Kali (2016)

Kali

I’ve been looking forward to the combination of Dulquer Salmaan and Sai Pallavi onscreen in Sameer Thahir’s Kali, and thankfully they don’t disappoint. It’s an interesting film too, with a simple but effective screenplay from Rajesh Gopinadhan, following the story of a young man who cannot control his temper and the unexpected consequences of one of his episodes of rage. The first half sets the scene for a compelling thriller in the second half and with excellent performances from all the actors, Kali is definitely well worth a watch.

The film starts with a violent fight at a roadside restaurant. It’s beautifully choreographed and includes the displeasure of the restaurant’s resident cat whose meal is disrupted by the conflict. The snarling cat adds a touch of wildness and lawlessness to the fight that’s echoed later on in the film when the action returns to the restaurant. The short but vicious opening also sets the scene for another fight, although this one is less physical but equally damaging in its own way.

Siddharth (Dulquer Salmaan) is a man with a very short fuse and the simplest of things makes him lose his temper. After the fight at the restaurant, the next round is between Siddharth and his wife Anjali (Sai Pallavi). Anjali is seen leaving their house in tears and carrying a suitcase, while inside Siddharth is angrily throwing objects at the wall. It’s a scene of domestic life that rings true, particularly since Anjali isn’t staying around to accept any abuse and sensibly heads for the door. However it’s late at night and Siddharth at least doesn’t leave his wife walking down the road by herself, managing to pick her up in their car even though he’s still clearly very angry indeed.

The film moves into flashback to show how Siddharth has always been quick to lose his temper, even as a child, and how the years haven’t mellowed his reactions at all. Throughout his time as a student and even during job interviews, Siddharth shows no patience and absolutely no control over his angry reactions. He’s a man who reacts first and rarely thinks about the consequences of his behaviour. It seems strange that Anjali does stick with him and it’s hard to believe that Siddhartha hasn’t had any previous problems as a result of his behaviour. No-one ever seems to react badly to his outbursts for example. What’s good about the flashback though is that there is little about the love story between Siddharth and Anjali. Their romance is simply a fact, and the film instead shows Anjali’s struggle to cope with Siddharth’s temper outbursts and her attempts to keep him on an even keel. Many of the situations are drawn from routine day-to-day hassles and while Siddharth’s irritation is understandable it’s his inability to control his reactions that make him such a difficult person to deal with.

There is a kinder side to Siddharth too though, and he’s not all rage and temper. He does make some attempt to keep his temper and tries to control his frustration with his bank customers using a stress ball Anjali gives him, with at least some partial success. However he has an incredibly irritating colleague in Prakashan (Soubin Shahir) who is deliberately provocative and obnoxious, although Siddharth does his best to ignore him as much as possible. Dulquer Salmaan and Sai Pallavi have excellent chemistry in their scenes together which makes their relationship believable. It’s easy to see why Anjali stays with Siddharth despite his anger management issues – the two are clearly in love and outside of his temper tantrums Siddharth is a caring and attentive husband. I love the end of this song where Anjali dances with Siddharth in their living room. It seems very natural and spontaneous, plus Sai Pallavi is simply gorgeous in that red sari!

The film steps up the pace in the second half when Siddharth and Anjali find themselves in a frightening situation as a result of Siddharth losing his temper with truck driver Chakkara (Chemban Vinod Jose) on the road. The couple end up at the restaurant seen in the opening scene of the film where Siddharth’s anger puts him and Anjali in real danger and Siddharth has to curb his natural aggression to try to ensure their safety. The tension rises steadily as the situation escalates further out of control and both Gireesh Gangadharan’s cinematography and Gopi Sundar’s music work well to add further pressure.

Dulquer Salmaan does a fantastic job of conveying his rage without going too far and over dramatising his outbursts of temper. Despite his ever-present anger he manages to make Siddhartha at least a partially appealing character  and I even found myself in sympathy with him as I was just annoyed by Prakashan and the bratty child that visited Siddharth’s house! Dulquer also is excellent in the latter half of the film and allows his inner struggle to show clearly on his face as he deals with the staff and clientele at the restaurant. It’s another brilliant performance and despite the negative tones I thoroughly enjoyed his characterisation here.

After her critically acclaimed début in Premam, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sai Pallavai but she puts in another fantastic performance in Kali.  Her frustration and disappointment with her husband come across beautifully and she gets the level of embarrassment and distress just right when Siddharth loses his temper in public.  On top of all that she still manages to have great chemistry with her co-star and makes their relationship believable too. She’s just as good in the second half and her terror and helplessness are a major factor in maintaining the tension in the latter part of the film.

The support cast are also uniformly good with Vinayakan and Chemban Vinod Jose perfectly cast as the main villains of the story. They effortlessly exude menace and both have great evil grins and good use of their expressions to help increase the tension every time they appear onscreen. Soubin Shahir is incredibly annoying as fellow bank employee Prakashan and as such manages to win Siddharth some sympathy for having to deal with such an idiot on a day-to-day basis! However thankfully Prakashan is never too over the top and Soubin Shahir doesn’t just play his character for laughs but actually makes him a more plausible character than expected.

Kali is a film of two halves. The first sets up the situation for the rest of the movie, and concentrates on the personality of Siddharth and his relationship with Anjali. It’s a well constructed observation of human interactions and the painful cost of unreasoning rage and unsociable behaviour. The second half on the other hand is an out-and-out thriller where the characters are more broadly drawn and the action tense and frightening. And yet, despite the different pace in the first and second halves the film works well as a whole story and makes for an enthralling two hours of cinema. Highly recommended.

