Alluda Majaka

E.V.V Satyanarayana’s Alluda Majaka could have been an excellent film. There’s peak mullet Chiranjeevi, Ramya Krishna and Rambha so you know the dancing is taken care of, a big budget and adventurous designers. But the story by Posani Krishna Murali is uneven and the comedy interludes are sexist and sleazy even by 90s mass standards. However, look for gold and avert your eyes from the dirt and there are some rewards for your time.

The film opens with Seetharam (Chiranjeevi) being taken to his village in police custody so he can attend a religious festival. Then he’s off straight into a big chase and escape from the police, and it is vintage Chiru. But oh those horse stunts churn my stomach, and the infamous horse sliding under a truck stunt doubly so, even with the hopefully fake horse in one shot. But there is a glass bus. Who knew?

Then Seetharam forcibly marries Pappi (Ramya Krishnan) who is at her wedding ready to get hitched to someone else. And then he is back off to jail again. A lawyer (Giribabu) arrives and promptly shoots Seetharam and then himself in the arm, setting his client up for that crime too. The laywer needs to know why Seetharam has ruined a young girl’s life by marrying her against her will and right before he went back to jail. This triggers a long flashback.

Seetharam’s father was the village president and seemed to be benevolent and practical, much loved by the people. Pappi (Ramya) and Bobby (Rambha) arrive in the village to stay with their mother Vasundhara (Lakshmi) and uncle. They stir up all kinds of trouble and see themselves as above the law and certainly above the people. That does not sit well with Seetharam. Another rogue joins the fray when Peddaiah (Kota Srinivasa Rao) arrives with the plan to get one of the rich girls married to his NRI son Chinna (played by the may as well have been non-existent for all the impression he made Siva). Chinna falls for Seetharam’s dialogueless sister Malliswari (Ooha) and they are engaged. Vasundhara wants the groom for Pappi, Seetharam is delighted his sister will be married, and Peddaiah is determined to find a bride based on dowry and gain for himself. When Chinna goes back to the US for a few months, Vasundhara and Peddaiah pull out all the stops to break up the engagement. It is on for young and old and the unmarried young women are the pawns in the game. By the time we stagger to the conclusion, it’s a straight up battle involving an explosives factory and a jetty and if that doesn’t scream Masala Death Trap I don’t know what does.

I am uncomfortable with the value this film places on women being pure and subservient, but the strong women in the story are so horrible I can’t stand them either. It would have been more interesting if they were less insane and more simply independent. Lakshmi as Vasundhara is the true villain here. She is smart, manipulative, and greedy. But what is her greatest crime? Not wanting to live with her husband – the lawyer Sivaramakrishna who is defending Seetharam. Pappi and Bobby are brats and completely lack common sense or empathy. But. Do they deserve to be humiliated by having their bathing suits ripped off them mid swim? Does Pappi deserve to be married against her will to a man who has been sentenced to death? Does Bobby deserve to be humiliated by the accusation that she’d had accidental sex with her brother-in-law?

Does anyone deserve the outfits they wear in the songs?

Much of the comedy is sleazy and gross. Apart from trying to get Ramya and Rambha in compromising positions to teach them a lesson, one track includes Brahmi in drag and a long build up to a tacky rape joke. Then there’s the farcical nuptial night with power outage that leaves the three women uncertain if they’re the one who had relations with Seetharam. And that’s a whole other line of enquiry I prefer not to pursue. I read a review that mentioned Rambha had once said that Chiranjeevi had made the director drop some of the really vulgar scenes planned. My reaction was “Yay for Chiru!” and then a mind boggling moment as I pondered what had been too much considering what had been left in.

Things I did like include that nobody thought Pappi should have to live in a forced marriage (although killing the groom is not cool). Also when Malliswari fell pregnant to her absent fiancé most people, with one notable exception, nobody tried to punish her (except the baddies but that was not on moral grounds). And Vasundhara was a terrible person but she was well written as a villain and had a little bit more going on than most of the men on Team Bad. I quite liked the use of a rainbow slinky as gangster accessory too but that might be a sign I was running out of patience with everything else. And of course, there’s the reason I watched this in the first place. The decor. No!

CHIRU!!!

Thankfully Chiranjeevi is in great form despite the lamentable material. He fights, he speechifies, he emotes so vigorously even his hair is furious, he defies laws of physics and gravity, and he dances like there’s no tomorrow. And he does it all so well. The fight choreo is complex and includes loads of acrobatics which Chiru nails. And he gets to drive lots of different forms of transport which I feel Chiranjeevi enjoyed. He looks quite content trundling around on his tractor, then so devil may care on a jet ski.

