Thiruda Thiruda

thiruda thiruda poster

Thiruda Thiruda is a 1993 action film from Mani Ratnam that follows the exploits of two thieves when they inadvertently become involved in a major bank robbery. It’s a real ‘action’ film as almost every scene involves either a fight or a chase of some kind (using nearly every single kind of transport you can imagine), and the heroes are always on the move. At almost 3 hours, the film is rather long, but there is so much happening on screen that it’s an entertaining if not completely edge-of-your-seat watch. However the real reason to watch the film is the excellent music from A.R. Rahman which mixes opera, disco and electronic music with more traditional themes to give one of his best and most interesting movie soundtracks.

The film starts with the printing of new bank notes, destined to be sent all over India in specialised containers that require a computer card to gain access. For added security the containers also require a password, but since this is printed on the computer card, there may not be quite the level of protection the Finance Department think they’ve achieved. The card looks more like a plastic credit card than the key to a sophisticated locking system, but maybe it looked like modern technology back in 1993 and does mean it’s easily transferred between the various thieves. The card is also amazingly impervious to damage and works even after prolonged submersion in water – that does also apply to the truck carrying the money and the container full of money too though so perhaps it’s the water that has the special properties!

Criminal mastermind T. T. Vikram (Salim Ghouse) has various lackeys in India who steal the money for him, but his chief accomplice Ashok (Ajay Ratnam) is quickly apprehended and arrested by CBI chief Laxminarayana (S. P. Balasubramaniam), prompting a rather juvenile temper tantrum from the boss. However after an unpromising start, Salim Ghouse settles into the role of evil mastermind and enjoys himself immensely as he executes people who displease him after he heads to India to find his money. I like that his gang mange to arrange themselves artistically before starting to menace their targets and even the initial robbery is carried off with precise timing and a pleasing display of acrobatic moves on a moving train.

Before his arrest, Ashok manages to send the vital computer card and a cryptic message to singer Chandralekha (Anu Agarwal) who skips out before the CBI manage to arrest her too. Meanwhile petty crooks Kathir (Anand) and Azhagu(Prashanth) are on the run from the police after looting a safe belonging to one of the rich men in their village. During the robbery they stop Rasathi (Heera Rajagopal) from committing suicide, but rather than being grateful she decides to go with them to reclaim her share of the jewellery they have stolen.  Kathir and Azhagu don’t want to be burdened with a village girl so they unsuccessfully try to dump Rasathi, until they learn that she is escaping from an unwanted marriage with her uncle and become sympathetic to her plight.

The unlikely trio cross paths with Chandralekha and get drawn into the race to find the money while trying to stay one step ahead of the law and simultaneously avoid T.T. Vikram and his merry band of thugs. Things move along quickly with a little romance and some attempt at comedy, but mainly there are chase sequences (many, many chase sequences), as Kathir, Azhagu and Rasathi escape from the police, Rasathi’s uncle and his henchmen, the CBI and Vikram and his gang, although not all at the same time. Mostly these are well choreographed with bicycles, motorbikes, cars, horses, buses, trucks, trains and even elephants being used at some point or another, while the art of disguise and misdirection are also used to good effect.

The action sequences ensure that the film keeps moving along at a fast pace, which may be why the various characters are relatively under developed and the script somewhat lacking at times. Kathir and Azhagu should have had an easy camaraderie given that they are two thieves who have been working together since childhood, but here their relationship is clunky. This is particularly noticeable when a love triangle develops between the two thieves and Rasathi and there is little rapport or emotion during their scenes together. It may be the fault of the subtitles but the dialogue between the two is also awkward and fails to deliver the idea of two great buddies out to con the world together.

Heera Rajagopal is much better as Rasathi and even manages a bonding session with the sophisticated Chandralekha which gives Anu Agarwal the chance to make her character more sympathetic than she first appears. Despite her overdone entry scene, I really liked Heera and her portrayal of Rasathi. Every time I felt she was in danger of becoming a typical heroine, moping around and waiting for someone else to save the day, she actually got up and did something about her situation instead. Anu’s Chandraleka was also a much stronger character than anticipated and although the two female leads have less to do than the men, they give the film some much needed shading and depth. S.P Balasubramaniam is in fine form as the CBI officer chasing after the thieves, and fares better than the leads as far as characterisation goes. He has more of a back story and shows good rapport with his co-workers while showing off his excellent interviewing skills. His Laxminarayanan is one of the more interesting characters along with Malaysia Vasudevan as the police inspector, while Ajay Ratnam, Madan Bob and the rest all provide good solid support throughout.

The music really is the stand out performer in Thiruda Thiruda and A.R. Rahman changes from full chorus and orchestral score for the big production numbers to the evocative and very effective a capella song Rasathi, and pretty much everything in between. The mixture of Western and Indian music works well here and it’s probably my favourite Rahman soundtrack just because it is so varied. The accompanying cinematography from P.C. Sreeram is also excellent and the staging of the songs ensures each fits fluidly into the storyline. This is probably my favourite though – a lovely song, beautifully sung by Shahul Hameed with simple but powerful picturisation.

While there are a many Indian films that feature bank robberies, I haven’t seen many that follow this style of heist caper more typical of Hollywood films. It doesn’t work as well as it should due to the lack of rapport between the two male leads, but the various chase sequences are fun to watch and the storyline does have a few reasonable plot twists. For a film that does have so much action, there isn’t much suspense but the characters are likeable, the songs enjoyable and overall the film does entertain. Worth watching for the songs, Heera Rajagopal and S.P Balasubramaniam. 3 ½ stars.

