Janatha Garage

I want to grab Koratala Siva and shake him till his teeth rattle, then kick him into the middle of next week. He has managed to get a top notch cast and the beginning of a good idea and turn it into something far less than the sum of its parts.

Sathyam (The Complete Actor Mohanlal) is the head of Janatha Garage, a leader, and is genuine in his desire to give the little people a fair go. Mohanlal has great conviction and gravitas when he speaks of what is right and fair, and he gives the impression of a man who seeks to take a balanced view but who will never take the easy way out. He gathers a small crew of like-minded men who also represent in shorthand the diversity of Hyderabad. Janatha Garage repairs engines and problems.

Anand (Young Tiger NTR) has an unusual hero entrance where he arrives to … plant a tree. Or actually, tell someone he’s busy and so can they please plant the tree. Anand’s environmentalism is very simple. Trees good, humans bad. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with wanton destruction as long as it is him dishing out the destruction. He is given an overblown fight intro where he beats some thugs up while claiming to be giving them a taste of Mother Nature’s temper. He tells people what to do and believes they will do it because he has told them so. Sathyam sees him as a good fit for Janatha Garage, and welcomes him into the fold.

Some of the movie’s highlights are the scenes between NTR Jr and Mohanlal. Their characters have a connection that is unknown to either of them for quite some time, so that added a bit of interest for the audience. They both bring more to the table than that flimsy screenplay required. The actors portray a nice dynamic – warm, mutual respect, and a recognition of the gradual changing of the guard and what that means. But there are too many gaps and things that Anand in particular just accepts too easily. This is not a lack in Tarak’s acting – I felt he added as much complexity as he could. Both Anand and Sathyam are so sure they are right, and that their right is more right than anyone else’s idea of right. Anand in particular brooks no discussion and has no compassion for anyone who opposes him. It robs his character of any inner life, and makes them both rather joyless.

And that lack of heart is the real problem with this film. For a story that should be so intimately tied to people and their daily struggles, once the story moves to Hyderabad Janatha Garage seems to take place in a lifeless bubble. The sound design makes it seem like they are on a stage with echoing dubbing and swelling string music every time Janatha Garage is invoked. In contrast, an early scene of Anand running through a slum area in Mumbai had a real sense of place and the vibrant, persistent signs of life in high density cities. Even in the impressively choreographed action scenes, Anand takes on all comers alone. He finally allows the other Garage guys in on the final fight but they are barely on camera. And he never even gets a mark on his linen shirts, let alone get his hair messed up. I wonder if his construction strength hair product was environmentally friendly? His apparent invulnerability also saps the drama of tension because you know how every fight will end before it starts.

The support cast are pushed so far into the periphery that I was actually a bit sad to recognise so many capable actors. The Janatha Garage family includes Rahman as Sathyam’s murdered brother, Sithara as Anand’s aunty, Suresh as his uncle, and Devayani as Sathyam’s wife. Perennial favourite Ajay is likeable and sympathetic, Brahmaji doesn’t look angry for maybe 40 seconds of his total screentime, Saikumar is suave as police chief Chandrasekhar, and I liked Vennela Kishore’s fleeting appearance as an inappropriate office manager flirting with Samantha. I have just spent as much time on developing their characters as Koratala Siva did.

The baddies were played by Sachin Khedekar and Ashish Vidyarthi who both exuded an urbane egotism in their pursuit of wealth. They both want to keep a distance from what is being done, but have no illusions about the outcome. Unni Mukundan plays Sathyam’s son Raghava who goes over to the dark side. Raghava is slimy and bit of a sook and I cared not one jot for his well-being. But I did wonder just how he turned out that way when everyone else even tenuously associated with Janatha Garage was lining up for sainthood.

Samantha and Nithya Menon are capable, and both project warmth and liveliness which was sorely lacking in the rest of the film. But their relationships with each other and with Anand were never developed, and their storylines just fizzled out. Even Anand, apart from one tearful scene, seemed largely to forget that he had a girlfriend and a spare.

Luckily there are beautiful visuals from cinematographer S. Thirunavukkarasu, especially when the story heads out of town and Anand gets his groove on while frolicking in the mountains. Tarak can express such joy when he dances and it was a relief to see Anand lighten up. Rock On Bro is exactly what you’d expect if you briefed a 70s metal cover band to write a theme for a tourism ad with a hippy vibe. Having said that, the Apple Beauty song has possibly the worst lyrics I’ve heard since Eurovision. I pitied the subtitle team for having to work with such gems as “when you devour me I am like the Apple logo on an iPhone”. But don’t take my word for it. Here is a sample:

And who on earth thought Kajal could deliver a skanky item? She’s very attractive, she gives it her all, but she has none of the sensuality or basic coordination required to dance her way in and out of trouble. And casting a Mumbai girl to perform a Telugu item called Pakka Local…Luckily Tarak decides he can’t see the excellent sets go to waste so he jumps in.

