Mirchi

Mirchi-Movie-PosterMirchi is a mass action romance revenge saga, offering few surprises in the story but with great casting and some solid performances. Writer/director Koratala Siva gets bogged down in a long flashback and loses the momentum a bit towards the second half, but generally moves along at a reasonable clip from fight to song to romance to fight and back again. Like many mass films, it starts light and fluffy but then the body count starts to rise so you do need to be a bit gore tolerant to fully enjoy Mirchi.

Jai (Prabhas) is an architect in Milan. He meets Manasa (Richa Gangopadhyay) and saves her from some thugs. They become friendly and he learns of her family – dominated by a violent assortment of men living in a big old house – and Jai decides to fix her life. Of course, Jai has an ulterior motive for wanting to reform her family, and that is revealed through a very long and detailed flashback. Jai is the son of Manasa’s family’s enemy, Deva (Sathyaraj). How can Jai reform her family, reclaim his place with his own estranged family, eliminate any enemies who refuse to comply and oh yes – what will happen to Manasa when he is reunited with his first love, Vennela (Anushka Shetty)?

mirchi_movie_prabhas dancersprabhas-mirchi

Prabhas is made for this kind of role. Jai is a nice guy, although of course he can kill evil doers with a single blow. Prabhas has such a likeable screen persona and the action scenes are well within his capability. He has nice chemistry with both leading ladies although as the story unfurls there is little ambiguity about who he would choose.  There is not a lot of complexity or nuance, but the role contains enough variety to give Prabhas a bit to work with. Jai does have to find a way that doesn’t totally rely on revenge and violence so there is a clear before and after in his character. One of the highlights is the slightly more prominent roles given to some supporting actors, and those scenes give Prabhas more scope for lighter moments. Jai’s relationship with his father is played out nicely too, showing the slightly more sympathetic side of the feud.

Favourite That Guy Subbaraju is Manasa’s brother. He is first seen pursuing some unfortunate bloke through college and delivering a serious beating. But Jai can see that apparently all he needed to give up his bullying ways was … discovering girls. Yes, Subbaraju got in touch with his sensitive side after dancing to Moves Like Jagger with the girl who fancied him. Who knew Maroon 5 was good for anything? But if that’s what it takes to get a good looking bloke to eschew dismemberment and take up flirting, well then I suppose that is not a bad thing. This dance outbreak also had the effect of making him dress better, pay his rent on time and generally improve his manners.  From then on he spends the rest of the film on the phone to the girl, very coy and giggly as he mouths what I can only assume are dialogues along the line of ‘no you hang up…no you…no you hang up first’ and the like. Silly but amusing, and nice to see him in a slightly different role.

Mirchi-Jai and Manasa

Richa has a one note character so there isn’t much she can do with Manasa, although she and Prabhas have nice rapport and that helps make the growing friendship between the characters more credible. Once the terribly long flashback starts, she is sidelined and pretty much disappears until the last couple of minutes. Anushka gets more investment from the screenplay as the feisty village belle Vennela. She sets her cap at Jai and he happily succumbs, colourful dance numbers and all. Until disaster strikes on their wedding day.

Sampath Raj has a prominent role as Manasa’s uncle, a nasty piece of work who bullies the entire household and believes he can heal his paralysed father by despatching selected enemies in front of him. Another That Guy, Adithya, plays Jai’s uncle, an old school type who believes in sorting out issues with a machete. Adithya doesn’t get the same opportunity to show off his acting range but he does get ample chance to flash a bit of leg. Supreet and Ajay make an appearance in the second half as muscle for Manasa’s family and the violence escalates towards a fairly brutal ending.

Sathyaraj and Nadhiya are good as Jai’s estranged parents and there are lots of other familiar faces. Brahmanandam does his usual thing and luckily has minimal screen time in the latter section of the film where comedy would have been misplaced. His scenes had the audience howling with laughter, but as this was another Adventure Without Subtitles that all went over my head. Satyam Rajesh, Raghu Babu and others do what they do in a film that relies on ‘types’ more than on characters.

The soundtrack is fun and the picturisations are sometimes spectacular (Darlingey and Mirchi in particular). Devi Sri Prasad seems to know his audience, and the crowd response to the songs was great. The choreographers generally concentrate on the possibilities afforded by Prabhas’ lanky frame and enormous wingspan.

Despite what you may think based on that selection of images, Prabhas largely escaped the worst efforts of the blind costume designer, apart from one inexplicable t-shirt with braces attached. And there is an unwavering commitment to ugly acid wash denim throughout. But I do have to ask – the Keytar? Really design team? What were you thinking.

