Ranuva Veeran (1981)

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S.P Muthuraman’s 1981 epic is standard mass fare in terms of the story and style, but it did bring early-ish career Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi together as hero and villain respectively. I saw this on a dodgy unsubtitled print, and no one seems to have bothered with detailed cast lists and the like so I will mostly have to refer to characters by the actor’s name. And my usual “Adventures Without Subtitles” caveat applies – I probably made it all up!

Raghu (Rajinikanth) returns home after military service. He defeats thugs on a train, acquires a gun-obsessed child, and returns home only to find that his village has been preyed upon by bandits lead by a mysterious man with one eye (Chiranjeevi). Raghu uses a rousing training montage to equip the villagers to fight back, and tensions escalate. He also meets the lovely Bhumi (Sri Devi) and decides to make her life miserable with his approach to courtship. When Raghu finally slaps the creepy contact lens and fake beard right off Chiranjeevi’s head he realises the gang leader is in fact his old college friend. After faking an accident the gentlemen retire to a grove of trees and strike poses as they declaim their views on good and evil or plaid or something. They certainly are not the same boys who were bosom buddies. And even worse, Chiranjeevi is married to (or living in sin with) Raghu’s sister Ganga who is the mother of the gun toting tot. Raghu eventually manages to overact his way through the dramatic landscapes and to freedom. Chiru is unrepentant about his criminal life, barely blinks at his son being rehomed, and seems more motivated now his secret is out in the open. Bad guys being bad guys, he is still intent on one more heist and that leads to the knock down drag out finale.

Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth have a similar ability to inject a feeling of quality in even the silliest or most sketchy of roles. Every hero needs a strong adversary and their scenes together have dramatic impact even when things are beyond ridiculous. Both actors spend time frolicking under waterfalls, with varying results. There is a real sense of personal animosity and betrayal in their confrontations. And karate!

Sri Devi gets the rough end of the pineapple with almost no nuance to her role and the burden of steering Rajini around in the dances. Plus perching on a giant Vat 69 bottle as it revolved looked quite scary.

Rajinikanth is the typically righteous and capable hero and seems to relish the mass dramatics. He is laconic but charismatic, and his chemistry with Chiranjeevi is great. His rapport with Sri Devi is less natural but they do have some scenes where neither of them is shouting or threatening the other, and those do work quite nicely.

My favourite action sequence has Rajini kind of mummified and stolen from hospital by Chiru who thinks it is his badly burned goon. But Chiru is not fooled and pours petrol over Rajini…Anyway, the suit morphs from mummy to Ninja to fireproof welding hood and the stunt body in the suit also morphs a bit. It’s a fun and fiery sequence! And did I mention the dancing and the karate?

Chiru makes a big entrance as he tries to evade an entire state’s worth of police. He has a glassy blue eye, and a striking purple suit that I would not have chosen if I was trying to look inconspicuous. But where was he hiding the grenade? Chiru tries to extort money from the mill owner, but Raghu hires security, who work for Chiru and it’s all so much more complicated than it needs to be.

I am not sure but suspect that the gimp masks on the hired goons might not be enough of a disguise in a small community. Look, I really don’t know where Chiru is hiding his grenades but if it’s where I think it is, he is brave and not counting on having any more children.

Raghu interrupts a cockfight run by Bhumi (Sri Devi), getting a cock drunk so it wins. How dare women think they can win at a manly man’s sport like letting a chicken kill another chicken. Bhumi may be silly and loud but Raghu is so mean to her, apparently because she is strong, independent, and her spirit must be crushed so she can settle for him. In another scene Rajini throws sarees at the men who hid from a gang, which is again quite unfair on women who tolerate enough pain to keep popping out babies and putting up with their husbands. It’s not a forward thinking feminist film by any means. Sri Devi wears clothes that are far too small and minus  a chunni in that universal filmi sign of “simple to the point of checking for head injuries”, and screeches a lot.

