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.

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SPYder

SPYder wants to be a clever cyber spy thriller but is more a vigilante story with some bells and whistles. Mahesh is a compelling presence, and Rakul Preet Singh is a good match for him. But AR Murugadoss seems to have lost his own plot in the second half

Warning: Some mild-ish spoilers follow.

Shiva (Mahesh) is wildly overqualified to be an intelligence officer, tapping phones illegally albeit with a government mandate to break that law in order to proactively stop people who may break other laws. Hmmm. He is also a genius software developer. One of his inventions analyses calls for signs of fear and pleas for help. When Shiva gets the bat signal he may go rescue people himself, or call on supporters who know of his sideline. On one call he “meets” Charlie (Rakul Preet Singh), a medical student interested in finding a friend with benefits. Through another call he unwittingly sends a friend to her death. Sickened by the consequences of his outsourcing, he finds proof the murderer is a serial killer. Shiva sets out to find him and obtain closure for himself and for all the victims. What starts out driven by data and psychological profiling soon turns into a series of tactical encounters.

Shiva is judge, jury, and executioner as he knew once people went into the legal system it was pointless. Mahesh plays Shiva as focussed, and kind of grim. And Shiva does so much talking – dialogues, voiceover, exposition… Despite the high stakes cat and mouse game, there are times a lighter touch would have been welcome. The scene where he chased Charlie’s auto, jumped in and asked her two questions, then jumped out and ran away had a nice flavour of deadpan absurdity. But when he ran towards the evil Bairavudu, the fierce emotion and torment he was feeling was palpable. Mahesh is a seriously good actor and I was a little disappointed the material let him down.

For those tracking Mahesh’s reluctant acquiescence to the shameless skinshow, he did wear tshirts, and flashed a glimpse of ankle in some manpris. I feel that the costume designer has been watching a bit of Kpop lately, with asymmetrical tailoring supersized to fit Mahesh’s lanky frame. I am grateful he went the mesh shirt (over a tee) and let the dancers don the mesh pants. He hasn’t varied his dance style from rhythmic hopping and emphatic pointing.

Mahesh, maaaate, it’s not the 90s anymore. The songs make a visual statement but musically they do little to lift the movie. And the English lyrics in Achcham Telugandham are woeful…hopefully deliberately!

A scrap of cloth at the scene of the double murder had traces of blood from 8 more people. And then a character said “and three of them were men”. Yeah it’s not like 7 women had also been killed. Someone think of the men! Also the stalking trope is given a twist but it is still stalking. Charlie confronts Shiva early on but as his mate Varun (under-utilised but highly likeable Priyadarshi) says, she noticed what he was wearing so of course she must have fallen for him. The “but she secretly wants it” explanation left a bad taste as did her cheerful acceptance that it wasn’t a big deal if it was Shiva tapping her phone.

Despite all the macho BS, the ladies fare quite well. Charlie wants sex without silly romantic shenanigans and decides Shiva is just right. She says to his mum “I’m 21. My parents have been married 20 years. I take after my mother!” and wins maternal endorsement to try her luck. Rakul Preet Singh has pep without being a manic pixie. Charlie was assertive and still a bit girly, and it was a pity after the boulder incident when it seems everyone forgot she was in the movie and ran off to the next scene without her. Charlie just gets to stand around in the background a lot despite all the likely issues with professional ethics, police procedure, and common sense. It was a waste of a competent actress.

In one of the best sequences of the film, a bunch of neighbourhood mums and aunties are persuaded to help Shiva in a dangerous rescue. He is in a van driving through traffic as he gives each of them a task, and they get shit done in magnificent style and to great music. The aunties not only saved the day but probably booked in coffee catch-ups and shopping trips as they climbed up poles and leapt across balconies. The audience, including me, cheered.

There’s some glossing over and leaps of faith required to buy in. Technology that can record, analyse, prioritise calls in real time from all across Hyderabad whether on analogue or digital networks and presumably in any language sounds great. But I can’t even get a Google doc to load on my work laptop! Shiva just happened to have a green screen handy when he needed to interrupt an evening soap. And he always knew exactly which of all the variables to choose, just on his gut instinct.

Bhairavudu (SJ Surya) is a nihilist and a sadist. He has no objective other than killing for the sake of it, and feel entitles to inflict pain. He is a creature of death and hatred, born in a graveyard. Surya is effectively menacing when he is passing through crowds or observing his intended victims, a cold hunger emanating from him. But when he starts with the capering and shrieking, it’s just acting crazy and it doesn’t ring true. What was with the hessian gimp mask? He could have done with more restraint, and Mahesh could have boiled over a little more and I think the second half would have been more compelling.

