Karuppan (2017)

Karuppan

After recently watching Rekka, Karuppan feels rather familiar with another foray into ‘mass’ territory for Vijay Sethupathi. R. Panneerselvam’s film is a standard plod through family relationships in a village near Madurai that fails to bring anything new into the genre, despite a few good ideas that unfortunately fizzle out midway through. Vijay Sethupathi, Tanya and Bobby Simha all do justice to their roles, but unfortunately the film lacks the fire it needed to make this a more compelling watch.

The story is set around the time of Jalikkattu and features a number of scenes involving bull wrestling. I really hope that the opening credits had the usual advice that ‘no animals were harmed during the making of this film’ but since everything was in Tamil with no translation I really couldn’t be sure (although these scenes did mainly seem to be CGI). I’m aware that Jalikkattu is a big thing in Tamil Nadu, but from the footage shown here the whole thing seems rather pointless to me and wasn’t at all enjoyable to watch. The reason for including Jalikkattu is that Maayi (Pasupathy) has a bull in the competition and decides that it would be a good idea to wager his sister’s hand in marriage to the man who manages to win the contest. Naturally the hero of the hour is Karuppan (Vijay Sethupathi) who wins the wrestling medal and the hand of Anbuselvi (Tanya) when he manages to make Maayi’s bull fall over.

Needless to say Anbu is not happy about her prospective groom and the method her brother has used to decide on the match, but like any good Tamil girl she threatens to kill herself if Maayi forces her into marriage. By this point I was ready to walk out – surely not even Vijay Sethupathi was going to be able to salvage this one, but then there was a twist to the story and it started to get more interesting. (Mild spoilers ahead)

Maayi had previously matched Anbu and Karuppan’s horoscopes and had already decided that he would be the perfect husband for Anbu, while Anbu had seen Karuppan take a stand against a seller of blue films and liked him for his values. And possibly also for his rather impressive moustache – sadly no subtitles for the songs means I may have made that part up, but it seems just as plausible (it is a magnificent moustache)! So, after a brief song and dance to introduce the prospective bride and groom, Anbu declares that she is ready to marry Karuppan just as soon as he can be convinced that the wedding is not solely due to his winning of a wager. Karuppan has the previously mentioned values you see and doesn’t take the wager seriously.

Unfortunately for the future happiness of the couple, there is a potential cloud on the horizon. Kathir (Bobby Simha), Maayi’s brother-in-law, had his heart set on marrying Anbu and when he can’t persuade Maayi that the whole wager idea is wrong, he decides to break the couple up by any means he can. Kathir is a sneaky villain and rather than gathering a gang of men to beat Karuppan into submission straight away, he goes for subtle and insidious goading of Maayi and the other villagers. This is done well with the odd piece of gossip dropped into the conversation, a nudge on one of the villager’s shoulders during a town meeting to get him to say his (obviously pre-prepared) piece and plenty of slanderous hints dropped around the village. Kathir is sweetly two-faced too, supporting Karuppan and speaking well of him to his face, but back-stabbing him as much as possible behind the scenes, and Bobby Simha does an excellent job of making this all seem very plausible.

Karuppan doesn’t help the situation by falling into Kathir’s traps which include getting outrageously drunk and insulting his in-laws at a temple function for his marriage. Kathir ensures that one of the people insulted by Karuppan is local gangster Varusanadu Sadha (Sharath Lohitashwa), setting Karuppan up to be dealt with by the gang if Kathir’s other plans fail to break up the marriage. Bobby Simha is very good here and he ensures his character has no redeeming characteristics. He keeps the characterisation low-key but effective to deliver a rather less physical but no less nasty villain.

Anbu is frustrated by her new husband’s failure to keep on the straight and narrow and when an estrangement occurs between her brother and her husband, she’s back to trying to kill herself without making any attempt at reconciliation. Sigh. Thankfully, apart from her suicide attempts, Anbu is a sensible and down to earth character, so there is hope that the whole situation can be resolved – after a major fight scene of course.