 

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Premam (2015)

Poster

I was lucky enough to catch Premam in the cinema when it released earlier this year, but disappointed that the film wasn’t subtitled. Thanks to the great cast, I loved it nonetheless but knew that I’d missed much of the story through not understanding the dialogue. But happily the DVD released quickly and I was finally able to understand why the cinema audience had been laughing so much! Premam is funny, thought-provoking, nostalgic, romantic and occasionally sad, but most of all it’s entertaining, and that, combined with the excellent cast, makes it one of the best Malayalam films released this year.

Premam is a fly on the wall look at George David (Nivin Pauly) and his search to find love during three different stages of his life. The film details George’s day-to-day exploits as he transitions through high school, college and then finally into owning his own business, all supported by his friends Koya (Kichu – Krishna Shankar), Shambu (Shabareesh Varma) and Jojo (Siju Wilson). Throughout, as George grows and matures he keeps the same basic personality traits; he’s quick to respond with his fists, is easily distracted and likes to smoke and drink, but for the most part George is a likeable romantic and it’s easy to want him to succeed in his various romantic endeavours.

The first romance occurs when George is 16 years old and has a major crush on Mary, a girl from his church. Along with almost every other male teenager in the area, George spends his time following Mary home and concocting schemes to make her notice his existence. Not all his friends are quite as enamoured of Mary however, and there is the problem of her father who has a ruthless but effective method of discouraging his daughter’s many admirers.  Anupama Parameswaran looks the part of a young village girl and is remarkably tolerant of the seemingly never-ending stream of boys on bikes outside her family’s gates. Her hair really does resemble a beehive at times though!

Nivin Pauly is excellent here, looking very youthful and totally nailing the obsessive nature of a sixteen year old in the middle of his first love affair. His friends too all manage to appear as typical teenagers, fixated on minutiae and preoccupied with their own lives to the exclusion of all else.  Alphonse Puthren keeps this part of the story light and fairly superficial, as suits the love affair of a sixteen year old, although George David is already wrestling with the big question of exactly what is love?

The second romance is more serious and involves an older, but not much wiser George. Now at college, George is a typical college hoodlum. Along with his friends he rags the new students, creates trouble in and out of class and even drinks on campus before his lectures. However he’s still a romantic at heart, and once he sees new lecturer Malar (Sai Pallavi) he’s immediately smitten. Rather surprisingly Malar seems equally charmed by George although she keeps her distance during classes and initially seems more of a friend than a lover.

Along with George, another lecturer Vimal (Vinay Forrt) is in love with Malar and he desperately follows the advice of fellow teacher Shivan (Soubin Shahir) in his attempts to gain her attention. Vinay Forrt is as excellent as always in a well written comedic role that gives him some brilliant lines including a very funny lecture he gives on the computing language Java that really makes no sense at all!  My favourite scene though is a sequence where Malar teaches the guys a dance routine they perform at their end of year college celebrations. The end result is perfectly executed to look exactly like a bunch of students having a blast performing on stage.

Despite the unlikely nature of the relationship, the romance is well developed and the story meanders through George’s routine days at college with his friends including clashes with other students and their daily visit to the canteen. It’s a stronger and deeper relationship than the first but again Alphonse Puthren has a light hand with the story and paints an engaging picture of young love. Sai Pallavi often appears more like a college student rather than a guest lecturer, but she is charming and very natural in her role.

Sadly events conspire against the relationship and the third part of the film finds George as the owner/manager of Café Agape (the theme of love continues), specialising in cakes and cake decoration. It seems a dramatic change from studying computing in college but George seems to have found his niche in life even if he hasn’t as yet found his soul-mate. But then Celine (Madonna Sebastian) walks into the café one evening and seems to be rather taken with George. It turns out that Celine is the younger sister of Mary and has memories of George being kind to her while he was in pursuit of her sister. Unfortunately there are a few obstacles to be cleared along the way, but in this final part of the story there is hope that George will find true love at last. This part of the film is more conventional in terms of the love story, although again the focus is on George’s life – there is a phone call from an old college friend to invite George to his wedding and interactions with the various customers of the café – rather than just the romance. It works well and again feels very natural as each character adds their own small part to complete the story.

Although there is nothing particularly outstanding about the plot, the method of showing the different love affairs as part of George’s day-to-day life is very effective and ensures that each character has their own well-developed personality. Effectively what we see on-screen are snapshots of George’s life, which also happen to include moments of romance, and his relationship with every other character is portrayed very naturally.  Nivin Pauly is simply fantastic and his performance ensures that his character is seen to grow, not just in age but also in maturity with each part of the story. He isn’t afraid to cry either and he does a credible job of playing both a teenager and a young student with all the emotional ups and downs required. It’s interesting too that although the main focus of the film is George, all the female roles are equally well written and all are strong characters who appear more capable and deal better with adversity than George and his friends. They have lives outside of their relationships with George and are not defined solely by their relationship with him. All the friends too are excellent in their portrayals of young men at three different stages of their lives and the camaraderie between them all feels very genuine. Overall, the casting seems ideal and no-one appears out of place in their role, even Alphonse Puthren himself who has a cameo appearance towards the end.

Anand C. Chandran ensures the film looks amazing and he has an excellent eye for details such as a frog in the pool when the friends are all drinking, or a small sparrow perched up above the menu board at the café. The music from Rajesh Murugesan is also lovely with beautifully poetic lyrics to the songs, although at times the subtitles are rather baffling! The songs also work well within the narrative, although apart from Rockaankuthu they are montages used to further develop each love story.
Premam

Alphonse Puthren has crafted a captivating film where every character has a role to play and the story unfolds very naturally. Dialogue, screenplay, performances, cinematography and music all come together perfectly to deliver a polished and entertaining film that seems to just get better each time I watch it. I loved Premam and heartily recommend watching for Nivin Pauly at his best, Sai Pallavi and an all-round excellent cast. 4 ½ stars.