Although the stunt dummies lack his panache. As usual Chiru dances like he’s having the time of his life strutting his stuff in some truly eye-searing looks. In an unfortunate plot diversion, Chiru also plays the Mega rich Mr Toyota. Rich, weird, and foreign, he’s a comedy uncle on heat. I’m not sure how his disguise as Mr Toyota was in any way convincing and I am not at all persuaded the film needed him despite the additional scope it gave to the costume team. It is such a shame this film is an over long and undigestable turkey because there is so much peak Megastar stuff.

2 stars. Only for Mega-completists.

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Super Deluxe

Super Deluxe

Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe is a significant step up from his previous film Aaranya Kaandam, aided by a sumptuous colour palette from P.S. Vinod and Nirav Shah, and the presence of a number of top actors from the South. Included are the likes of Vijay Sethupathi, Samantha, Fahadh Faasil, Ramya Krishnan and Mysskin but the newcomers are just as good and hold their own against the established stars. It’s an interesting story too, although after a good start the middle section does wander and become rather self-indulgent before ending with a stronger finale. It’s still a compelling watch, not just to discover what happens in the various threads, but also to spot influences, note the repeated motif’s and ultimately try to figure out just what Thiagarajan Kumararaja is trying to say. Super Deluxe isn’t for the faint-hearted – the language is strong and there are a number of confronting themes, but the juxtaposition of topical issues and out-and-out fantasy is intriguing even with a close to 3 hour run time.

The film consists of a number of different threads which don’t interconnect as such, but instead superficially intersect and occasionally influence each other. The first involves a cheating wife Vaembu (Samantha) and what happens when her husband Mugilan (Fahadh Faasil) discovers her infidelity when her lover has the bad taste to die during their lovemaking session. Next there are a group of schoolboys who arrange an elaborate plan to bunk school and watch porn movies. Their problems start when one of the four recognises his mother Leela (Ramya Krishnan) in the movie and the ripples from his subsequent actions have far-ranging consequences. Part of this sparks an existential crisis for Leela’s husband Dhanasekaran (Mysskin) who has become a faith healer after surviving the tsunami by holding on to a statue of Jesus. The other boys end up in trouble when they try to raise the funds to buy a new TV and end up in a truly out of this world experience. And then there is the story of Shilpa (Vijay Sethupathi), a transgender woman trying to reunite with the wife and young son she left behind many years before. It’s a fascinating blend of narratives and some of the stories work better than others. Or perhaps it’s more that some parts of each story are simply brilliant (and brilliantly simple), but then at times Thiagarajan Kumararaja and his co-writers seem to get carried away and try just that little too hard to be edgy and confrontational.

As well as a lot of swearing, there is a lot of sex in this film. Vaembu is first seen in bed with her lover, the teenage boys are obsessed with sex (although that’s not surprising) and there’s a creepy cop (Bagavathi Perumal) whose rapacious tendencies provide an important plot point in two of the stories. One of these is nasty but effective, while the other is too drawn out and staged to be convincing. In those parts where the film is subtle and suggests rather than shows, it is more chillingly real and packs more of a punch compared to the more filmi scenes with Vaembu, Mugilan and SI Berlin. Perhaps it’s a consequence of too many writers (Mysskin, Nalan Kumarasamy, Neelan K. Sekar and Thiagarajan Kumararaja are all credited with the screenplay), but Vaembu and Mugilan’s story is the least successful for me, despite fine performances from the two actors. Their relationship just doesn’t ring true and the characters are an odd mix of modern and traditional that doesn’t seem plausible. However, I appreciate that the fallen woman gets a shot at redemption and isn’t permanently tainted by her infidelity. Something which is also the case with Leela who is proud of her film achievements and sees no reason to disavow her presence in a porn movie. It is refreshingly different even if at times there is a feeling that some of the dialogue has been written by grubby little boys sitting and sniggering at the mere mention of sex. That may be more to do with the subtitles though as I have read a number of comments that some concepts weren’t translated accurately, particularly in respect to Ramya Krishnan’s character.

The most successful thread is that of Shilpa, and despite all the issues around a cis male actor playing a trans woman, Vijay Sethupathi is much more here than just a man in a wig. The issues here feel true to life, shocking as they are, as Shilpa tries to navigate a brief visit to her son’s school and faces prejudice and abuse at almost every turn. Ashwanth Ashokkumar is outstanding as her son Rasukutty and although Gayathrie has very little screen-time as the abandoned wife, she makes a strong impact as her facial expressions say so much more than any dialogue could possibly manage. Vijay transforms himself yet again and adds many layers and nuances to his character, alternating between comedy and tragedy but still providing a sense of the underlying weakness that drove Shilpa to abandon her family.

The first half has a lot of well-written comedy but immediately after the interval the film shifts into more serious territory. The pace is also more uneven in the second half, and the labyrinthine feeling of diving down a rabbit hole, so well done in the first half, falters as the frenetic pace slows. There is still a lot going on though, and with the richness of the visuals the film at times becomes almost overwhelming. There are close-ups of ants running up and down a door frame for example – the implication initially seems fairly straight forward, but is it really? There are so many questions and possible explanations for even the simplest shot and it seems that every single part of the set could have a secondary meaning. This is a film that I think does need multiple viewings, and I’m sure that I will see more detail each time.

