Traffic (2011)

Traffic

When it first released in 2011, Rajesh Pillai’s Traffic was hailed as a new genre in Malayalam cinema and one of the first so-called ‘New Generation’ films. Bobby and Sanjay’s story doesn’t have a traditional heroic-centric plot, but instead uses a collection of everyday characters and a combination of a non-linear first half with a more traditional road movie in the second to come up with a novel action/drama. Despite the more Western style, this is still a very Indian film with references to wide-spread corruption, the power of celebrity and the chaotic nature of the Indian road system at the heart of the story. Interestingly, the film is based on real-life events in Chennai which are referenced in the film, proving that real life is often more dramatic than fiction.

Traffic begins with a car crash, then goes back a few weeks to introduce the main characters and the events that lead to their presence at a particular crossroads at 8.50am on 16th September. First there is Siddharth Shankar (Rahman), a movie star who has little time for his family, wife Shruti (Lena) and daughter Priya (Namitha Pramod). Siddharth has people who do things for him and he expects his celebrity status to smooth his way through life which, for the most part, it does. At one point Siddharth is interviewed while his daughter and wife watch, rolling their eyes at his generic answers which suggest he is a devoted family man. But when Priya gives the interviewer questions to ask about herself, Siddharth obviously hasn’t a clue, stopping the shooting and asking Priya for the answer before repeating it on camera. It’s an excellent example of the disconnect between the actor and his family, and illustrates his complete unawareness of the chasm he has allowed to develop between them. It’s not so much arrogance as a simple belief that he is the most important person in any situation, so when later, Siddharth is attempting to throw his weight around and suddenly realises that here is a situation where all his star-power is useless, it’s a major shock to his ego. Particularly when combined with a few home-truths from his wife in a rousing dialogue where she finally points out his shortcomings and failures as a father. Shruti has some of the best dialogues in the film and Lena does an excellent job in portraying her emotional upheavals as the story unfolds.

Secondly there is Reehan (Vineeth Sreenivasan), who has just scored the job of a journalist at TV station Indiavision and is scheduled to interview Siddharth on the day of the accident. Reehan has some issues with his doctor father (Saikumar) but seems to be finally finding his place in the world with his new job. He has a girlfriend Aditi (Sandhya) who is looking for her second chance at happiness with Reehan. The two seem very much in love although her recently divorced status and different religion mean that Reehan hasn’t told his parents about their relationship. All in all, they are a regular family and their reactions when disaster strikes seem completely normal, even down to Reehan’s mother obsessively replaying the last video she took of her son before his big interview. That interview was rescheduled by Siddharth and to make it in time Reehan asks his friend Rajiv (Asif Ali) to take him in to the studio on the back of his bike. As a result, they both reach the intersection in time for the accident.

Dr Abel (Kunchacko Boban) is a cardiac surgeon driving to pick up a new car for his wife Shwetha’s (Remya Nambeesan) birthday. Abel seems happy and contented with his life, and it seems coincidence that his route to the car show room takes him along the road to the intersection where the accident occurs. It’s not until later in the film that events in the lead-up to the accident become significant and explain his subsequent actions as he escorts a donor heart from Kochi to Palakkad.

Finally, there is traffic policeman Sudevan (Sreenivasan) who is about to restart work after a suspension for taking a bribe. Ironically, he himself has to pay off an official to get his job back and Sudevan is exquisitely aware of the irony of his position. He initially took the bribe to pay for his daughter’s education, but is upset and disappointed that she has little time for her father, preferring to spend time with her friends. It’s a fairly typical teenage situation, but for Sudevan who is smarting under his suspension, her lack of empathy with his sacrifice cuts deep. Sudevan too is on the road at the time of the accident with his wife (Reena Basheer) on his bike, but Sudevan’s involvement comes later when he gets the chance to redeem his reputation if he can pull off the drive of his life.

After the accident one of the casualties is left in a coma and not expected to survive. There is an ethical dilemma to overcome as the victim’s heart may be transplanted and used to save a life, but only if the family agrees. Naturally, there is plenty of drama as the family want to wait until the very last minute, even though there is no hope for recovery. On the other hand, the doctors know that time is critical and they need an answer as soon as possible if they are to have any chance to donate the victim’s heart.