What works well here is the relationship between Karuppan and Anbu which quickly develops despite the unconventional betrothal. Vijay and Tanya have good chemistry together, while the mix of love scenes and quarrelling is typical of any couple trying to make a life together. One of the standout scenes is when Karuppan learns that Anbu is pregnant and his joy and happiness are perfectly portrayed. Vijay Sethupathi fits well into the role of a blustering but good-hearted farmer who adores his mother and his new wife, and he ensures the emotional scenes are effective without being too over the top.

Also good are the interactions between Karuppan and his uncle (Singampuli), particularly as they indulge in old Tamil film song karaoke together when drunk. They enact the different male and female roles, mouth the words and generally amuse the crowd with their antics in a couple of sequences that are very well put together.

Anbu is an interesting and generally strong character, although I couldn’t understand why her first impulse was to kill herself every time she ran into a bit of bother. Unlike most film heroines, Anbu isn’t afraid to let her husband know that she finds him attractive and she has enough confidence in their relationship to handle the ups and downs of Karuppan’s drinking. She’s a strong character who doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations in their relationship and in effect is a much better ‘bull-tamer’ than Karuppan could ever be, particularly since the bull she is taming is Karuppan himself. So, it doesn’t make sense that she isn’t able to deal with the issues between Karuppan and Maayi and effectively discourages the two from talking to each other. Or that she doesn’t confront Karuppan more directly in the second half of the film and slap some sense into him, as she does in the first half.

The film starts badly, gets steadily better throughout the first half, but loses its way in the second before an unexciting and overly contrived finale. The songs from D. Imman are good and mainly well placed, although the lack of subtitles made them less effective for me given that at least two were used to move the narrative forwards. The best are pictured on Vijay Sethupathi and Tanya, although Vijay does some inspired uncle dancing which is definitely a highlight!

Karuppan has an interesting heroine, a more complicated than usual villain and a charming hero, so it should work better than it does. Despite the good characterisations, the story itself is pedestrian with everyone tending to behave quite traditionally despite the set-up suggesting more unconventional approaches. Worth watching for the chemistry between Vijay and Tanya, an excellent take on a sneaky villain and those uncle dances.

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Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu

kiragoorina-gayyaligalu

Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu is a beautifully filmed adaptation of a novella by acclaimed Kannada writer Poornachandra Tejaswi. Director Sumana Kittur has teamed up with screenwriter Agni Shridhar (responsible for the excellent Aa Dinagalu) to give a colourful look at village life in rural Karnataka from the recent past. Various small incidents illustrate the relationships between the different groups in the village, but the usual routine is thrown into disorder when there is a plot to con the villagers out of their land. The situation escalates until it’s up to the ‘rowdy women’ of the title to restore order and deal with the corrupt officials behind the scam. I haven’t read the original story but the film is charming with a balanced blend of drama and comedy that still manages to address a number of social issues, albeit in a light-hearted way.

The film starts by showcasing the differences between the men and women of the village. While the women are out working, the men are lounging around the village, playing dice and utilising the services of the village barber. The women from different castes all work together without any issues but it’s a different story for the men of the village who are more inclined to take notice of someone’s place in society. The higher caste Gowdas negotiate the cheapest price they can for any work done for them by the lower caste Kulavadis although the men all congregate to drink together in the village arrack shop at the end of the day. The arrack shop is a point of contention for the women as they feel that this is the reason their husbands have become lazy and argumentative. All in all, Kiragooru seems to be a typical village with the usual colourful characters, petty disputes and plenty of potential for mischief.

Daanamma (Shwetha Srivatsav) is an outsider from a different village who is married to Subbaiah (Rahul Madhav), one of the Gowdas in the village. Despite being a relative newcomer, the other women look to her for support and she’s the one they ask to break up a fight between Kaali (Sukrutha Wagle) and Rudri (Manasa Joshi) when tempers flare. She’s just as competent at home, refusing to let Subbaiah leave when everyone else runs from a police jeep in the village and ensuring the household runs to her satisfaction, although she does seem to have a genuinely happy relationship with her husband. Daanamma also provides support to Nagamma (Sonu Gowda) whose husband Kaale Gowde (Kishore) is abusing her for failing to provide him with children. Kaale is desperate to marry for a second time and has fallen for Bhagya (Karunya Ram), a vegetable seller in the local market but doesn’t tell her the truth about his marriage to Nagamma. Rounding out the village are the Kulavadi farmers who include Maara (Nikhil Manjoo), Kariya (Sampath Kumar) and their families.

