Jai Chiranjeeva

K Vijaya Bhaskar’s film is a rightfully neglected effort from the latter part of Chiranjeevi’s pre-hiatus career. While Chiru’s Megastar presence is always compelling, he can’t compensate for the desultory direction and derivative screenplay. On the upside, Arbaaz Khan makes Bhoomika look like a brilliant actor so she must be happy.

Pasupathi (Arbaaz Khan), obviously EVIL, steals a cargo ship to go to Mumbai. His henchman (Rahul Dev) is waiting there (again, obvious signs of EVIL). Pasupathi demonstrates a new fancy gun with computerised target tracking, and when Ramkoti (Jayaprakash Reddy) seems mildly disbelieving he shoots a child playing some distance away in the park. EVIL.

Meanwhile 40 something year old virgin Sathyanarayan Murthy (Chiranjeevi) comes to the big smoke to stay with his relatives. Some unfunny mistaken identity shenanigans result in sexual harassment, but it’s OK because he is filthy rich. Even a comedy fall from the roof involves heroics and mild sexual harassment (stopping a robbery, encouraging a couple to get it on, copping a feel of the one who will be One of The Ones). He continually crosses paths with Shailaja (Sameera Reddy) and of course sparks of all types fly. Sometimes literally.

After a big night Sathyanarayan passes out drunk and has a long flashback to the death of his much loved niece, Lavanya. She was a pushy little minx and, sadly, also the child murdered in Pasupathi’s gun demonstration. When Sathya learns that the doctor lied to him about Lavanya’s cause of death and colluded with the gang to prevent a police enquiry, things become more dangerous for everyone. Back in the present day, the doctor’s daughter Neelima (Bhoomika) becomes involved as she seeks justice for her dad who was killed to prevent further blabbing. She ends up in a fake marriage with Sathya so he can get a visa for the USA to go kill Pasupathy.

The film should be improbable but suspenseful, but almost everyone, including Sathya, seems go off task far too easily. For someone bent on revenge and believing he is on a mission from god, Sathya is easily distracted. There is always the opportunity to bust a move or rehabilitate a child beggar by telling her not to beg anymore because it just isn’t nice for a girl to do that. Chiru has to perform every style from slapstick to smack down and he is good, as he always is. But it’s more like a series of skits so the dramatic tension is lost, and Chiru has nothing to get his teeth into except the scenery. The songs by Mani Sharma are diverting and Chiranjeevi looks like he is having fun with the choreo. The action scenes are tailored to suit him and, despite being copied badly from films like the Bond and Die Hard franchises via Jackie Chan, they are a highlight. While it’s obvious he’d been living in a good paddock and wasn’t his svelte 80s self, he really goes for it.

However the attitudes are a bit 80s and it’s very vexing. Venu Madhav chases prostitutes and rejects one who is too dark. That was supposed to be funny. Shailu’s parents say they stopped her studying because she behaved like a boy – i.e. did what she liked. Shailu decides to stage a party and make Sathya pay for his insulting behaviour. Simple country lad Sathya has to be styled up as a parody of Chiru just to get in. Luckily pub = dancing. But his (drunk) song combines bhangra beats with a warning of how drinking and partying is not for nice young ladies and they should be careful not to make their parents cry with their modern ways. Neelu’s family pressure her to leave her father’s death alone and not cause embarrassment by looking for the truth.

The two girls are the only ones with a real sense of purpose. I quite liked Sameera Reddy. Shailu was not the most realistic character but Sameera has a robust energy that stood up well against Chiranjeevi’s presence and her dodgy wardrobe. She wasn’t afraid to go for it in the dances either. I didn’t necessarily agree with her decision making but I thought Shailu was articulate about what she wanted and where she drew the line. Bhoomika used both of her expressions, and despite having the potentially more substantial role she didn’t really make much of it. Neelu was tortured, threatened, kidnapped, her poor puppy Dandy was the victim of a Fatal Attraction bunny boiler scenario, and yet I barely remember anything about her. I have better recall of her bedroom furnishings, right down to the Australia shaped souvenir on her bedside table. Neelu has reservations but is won over by Sathya’s “revenge is better than happiness” speech. Plus he promised to only kill bad people. Shailu finds out Sathya intends to marry Neelu to get a USA visa but agrees because she loves him…and makes them have a church wedding as a Hindu ceremony is only for realsies. Points for actually having the discussion I guess.

Pasupathi likes to believe he is the puppet master but while all of his plans seems grandiose, the execution kind of fizzles out. I mean, it takes a miracle from god and Lavanya but eventually Sathya notices the building sized portrait of Pasupathi on the side of a skyscraper over the road and deduces that might be the top secret HQ he has been searching for. A bomb that took several minutes to describe and would supposedly vaporise a building only set fire to a small section of the car park. If I had been Arbaaz’s school careers counsellor I like to think I would have steered him away from “acting”. But since the rest of the baddies are played for cartoonish laughs, he does kind of fit in.

Among the many interruptions to the big comeuppance there is a long comedy interlude with Brahmi. I kept shouting reminders they should be off doing revenge-y things but nobody seemed to care. Even on the way to find the baddies they had to stop for a dance break at a wedding. MS Narayana has a running gag appearance that does nothing but isn’t offensively awful. Sunil is Ramkoti’s useless son and while I find him likeable as an actor I kind of wished the death threats had come to fruition. Even Tanikella Bharani annoyed me with his turn as a travel agent. My Comedy Uncle Intolerance has not waned.