Then there is the issue of getting the heart from Kochi to Palakkad, a distance of 180km with only 2 hours to make the journey over congested roads. Police Commissioner Ajmal Nazar (Anoop Menon) has to weigh up the risks to his men as they attempt to reach the hospital in time with the benefit of saving a life and racking up some good PR for his department. In the end, it’s head surgeon Dr Simon D’Souza (Jose Prakash) who manages to convince the Commissioner that he has the choice to make history if he can accomplish the journey. Obviously, a convincing argument as Ajmal uses it on his men too, with the result that Sudevan steps up to drive the heart and Dr Abel to the hospital in Palakkad.

From here on it would seem to be smooth sailing, bar some excitement as the car tries to traverse roads that weren’t built for speed or easy overtaking. But there are more unresolved issues that mean the car goes AWOL en route and the final outcome remains in doubt almost up to the final frame. Rajesh Pillai succeeds in keeping the tension mounting with the search for the missing vehicle and continues to build suspense even after the car is found, as the delay means that they may not reach the hospital in time.

The hyperlink approach of the first half reveals snippets of each character, establishing some sense of their personality and giving an explanation of why they are on the road at the time of the accident. Jumping from one character to another also sets up the foundation for various links between the characters that are revealed as the story progresses. Despite the piecemeal approach, the relationships are all well-defined and the very normalness of the characters ensures they are relatable and generally understandable in their subsequent actions. In fact, the only part of the story that seems overly contrived is the reason for Sudevan and his vehicle to drop out of contact but that is balanced by the use of Siddharth’s star status to get his fans to help with clearing the roads – a nice touch that seems entirely plausible and works well as a result.

The road trip follows a more linear storyline with a relatively predictable path, although Rajesh Pillai does generate thrills by adding crowded streets and poor road conditions to the mix. There are some flashback sequences that break up the journey too and keep the story from dragging. However, the end is quite abrupt and sadly not all the stories get a conclusion, notably the fate of the young woman who caused the crash in the first place and the outcome for Dr Abel and his wife. However, the resolution for Siddharth and Sudevan is nicely done and the idea of redemption through being given a second chance is explored well. I also don’t think it’s necessary that all the stories are brought to a final conclusion – this is more of a brief snapshot into the lives of a group of strangers and as such not everything needs have a clear-cut ending.

The attention to detail in the parallel stories at the start ensures the film gets off to a good start and the good mix of believable drama, well-portrayed emotion and plausible action keeps it engaging throughout. It’s a major plus that so many of the women are strong characters- Shruti, Aditi (and yay that her divorced status isn’t a major issue, just part of her backstory) and Fathima Babu as Reehan’s mother. The rest of the cast are all excellent in their roles and the background music from Mejo Joseph and Samson Kottoor suits the screenplay well. There are only a few songs and while they aren’t terribly memorable themselves, they are used well in the narrative giving more insight into some of the relationships and characters. Subsequent films have further developed the New Generation genre but Traffic still has plenty to recommend it and well deserves its reputation as a trend-setter. 3 ½ stars.

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Mumbai Police (2013)

Mumbai Police

I’m a big fan of police procedural dramas and crime films in general, so naturally this 2013 film from Roshan Andrews made it onto my ‘must-watch’ list. And I’m happy to report that the film more than lived up to expectations, with a genuinely surprising ending and a good build-up of suspense along the way. It’s a difficult film to discuss without revealing crucial plot elements, particularly since those are partly what make this film so good, but I will do my best to discuss the film without getting too spoilerish.

The film starts with an accident that causes ACP Antony Moses (Prithviraj) to lose his memory. This is particularly inconvenient since he had just discovered the name of the criminal who had assassinated his friend ACP Aaryan John Jacob (Jayasurya) at an awards ceremony. Despite not remembering who he is, let alone anything of the crime, Police Commissioner Farhan Ashraf (Rahman) asks him to re-investigate the murder, presumably in an attempt to bring back Antony’s memory. Farhan is another friend and the tenuous link to the title of the film is that the three were collectively known as the Mumbai Police due to previous time spent together working in Mumabai. The friends had a reputation for drinking and carousing, particularly Antony who is now known by his nickname Rascal Moses, a label that seems to colour Antony’s reception by colleagues and suspects alike.

Antony has also been instructed not to let anyone know that he has lost his memory and as a result he makes a number of crucial errors in his first days back on the case. Not all of these relate to the investigation, such as his failure to recognise the Superintendent of Police, but he falters in his interactions with the rest of the investigating team who seem to suspect that something isn’t quite right.

