcements of bravery and threats of violence that do start to wear after a while. The narrative from Anand is in stark contrast and is more minimalistic and factual although this is occasionally confusing when characters are only briefly mentioned once.

Ravi Basrur and Tanishk Bagchi provide the music which suits the atmosphere of the film well. There is one introductory dance number with Yash which is appropriately exhilarating and an oddly placed dance number with Tamannaah, but for the most part the songs are used to help drive the narrative forward. Along with the soundtrack, they succeed in adding emotion and suspense to the film, and unlike Ugramm the music here is kept to a reasonable volume. Cinematographer Bhuvan Gowda keeps the film to grey and dark tones, and doesn’t have much opportunity to vary the colour palette, although scenes in the mine and at a temple ceremony are beautifully done to add red tones to the darkness. Kudos to the fashion designers for recreating the seventies in a relatively subdued fashion and not dressing the characters in ridiculous costumes. The sets and clothes are set in the right time period but not ostentatiously so, and as such don’t take away from the action unfolding onscreen. Kudos to the distributors for ensuring reasonably good subtitles, although the white text was often obscured by the background. Still very grateful to have Kannada films subtitled – even the songs!

KGF is basically another gangster action drama, but what lifts it above the rest is the sheer scale and complexity of the narrative along with standout performances from Yash and the literal cast of hundreds that add depth and texture to the plot. Be warned that the film is incredibly violent, and the fight scenes are frequent, fast and furious but they do fit the story and act to showcase a world that is brutal and uncaring. The story points out that power is the only thing that matters and Rocky’s power is that of his fists. Throughout, it’s those with power who dictate events, and Rocky is determined to control the gold and therefore the money, giving him all the power in the world. There is a lot to take in with the story but the mixture of fast-paced action and slower framing narrative works well to bring it all together. Overall Prashanth Neel has crafted a good story, told it well and pictured it beautifully to draw out the desolation and despair of the gold fields, and the gritty underworld in Mumbai. After all the excitement of Chapter 1, I’m definitely looking forward to Chapter 2!

KGF

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Ugramm (2014)

Ugramm

A new discovery this weekend – Kannada films are being shown in Melbourne!  I found out about the weekend screening of Ugramm thanks to a message from my Hindi group and Roopesh at Kannada Movies Melbourne.  What’s even better is the news that there are more Kannada releases planned for later on in the year, and if the crop of recent films from Bangalore are anything to go by, they will definitely be worth catching on the big screen.

Ugramm is an action thriller that released in India back in February and has since become a major hit for director Prashanth Neel and its stars Srimurali and Haripriya.  Interestingly for me, the film starts with the story of the reincarnation of Vishnu as the half-man, half-lion Narasimha and provides an explanation of the title, which the film website tells me means ‘momentous anger induced by a great period of tolerance’.  I appreciate that Kannada has one word that says all of that so simply and it does sum up the storyline quite handily too.

Ugramm

After the initial animated explanation there is more background as a young Agastya witnesses his father’s death at the hands of a gangster, and begins his friendship with another young boy, Bala.  At the same time Jai Jagadish (as the heroine’s father) is forced to leave India after exposing the smuggling and criminal activities of gang-leader turned politician Shivarudra Lingaiya (Avinash).  So having set the scene, it’s time for action!  And there is plenty of that.  The modern-day story starts when Nitya ((Haripriya) leaves her father in Sydney to visit her mother’s grave in India.  No sooner does she get off the plane, than gangsters intent on settling the old score with her father kidnap her.  Luckily for Nitya, Agastya (Srimurali) arrives just in the nick of time to rescue her, and ends up taking her home to stay with his mother – what else could he possibly do?

Ugramm

Naturally our hero Agastya is a one-man fighting machine, who knows how to hit his victims so that they go down hard and stay down.  The fight scenes against a succession of different gangsters are completely over the top, but they are well choreographed and Srimurali is suitably grim as the reluctant hero.  That’s the whole ‘momentous anger induced by a great period of tolerance’ bit. The body count is high as many faceless gangsters are repeatedly smashed to the ground to the accompaniment of loud and intrusive background music.  However, like similar scenes in most Telugu movies, the violence is a little too cartoonish to take seriously.  Best of all are the moments where the last few villains standing turn tail and run rather than face Agasta and his momentous anger.

Ugramm

Meanwhile, in between the fight scenes, Nitya has to learn how to cook while dealing with a way of life completely different to how she grew up.  Romance blossoms as Nitya gets instruction in the names of different vegetables from Agastya, and even persuades him to help her cook.  Although Haripriya’s role is relatively small, her character is better developed than most heroines, and she does get the chance to be more than just a pretty face.  Since her character was a girl raised in Sydney I was expecting some totally inappropriate wardrobe choices, but for a change the costume department got it just right.  Haripriya is also a lovely dancer, and I was particularly impressed by her ability to dance convincingly in flip-flops.  There are a few brief glimpse in this song.

There is a brief comedy track based on two other guys living in the house, but I didn’t quite understand exactly what their relationship was to Agastya and his mother, and no subtitles meant that most of it passed me by.  It must have been funny though, as the rest of the audience were laughing at their antics.

The second half moves away from the developing romance between Agastya and Nitya to explain Agastya’s past and how he ended up working as a mechanic and resisting fighting unless there is no other choice.  The fights here are more menacing and there are some genuinely disturbing scenes as gangsters wreak havoc on the locals in the town of Mughor.  There are a plethora of different gangs and they are all equably interchangeable, particularly since a pre-requisite for gang membership seems to be a bad eighties style perm, and an inability to see that attacking Agastya is bound to turn out badly.  Agastya’s youthful friend is another gangster Bala (Tilak Shekar) and the second half focuses on their relationship and the reasons why Agastya finally moved away and got out of the gangster business.

Ugramm

While the tale of a gangster redeemed is not particularly novel, Ugramm delivers a few new twists and overall the story is well told with excellent characterisations and good performances from the main leads.  The added complication of Nitya and her back story helps keep the story from being overcome by the action sequences and actually helps keep everything moving long.  The support actors are also impressive with Atul Kulkarni appearing briefly as  Shivarudra Lingaiya’s son Dheeraj (although I couldn’t quite understand the importance of his character), while Padmaja Rao is good as Agastya’s mother.

Ugramm

Although the background music is at times overwhelming, mainly because it is just too loud, the songs by Ravi Basrur are good and well-placed in the narrative to provide a breathing space from the high energy action scenes.  The film also looks amazing, perhaps not surprising since cinematography is by the well-known Ravi Varman, although the addition of black screens in between the action is distracting and does disrupt the flow at times.

Ugramm is a well made gangster film that does perhaps overdo the violence, but makes up for it with a good storyline, sharp editing and excellent performances.  Definitely well worth a watch for fans of the genre, although if you didn’t manage to catch it at the weekend here in Australia that will mean waiting for the DVD.  Unless of course the recently reported remakes in Telugu and Tamil release here first!