U turn (2016)

U turn

I loved Pawan Kumar’s last film Lucia so was disappointed to learn that U turn would release in Australia while I was overseas. However a combination of sell out shows and a Q and A session arranged with the director here in Melbourne meant that I finally got to see U turn this weekend – and had the benefit of hearing Pawan Kumar speak about the film too. A big thank you to Kannada Movies Melbourne for organising the event and to Pawan Kumar for braving the wintry Melbourne weather to share his film and his thought processes with the Australian audience.

And it was well worth the wait! More linear than Lucia, U turn is a tightly written thriller that lives up to its title, both visually and metaphorically, while building up the suspense in a cleverly plotted story that doesn’t unfold quite as expected.

The film follows rookie journalist Rachana (Shraddha Srinath) as she investigates a series of motor vehicle accidents on the Double Road Flyover in Bangalore. Looking for a story to make her own, Rachana uses a beggar who makes his home on the flyover to identify drivers and motorcyclists who move the concrete dividing blocks in the middle of the road to make an illegal U-turn, leaving the blocks lying in the path of oncoming traffic. Sounds fairly straightforward and perhaps more like a public safety video that the plot of a thriller, but that is one of the clever selling points of the film. This is a genuine problem that occurs every day, so instantly the audience can relate to Rachana and her attempts to publicise the issue. It helps too that the film follows one of these motorcyclists home and shows him to be a typical husband and father, perhaps not particularly pleasant, but not someone deliberately trying to cause an accident despite his actions on the flyover. This is a film set very much in the real world and it’s easy to relate to both the characters and the situations as a result. Well – OK, so the moving concrete blocks thing doesn’t happen in Australia – but I’ve definitely see this happen in India!

The opening scene establishes Rachana’s character and provides some basic background information as she takes her mother to the bus station in an auto-rickshaw, fending off questions about any possible marriage with the ease of frequent practice. The conversation paints a picture of a typical young Indian woman: she shares a modern city flat with a currently absent flat-mate, rides a scooter in to work and has ambitions to further her career in journalism. In fact as the film progresses everything about Rachana is down to earth and completely normal, including her awkward conversations with Aditya (Dilip Raj). Aditya is a crime reporter for the same newspaper who has been helping Rachana develop her journalism skills and she approaches him to also help with her investigation. Rachana has a bit of a crush on Aditya which seems to be reciprocated, and as the story develops, the two slowly fumble their way towards a possible relationship. It’s the small touches that make their romance feel very genuine, such as the tomboy Rachana putting on make-up and borrowing her flat-mate’s dressy red top for their date and Aditya’s tongue-tied silences in front of his work colleagues when the two meet at work.

It’s as much of a shock then to the audience as to Rachana when she is suddenly picked up by the police after the suspicious death of a motorcyclist she tried to interview for her story. The tension quickly rises as Rachana has no idea what is happening or why, and the belligerent attitude of the police and unrelenting rain add to the suspense. Luckily for Rachana the police officer charged with investigating her case is sympathetic and believes her story, although in the process he discovers something odd about the registration numbers she has collected. As Rachana and Sub-inspector Nayak (Roger Narayan) find out about more deaths associated with the flyover, each becomes more involved in the investigation – Nayak has some difficult decisions to make, while Rachana has to rescue first herself and then Aditya from becoming victims themselves.

This is such a good story and for the first half the suspense builds as Rachana and Nayak investigate the series of unexplained deaths. The rain is heavy and persistent, adding to the atmosphere and concealing exactly what is happening on the roads of Bangalore. The film does lose momentum somewhat in the second half as the clues start to come together perhaps a little too neatly and events become more improbable. However fine performances from all the cast ensure that the film is entertaining right to the end and despite the neat way everything falls into place the conclusion does seem fitting. Shraddha Srinath is excellent as Rachana and her reactions to the disturbing events that occur during her investigation are realistic and feel very genuine. She gets the mixture of confusion, shock and horror just right and adds enough curiosity and determination to make her character believable. I love that Pawan Kumar has made his protagonist female and given her the job of saving everyone without making her drop dead gorgeous, unrealistically reckless or super intelligent compared to everyone else. Rachana is an ordinary person who has to deal with a terrible situation as best she can, and she stays true to character throughout.

Roger Narayan too provides a good blend of human compassion, scepticism and investigative skills without ever appearing clichéd in his role as a police officer. Unlike many thrillers the police here aren’t given either incredible powers of deduction or amazing fighting skills to beat the truth out of their suspects, but instead appear as normal people – frightening at first when Rachana is initially interrogated but gradually evolving into distinct personalities with their own contributions to the investigation. Roger Narayan does a great job here and provides and engaging and interesting characterisation of a more sensitive than usual police officer.

Dilip Raj provides a good contrast to the intensity of the investigation with his slightly dishevelled appearance and bemused reaction as Rachana gets more and more distracted by her discoveries. He’s the thread that keeps the film anchored to reality as well as providing some stability for Rachana when everything else seems to be falling apart. Although he’s not onscreen very often, it’s an excellent performance from Dilip Raj and he seems very comfortable as Aditya. The rest of the cast are all good too, with Radhika Chetan suitably enigmatic as one of the accident victims and a strong performance from Krishna Hebbale as Nayak’s boss.

