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.

Brahmotsavam (2016)


Srikanth Addala’s Brahmotsavam is a real mishmash of a film, where random family scene follows random family scene with the emphasis on feel-good values and upbeat emotions rather than anything inconvenient like a storyline. This is one film where the subtitles didn’t seem to help at all and much of the dialogue made absolutely no sense, but a few other audience members explained that not only were the subtitles inaccurate, but that the script was fairly random too and they were just as confused. It doesn’t help that most of the characters don’t have actual names but are called brother, brother-in-law or sister-in-law (and there are a lot of them), making Brahmotsavam less of a celebration and more of a memory test. Mahesh is always watchable and the strong cast are all charismatic, but with nothing much actually happening over more than two and a half hours, Brahmotsavam is sadly uninspiring.

The film starts with a family celebration, which I think was a wedding but could have been almost anything – maybe just breakfast – given the families propensity for breaking into song and dance at any moment.  Whatever the occasion, Sathyaraj likes to ensure that the whole family celebrate it together – that’s all his brothers, their wives, children and his brother-in-law Rao Ramesh. Everyone is sickeningly happy all the time except for Rao Ramesh who suffers from intense (but understandable) familiyitis and resents Sathyaraj’s success with the paint factory he runs. Naturally everyone in the family works at the paint factory when they’re not singing and dancing around the family home, and they’re all deliriously happy to be working there too. It’s actually a little odd to see Mahesh in such ultra-happy family mode for most of the film, but when he sheds the happy and has to show a range of emotions he really is excellent. More of this would have made for a better and more enjoyable film.

Just to add to his individuality a small animated figure appears to speak to Rao Ramesh any time he is particularly exasperated with his brother-in-law. Since most of the time this imaginary figure berates him for his lack of appreciation for Sathyaraj and the family gatherings this has the effect of making Rao Ramesh even more miserable and less willing to participate. After the first 15minutes I was totally on Rao Ramesh’s side and could completely understand how the continual en masse family gatherings could very easily make anyone want to run screaming for the hills as fast as possible. Rao Ramesh is much more tolerant however and manages to last almost until the second half before he snaps and leaves the family group.

As part of the celebrations, Kajal arrives from Australia for a few months and her father decides it would an excellent idea if she stayed with Sathyaraj and his family rather than spend the time with her own relatives. She’s gorgeous and confident, and Mahesh is smitten the moment he sets eyes on her. However, since she lives in Australia where the accepted practice if you like someone is to tell them you’re interested, Kajal is rather taken aback by someone staring relentlessly at her at every available opportunity without speaking. Living in the same house makes it ridiculously easy for Mahesh to stalk Kajal without appearing to do so but after a few uncomfortable moments Kajal seems intrigued by her silent admirer. The romance progresses as expected but despite Mahesh and Kajal seeming to get on well together, Kajal decides that she wants more from life than to be the wife of a paint manufacturer and decides to move on. She has ambition and is prepared to sacrifice what’s basically a holiday romance for her in order to ensure her dreams come true. I like this assertiveness in her character and Kajal is appropriately confident in the role, while still remaining respectful to the family and her father. It’s a good performance and I like this more mature and sensible Kajal.

Luckily for Mahesh, Samantha turns up in slightly manic friendly overdrive mode and the pair set off pair set off around India in the search for Mahesh’s roots. One of the first family members he meets is the hapless Vennela Kishore and the couple decide to drag him along with them on their road trip. It seems strangely unnecessary but at least Vennela Kishore and Samantha speak to each other which does help to make sense of the second half. Samantha is just a little too zany to be convincing but her energy does help lift the second half. The problem here is a lack of definition for her role and a fluffy backstory that does little to establish her character.

The biggest issue with Brahmotsavam is the addition of too many random scenes which are only peripherally connected to the main ‘plot’ (such as it is) and don’t serve any purpose. For example, at one point Mahesh and his parents are talking by video connection to his sister in the UK. His mum is showing off various sarees while Mahesh teases his sister and the talk finally comes round to how much they miss her and wish she was there. Big family moment – lots of tears, virtual hugs and emotion. And then that’s it – she’s never mentioned again. So much of the film starts with an apparent purpose and then fizzles out without ever going anywhere, making it difficult to work out what (if anything) is relevant.

The first half is also very song heavy with most of the songs coming one after another with little reprieve, including one where Mahesh and his backing dancers frantically try to get insects out of their clothes. That is definitely one of the high points and got the most cheers from the fans in the audience, but possibly not for the choreography. The second half settles down to a standard road trip and there are fewer songs which makes this part of the film flow more smoothly. It’s still a series of random encounters, but at least that does fit in more with the idea of a journey to find yourself while Samantha keeps everything moving along nicely.

There are a few positives to the film. The songs by Mickey J Meyer are good if oddly placed, and Gopi Sundar’s background music is generally effective and not too intrusive. The film looks beautiful and R Rathnavelu’s cinematography captures the warmth of the family home and the stunning landscapes as Mahesh and Samantha travel around India. All the main leads are fine, if somewhat incomprehensible for much of the film, and Mahesh certainly delivers in terms of emotion but the star of the show is undoubtedly Rao Ramesh with his grumpy and often bewildered demeanour. However, the lack of a comprehensible storyline and the random pointlessness of many scenes means that Brahmotsavam is probably best enjoyed on DVD where it’s possible to skip the vague dialogue, watch the songs and admire the beautiful scenery without worrying about the deficiencies in the story.