Thiruda Thiruda

Koyla

As it seems has been the case with many other people, my path to Bollywood addiction started with Shah Rukh Khan. A late night chance viewing of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge on TV and I was instantly hooked. So I was slowly working my way through his older films (and loving pretty much all of them) when we had a discussion in Hindi class about films that were so bad they were good (you know exactly what I mean here!) and the subject of Rakesh Roshan’s Koyla came up. So of course after hearing the description, this became a must see film, and despite all the violence, gore and trashy OTT characters it’s fun and quite frankly an addictive film to watch. Koyla is certainly not my favourite SRK film, but hidden amongst all the craziness there are some really wonderful moments, particularly in the songs where Madhuri also shines.

But of course the main reason for watching is this:

And a bit of this:

Where to start with such a crazy film? Shah Rukh Khan is Shankar, a mute slave to the incredibly evil and megalomaniacal Rajashahib (Amrish Puri). Shankar is introduced running with the dogs he has trained and the implication is clear that Raja regards him as just another one of his well-trained animals. Leaving aside the fact that Shankar has a truly terrible mullet, as does Raja himself, there is also the very questionable decision to make Shankar wear such immense shoulder pads. It’s hard to believe this film was made in 1997 and not the mid eighties considering some of the fashion choices in this song:

Raja is obviously a bad man with his bad hair and a ’mark of evil’ mole. He also has an even more sadistic and quite insane brother Brijwa who, in trashy bodice ripper novel style, tries to drag off every young woman he encounters.

Despite an intimate relationship with his secretary Bindya, Raja is hungry for another young woman, and eventually tricks Gauri (Madhuri Dixit) into marriage. We first see Gauri frolicking around the fields with a gang of children all high after eating cannabis laddoos. Possibly this is supposed to show how innocent she is, but it’s really just very ‘what the?’ instead. She’s easily tricked when Raja sends a photograph of Shankar instead of himself as the potential bridegroom. A sadistic tyrant Raja may be, but at least he is somewhat aware of his own shortcomings as a potential groom. After a sham of a wedding, Gauri tries to escape but she’s a typical wishy-washy heroine and doesn’t manage anything effectual. Although perhaps fainting is understandable when she tears off the grooms veil to show Raja instead of Shankar! Compare and contrast:

Bindya is displaced in Raja’s affections and ends up as all fallen women do as she is disposed of into the local brothel. This treatment of Raja’s former lover starts to open Shankar’s eyes to the depravity of his owner – it’s taken him 20 years but it’s a start. When he discovers the deception behind Raja and Gauri’s marriage he feels compelled to protect her and when finally Raja kills Gauri’s brother Ashok (Mohnish Behl in a very brief guest appearance) Shankar finally escapes with her into the jungle.

So how do you pursue your wife and slave when they have run off together? By helicopter of course! There is plenty of First Blood style action and Shankar does manage some amazingly intricate traps for a man on the run with no obvious resources. Finally Raja manages to catch up to the fugitives and cuts Shankar’s throat before sending him to his death over a cliff. Amazingly, Shankar just happens to be discovered by a local healer who sews him back up again and restores his voice as a useful side benefit. Gauri meanwhile is destined for the brothel (Raja is not a man of novel ideas), where she finds a protector in Bindya. Because of course, the impure fallen woman has to come good before she is killed in any proper Bollywood film.

There are explosions, plenty of revenge killings and bucket-loads of blood, but finally Shankar does prove that good will always win over evil, especially when good has such an excellent (and frequently used) hero run.

The story has plenty of holes and yet it all makes sense if you just ignore the questions of why and how. There is a flashback to explain exactly how Shankar lost his voice in the first place and why Raja rose to his current level of power. The end ties everything up with the greedy exposed and everyone important and still left alive is redeemed in the end, even Ashok Saraf’s irritating Vedji. This is one of the first films I saw where Johny Lever’s character had a more serious role to play and he pulls it off very well, with only one or two dips into irritating comedy as Vedji’s son and Shankar’s friend. This is probably the best song of the film featuring the two with Shankar’s friend supplying his ‘voice’.

What really does work well in this film is the slowly developing relationship between Shankar and Gauri. There is plenty of chemistry between the two, as there always seems to be with SRK and his leading lady, and they have some very heart-felt scenes particularly when Shankar has no voice and SRK is relying on facial expressions and body language alone. This is one time when SRK’s tendency to overact works very well in his favour and his emotions are excellently expressed. The gradual maturation of Gauri from frightened girl into a woman who helps fight back at the end is well handled. And of course any time Madhuri is dancing she is entrancing. The songs by Rajesh Roshan (lyrics by Indeevar) are the high points of the film and Saroj Khan has done an excellent job with the choreography in each.

But the rest is just plenty of OTT wonderfulness and a surfeit of blood and gore with a healthy helping of revenge. The violence is too cartoonish to be difficult to watch, although there is a dark undercurrent as much of the violence is directed against women. Thankfully though, all the bad guys get their comeuppance and there is always a good song just when the death count is in danger of getting too extreme. It does have an 18 rating which I presume is as a result of the number of attempted rape scenes and general adult themes throughout, although it’s really not as suggestive as many Hollywood films. The bush surgery is excellent and I did particularly like the casts for Shanka’s broken arm and leg which imploded with no apparent ill effects when he started running. Of course he was back to full health and fighting fit in a very short time like all true heroes should be. And perhaps it’s that heavy vengeance burden that explains those shoulder pads earlier!

Koyla is not a film for the faint hearted and I wouldn’t recommend it as a must see film for everyone. But if you like your BW to have the baddest villain and the most extreme trials for a hero and heroine, then it’s definitely a film you should see. 3 stars.