Bhumi absolutely scandalises Raghu’s family who are quite stitched up, but Raghu is more egalitarian so I did like his complete lack of judging her on her caste or status. Sri Devi’s scenes were an uneven mix of slap happy confrontations and slapstick comedy, but she is charming in a shrill and chicken obsessed way. And someone had to know what to do in the big musical numbers.

Raghu’s family show a dedication to overacting that thankfully failed to manifest in him. The boy Iqbal is shrill and annoying, and reactions to him highlight the differences between the father (Poornam Vishwanathan) and Raghu especially where religion and social welfare are concerned. Raghu’s mother (Nalini) gets her teeth into the scenery too, and I could see why the military might offer Raghu some peace and quiet. Sister Ganga is clearly sad to be separated from her family but will not give up Chiru. She has to make some hard decisions and while she is the film’s fallen woman she is not unsympathetic or unlikeable.

The finale is epic as Chiru and gang spend what seems like DAYS riding their motorbikes towards a big festival that also requires a Rajini and Sri Devi dance number. The climax involves a lot of karate and finally Iqbal’s penchant for guns is utilised. I’m not sure what becomes of that child but I hope all of his near and dear were aware of his vengeful streak and accurate aim.

See this for the excellent pairing of Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi, for some striking visuals including Rajni prancing through giant bottle props, and because you’d never get the budget to put this cast together again today. 3 ½ stars! Would have been 4 but all that screeching…my ears are still recovering.

Allaudinum Arputha Vilakkum

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There are so many great actors in Allaudinum Arputha Vilakkum. But you’d never guess they were that great just from watching it, if you catch my drift. The cast includes Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Gemini Ganesan, Savitri just to name a few. I.V Sasi made his gaudy 1979 Aladdin and the Lamp film in both Malayalam and Tamil. I happened upon the Tamil version first so that is what I will be discussing here.

The story opens with a sorcerer in a cave, who reads something disturbing in his big book of spells and then uses his great powers to conjure up….dancing girls. And HELEN! He also uses his magical powder to give Helen several outfit changes. He may be evil but I think I like his priorities.

Allauddin (Kamal Haasan) is a layabout. He gets into a fight after his opponent cheats on an armwrestling challenge, and actually uses the rough end of the pineapple as a weapon! Nice. His poor mother (Savitri) looks quite done in by all the drama. He is also the only person who can retrieve the fabled lamp from a cave. The Evil Sorcerer disguises himself and persuades Allauddin to accompany him to another city. Conveniently they pass by the secret cave. Allauddin is sent in to collect a lamp and is given a magic ring that will protect him. He evades some not totally terrifying special effects – although considered cumulatively, it would have been quite enervating. I noted snakes, demons, snakes, bits of demons, snakes, dancing ladies, snakes, demons with extra bits, a lion, lake of boiling acid, snakes.

Allauddin accidentally rubs the magic ring three times, and summons the spirit who helps him get home via a leisurely flight. There is a genie in the ring and also it turns out, one in the lamp. I wonder if there is some kind of formal demarcation. They don’t seem to communicate but there must be rules, surely?

Allauddin makes a wish and his lifestyle goes from poor but honest to grand and gaudy in an instant. Seriously. His outfits are just something else. And Savitri looks a lot more like, well, Savitri when she is in her fine silks and sparkles. He makes the transition from lazy rogue to competent hero with minimal effort. And I mean minimal effort. Kamal Haasan puts no energy into the action scenes, preferring to conserve his resources for the abundant opportunities to overact. He doesn’t even dance much.

He meets the ruling family when he accidentally saves one from ambush, when all he’d meant to do was have a perv at the dancers. And that brings him into the path of Kamaruddin (Rajinikanth!!!!). Back at the court, the Shahenshah (PS Veerappa I think) rewards Allauddin for his bravery and is furious at his security people that this incursion was allowed so easily. He berates his courtiers, especially Mir Qasim (Gemini Ganesan in a fetching lilac top and gold cloche) who is demoted. He appoints Kamaruddin to a job that requires a fancy sword. Kamaruddin also has notions of marrying Princess Roshni (Jayabharathi) although she doesn’t seem thrilled and I can see why. Kamaruddin is an unappealing, nasty tempered man with a taste for gaudy tunics and contrasting capes.