I don’t hate the film as there are enough bits and bobs that make it mildly entertaining, plus there’s Chiru. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but a Chiranjeevi completist. Watch the songs, you’ve seen the rest in one form or another. 2 ¾ stars!

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Vettai

After a lot of confusion about the date Vettai would actually release in Melbourne, the film finally made it onto a screen in one of the chain theatres on Saturday night. And it was well worth the wait! For anyone a little unsure, there are at least 3 reasons to see this film.

  1. Madhavan and Arya onscreen together (surely the perfect pairing!).
  2. English subtitles – even the songs (something that not even every Hindi film can manage).
  3. And the absolute winner – there are no comedy uncles!

It’s a really funny film with great one-liners but no separate comedy track since the humour comes from the two main leads. From some of their previous films I knew that both actors were good in comedic roles, but the two of them together make for some of the best and funniest comedy I’ve seen in a Tamil film. Add in two very strong female characters and an assortment of stalwarts in the support cast, and it all adds up to some great masala entertainment.

It’s a tale of two brothers. Madhavan is Thirumurthi, the elder of the two, and basically a wuss. He is upset by violence and is unable to stand up for himself in a fight. Luckily he has his younger brother Gurumurthi (Arya) to do this for him. No matter what the situation, Guru will come running to his rescue at the call of ‘Thambi’ but especially if it involves the chance to be involved in a major punch up. It’s a twist on the more usual story where the elder brother rescues the younger, and their relationship forms part of the comedy in the film. Although Madhavan could have played Thiru as a total coward, he makes him more timid and sensitive rather than just frightened, while Arya’s Guru is more caring and perceptive than first appearances would seem.

After the death of their father, Thiru allows himself to be ‘persuaded’ to become a police officer and thus follow in the family tradition. After his training, he is posted to Thoothukudi district where two gangs of rowdies are feuding with each other and generally terrorising the town. As the newest police officer, Thiru gets roped into dealing with Annachi (Ashutosh Rana) and Mari (Gaurav) although in reality it’s Guru who takes care of his assignments while Thiru basks in the praise of his fellow officers.

Sisters Vasanthi (Sameera Reddy) and Jayanthi (Amala Paul) are introduced by an excellent song where they discuss the ideal husband – no pencil thin moustaches and no big bushy historical ones either seems to be quite a reasonable requirement to me. It’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Nirav Shah and it’s great to have a song with just the two lead actresses by themselves. Vasanthi meets Guru after an incident in the street and despite their initial clashes Guru advises his brother that she would make him the ideal wife. Meanwhile Guru falls in love with the rather less acerbic Jayanthi although the two have to negotiate the obstacle of a potential NRI groom (Rajeev Ravindranathan) picked out by Vasanthi for her sister.

The second half is a little darker and the fight scenes become more intense and threatening as Annachi and Mari try everything they can to get rid of Thiru. Annachi attempts to terrorise Vasanthi which doesn’t work at all, and his next ploy to kidnap Guru and force Thiru into submission backfires as spectacularly as expected. The final showdown is brilliantly executed and it’s great to see the two heroines with important roles to play in the climax rather than being shuffled off or used solely as victims.

Although the story itself is fairly predictable and there are some rather large plot holes, overall Vettai is great fun. Madhavan and Arya have fantastic chemistry together as the on-screen brothers and both seem perfectly cast. Madhavan looks slightly over-weight and’ soft’ which befits his character although later on in the film he does buff up a bit as he starts to fight back. And yes, I did enjoy those scenes! Madhavan has some great expressions as he shows how flattered Thiru is by the respect he gets purely as a result of his uniform and contrasts it with his horror at the violence he sees around town. He gets it just right to make Thiru a sympathetic character rather than solely a figure of fun as he tries to dodge the rowdies and accept the lavish praise from his boss.  Nasser is hilarious here in a cameo role as Thiru’s over enthusiastic superior officer and makes the most of his short time onscreen.

Arya is literally a one-man army and looks amazing as he punches his way through entire gangs of rowdies, but still has time to rescue an injured dog. What style! He keeps his facial expression very deadpan during some of his funniest dialogues, but there is a gleam in his eye and he totally looks the part of the ultimate bad boy. He’s a force to be reckoned with in every respect. Guru’s protectiveness of his older brother is really very sweet and underneath the tough exterior it’s obvious that he really cares. The brothers’ relationship is very well written by Lingusamy, but it’s the performances that make it come to life and give the film such a solid base to build the story.

Sameera Reddy and Amala Paul are both very good in their roles. Sameera’s Vasanthi is a very strong and forceful character and she manages both the comedy and the drama equally well while establishing good chemistry with Madhavan. Amala Paul was very impressive in Mynaa (the only other film I’ve seen with her) and she’s equally good here. Her character has excellent rapport with Guru and there is plenty of sensuality in her portrayal without resorting to skimpy outfits. There is one song where she had Western clothes but the hemlines are kept reasonable and the outfits fairly respectable (by film standards at least!). Other than that, both sisters have some stunning outfits and look absolutely beautiful throughout.

I really like the songs by Yuvan Shankar Raja and they seem to suit the overall feel of the film. Sadly Madhavan really only dances in the first song, but Arya more than makes up for that with some great moves in the others.  Amala Paul just manages to keep up with him. The fight scenes are well choreographed, and although Ashutosh Rana isn’t a very villainous villain, his various side-kicks and henchmen are plenty vicious and nasty instead. Vettai is a film that balances the action, comedy and romance very well, and the star power of the leads makes it a step above a standard masala flick. I loved it and thoroughly recommend watching!