There are plenty of film references here too – to both Indian and Western films and probably a lot more cultural references that completely passed me by. Despite the variability in the second half this is definitely a film that I’d recommend for the sumptuous visuals, excellent performances and intricate story. Thiagarajan Kumararaja has built a complex world that tries to encompass the natural, unnatural and everything in between. The best part about Super Deluxe is that he so very nearly succeeds.

 

Thaanaa Serndha Koottam

Thaanaa Serndha Koottam

I really enjoyed Suriya’s latest movie, although I haven’t seen the original Special 26, and wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a rollicking heist movie, with Suriya playing a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, albeit in 1987, as he and his merry gang thieves disguise themselves as CBI officers to rob various high-profile victims of their ill-gained wealth. With Suriya on top form, the support cast generally excellent and plenty of humour in the engaging screenplay, Thaanaa Serndha Koottam is well worth catching in the cinema if you can.

The film is a remake of Neeraj Pandey’s 2013 hit, Special 26, although director Vignesh Shivan has apparently given it a Tamil twist. Both films are based on a real-life robbery that took place in Bombay in 1987, and Thaanaa Serndha Koottam is set in the same timeframe, allowing for some period features such as the white ambassador cars that Iniyan and his gang use to pose as Government officials, and posters of old films displayed in the background. It also means we get such delights as the costumes and sets in this wonderfully OTT song from Anirudh Ravichandra:

The story goes like this. Suriya is Iniyan, an aspiring CBI officer who is rejected for his dream job mainly because corrupt officer Uthaman (Suresh Chandra Menon) holds a grudge against his father (Thambi Ramaiah). At the same time, many of Iniyan’s friends are struggling to find work due to corruption within the system and the high bribes needed to secure a position. Iniyan’s solution is to gather together a team of like-minded people who are willing to take part in his audacious scheme to rob the rich. And because the money they steal hasn’t been declared to the government, the victims are unwilling to report the crime, ensuring that Iniyan and his team escape scot-free every time.

Iniyan then gives all his ill-gotten loot away, ensuring that his character keeps an altruistic image despite his criminal activities. As the heat builds in Tamil Nadu, the gang move their operations to Hyderabad where they can’t speak the language. I could totally relate to their default use of words they had learnt from Telugu movies, although I’ve never found it to work quite so well for me, and the resultant confusion is perfectly developed into a very funny scene. Brahmi makes an understated appearance as a Telugu CBI officer while the Charminar is visible in almost every shot to make sure we know the action is now happening in Hyderabad!

There is a romance too as Iniyan falls for a girl who is drawn into his schemes. He doesn’t ever seem to find out her name, and I wasn’t clear on her connection to the original robbery, although to be honest I suspect there may not actually be one. Keerthy Suresh is fine as Iniyan’s love interest but really has little to do apart from appear in the songs and create the odd diversion in the storyline.

The rest of the gang get better characterisations and even some back story to flesh out their various personas. Ramya Krishnan in particular is fantastic here and makes a scarily believable CBI officer. As “Jhansi Rani’, she uses her piercingly chilling glare (perfected in Baahubali) to excellent effect as she storms into various establishments demanding they hand over their illegal savings. Then in a blink of an eye she becomes regular housewife Azhagu Meena, planning her eldest daughter’s wedding and dealing with her disabled husband. I love her in this role, and it’s fantastic to see her in such a strong and effective role that combines comedy and drama so well.

The others in the team, KP (Senthil), Ondi (Sivashankar) and Muthu (Sathyan) have smaller roles, but still add plenty of interest to the proceedings, and ensure that the team appears as a real gang rather than just an odd collection of people Iniyan has gathered together.

Against them are the real CBI officers and Kurunjivendhan (Karthik), an honest if somewhat overly enthusiastic police officer who helps Uthaman in his search. Nandha is also good in a small but important role as a rookie police officer who is conned by the gang while Yogi Babu, RJ Balaji and Anandaraj all have successful cameos.

Anirudh Ravichander just keeps producing the hits as he delivers yet another great soundtrack, managing to make the songs all sound as if they really do all come from the eighties. For the most part they’re well integrated into the film too with appropriate picturisation that suits the ambiance.

The only real miss in this film is the end, where the story switches gear and becomes a more typical Tamil herocentric finale with action, drama and a few too many pontificating speeches. It’s a disappointing end to an otherwise engaging film, but thankfully there are some last-minute shenanigans over the end credits to make the audience leave with a smile.

Overall this is a fun film and with such a great cast of characters and the always charismatic Suriya, Thaanaa Serndha Koottam turns out to be an enjoyable and overall very funny watch. Worth catching for Suriya, Ramya Krishnan and Anirudh’s soundtrack.