Jayaprakash is Shiva’s sensible dad and I think Dheepa Ramanujam plays Shiva’s sensible mum. RJ Balaji and Priyadarshi Pulikonda play Shiva’s down to earth work mates, both low key with the occasional laugh arising from their reactions to their heroic friend. I think the villains were instructed to overact because Bharath tries to get his teethmarks into the scenery.

You’d expect anything Santosh Sivan does to look amazing, and SPYder is very stylish. There are some good, and some dodgy, CGI effects, and the action sequences are full throttle. AR Murugadoss had a good idea but didn’t work through the detail to ensure the finale was as satisfying as the start of this larger than life conflict. Nevertheless there is plenty to enjoy, especially for the Mahesh fans.

Naanum Rowdy Dhaan

Naanum Rowdy Dhaan

I’m loving the recent ‘new wave’ in Tamil comedy that seems to be producing hit after hit and some very funny films. Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is the latest release from writer/director Vignesh Shivan and it’s a perfect example of the genre, mixing a good story with great dialogue and brilliant performances from a very competent cast. As an added bonus the film even has grammatically correct English subtitles (I’m going to assume that they were accurate too), ensuring I was laughing at the right moments – or at least along with everyone else.

The story is set in Pondicherry, which is another plus for me since it’s only a few years since I visited and quite a few of the locations were familiar. Pandi (Vijay Sethupathi) first appears onscreen as a young boy (Surya Vijay Sethupathi – Vijay’s son?) sitting in a jail, occupied with filling in the front of a school notebook with his interesting ambition (given his current location) of joining the police force. However all is not as it seems. Pandi is the son of the police inspector (Raadhika Sarathkumar) and the real occupant of the cell is Raja, played by one of my favourite ‘bad guys’, Rajendran. Yay! While waiting for his lawyer and get-out-of-jail-free card, Raja tells the young Pandi a story about a rowdy and a cop, when Pandi asked which is the better job prospect. The subsequent tale has the effect of changing Pandi’s mind about his career choice and he carefully changes the word in his notebook from police to rowdy.

So it’s a little surprising then when we see grown up Pandi to find he is going through a battery of tests to become a police officer, although he spends most of his time telling others how much better rowdyism is compared to law enforcement. But once away from the testing area Pandi is indeed a rowdy. Well, kind of.

Because Pandi isn’t a very rowdy-like rowdy.

Along with his gang of friends he has a lair painted with fluorescent paint on the walls that lists fees for various acts of violence, but when it comes down to it he doesn’t actually do any of these things. Instead the gang enacts a drama, getting people to pretend to have been beaten up or injured and then sending a photo of the ‘injury’ to the client. Pandi’s biggest success is arbitrating in a schoolboy squabble and most of his ‘swagger’ is an elaborate act without any real substance.

But then he meets Kadambari and gets involved in the search for her missing father. Kadambari is hearing impaired after an injury and her father is a police officer on the cusp of retirement. It turns out that the story Raja told at the start of the film was based in fact with the rowdy, Killivalavan (Parthiban) getting the better of police officer Ravikumar (Azhagam Perumal). Kadambari wants her revenge and since true love means killing your girlfriends enemy, Pandi takes on the job. Or at least offers to hold Killivalavan while Kadambari stabs him to death. A true gentleman!

The jokes come thick and fast from the numerous attempts to kill Killivalavan (or at least get him to apologise) to Raja’s gun that has a silencer that mews like a cat. The dialogue is very funny and the cast all do a good job in delivering their lines for maximum effect. Even Nayantara, who has a brilliantly comedic scene when she is kidnapped by another rowdy (Anandaraj) which had everyone in the cinema in stitches. Generally Nayantara is much better here than she was in Masss, giving her character plenty of personality and managing good chemistry with her co-star. She does well with the comedy too, and shows just what a good actress she can be when given the chance.

Vijay Sethupathi looks amazingly different here from his previous roles such as Soodhu Kavvum or Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara. Without his beard he appears years younger and seems to have shed some bulkiness along with the age which suits his character well. He still has the same great timing and flair for comedy though, working well with RJ Balaji in the role of Pandi’s long suffering friend. Balaji plays it straight but has plenty of witty comments and his delivery is perfectly timed. Together the two make a great pair and the dialogue between them is written so well as to appear natural and unforced – something which is rare in most comedies. Pandi tries very hard to be a tough guy, and when push comes to shove he proves he can hold his own, but he’d much rather just show the ‘tude rather than court any confrontation, while Balaji wants nothing to do with ‘real’ rowdyism at all.

Anirudh Ravichander provides the music and the soundtrack fits into the mood of the story well. Vijay Sethupathi skilfully avoids any actual dancing, and the songs themselves work well to move the romance story forward. George C Williams is the man behind the cinematography and as in his earlier films, he has a sure touch with the camera ensuring the film looks perfect too. Overall Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is an excellent entertainer combining action and comedy with a dash of romance. Recommended for Vijay Sethupathi, Nayantara and a very funny screenplay.