I’m putting the flaws in Janatha Garage firmly on Koratala Siva’s account. He had a super cast, a decent budget, and a good idea and he threw most of it away with shoddy writing and empty clichés. One for the Tarak or Mohanlal fans who will enjoy the star performances.

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Maattrraan

I’m a big fan and I expect a lot from K.V. Anand and his writing team of Subha but sadly Maattrraan fails to deliver despite the presence of two Suriya’s, the hint of a good story and the best efforts of all the cast.  I was expecting the worst when I read about that the plot involved conjoined twins since anything even vaguely medical in Indian cinema is always replete with the totally impossible and that’s exactly the case here.  As if the ridiculous medical themes weren’t enough to deal with, the second half also has plot holes and inconsistencies big enough to swallow a small asteroid while it treads a well-worn path without any real excitement or tension. Just to cap it all off, Maattrraan also has one of the most ridiculous and unsatisfactory endings I’ve ever seen in a Tamil film!

It’s not all bad though.  The first half is generally entertaining and the interaction between the twins is engaging, but when the best chemistry in the whole film is between Suriya and himself then you know things aren’t looking good.

Suriya plays conjoined twins Akilan and Vimalan, who are almost separate, but can’t actually be separated because they only have one heart between them – which is only the start of the questionable medical statements.  Vimalan is intelligent, quiet and studious and completely different from his drinking, smoking and music-loving brother. They tend to overlook the fact that only having one heart means they share the same blood supply so if one twin was blind drunk, the other one would be intoxicated too, but logic never really intrudes on their relationship.  The differences between the two would have worked well for two fifteen years olds but seemed a little out of place in two grown men, especially since Akilan seems to be channeling late seventies Rod Stewart most of the time.

But the relationship between the brothers is the best part of the film and Suriya convincingly plays the part of the conjoined twins making them seem real rather than the product of a special effects team.  The twins are the offspring of Ramachandran (Sachin Khedekar), a genetic scientist who was forced out of Russia by the end of the cold war.  After some financial difficulties he set up the increasingly successful business of Energion, an energy drink for kids which consistently outsells and out performs all its competitors.  Add in a suspected Russian spy who is actually a journalist reporting on the connection between Energion and a health supplement which had serious side effects in a group of young Russian athletes and the scene is set for some dodgy chemistry and dubious genetic manipulation.

The film tries to ramp up into an action thriller, but since we know the villain is the rather mild-mannered Ramachandran along with his faithful side-kick Dinesh (Ravi Prakash) there aren’t many thrills to be had.  The fight scenes, especially one at the end of the first half between the twins and an assortment of thugs in an amusement park, seem to drag on forever. Perhaps it’s the challenge of the conjoined twins but even in the later fights, Peter Hein’s choreography isn’t as effective as usual.

There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for Akilan and Vimalan to be conjoined twins other than a gimmick to grab our attention.  It’s difficult to tell without understanding the dialogue, but there wasn’t enough in their relationship to fully explain why most of the budget had to be spent on creating the duplicate Suriya effect.  Especially since the rest of the film seems to have suffered as a result.  K. V. Anand films usually have great explosions, thrilling chase scenes and innovative fight sequences, but here the best of them are muted and the helicopter crash in particular is a rather damp squib.  Two brothers would have worked just as well, and although I get the nod to the fact that their father was a genetic scientist and the sequences with Akilan missing Vimalan in the second half were good, it wasn’t enough for me to justify the conjoined aspect.

Kajol Agarwal plays the role of Anjali, who starts off interested in Vimalan but then seems to change her allegiance to Akilan without too much distress in the second half.  Rather more believably, Anjali is a Russian interpreter which at least allows her to feature occasionally in the action and Kajol is fine in her role. Since the other female protagonist is the rather stilted and uncomfortable-looking Russian journalist, Kajol is also the better dancer which gives you a clue that the dance sequences aren’t anything too great either.  Even Suriya appears awkward for most of the choreography and the best thing about the songs are Kajol’s beautiful saris and skirts.  One song appears to have been shot in the Fjords in Norway and the scenery is absolutely stunning but also totally overshadows any hint of romance between Suriya and Kajol.

The basic story could have worked well, but it’s buried underneath all the CGI and far too many irrelevant trimmings that work against building excitement or tension as the plot unfolds.  Suriya is excellent and worth watching but that’s not enough to hold Maattrraan together. If you can watch with a willingness to completely suspend disbelief and don’t mind the constant clichés then this is probably a film that you will enjoy.  Otherwise wait for the DVD where judicious use of the FF button will likely make Maattrraan more watchable.