Roshan Andrews uses flashbacks to the original investigation to show that pre- and post-accident Antony are two quite different people. Pre-accident Antony wasn’t a particularly nice character as he wasn’t averse to using force and various other dubious tactics to achieve his desired outcome. Post-accident Antony is quieter, more introspective, and seems to be genuinely interested in finding the actual culprit for his friend’s assassination rather than the first available scapegoat. Prithviraj does a great job of highlighting the differences by completely changing the physical mannerisms of the two Antony’s; changing his walk, stance and mannerisms to accentuate the difference. He’s helped by the physical signs of the accident but there is a distinct personality change too which makes Antony a fascinating character.  I kept waiting for a moment where he would remember his former life and revert back to mean and nasty, however post -accident Antony is quieter and more introspective, and seems constantly bemused as he struggles to come to grips with his memory loss. The reactions of Antony’s colleagues, particularly police constable Rakkhee (Aparna Nair), are used to provide more insight into his character both pre- and post-memory loss while Antony’s complete lack of emotion about his best friend’s death post-accident provides a good contrast to his passion and fire before he lost his memory. The greater objectivity should be a boon but instead seems to make Antony even more unsure of how to proceed and his colleagues find his lack of empathy odd. Antony has no recollection of his friendship with Aaryan and only knows that such a relationship existed because he has been told about it by Farhan. In fact, everything Antony currently knows about anything has come from Farhan and this leaves Antony suspicious and unsure of exactly what to believe – particularly when the evidence starts to point to a cover-up. It’s cleverly written to ensure that the audience really doesn’t know who to believe and who is covering for who, which further adds to the suspense and classic whodunnit flavour of the film.

Antony’s self-discovery proceeds in line with the police investigation and piece-by-piece the story is slowly revealed. There is an interesting side plot that involves tensions between the navy and the police force but overall writers Bobby and Sanjay keep to a fairly simple storyline focusing on the friendship between the three men and the investigation into the murder.

Just as the careful detailing of the investigation helps build tension, the sudden reveal of the killer and the reasons behind the murder make it even more surprising, even though re-watching shows that the clues were there all along. But then that’s just as they should be in any good detective story, and the smoke screen raised by the myriad other discoveries of the investigation is cleverly applied. The only thing that didn’t quite ring true for me was Antony’s reaction, which was just too overdone and rather too ingenuous to be convincing. However it’s a small quibble and the rest of the story more than makes up for Antony’s unrealistic response.

Technically the film looks fantastic and the background score by Gopi Sunder is effective in maintaining the desired atmosphere throughout. The performances are all well nuanced, as would be expected from such seasoned actors, but each has been well cast and fits their role perfectly. Mumbai Police is an engaging thriller which works mainly due to the gradual buildup of tension which flourishes due to Antony’s memory loss, and the ever present threat that the other shoe will drop and either the killer will come after Antony, or he will regain his memory and revert back to his old self.  Does either happen? You will need to watch to find out!

The film is entertaining for all the right reasons as Antony struggles to find both his past and the killer against a background of confusion and loss.  The ideal of the final revelation and the ultimate reason behind Aaryan’s death is excellent even if it is a little far-fetched, and the execution could have perhaps been a little better. It’s still a clever and honestly shocking conclusion.   I found Mumbai Police to be a slick, well-packaged and modern thriller that’s definitely well worth a watch for both the storyline and the actors who emphatically bring their roles to life. And you can’t ask for much better than that. 4½ stars.

Singham II (2013)

Singham IIDespite the promise of subtitles, Singham II turned out to be another ‘adventure without subtitles’ in Melbourne.  Possibly not such a bad thing as there was so much happening on-screen, I’m not sure that I would have had time to read them anyway.  However, director Hari keeps the basic plot the same with a dedicated cop determined to clean up Tamil Nadu and a number of characters from the original Singham reprise their roles.  The addition of Santhanam, Hansika and Mukesh Rishi among many others to the cast mainly adds more mayhem into an already packed storyline but although there is an apparently limitless cast of characters, it’s still Suriya’s movie all the way.  Singham II is relentless, overlong and frequently over dramatic but there are some excellent fight scenes and Durai Singham’s determination and energy help keep the film from dragging.