Shankrappa (Achyuth Kumar) is the government welfare officer for the village, but he also runs the arrack shop and is plotting with Bhootha Swamy (Sharath Lohitashwa) to con the villagers out of their land. When Daanamma threatens the visiting Tahsildar and runs him out of the village, Shankrappa files a complaint against her with the police that also accuses the Gowdas of cheating the Kulavadis out of their rightful wages. This results in the Gowda men being taken away to the police station where they endure a humiliating experience at the hands of the drunken Inspector. They immediately turn to Bhootha Swamy for help, but he lies and tells the men that it was the Kulavadis who filed the complaint. This widens the divide between the two groups, further fuelled when Bhootha Swamy lies to the Kuavadis too and the Gowdas fan the flames by employing an outsider to chop up the tree. No reconciliation seems possible until Daanamma takes matters into her own hands and enlists the rowdy women of the village to sort out the problem once and for all.

It’s a well told story with plenty of quirky characters, but the appeal of the film lies in the excellent performances from all the actors. No matter if the character is only on screen for a few moments such as the unethical Dr Appanna (S Narayan), everyone seems to fit their role perfectly. Shwetha Srivatsav has most time onscreen and is brilliant as Daanamma with her perfect mix of compassion, bravery and common sense making compelling viewing. This is very different to her role in Simple Agi Ondh Love Story but she again makes excellent use of her facial expressions and both looks and sounds the part of a rural villager. Sukrutha Wagle is appropriately shrill and combative as one of the Kulavadi rowdy women, while Sonu Gowda provides contrast as the silent but still expressive Nagamma. The scenes between the different female characters also ring true with plausible discussions of their routine chores and complaints about their husbands with the occasional small rivalry thrown in to demonstrate how they got their reputation. Their support for each other is also realistically portrayed along with their determined reactions which are a good contrast to the men’s vacillations and indecision when faced with a problem.

The men all suit their various roles too. Rahul Madhav, Sunder and Anathavelu are all good as the overly trusting Gowda men, while Kishore is excellent as the abusive Kaale. Although the character is mainly comedic, there is a serious side in the abuse he deals out to his wife and it’s a credit to the film that this is dealt with sensibly, both highlighting the abuse itself and giving a solution that shows Kaale to be the one at fault rather than his long-suffering wife. The film also raises the issues of drunkenness and caste division and although these are used to some extent for comedy, there is a serious side as these are shown to be real issues for the community. Naturally the women are the ones to solve these issues too with their practicality and common sense winning the day.

Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu is a film where everything just comes together perfectly. Manohar Joshi’s cinematography is complemented by Saadhu Kokila’s music and Sumana Kittur evokes a village atmosphere through colourful dialogue and fantastic attention to detail. The language is often beeped out but the subtitles are hilarious with the women not afraid to air their graphic opinions publicly and loudly! Each scene is complete in itself but also serves to establish and evolve the different characters and situations. Added together they all build up to a captivating story and satisfying finale. One I highly recommend for the excellent performances, well-written screenplay and some of the best female characters I’ve seen in Indian cinema. 4 ½ stars.

Ethir Neechal (2013)

Ethir Neechal

Ethir Neechal is one of those films I’ve been meaning to watch for ages, mainly because I loved the soundtrack when it first came out, but also because I’d seen the video for Local Boys and thought it looked fantastic.  It also sounded unusual, with a story combining an attempt to run the Chennai marathon with a romance and some comedy, plus a reference to real-life track athlete Santhi Soundarajan added in to the mix.  Unfortunately though, despite a good beginning, the film loses its way in the second half where the light and breezy romance is suddenly pushed to one side by the trials and tribulations of a serious sports story and it never quite recovers.  Still, Siva Karthikeyan is a likeable hero and there is that excellent soundtrack which makes Ethir Neechal worth at least a one-time watch.

