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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RangiTaranga (2015)

RangiTaranga

Luckily RangiTaranga was so popular in Melbourne last weekend that they ran some extra screenings this Saturday, giving me the chance to see Anup Bhandari’s début film on the big screen. As an added benefit the film released with grammatically correct English subtitles (yay!), and with yet another full house and the option of samosas and tea at the interval, it was definitely well worth the trip out to Monash.  And it’s a good film too. RangiTaranga is a clever blend of horror and suspense with plenty of twists and unexpected plot turns that keep the film entertaining until the very last minute. It’s an excellent effort from a new director and mainly inexperienced lead cast, although they receive plenty of assistance from the very capable veteran support actors.

The film starts out similar to any classic horror story with a deserted road, driving rain and a lone pregnant woman in a car. Something half seen on the road causes an accident and as the eerie music starts it’s pretty much guaranteed that the lady in the car isn’t going to make it home to her frantic husband. Nothing grotesque is actually shown on camera but right away the atmosphere is set to creepily scary even after the film shifts to the present day and blue skies instead of a dark night.

Gautam (Nirup Bhandari) and Indu (Radhika Chetan) are expecting their first child, but Indu wants to go back to her ancestral village before the baby is born to fulfil a superstitious belief that this will stop the spirits ill-wishing her baby. Gautam rashly agrees to take her, even though Indu is 8 months pregnant and has previously suffered a miscarriage.  After all what can possibly go wrong? At the same time journalist Sandhya (Avantika Shetty) is trying to track down reclusive novelist Anashku and manages to discover his post office box address, which sets her off on his trail. Of course Gautam is Anashku which means eventually Sandhya follows Gautam and Indu along the same rain soaked lonely roads from the beginning of the film to reach the village of Kamarottu.

There are many strange incidents once Gautam and Indu reach the village and the reputedly haunted house that belonged to her family. The ‘ghost of the hills’ seems determined to terrify Indu and her reluctance to leave the house means few of the villagers have even seen her. This becomes a problem later on when Indu disappears and the police refuse to believe that she ever existed. Sandhya becomes involved in Gautam’s search for his missing wife but there are more mysteries than just Indu’s disappearance and not every clue ends up being relevant.  Gautam has the assistance of local postmaster Kalinga (Saikumar) and teacher Shankar (Ananth Velu) while Inspector Haadimani (Arvind Rao) does his best to discredit Gautam at every turn.

RangiTaranga succeeds because it has a well written story with many unexpected twists. I would have been lost a few times without the subtitles as the story gets ever more convoluted with every new revelation. And yet it all makes sense with all the subplots cleverly interlocking to form a complete whole by the end of the movie.

Despite their relative inexperience, or maybe because of it, the cast are all great too.  Nirup Bhandari is excellent as the ever more desperate husband while Avantika Shetty is nicely eccentric as the journalist who gets roped into the search for Indu. Gautam isn’t particularly heroic and never has to do anything too impossible which makes his actions plausible and relatively realistic, despite the supernatural theme. Like any good hero he doesn’t believe in the ghost but the very real fear for his wife and the increasing tension he experiences as his world falls apart is very well expressed. Thankfully Radhika Chetan’s Indu isn’t as terminally dumb as most horror heroines – she doesn’t go tearing off by herself or take ridiculous risks, which makes her terror more frightening and Radhika effectively portrays Indu’s distress and fear. There were times when I wished she would be just a little less brave, and I did jump quite a few times when Indu went hunting whatever it was that was making the odd noises rather than sensibly running for cover and waiting for Gautam to get home!

Saikumar has an important role as the postmaster of the village and his character is well written to take advantage of his support for Gautam and Indu, although there again, things may not be quite what they seem. It’s a perfect role for Saikumar and he is excellent, particularly later in the film, while the rest of the support cast are just as good in their various roles.

The film looks fantastic with the amazing colours in the Nee Kele Vaaduve song perfectly bringing to life the colour wave of Rangi Taranga. All the songs are excellent, although they do occur in quick succession in the second half and could have been a little better placed. B. Ajaneesh Loknath’s background score is very effective and maintains the mood of the film without ever getting too loud and intrusive. Another plus is the stunning cinematography from Lance Kaplan and William David with traditional costumes blending well with shots of beautiful countryside to provide an excellent contrast to the spooky shots inside the building or in the forest at night.  Basically it’s a complete package where everything works together to make RangiTaranga one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Definitely one to catch on the big screen if you can.