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!

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3

I’m a big Dhanush fan and since Shruti Haasan had impressed me in her last Telugu film, I was excited with the prospect of seeing them together in 3. In addition I wanted to see how Aishwarya Dhanush would approach her first film considering she had worked with one of my favourite directors, Dhanush’s brother Selvaraghavan on Aayirathil Oruvan a few years ago. The hype surrounding 3 since Kolaveri Di became such a hit seems likely to have been the reason that this was the fourth Tamil film to be shown here in Melbourne with subtitles and I really do hope that this trend continues. So it was with high expectations that I headed in to watch 3 and while the film as a whole didn’t quite meet them, the first half surpassed them easily.

3 follows the lives of Ram and Janani who first meet while they are both at school and relates their romance through three stages of their life together. The two leads somewhat surprisingly don’t look too out of place in school uniforms and certainly with their attitudes and mannerisms they are convincing as high school students. But the real star of this part of the story is Siva Karthikeyan as Ram’s friend Kumaran.  The interactions between the two friends are very natural and the dialogues between the two as Kumaran deals with Ram’s sudden infatuation are snappy and very funny. They had the whole cinema in stitches and it was fantastic to be able to understand and laugh along with the audience for a change.

The love story progresses with the usual hurdles in the form of parents and familial expectation. Janani’s family are preparing to move to the USA and she has to deal with the prospect of leaving Ram just as she has realised her feelings for him.  Shruti Haasan excels here as the young girl infatuated with her lover but struggling to conform to her family’s wishes and she finally makes a decision in spectacular style. The young actor playing her sister is also very impressive and overall the romance is beautifully developed. Shruti and Dhanush have great chemistry together onscreen and their relationship progresses very naturally. The interactions between Ram and his father (Prabhu) were also very genuine and well written with plenty of humour and a real sense of the sincere relationship between father and son.

However the promise of the first half doesn’t carry through to the rest of the film. I can appreciate that Aishwarya wanted to show a total contrast in the second half but it gets carried to extremes and the screenplay starts to drag as the melodrama goes into overdrive. The film starts with a dead body and Janani in mourning before moving into flashback mode, so we all know that there isn’t going to be a happy ending – well this is a Tamil movie after all, but the story just doesn’t make sense.

Janini spends most of the second half crying and Shruti Haasan is not an actor who can cry prettily, so the excessive amounts of sobbing become wearing very quickly. The assured and determined young woman of the first half totally disappears and while it is likely a much more realistic reaction it doesn’t make for such interesting watching. Kumaran has also vanished from the story and Senthil takes over as the concerned friend trying to help. While Sunder Ramu puts in a good performance his character is generally less convincing as most of his actions aren’t consistent with the family relationships shown in the first half. Dhanush puts in another amazing performance but it’s a role he has done shades of before in Mayakkam Enna and Kadhal Kondein so while impressive, it does feel a little overdone in the last scene. The general idea of the twist in the story is good but it seems let down by the over the top screenplay and some very dodgy medicine and ethics.

What does work well is the music. Anirudh Ravichander’s background score fits the screenplay very well and the songs are well placed within framework of the film. Kolaveri Di is certainly not as expected and although there are a few odd moments, specifically with a blonde tourist, it generally succeeds and adds a bright moment to the otherwise very heavy second half.

The first half of 3 is a delight to watch and for that reason alone I think it is worth seeing in the cinema. The support cast are all excellent and while Shruti Haasan does overact later on, Dhanush is as impressive as ever with a very convincing performance. The film is let down by an unconvincing and over dramatic second half but there is still much to enjoy. As a friend remarked on twitter, if only the second half had matched the first this would have been a perfect film. It’s still good, and an impressive debut by Aishwarya Dhanush, but it could have been even better.