Sindhubaadh

 

Sindhubaadh

S.U. Arun Kumar previously teamed up with Vijay Sethupathi for the excellent Pannaiyarum Padminiyum and police-drama Sethupathi, both of which had well developed and slightly off-beat stories with an interesting array of characters. It’s disappointing then, that in Sindhubaadh, he’s come up with a disjointed story and characters who don’t seem to know exactly who they are supposed to be. Thankfully, Vijay Sethupathi is excellent and his presence, along with a strong performance from his son Surya Vijay Sethupathi is enough to keep the first half of the film engaging, but things go rather more pear-shaped in the second half.

Vijay Sethupathi is Thiru, a petty street thief who is hearing impaired. He lives with his adopted son Super (Surya Vijay Sethupathi), although the actual story behind their relationship is shrouded in various tales they spin Thiru’s uncle (George Maryan). Thiru’s lack of hearing allows him to sidestep his uncle’s attempts to sell their house to grab some fast cash and their tussles provide some of the comedy in the first half. Thiru is a pretty laid-back guy who doesn’t seem to have too many problems with his deafness and seems happy to continue on his slightly crooked path through life. Super is a perfect side-kick and his high spirits offset Thiru’s more relaxed approach to life.

Meanwhile Venba (Anjali) has returned from Malaysia where she’s been working in a rubber plantation to pay off family debt. Her family are trying to arrange her marriage but Venba’s loud strident voice puts off potential suitors. For the hearing impaired Thiru though, she’s the one person he can hear easily and he instantly falls in love with her voice. But Venba isn’t interested in marrying a thief, leading Thiru to try and change her mind by the tried and trusted method of stalking and harassment. And, as only ever happens in the world of movies, this tactic works – and now it’s Venba’s family who aren’t impressed with the prospect of a thief for a son-in-law. By this stage though Venba is quite prepared to sacrifice her family for a man she despised only a song or so ago, and she returns to Malaysia just to finish up her job there, promising to be back in a couple of days.

Unfortunately for Venba, the corrupt owners of the rubber plantation where she was employed are involved with a much larger criminal gang. When she arrives back in the country she’s sold to a consortium who are involved in the skin trade, with a more literal meaning than usual. Venba manages to get word to Thiru who sets off for foreign shores using the name Sindhubaadh in his fake passport with Super in tow. But this is where the story starts to break down. There are way too many coincidences that are used to patch over the gaping plot holes as Thiru crosses Thailand and into Cambodia in the search for Venba. Along the way, Thiru just happens to meet people who can both speak Tamil and point him in the right direction, including Vivek Prasanna who is trying to buy back his daughter from the same gang. There’s also a Tamil speaking police-man and the chief villain, Ling (Linga) coincidentally is a Tamilian adopted into the Thai gang.

Ling is a typical caricature of a bad guy who has a big build up as a vicious and remorseless killer, but ultimately ends up fairly ineffectual, resorting to screaming threats and petulant displays of bad temper. The mullet really doesn’t help either. Also strange is Thiru’s sudden emergence as a mass-style hero who can easily vanquish the thugs who stand between him and Venba. He’s a one-man army as he develops sophisticated traps, kills his opponents with a quick twist of the neck and survives everything that is thrown at him. At one point, Super throws a stone at a 4WD which flies through the window, hits the driver and causes the entire car to flip over. And that’s not even the most ridiculous part of that entire scene. It’s just all too much of a change from the easy-going persona of the first half and the continual coincidences just make the story even more ridiculous.

There are some good points though. Despite the clichéd romantic plotline, Anjali and Vijay have excellent chemistry together, and Anjali is good as the capable but loud Venba. It’s unfortunate that she has less to do in the second half, but she excels at looking terrified and at least she does get a chance to fight back. The best relationship though is that of Thiru and Super, and there is a wonderfully joyful camaraderie that shines out of everything they do together. Their father/son dynamic translates well into the story and Surya is developing into a fine actor. His comedic timing in particular is fantastic here, and his cheeky grin perfectly suits his character. In reality it’s this dynamic and the scenes between father and son that keeps the film from total disintegration in the second half.

Another plus point is a brief but well written scene with a prostitute who was one of the women seen working with Venba earlier in the film. She has information for Thiru and unexpectedly S.U. Arun Kumar treats their interaction sensitively with reactions from Thiru that are much more in keeping with his earlier persona. Sadly, it doesn’t last, and we’re quickly back to the mayhem and slaughter, but it does show that there are some good ideas here despite the lack of overall cohesion.

I really wanted to like this film. There is the makings of a decent story hidden under all the unnecessary travels across SE Asia, poorly utilised hearing impairment and extravagant Thai gangster plot. Vijay, Surya and Anjali are all excellent and make their characters engaging despite the inconsistencies in behaviour. It’s also encouraging to see a film about people trafficking that isn’t voyeuristic but gets across the horror of being treated like a commodity and the fear that prevents escape, even if that’s mostly subsumed under the action adventure. Technically too, the film has been well put together and the subtitles by Aarthi are clearly visible and grammatically correct.  What lets the film down is the screenplay which just doesn’t come together once the story leaves India and all the extra threads to the story that mainly just add confusion. Sindhubaadh ends up as a formulaic mass action film that isn’t terrible but doesn’t have any of the magic expected from the pairing of Arun Kumar and Vijay Sethupathi. Worth watching once for the father and son relationship that genuinely lights up the screen.