Mirchi is a good formulaic timepass. It has a good cast delivering the minimal requirements of the script, along with well structured action and song sequences. If you’re a fan of Prabhas or the mass action genre, it’s well worth a watch.  Plus  if you like medical moments only possible in Indian films, then this is for you.

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Mayakkam Enna

Going to see Mayakkam Enna was a whole new adventure since not only did the film not have subtitles, but it was also showing at a cinema somewhere out in the suburbs on a university campus. Thankfully I found my way to a very bijou but comfortable cinema and was very happy to discover that they sold plenty of snacks at half time – I will be back!

I expected a lot from Mayakkam Enna since the team of Dhanush and his brother Selvaraghavan have made some of my favourite Tamil films together. And I wasn’t disappointed. My only complaint is that I really did miss subtitles for this one. The audience were laughing and applauding for a lot of the dialogues and I wanted to know what was being said to get such good reactions.

Karthik Subramaniam (Dhanush) is an aspiring wildlife photographer with a supportive group of friends, who all appear to live together in a house with its own bar. Excluding the bar, I could really relate to this, as I had a similar set of friends back in my final undergraduate year. We all lived together and went everywhere as a group so I had an idea of the changes caused by adding a new person to this dynamic.  Karthik’s best friend is Sunder (Sunder Raman) and as expected the gang aren’t too welcoming to his new girlfriend Yamini (Richa Gangopadhyay).To make things worse, Yamini and Karthik don’t get on at all and constantly dig at each other. While I missed the dialogues that generated a lot of laughter from the audience, there were a few barbed comments that really didn’t need translation as both Richa and Dhanush did a good job in getting their feelings across.

Over time however their enmity turns to attraction, leading to a love triangle with Sunder blissfully unaware of his girlfriend’s change in her attitude to Karthik .

Meanwhile Karthik is slowly compiling a portfolio of wildlife shots in between running around taking pictures of weddings and tourists at local temples. His role model is award winning wildlife photographer Madhesh Krishnaswamy (Ravi Prakash) and Karthik is determined to get a job with him to learn from the best in the business.  However Krishnaswamy has no interest in nurturing Karthik’s career and repeatedly sends him away with scathing comments about his work. I have to admire Karthik’s persistence as he gets no encouragement whatsoever from his hero but still keeps trying to get that elusive ‘perfect picture’ which will persuade Krishnaswamy to give him a job. The shots in the countryside are absolutely stunning here and cinematographer T. Ramji captures the wildlife flawlessly. These visually stunning moments are in sharp contrast to the much more claustrophobic scenes between Karthik, Yamini and Sunder and this accentuates the tension in their relationships well.

The first half of the film concentrates on the love triangle and despite the subject matter, there are plenty of light hearted moments along with the drama of the relationships. The pace is fast and the dialogues seem snappy and well suited to the action. The second half is much darker as it documents Karthik’s slide into alcoholism and his emotional breakdown as he is unable to come to terms with the events that unfold. While this part of the film is slower, it does feature an excellent portrayal of despair by Dhanush, although he is matched by Richa’s fantastic depiction of a loyal and long suffering wife.

Although this is Richa’s debut in Tamil cinema, her previous performances in Telugu films have been impressive and she is even better here in a role that seems to have been made for her. The two actors have plenty of empathy together and each complements the others performance.  Apart from Sunder none of the other actors get very much screen time but all seemed to do well enough in their roles.

While Mayakkam Enna is in some respects a typical Selvaraghavan film, focusing as it does on darker emotions, Karthik is a much less damaged lead character than I’ve seen in his other films. Karthik doesn’t appear to have had an abusive childhood and is a well-liked and popular person with a large and warm circle of friends. This makes his descent into depression and substance abuse all the more shocking since he does have a strong support network. It also makes him a more realistic and sympathetic character, although in reality I don’t think anyone would have put up with his self-pity for quite as long as they did here.

The music by G. V. Prakash Kumar is another high point of the film, particularly since Dhanush sings on two of the tracks. I loved the soundtrack when I first heard it, and the songs fit well into the film, althoughI think the picturisation of Kadhal en Kadhal is a little strange. I loved the cartoon characters in Voda Voda though and this is a great song.

While the film does become overly dramatic in the second half it’s still enjoyable due to the strong performances. But please, someone take that long-haired wig Dhanush wore in the closing scenes and burn it! It’s terrible and really doesn’t suit him at all. That aside, Mayakkam Enna is definitely worth watching on the big screen and both Dhanush and Richa are fantastic. I think that with subtitles this could become one of my favourite Dhanush films – I loved it.

Nagavalli

Another adventure without subtitles and our first Venkatesh film on the big screen.  Not only that, but from the buzz surrounding the film we were expecting lots of dancing and a snake revenge film,  many of our favourite things!