Pawan Kumar’s strength seems to be in writing realistic, everyday characters that react normally even when faced with extraordinary circumstances and putting them into a cracking good tale. In U turn he keeps the story simple but surrounds the main action with relevant events that add complexity without detracting from the main plot. Nothing seems to be wasted and no action is irrelevant as the story unfolds. His characters are all well developed and beautifully detailed, even when they only appear for a few moments onscreen, and as with Lucia there is such attention to detail that I know I will see more when I get a chance to see the film again. I thoroughly enjoyed U turn and recommend it as an exciting thriller that, although may not have the shocking ending I expected, still entertains with nary a dull moment in sight.

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RangiTaranga (2015)

RangiTaranga

Luckily RangiTaranga was so popular in Melbourne last weekend that they ran some extra screenings this Saturday, giving me the chance to see Anup Bhandari’s début film on the big screen. As an added benefit the film released with grammatically correct English subtitles (yay!), and with yet another full house and the option of samosas and tea at the interval, it was definitely well worth the trip out to Monash.  And it’s a good film too. RangiTaranga is a clever blend of horror and suspense with plenty of twists and unexpected plot turns that keep the film entertaining until the very last minute. It’s an excellent effort from a new director and mainly inexperienced lead cast, although they receive plenty of assistance from the very capable veteran support actors.

The film starts out similar to any classic horror story with a deserted road, driving rain and a lone pregnant woman in a car. Something half seen on the road causes an accident and as the eerie music starts it’s pretty much guaranteed that the lady in the car isn’t going to make it home to her frantic husband. Nothing grotesque is actually shown on camera but right away the atmosphere is set to creepily scary even after the film shifts to the present day and blue skies instead of a dark night.

Gautam (Nirup Bhandari) and Indu (Radhika Chetan) are expecting their first child, but Indu wants to go back to her ancestral village before the baby is born to fulfil a superstitious belief that this will stop the spirits ill-wishing her baby. Gautam rashly agrees to take her, even though Indu is 8 months pregnant and has previously suffered a miscarriage.  After all what can possibly go wrong? At the same time journalist Sandhya (Avantika Shetty) is trying to track down reclusive novelist Anashku and manages to discover his post office box address, which sets her off on his trail. Of course Gautam is Anashku which means eventually Sandhya follows Gautam and Indu along the same rain soaked lonely roads from the beginning of the film to reach the village of Kamarottu.

There are many strange incidents once Gautam and Indu reach the village and the reputedly haunted house that belonged to her family. The ‘ghost of the hills’ seems determined to terrify Indu and her reluctance to leave the house means few of the villagers have even seen her. This becomes a problem later on when Indu disappears and the police refuse to believe that she ever existed. Sandhya becomes involved in Gautam’s search for his missing wife but there are more mysteries than just Indu’s disappearance and not every clue ends up being relevant.  Gautam has the assistance of local postmaster Kalinga (Saikumar) and teacher Shankar (Ananth Velu) while Inspector Haadimani (Arvind Rao) does his best to discredit Gautam at every turn.

RangiTaranga succeeds because it has a well written story with many unexpected twists. I would have been lost a few times without the subtitles as the story gets ever more convoluted with every new revelation. And yet it all makes sense with all the subplots cleverly interlocking to form a complete whole by the end of the movie.

Despite their relative inexperience, or maybe because of it, the cast are all great too.  Nirup Bhandari is excellent as the ever more desperate husband while Avantika Shetty is nicely eccentric as the journalist who gets roped into the search for Indu. Gautam isn’t particularly heroic and never has to do anything too impossible which makes his actions plausible and relatively realistic, despite the supernatural theme. Like any good hero he doesn’t believe in the ghost but the very real fear for his wife and the increasing tension he experiences as his world falls apart is very well expressed. Thankfully Radhika Chetan’s Indu isn’t as terminally dumb as most horror heroines – she doesn’t go tearing off by herself or take ridiculous risks, which makes her terror more frightening and Radhika effectively portrays Indu’s distress and fear. There were times when I wished she would be just a little less brave, and I did jump quite a few times when Indu went hunting whatever it was that was making the odd noises rather than sensibly running for cover and waiting for Gautam to get home!

Saikumar has an important role as the postmaster of the village and his character is well written to take advantage of his support for Gautam and Indu, although there again, things may not be quite what they seem. It’s a perfect role for Saikumar and he is excellent, particularly later in the film, while the rest of the support cast are just as good in their various roles.

The film looks fantastic with the amazing colours in the Nee Kele Vaaduve song perfectly bringing to life the colour wave of Rangi Taranga. All the songs are excellent, although they do occur in quick succession in the second half and could have been a little better placed. B. Ajaneesh Loknath’s background score is very effective and maintains the mood of the film without ever getting too loud and intrusive. Another plus is the stunning cinematography from Lance Kaplan and William David with traditional costumes blending well with shots of beautiful countryside to provide an excellent contrast to the spooky shots inside the building or in the forest at night.  Basically it’s a complete package where everything works together to make RangiTaranga one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Definitely one to catch on the big screen if you can.