 

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Pannaiyarum Padminiyum

Pannaiyarum PadminiyumPannaiyarum Padminiyum is another Tamil film I watched initially because I liked the soundtrack and thought the story sounded interesting. It’s based on an original short film with the central idea extended into a full length feature by writer/ director S.U. Arun Kumar. It’s a sweet story about a village landlord and his pride and joy in a vintage Padmini car that he borrows from a friend. While the film is mostly about the various characters in the village and how the car comes to represent their dreams, there are a number of love stories interwoven into the narrative – including one between the driver Murugesan and a village girl Malar. But the best love story is the one between the landlord and his wife Chellamma, and that’s the one that makes this film well worth a watch.

Pannaiyar (Jayaprakash) and his wife Chellamma (Tulasi) have an open house policy, where anyone in the village who needs anything can come and get their help at any time of day or night. They’re somewhat hindered in their efforts by their hapless servant Peddai (Bala Saravanan) who tends to jinx everything he touches, but really the only blot on their horizon is their daughter Suja (Neelima Rani). Suja visits her parents regularly and always manages to remove something of value from the house despite the best efforts of her mother. Chellamma is incensed by her daughter’s avaricious behaviour and Suja very definitely isn’t the usual ‘good daughter’ featured in rural Tamil dramas. I like this different take on the mother/daughter dynamic, particularly since Chellamma is kind and accommodating to everyone else. It’s only with her daughter that she has a mutually antagonistic relationship although it’s clear that the reason for it is the heartache Suja causes her father.

When Shanmugam (Mahadevan) lends his Padmini car to Pannaiyar, at first he is content to just stand and look at it as it sits in his yard. But then there is a village emergency and the car is needed to drive a young boy to hospital. Luckily for Pannaiyar, local farmer Murugesan (Vijay Sethupathi) knows how to drive a tractor, so he is quickly enlisted to drive the car to the hospital. Murugesan is introduced trying to race against a bicycle, so we know that he has a need for speed – even if his tractor can’t even win a race with a pedestrian let alone a cyclist. For Murugesan the Padmini car is a whole new world and he quickly becomes totally besotted with the car, as are Peddai and Pannaiyar and pretty much all the kids in the village. The joy they have in the simple presence of the car is well captured by the delight each shows in cleaning and looking after the vehicle, and the squabbles that occur as each asserts his right to each task.

Chellamma is the only sensible one who keeps her distance, although she is secretly amused by the men’s absorption with an inanimate object. She knows that the car does not belong to Pannaiyar and she refuses to have anything to do with the car and their obsession.

Chellamma is an interesting character who has very definite ideas about her role in life and how to best manage her ‘family’. This includes Murugesan and Peddai as well as her husband and she keeps everyone in line so subtly that they don’t realise just how they are being looked after. When the car unexpectedly is left to them, Chellamma tells her husband that she will only ride in the vehicle once he has mastered the art of driving. Naturally then Pannaiyar accepts the challenge and determines that he will learn to drive in time to take her to the temple for their wedding anniversary. However this means that Murugesan will have to relinquish control of the wheel, so the lessons go very slowly indeed.

Meanwhile Murugesan falls in love with Malar (Iyshwarya Rajesh) when he ends up transporting a body for a funeral. It’s an interesting situation for a love story to start and Murugesan’s struggle not to approach Malar on such a sad day is charmingly depicted.

Eventually Malar and Murugesan do manage to get together although the romance is kept low-key with Malar very definitely in second place behind the car in Murugesan’s affections. Iyshwarya Rajesh is lovely here and has a lovely dynamic with Vijay Sethupathi. She has a small role but makes an impact every time she appears onscreen, while Vijay Sethupathi avoids appearing as a ‘star’ and is perfectly understated, keeping to the background when required but still impressive when the focus is on Murugesan.

The more developed romance is the one between Pannaiyar and Chellamma which shows a well-established and happy marriage, even after all these years. They have their ups and downs, disagree about their daughter, but despite the occasional argument they have a very strong and loving relationship. Each tries to save the other from unhappiness as much as they can and the love the two have for each other comes across clearly in all the thoughtful things they do for each other. Even with all the sentimentality, the romance never feels too sickly sweet but rather is warm and affectionate. Tulasi is just fantastic here, and has some wonderful facial expressions, particularly behind her husband’s back. Jayaprakash is also excellent, and this song perfectly shows their sweet relationship.

While the story is very simple it’s effective, and the car becomes the symbol of the dreams and desires of the various characters. Murugesan wants to keep driving as it gives him enough prestige to attract Malar, and he is worried that he will lose his job when the landlord learns to drive. Pannaiyar wants to drive to impress his wife on their wedding anniversary, while Chellamma wants her husband to be happy. The boys in the village just want to sit in the car and dream big dreams, with one even collecting 5 rupees to pay Peddai to let him sit in the front seat. It’s all very charmingly told and when the inevitable problems occur they are dealt with sensibly, without resorting to excessive melodrama. The soundtrack from Justin Prabhakaran is also excellent, with each song perfectly fitting the situation and well placed in the narrative to move the story along. I love the lyrics in this, including the references to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and other classic cars – it’s such a happy song too!

Pannaiyarum Padminiyum is a simple story that focuses on the relationships between the central characters and on their naive dreams and aspirations. With such a limited focus the story does end up feeling just a tad too long by the end with some of the diversions adding little to the overall plot. There are one of two moment of mushy sentimentality in the relationship between the landlord and his wife which really weren’t needed as Tulasi and Jayaprakash are at their best when they keep their relationship natural and realistic. Definitely one to watch for the main leads and a sweet story that’s warm and engaging right to the end. 4 stars.