The film starts with the woes of a young man with an unfortunate name. Kunjithapatham (Siva Karthikeyan) has endured sniggers and laughter for years as the short form of his name is apparently a rude word in Tamil. His one childhood rebellion to try to change his name resulted in his mother falling ill, so he decides to put up with his name and just get on with life. He’s fairly successful too, but the combination of an insensitive boss and a romance that falls through when the girl hears his name means that finally Kunjithapatham decides to takes his friend Peter’s (Sathish) advice and change his name. Naturally this can’t be a simple decision and requires a visit to numerologist Gunasekara Raja (Manobala) to finally come up with the new name of Harish.

No sooner has he changed his name than good things start to happen for Harish. He meets up with teacher Geetha (Priya Anand) and falls in love straight away when she compliments him on his name. Harish also gets a new job and makes a clean break with his old name and old life. Everything seems to be going along fantastically well until Geetha finds out that he lied to her to hide his old name. She’s unimpressed and Harish resolves to achieve something that will allow him to make a name for himself and make Geetha proud of him.

Harish decides to run the Chennai marathon, and not just in an attempt to finish. Oh no – nothing that basic. Harish wants to win the race, despite only starting to train when he signs up a few months out from the event. This is where Valli (Nandita) enters the story as a trainer for Harish and the story suddenly turns serious.

After a run in with corrupt coach Raja Singh (Ravi Prakash), Valli was stripped of her medal at the Asian games when she failed a gender test. Harish learns of her story and this gives him another reason to win the marathon and beat Raja Singh’s current top runner. The problem is that there is an extended flashback showing Valli’s struggles as a young athlete and the issues she faced in trying to compete. While I appreciate R. S. Durai Senthilkumar’s attempt to raise awareness of the difficulties athletes in India face, Valli’s story acts as a road block and completely changes the mood of the film.

Valli is based on the athlete Santhi Soundarajan, whose real-life story is compelling enough to be a film in its own right rather than just as a brief add-on as seen here. It’s not just that Valli’s struggles don’t fit well with the rest of the film but her story doesn’t add anything to Harish’s attempts to be accepted – despite both characters having an ‘invisible handicap’ to overcome. Valli is also fairly unlikeable as portrayed here and with her prickly and antagonistic nature it’s difficult to warm to the character. Nandita seems dull and lifeless in the role, although she is better in the flashback in the scenes with her father (Sharath Lohitashwa), so I presume her grumpy attitude was due to the director. The happy romance of the earlier scenes is completely overshadowed by her serious and dour attitude, so it’s a relief when the film does move on to the actual race and the mental and physical struggle faced by Harish. Even though the film stays serious, Siva Karthikeyan is a personable hero and the marathon is well filmed with just enough tension in the race to keep it entertaining right to the end.

Siva Karthikeyan does a good job with his role and fits well into the boy-next-door type of romantic hero. He’s in his element in the comedy scenes and has a good partnership with Sathish as the two play off each other perfectly. There are some very good moments in the early scenes with Geetha too and Priya Anand is perfectly suited to her role as a primary school teacher. She has a wonderfully expressive face and makes a good partner for Siva Karthikeyan as the two slowly develop their relationship with a few misunderstandings along the way. They make a realistic couple and it would have been good to see more of their relationship and the effect of Harish’s new determination as he  started training rather than the shift in focus to a different story with Valli.

The best part of the film is undoubtedly the upbeat soundtrack from Anirudh, and thankfully the song picturisations are complementary to the music. In addition to producing the film and his guest appearance in the movie, Dhanush has collaborated in writing lyrics and by singing a few of the songs, while Anirudh also makes a brief appearance as a bar owner. Most of the early songs have a classic flash-mob feel as various apparently random members of the public join in, and the backing dancers range from obviously fit professionals to chubby lunghi-clad uncles in Local Boys.  Boomi Enna Suthudhe  has a particularly random and accident prone start that seems to perfectly fit Harish’s character.

R. S. Durai Senthilkumar seems unsure if he wants to make a romantic comedy or a serious sports film, and really should have picked one and stuck to it. The first half of the film works much better for me and I’d give it 4 stars, but the slow pace and sharp change in mood means that overall I give the film 3 stars. Worth a watch for Priya Anand, Siva Karthikeyan and for a chance to sing along to the songs!