Si3 (Singam III)

singham-iii

Si3 is the third film in the Singam franchise from writer/director Hari and team, and it follows the same basic formula as the previous two films. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the problem here is that Hari sticks rigidly to the format and includes far too much lacklustre comedy and insipid songs that do nothing but distract from the main plot. That is rather less than expected too, although there is plenty of fast-paced action and blistering fight scenes, the story is scantily developed while characters some and go without ever establishing any sense of who they are and what their relationship is to the story. Suriya also seems to be on overdrive – every dialogue is delivered in either a hoarse snarl or a loud shout and the character of Durai Singam even less plausible than usual, having moved on from portraying a one-man army to more elemental unstoppable force that slams villains into the ground so hard that they almost ricochet into orbit. It’s excessive and overdone but the fight scenes are still fun to watch – if only the rest of the movie had been anywhere near as entertaining.

As the film begins, Durai Singam is seconded to the CBI and sent to Vizag in Andhra Pradesh to investigate the murder of Police Commissioner Ramakrishna (Jayaprakash). The local police are surprisingly grateful to have Singam foisted onto them but the local villains, headed up by the enterprising M.S. Reddy (Sarath Saxena) are rather less thrilled by his arrival. Cue major fight at the train station that’s over almost before it begins as Singam throws his opponents through anything remotely breakable before leaving for Vizag police station. Vidhya (Shruti Haasan) spots Singam’s thug annihilation program at the station and instantly decides to follow and harass him by declaring her undying love at every opportunity. Vidhya’s attempts to entice Singam to reciprocate her love are mainly used as comedy, although there is nothing remotely funny about any of these scenes and Vidhya’s character is painfully immature and brattish. Vidhya is an investigative reporter and does have a minor part to play in the plot as well, but Shruti is completely wasted here in a role that requires her to do little more than pout at appropriate places and dance in a few oddly placed songs.

Although Singam is now married to Kavya (Anushka Shetty), he decides that for security reasons she shouldn’t accompany him to Andhra. However, Kavya decides to come along incognito using working for her father as an excuse, managing a few brief meetings with Singam and suffering through some appallingly bad wardrobe choices during an awkward song in the snow. Like the rest of Singam’s family back in TN, Anushka only appears as a means to link the previous movies to Si3 and otherwise her presence is completely superfluous to the plot.

Sarath Saxena is good as the don in charge of the criminal element in Vizag, but he doesn’t appear on-screen enough to develop much of a presence. He’s also not the main villain either, which is a shame since he would have been a much better choice than Thakur Anoop Singh. Singh’s Vittal is the son of the Central Home Minister but despite his parentage is an Australian citizen based in Sydney. His company is involved in the illegal dumping of Australian waste in India, with the Vizag part of the operation under the control of Reddy and his gang, which provides the connection back to the murder of the police commissioner. Sadly Vittal is an ineffectual villain who looks as if he has just stepped out of a shampoo commercial and spends most of his time pumping weights and channelling his inner Salman Khan. He is also horrifically violent to women, using this as a tactic to force other men to follow his commands. It seems oddly cowardly for a Tamil villain and I presume that Hari was ensuring that Singam’s opponent appeared as vile as possible, although I don’t think this was the best approach. Vittal is childish and indecisive and it’s hard to believe that he has built up a criminal empire given his whingeing and temper tantrums whenever things don’t go his way.

Without a strong villain, the story collapses into a series of frenetic fight scenes, punch dialogues from Singam and puerile comedy from Soori as police officer Veeram. There are some excellent actors in the support cast but they are given little to do and have very limited screen time. As in the previous Singam films, the focus is all on Suriya and the wafer-thin plot is purely an excuse to add in more fight scenes and shots of Suriya morphing into a lion or confidently striding around Vizag in his police uniform. Thankfully, Suriya is up to the challenge with his presence almost enough to hold the entire film together despite the hectic pace and general lack of a coherent storyline.

Harris Jayaraj provides the music but the songs are not memorable and the best, an item song featuring Neetu Chandra, is completely overpowered by the action taking place around the dancers. The rest are insipid love songs which are erratically pictured in various foreign locations, although I was happy to see Suriya in a Rishi Kapoor-style jumper at one point.

The best parts of the film are undoubtedly the fight scenes (despite the insane tossing around of villains like confetti), and Hari makes sure there are plenty including a variety of locations and items-to-be-smashed too. While Suriya is excellent as Durai Singam no-one else in the film has a chance to appear as anything other than as a bystander to events, although Krish does just manage to be noticed as Singam’s trusty assistant Sreenivas. Si3 suffers from the success of the previous Singam films as Hari has tried to make the third outing bigger, louder and even more action-packed but without a coherent plot, all the special effects, super-speed action and fight choreography aren’t enough to make a good film. Si3 is watchable, entertaining in parts and occasionally thrilling, but it could have been so much better.