Singham IISingham II

 

 

 

 

 

There is a quick run through the significant moments of the first film, reminding us that Durai Singham (Suriya) had resigned his position and under the aegis of the Home Minister (Vijayakumar) was heading off undercover to Tutricorn charged with investigating arms smugglers in the area.  So after a run-of-the-mill item song with Anjali, the film starts with Durai Singham working as some sort of an instructor in a local school.  I’m not exactly sure what his role was but it seemed to involve students and a lot of marching but not much else, which at least gives Singham time to pursue his undercover mission.  He also indulges in a little investigation when one of the students breaks in to look at exam papers early.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a contact lens used as forensic evidence in a film and I really hope I see it again as I never realised you could learn so much from a discarded lens!

Meanwhile at night, Singham is scouring the shore looking for smugglers.  But since the local police seem to be in cahoots with the gangs he doesn’t have much success.  I was happy to see one of my favourite bad guys Rajendran pop up, especially since he spends most of his time manically unloading illegal goods from a ship and then hurriedly reloading it all again when he’s tipped off about the possible police presence.  He’s funny and yet still menacing, and employs a fighting style which seems to be all elbows and knees but is still surprisingly effective.

Singham IISingham IISingham II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kavya (Anushka) is still chasing after Singham and trying to organise their wedding which seems to have stalled since he gave up his role as a police officer.  However apart from appearing in the songs she doesn’t have much to do and trying to fit her into the storyline makes the film even longer.  Another unnecessary addition is Hansika as Sathya, a school student who is in love with Duria Singham.  Sathya stalks Singham, which could have been an interesting role reversal, but there never seems to be any point to her unrequited love.  Even her connection with one of the villains of the story isn’t played on to any great extent until near the end, although that could just be because I didn’t understand the dialogue.  Although Hansika looks much too old to be a school student, she is much better than usual and plays her role with restraint, but her character just doesn’t add anything to the story.

As if two romances and all the action wasn’t enough, Hari also adds in a number of comedy tracks featuring Santhanam and Vivek.  I found Vivek annoying in the first Singham, but he is more restrained here and doesn’t have as much screen time which makes him slightly more bearable. He’s also more of a genuine character with most of the one-liners seemingly given over to Santhanam who at least is very funny (even without understanding the dialogue) as the school caretaker Sussa.

Singham II

One of the main problems with Singham II is the sheer number of villains that Hari throws at his hero.  Bhai (Mukesh Rishi) is a smuggler and drug dealer who has a gang of accomplices that Singham has to wade his way through before he can get to the top man.  Similarly Thangaraj (Rahman) is a more sophisticated smuggler who uses his shipping company as a front but also has his own gang of thugs who need to be dealt with.   And finally there is their supplier Danny (Danny Sapani), an international drug dealer who spends most of his time sailing around the Indian Ocean indulging in various forms of vice.  This included killing a police man who was supposedly Australian but the dubbed accent was so bad that I didn’t even realise the actor was supposed to be speaking English!

Singham IISingham II

 

 

 

 

 

The inclusion of so many antagonists means that there are seemingly endless fights against different groups of thugs and never-ending schemes and counter schemes to deal with the gang leaders.  While Bhia, Thangaraj or Danny by themselves would have been effective enough, with all three the threads become entangled and the plot starts to get both confusing and repetitive. The comedy and romance even comes as a bit of relief from all the action!  The fight scenes though are well choreographed by Anal Arasu, with the best being also the most nonsensical when Singham throws away his gun in order to fight unarmed in the rain outside his parents’ house. It’s pretty stupid, but great fun!

Singham II

There isn’t too much ‘angry Singham’ in the first half, but after he puts his uniform back on, Singham gets progressively more and more enraged as he systematically sets up and destroys each of the gang leaders and their various minions.  It’s not as effective as in the first film because there isn’t the mutually antagonistic relationship between Singham and Prakash Raj’s Mayil Vaaganam which made their vitriolic exchanges so fiery.  However Suriya is still convincing and carries the film despite the long and overburdened storyline.  He does have good chemistry with Anushka and both look great together in the songs.  Although the music (Devi Sri Prasad) isn’t memorable, the choreography seems better than in the last few Suriya films and his dancing is excellent.

'Angry Singham'

There is just so much of everything in this movie and it does get rather wearing   Fewer villains and a harsher hand with the editing would make it much better but it’s still worth watching for Suriya, better than usual choreography and plenty of excellent fight scenes.