Rajinikanth’s facial expressions are priceless as he seems to have decided surely this must be a parody so he will go all out all the time in all the scenes. He also does very little “dancing” but that is hardly a surprise.

Allauddin also falls for Roshni just on hearing about her beauty, but decides to make sure by going to perv on her during a ritual bath. There IS a theme here.

I feel inspired to make bath time more of an occasion. I can do without the scores of onlookers, but I may make myself a gold chicken headdress.

To be fair Roshni returns the favour by disguising herself as a man so she can go check out Allauddin at his shop.  Theirs is a love based on mutual ogling and love of dress-ups.

Allauddin asks his mum to go ask the king for Roshni’s hand but Kamaruddin has already called dibs. When the courts cannot decide, they settle their differences as tradition dictates – by gladiator fight. The genie gives Allauddin fancy gold undies and a cape. Perhaps for protection. Maybe just for fun. It’s a gladiatorial triathlon! Horses and pointy sticks, then just the pointy things, then paperthin wobbly swords and shields. Allauddin wins, just, and I think Kamaruddin says something like “Fine. I never really liked her anyway dude”. And I marvelled at two of the biggest stars in Indian cinema. In gladiator outfits.

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Allauddin goes home to break the news to girl next door Jamila (Sripriya) who has always been sweet on him. He tells her it would never work out. Sorted! For no obvious reason, Kamaruddin is catapulted off his horse and lands with pinpoint accuracy in a tiny patch of quicksand, just big enough for one person. His horse stands by pretending it doesn’t know what is expected in these circumstances – it had not seen MAGADHEERA! Happily Jamila walks by and she comes to his rescue. Although. Surely the idea is to use the rope to drag the victim out, not drag yourself towards them…Anyway.

Kamaruddin is easily distracted by a glimpse of shoulder, and the idea of a girlfriend who will rescue him.  I think another wedding is on the cards (although this one may require a shotgun).

While the ladies are very much pushed into the background by the story and their male co-stars, I did like that Jayabharathi and Sripriya brought some individuality and expressiveness to their roles. And Savitri could overpower Kamal Haasan’s overacting with just the raise of an eyebrow. Plus, outfits.

While love bloomed, they all forgot about the Evil Sorcerer who is now in league with disgraced Mir Qasim. But our heroes are game for anything, AND Allauddin has his trusty genie. What could possibly go wrong? You’ll need to watch it to find out!

There is a lot going on but nothing of substance really happens so I didn’t really miss having subtitles. I did find that whenever anyone spoke for a very long time, I drifted into happy contemplation of all the gaudy frocks and sets. The visual effects are showing their age but there is a cheeky good humour at play. I even laughed out loud at Allauddin and the genie playing hide and seek around the house. And I could not believe this cast in this film, getting up to these shenanigans.

This is a film I would have loved when I was seven and really, not much has changed. It’s a ripping yarn with some unintentional hilarity and a commitment to searing it’s images on your retinas. I don’t think it would warrant frequent repeat viewing but gosh it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. 4 extra sparkly SBIG stars!

For The Love of a Man

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For The Love of a Man is a documentary primarily about Rajinikanth’s fans, directed by Rinku Kalsy, produced by Joyojeet Pal and partly funded through crowd-funding. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the obsessive world of the fans, and the extremes to which they go to show their devotion. Here we see the packed out fan shows at 1am in the morning on the day of a new Rajinikanth film release, 12 day long celebrations for the actor’s birthday and word-perfect recall of the dialogue from his films just as a taste of some of the extreme fandom on display. There are apparently 150,000 Rajinikanth fan clubs in India and the film looks at a couple of the clubs and a few of the fans in detail while trying to explain the phenomena that is Rajinikanth.