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Vedalam (2015)

Vedalam

Vedalam opens with a woeful assassination attempt in Milan where a team of supposedly crack soldiers are trying to rid the world of top Tamil crime boss Ratna Bhai (Rahul Dev) and end up failing miserably. It’s not a good start, and what makes it so terrible is a mixture of the ridiculousness of the scenario, bad dubbing, bad acting and a nonsensical dénouement. Thankfully though, with the exception of a few comedy scenes, the rest of Vedalam is miles better than the opening few minutes would suggest and Ajith scores another hit – mainly due to the force of his personality and considerable charisma on-screen. Siva adds special effects, a good story and plenty of action to make Vedalam an entertaining watch despite the dodgy start.

As an antidote to the opening scene, the film immediately moves to Kolkata and Rajendran as local gangster Kolkata Kaali. Rajendran is one of my favourite actors and I love that he’s moving more into comedy alongside his usual gangster roles. He is very funny here as he menaces and then befriends new arrival to the city Ganesh (Ajith Kumar) and his sister Thamizh (Lakshmi Menon). Thamizh is applying to study in a prestigious art college in the city and Ganesh appears as the perfect older brother – supportive and encouraging in every way, while maintaining an unruffled and happily smiling exterior no matter what the circumstances.  While Thamizh gets accepted into the art college, Ganesh manages to get a job driving a taxi, despite not speaking a word of Bengali or knowing anything about the city – sounds like your typical taxi driver really!

Siva adds more humour with Soori as the manager of the taxi company, but his brand of comedy only works part of the time and it reaches a nadir when the tired out trope of philandering husband is rolled out yet again. Shruti Haasan also shows up in a comedy role as an unscrupulous lawyer, Swetha, who ends up with a grudge against Ganesh. None of her intense overacting in her initial scenes is funny and her wardrobe choices are equally atrocious, but her character does have a few redeeming moments later on in the film. In one of those typical film coincidences, Swetha’s brother Arjun (Ashwin Kakumanu) falls in love with Thamizh which adds romance into the film and gives Ganesh the opportunity to deliver a good ‘big brother’ speech about women’s safety. It’s a shame that such a good message about how stalking ≠ love and men should respect women is immediately followed by a song featuring Shruti and backing dancers in skimpy outfits and terrible choreography, but at least the speech did get a cheer in Melbourne.

Just before the break Ganesh reveals his true persona, first in an excellent fight scene and then in a genuinely frightening exchange with Swetha that sets up a flashback sequence in the second half. All of the smiling and the ‘always cheery’ disposition starts to grate by then, so the switch to bad-ass fighter Ganesh (aka Vedalam) comes as a welcome change. No-one does the switch from happy smile to scary psychotic grimace as well as Ajith – it really is disturbing and Siva uses the transformation sparingly but to very good effect throughout the film.

The reason for Ganesh’s outburst of violence goes back to the gangster seen in the opening scene. Ratna Bhai and his two brothers Abhinay (Kabir Duhan Singh) and Aniket (Aniket Chouhan) control the skin trade out of India amongst various other criminal activities and Ganesh has come up against them in the past. The flash-back sequence is well done, generating an emotional reason for Ganesh to seek revenge but without becoming overly sentimental or clichéd. The villains do what villains in these films usually do, while there is really never any doubt that Ganesh will defeat them all in the end. However the lead up to the final fight scene is very well written with a few good surprises to build the suspense. The last fight is also brilliantly done and the film is worth watching for this last sequence alone.

Anirudh’s music is good and fits the screenplay well, with Aaluma Doluma standing out as the best track.  The background score is occasionally distractingly loud, but I like the theme and it suits the schizophrenic nature of Ajith’s character. Mostly the songs are well pictured too apart from the previously mentioned ‘Don’t You Mess With Me’, which really deserved better and isn’t helped by the skanky choreography. Technically the film is slick and well-edited with good effects and novel fight choreography. There isn’t too much blood and gore either, although it’s always surprising how quickly the bad guys run out of bullets and resort to fist fights when they really should know better!

Vedalam is Ajith’s film all the way and he does a superb job as a dangerous and scary man while still conveying kindness and sympathy in the scenes with Thamizh. The support cast are all just that – support for Ajith, but Lakshmi Menon is good as his oblivious sister while Sudha and Thambi Ramaiah make an impression in their small roles in the flashback sequence.  Vedalam isn’t a perfect film, the comedy isn’t great and the villains are standard caricatures with predictable habits, but Ajith is very watchable and the story works well with some unexpected twists, especially at the end.  Worth watching for Ajith and the excellent final fight scene – plus Rajendran of course!

Puli (2015)

Puli

Chimbu Deven’s latest film may be set in a fantasy world of strange creatures and magical beings, but the story itself is mundane without any of the epic sweep required for such a tale. It’s also slow going, with most of the first half a dreary romance between Marudheeran (Vijay) and Pavazhamani (Shruti Haasan), although it does improve post interval once Sridevi and Sudeep appear onscreen. Despite the numerous fight scenes and explicit violence, the simplistic plot seems to be aimed more at children, with every obstacle easily overcome and the obvious outcome never in any doubt. That may also explain the relatively bloodless scenes of dismemberment and general carnage that would more usually be awash with gallons of fake blood, but instead the fight scenes here are frequently lacklustre, dull and repetitive. However there are a few reasons to watch, mainly down to Sridevi in her extravagantly evil queen avatar, good special effects and the always reliable Sudeep and Vijay.