24 (2016)

24 Poster.jpg

For a science fiction film about time travel there is something more than a little magical about 24. Vikram Kumar has come up with a compelling story and made a technically excellent film with a well-chosen cast who all perform beautifully. Suriya is outstanding, favourites Ajay and Saranya Ponvannan are impressive in rather more substantial roles than expected and the whole film is a wonderful masala mix of action, drama, romance, comedy and mystery. Definitely one to catch in the cinema to fully appreciate the VFX but also well worth watching for the expertly crafted story and first-rate cast.

24 combines many of the usual elements of a Tamil film, but although the ingredients may be commonplace the resulting story is refreshingly novel. First there is the rivalry between two brothers; Sethuraman and Athreya (both Suriya), one a brilliant but obsessed and oblivious scientist working on a device that will allow travel through time, and the other his jealous and coldly calculating elder brother who will stop at nothing to steal the device for himself. Moving 26 years into the present day, there is Sethuraman’s son Mani (also Suriya) who knows nothing of his past, his adopted mother Sathyabhama (Saranya Ponvannan) who has sacrificed everything to keep Mani safe and the evil Athreya still trying to track down the device to try to rewrite his own past. These are all familiar plot elements but here cleverly put together to ensure there are plenty of surprises throughout and just when it seems the next step in the journey is inevitable, Vikram Kumar twists the path and the story heads off in an unexpected direction.

The opening scenes are amazing and although supposedly set in 1990, the steam train, cars, motorbikes and fairy tale-like mansion give an older-world ambiance. This is helped by the lighting which is golden, warm and suggestive of candle-light especially when compared to scenes set in the present day that are lit more brightly with colder, bluer lighting. Sethuraman has converted his entire house into a gigantic laboratory to work on his invention, and in typical mad-scientist style he has secret rooms, hidden passage-ways and odd devices everywhere. Think Wallace (Wallace and Grommit) with a bigger budget. Thanks to the intervention of a CGI eagle, Sethuraman manages to create a watch that will allow time travel but before he can celebrate his success, his elder brother Athreya shows up to steal the invention. Suriya’s Sethuraman is a classic bespectacled and nerdy inventor, right down to his abstraction when his wife Priya (Nithya Menen) tries to get him to help with their young son Manikanden and various dangerous substances inappropriately placed for safety around the room. This of course allows for maximum damage when Athreya shows up but paint a picture of a ‘typical’ scientist which Vikram Kumar then turns on its head as Sethuraman turns out to be more practical than first impressions suggest. The opening scene sets the precedent for the rest of the film – there is a good amount of humour, plenty of action and drama with Suriya drawing all eyes and commanding centre stage throughout.

The film moves 26 years into the future where Mani is grown up and working as a watch mechanic with no knowledge of his past, or just what he has in an unbreakable box that he cannot open. Athreya is still around too, although after the events 26 years ago he is a crippled shadow of his former self getting around in a motorised wheelchair after waking up from a coma. Athreya is as malevolent as ever and with the help of his trusty sidekick Mithran (Ajay) goes about trying to turn back time 26 years to reverse his accident and regain the use of his legs. Again Suriya does a fantastic job with the character of Athreya – he’s confidently wicked in 1990 when he goes after his brother and his family, and wonderfully warped and bitter in 2016 as a twisted figure in a wheel-chair. Suriya brings the character to life and makes him so much more than a stock evil villain.

Mani is more the kind of character Suriya has played in recent films, but with a hint of mischievousness that differentiates Mani from the likes of Massu and Raju Bhai. There are some well scripted moments between Mani and his onscreen mother Sathyabhama which give Saranya Ponvannan more than the usual mother/son dialogues to get her teeth into. As always she’s the quintessential filmi ma, but here she gets to have a back story and separate personality aside from being a mother and she rises beautifully to the opportunity.

There is also a romance – of course – there has to be a romance! Mani falls for Sathya (Samantha) just as he discovers his father’s watch, and the romance is partly an excuse to showcase all the things the watch can do. The love story is the most conventional part of the film but Suriya and Samantha have good chemistry and Vikram Kumar adds in some light-hearted comedy to ensure the romance doesn’t overcome the action. Girish Karnad, Mohan V. Raman and Sudha as members of Sathya’s family add more background and all are good in their respective roles.

A.R. Rahman provides the music, but it’s around an hour in before the first dance number which is the appropriately electronic sounding Kaalam en Kadhali. I loved Suriya’s dancing in this – it was definitely worth the wait! The rest of the songs are more romantic and fit less well into the narrative, although I did appreciate the black and white co-coordinating costumes in Naan Un. The music itself is lovely, but the songs slow down the narrative and really don’t seem particularly necessary to move the story forward.

Although there is plenty of good comedy in 24, it’s kept light and even Sathyan, as Mani’s friend Saravanan, is more restrained than usual. It is still laugh-out-loud funny in parts though which provides a good contrast to the few more violent scenes, particularly one just before the interval which is shocking in its sudden brutality. However that is the exception and most of the fight scenes rely on intelligence rather than brute force.

24 has the look and feel of a Hollywood film without losing any of its Southern Indian roots. If this had been a Western film, no doubt 3 different actors would have been cast in the different roles of Mani, Sethuraman and Athreya, but in part the film works so well here because it is the same actor in all three roles. Watching Suriya play three very different characters is mesmerising all by itself while ensuring the familial relationship forms part of the story. Plus more Suriya is generally a good thing! The visual effects are slick, polished and look amazing, while the cinematography from S. Tirru is excellent, adding another layer to the story and ensuring a sophisticated look to the film.

Vikram Kumar impressed me in Manam with his ability to make a complex story flow easily and he does it again here. Yes, there are a few too many coincidences and no-one seems to worry about what will happen to the future when the past is altered, but these are small issues that don’t seem to matter when the rest of the film is so well done. 24 is an excellent piece of storytelling and the best big budget film of the year so far. Don’t miss it!