It is assumed that everyone has at least some idea of who Rajinikanth is, and while that is likely true for Cinemachaat readers, for most Westerners Rajinikanth is unlikely to be a household name. There is some discussion of the Superstar but it is minimal and I would have liked to see a little more of the background rather than just the bare tale of a bus conductor turned actor, turned Superstar. While there are a few excerpts from the Rajini’s films, these tend to occur when a particular movie is mentioned by one of the fans rather than in any chronological order and his rise to stardom is only briefly discussed. The other missing element is any input from the man himself which is understandable, but could possibly have given more context into the reasons why the fans behave the way they do.

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Rinku Kalsy has picked an interesting group of people who all have in common their total passion about the Superstar or as they all call Rajini – Thalaivar. There is G. Mani, an ex-gangster who changed his ways after watching Rajinikanth and is now a peanut seller, N. Ravi and his brother N. Murugan who run sweet shops in a small Tamil Nadu town and started life as uneducated orphans but followed the principles espoused by Rajini in his films to turn their lives around, and Kamal Anand, a mimicry artist who earns a living by impersonating the superstar for various functions and gatherings. There is also an auto driver who keeps pictures of Rajini in the front of his auto where most other drivers have pictures of the gods and an online fan club called Superstar Rajinikanth or SSRK for short.

Here there is fanatical devotion at its most extreme but although the film shows the lengths these people will go to for their Thalaivar, there is little insight into why Rajinikanth fans are so obsessed with their idol. There are a few academics who talk about the Dravidian movement and secularism as ways to explain the deification of movie stars such as Rajinikanth, but these discussions are rather superficial and don’t delve into ‘why Rajinikanth?’ in any detail. There is no discussion of his acting skills or even of his many philanthropic acts that the fans are so keen to emulate. Rinku Kalsy and her experts refer to his scruffy appearance, darker skin colour and roles as a common man that were so different to those undertaken by previous movie stars such as MGR or Gemini Ganesan. The fans however refer to Rajinikanth as simply a good man and try to follow his altruistic principles as much as they can; often despite their own, frequently quite poor circumstances. The feelings here are deep and emotions run high. Even when simply recounting the period of time when Rajinikanth was ill and admitted into a hospital in Singapore, N. Ravi can hardly contain his tears as he speaks of his distress. He even sent his brother to Singapore to report back directly and describes this period as the worst time of his life.

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Interestingly all the fans shown are men. There are a few women seen in the cinema watching Rajinikanth films, but for the most part the groups organising events for Rajinikanth film openings are exclusively male. G Mani’s long suffering wife Suganthi seems to take his fandom in her stride, including the revelation that he has pawned her jewellery to obtain money for another celebration and she doesn’t even seem to mind that he spends all of his income on his fan club rather than on their family. However the best line comes from the mimic artist who explains that despite making his living impersonating Rajinikanth, he himself is actually a Kamal Hassan fan!

It’s not all good works and birthday celebrations though. There is violence too, with a fans’ show resulting in broken windows at a cinema and G Mani’s mention of a long drawn out court case after a screen was destroyed at one of his fans-only screenings. It’s hard to understand even though I’ve seen the first night first show mania at first hand here in Melbourne, but the extreme reaction in Tamil Nadu suggests more than simple fandom. This is serious fanaticism with the followers believing that their hero can do no wrong and in many cases literally worshiping Rajini. One of the frequently expressed desires from many of the fans is that Rajinikanth should enter politics, not so unexpected given that many politicians in Tamil Nadu were movie stars but there is an absolute belief that he would bring better times for all in such a role.

For The Love of a Man is fascinating, at times disturbing and occasionally uplifting but does illustrate the intensity of fans in India. Like the banners and Rajinikanth cut-outs, the hero-worship is larger than life and really needs to be seen to be believed. The film was screened in Melbourne as part of the Indian Film festival and has been shown at a number of other festivals around the world but hopefully will get a wider release – well worth catching it if you can.