The basic story is a sequel to the hit Chandramukhi, advertised with the tagline ‘She’s back!’. And she is – or is she? Venkatesh is Dr Vijay, the student of Dr Saravanan who vanquished the vengeful spirit last time. He is called in his mentor’s stead to deal with a suspected possession which may be linked to some sudden deaths in a remote household.

Vijay, when not  pursued by all the ladies of the house, debates the role of science versus religion with the family’s guru Ramachandra Siddhanti (Avinash) who had actually called him in on the case. The cure for mental illness or possession that is demonstrated by Ramachandra consists of hitting his patient with a stick and demanding they speak. Vijay’s scientific method is letting her have a good cry, and telling her she is cured. Neither really filled us with confidence especially as both men consistently failed to identify the right person who was nuts or possessed (depending on your view). The question of god or science did keep coming up in the film, and both men seemed to be somewhat persuaded of the merits of the other side. So they tried to do something intellectual – but the giant snake detracted from any serious philosophy going on.

Vijay is, at times, insufferably superior as he uses his psychiatric training to read the household members and tell them all about themselves. For an academic who represents the side of science in this story, he has some very dubious reference materials. Every book he read looked like it had been bought from an airport book kiosk and hardly gave us any confidence in his ability to diagnose anything.

There are many inexplicable plot elements. For no apparent reason there is also an absolutely huge cobra-python-anaconda monster lurking around the house and grounds.  Which the family find mysterious, although they found a giant snake skin, which really should have been enough of a clue that there was something rather strange going on.

In the course of his investigations, while wandering around the grounds on the trail of Chandramukhi (whose real name was Nagavalli), Dr Vijay is jumped on by a gang of men who leap down from the trees. This is never explained and is possibly just a way to make sure there was at least one group fight scene in the movie. Despite one of our fellow audience assuring us it would somehow be cleared up, it wasn’t. But that applies to so much else in this film it hardly matters.

As in Chandramukhi the story moves back into the past which gives Anushka the chance to strut her stuff as Nagavalli and explain the back story. Her performance was outstanding in terms of acting, but her dancing suffered by comparison to her predecessors in this role. Still, in one scene she perfectly expressed her fear, hatred, anger and will to survive purely through body language and facial expressions. She really is an impressive actress. Unfortunately she was way too tall for her olden days love interest, which added a lot to the unintentional comedy.  The olden days also provided an excuse for some sumptious costumes and rather dodgy hair extensions for Venkatesh in his role as the evil Nagabhairava Rajashekhara. He seemed to have discovered gold lame a long time before anyone else. Perhaps it was that which funded his extravagant lifestyle and blingy accessories.

Richa Gangopadhyay was given some memorable scenes towards the end, and almost stole the show. Shraddha Das and Kamalini Mukherjee were quite effective and it was interesting to see the ensemble cast working through the more thriller styled investigative scenes.

Sadly despite the prominence of dancing in the film, none of the leads were particularly good  dancers, so the story tended to fall a little flat in the execution of these scenes.  The later scenes where Chandramukhi/Nagavalli has her revenge were so totally over the top that it was impossible to take any of it seriously, and we don’t think we were meant to. Overall the film was held together by Venkatesh helped to some extent by Brahmi, who had a substantial role as Dr Vijay’s student. There was so much comedy in the rest of the film that a separate comedy subplot didn’t really seem necessary to us, but it was there anyway.

Venkatesh certainly seems to deliver what his fans wanted. The audience reaction to him was great and people cheered every time he swung into action. The dual characters let him show off his acting range, and the olden days allowed for the more physical scenes that the modern day setting lacked. His horse riding style was memorable to say the least, but we don’t think any horse would tolerate him for long.

The special effects are, in a word, terrible. The cut and paste of scenes against  green screen looked really amateurish and was surprising in such a big budget film. The overuse of coloured contact lenses was also a distraction throughout the close up scenes. We don’t think the audience was meant to laugh at so many of the historical scenes, but they just didn’t work.

The last half of the film was quite dialogue heavy and it was difficult to keep interested as the Dr Vijay slowly worked his way through the possible candidates for possession or insanity. However the beautiful costumes and fabrics did keep us somewhat entertained. Despite this being advertised as a horror film, it never reached those heights. The film is much more farcical than frightening, and seemed to play much more to the comedy of the situation. The thriller and mystery elements were good but the film seemed to shift from whodunnit to supernatural horror and back with some holes in the logic. The film descended into boring and bad territory for about twenty minutes, but was revived by Richa Gangopadhyay, Venkatesh and Anushka in the final scenes. This was our first chance to see Venkatesh on the big screen and he lived up to his reputation, although the story really didn’t.