Puli tells the story of a land which has been invaded and settled by a race of demons, who have enslaved the native humans. These Vedalam are easily recognisable by their blue eyes, tendency to sprout fangs when annoyed and ability to fly though the air, although their spiky armour and general arrogant grumpiness are a more distant and therefore safer method of identification. The young Marudheeran arrives in one of the subjugated villages as a baby, floating in a basket on the river, along with a mysterious egg that hatches into a talking bird. The talking bird is pretty well done as far as special effects go, and I was expecting it to be important to the plot in some way, but it really isn’t. Even though there is a sort of reason for the bird’s inclusion at the end, basically it’s a very under-utilized special effect that didn’t need to be able to talk and doesn’t get much chance to do so anyway. Overall this illustrates the problem with most of the special effects in the film. Although they are well done, the effects dazzle for a moment but are then relegated to background noise and ultimately have little to add to the plot. It’s a shame as the film looks fantastical but the uninspired story keeps it earthbound.

Marudheeran is adopted by one of the villagers and is trained by his stepfather in fighting and disguise as part of a general communal wish to overthrow the demons. However once Pavalamalli (Shruti Haasan) returns to the village, Marudheeran spends his time chasing after his childhood friend, much to the displeasure of her parents. Just as Marudheeran and Pavalamalli get married in secret, she is stolen by the demons and Marudheeran sets out with his trusty friends Thambi Ramaiah and Sathyan to rescue her from the impregnable city of Vedalakottai. They plan to disguise themselves as demons to get into the city and then hope they can find Pavalamalli and get out again, but that’s it in terms of preparation. There is no attempt to deal with the epic scale of such an endeavour and make the journey and planning part of the adventure. This means there isn’t any sense of danger or excitement, just a pedestrian slog to find the city and rescue the girl. Nothing new, and could just as easily have been set in the present time anywhere in India with much the same plot and ending.

Still, there are plenty of good ideas in Puli, it’s just that they get such short shrift and don’t have as much impact as they should. For example, Marudheeran and colleagues meet a race of miniature people where there is a brief ‘we can show you the way’ moment and then the little people are used mainly for comedy. However the effects and the cinematography are once again very good, with clever use of seeds and leaves as clothing, and wonderful peanut shell blouses that are simply inspired!

Unusually, Vijay doesn’t fit as the hero of the film as well as he should, at least initially. His introduction and the subsequent fight scenes establish his character as more of a trickster and comedian while his pursuit of Pavalamalli is pedestrian and lacking animation. It’s not until the second half of the film where he comes up against his nemesis General Jalatharangam (Sudeep) that Marudheeran starts to properly fill the role of the warrior hero and Vijay gets a chance to throw his energy fully into the part. Just about at this time though there is a flashback sequence where Vijay plays his father – a man born to be in a shampoo commercial and doomed by his reliance on slow-mo fighting and accompanying wind-machine. I did appreciate Vijay’s mastery of the hair toss though and once he gets into full warrior mode, there is no stopping him.

Sudeep is good in a role that lets him convey volumes with just a look and a sneer, although he really needed more time onscreen being evil to make his character thoroughly despicable. Jalatharangam is a fairly standard villain but Sudeep imbues him with an arrogant coldness that works well and there’s just enough sliminess added for good measure. Sridevi too makes the most of her role as an evil queen and shows what a fantastic actor she is even with her limited time onscreen. She totally owns each scene when she appears and her sweeping presence lifts the energy of the film. She has the best costumes and stunning make-up but these go almost unnoticed beside her commanding presence and expressive eyes. And she plays a harp – perfect! I hope this, and her recent appearance in English Vinglish mean that we will get to see more Sridevi films in the future – she is the best thing about Puli for sure.

Hansika Motwani plays Queen Yamanadevi’s daughter and at least Chimbu Deven doesn’t make the mistake of trying to get her to actually dance in any of her songs. Hansika looks good and has an amazing peacock outfit at the end but doesn’t do much else of note in the film, although she does manage better chemistry in a few brief moments with Vijay than Shruti does in an entire romantic song. Overall Devi Sri Prasad’s songs are fairly uninspiring and the choreography rather repetitive, but Vijay is energetic and the backing dancers are enthusiastic in a range of diverse costumes.

Except for Sridevi, Puli mostly disappoints with a weak story and fairly nondescript songs. Sudeep and Vijay are fine but both characters need better definition and depth rather than simply relying on the ability and star power of the actors. Both do what they can, but the film could have been so much better with just a little more complexity. Good cinematography from Natarajan Subramaniam and great visual effects make Puli worth watching on the big screen but probably only for fans. Otherwise probably best to wait for the DVD where the fast forward button will make Puli a more enjoyable watch.