Gultoo (2018)

Gultoo

Gultoo, the debut release from director Janardhan Chikkanna couldn’t be any more topical right now given the recent revelations of data-mining from Facebook. Data theft is central to the plot, and this cyber-thriller mixes action, romance and comedy with a story that fits neatly into Bangalore and the city’s IT industry. Although at times the images are shaky and the editing could do with some polish, the dialogue is snappy and on-target while the story is novel with plenty of sneaky twists along the way. Definitely a film to look out for, and the subtitles are pretty good too!

Alok (Naveen Shankar) is a scholarship student in engineering who has a flair for hacking his way into computer systems, something which gets him out of trouble at college. After graduation he has grand plans of a start-up company that will allow him to follow his dreams, but three years out from college he’s working in a coffee shop, while his best friend and roommate Aasthi (Ram Dhanush) works at an internet café. Alok also works part-time as an instructor in a small computer teaching centre where he meets Pooja (Sonu Gowda) on her first day in the job. Although Alok is initially rather shy, eventually a romance blossoms between the two as Pooja succeeds in drawing Alok out of his shell.

Aasthi on the other hand has no such problems and is a complete flirt, which provides some excellent comedy as he chats to various women on WhatsApp while also meeting his current girlfriend of the day at her flat. The two men are a study in contrasts – Alok is a typical computer geek, quiet and shy but he’s smart and has big plans for his future. Aasthi has no ambition himself and is waiting for Alok’s success with his loud, brash persona simply a front for his inability to make his own decisions in life.

Gultoo

Things take a sinister turn when a woman is found gruesomely murdered and Aasthi may be a suspect. At the same time, Alok and Aasthi are also implicated in a major data theft and are taken in for questioning by an investigator from Delhi, even though the evidence seems largely circumstantial. The film moves back and forwards throwing glimpses of past and present together and just as it all seems to be coming together, Janardhan Chikkanna throws in another twist that ups the tension even more. He also blends the action well with some comedy, even in some of the most blood-thirsty scenes, that works well to prevent the film from becoming yet another crime flick.

What works really well here is the plausibility of the plot. The theft of information is from a Government database called Sudhaar which collates personal information for every Indian citizen, including their bank data. There are some similarities with the current Government Aadhaar identity card scheme which makes it seem quite possible that such a situation could happen.  Alok and Aasthi are typical young men, but Alok has the knowledge and ability to break into a Government system. The question is, does he have a criminal mentality too? It’s a more cerebral crime than a simple credit card scam or bank fraud, and more credible too with anonymous hackers breaking into systems where security is lax. We all know that this occurs and it seems that every day there is yet another news story about a data breach.

I did love the excellent depiction of cybercrime as a shadowy underworld where thieves run amok stealing data and selling it to the highest bidder. Like much of the screenplay, it’s funny, smart and informative all at once. Alok’s classes for example, teach the audience just as much about computer programming as they do his students. The social references are all just as topical and the dialogue has plenty of current slang that fits the characters perfectly.

The other selling point of the film is that none of the characters are simply black or white. There is plenty of ambiguity in everyone’s actions (except perhaps Aasthi who just wants to get laid), and no-one is exactly who they seem to be. This uncertainty ensures that the climax comes as a surprise and even though the film goes back to point out all the clues that were there all along, this feels like a revelation and not the writer gloating over how clever he is.

Naveen Shankar and Ram Dhanush are both appearing in their first film, but both do an excellent job with their roles and effortlessly get under the skin of their characters. Naveen is just serious and shy enough to be believable – he’s a computer nerd after all, while Ram Dhanush never lets his Aasthi get too much out of control. He’s a typical bloke, but not obnoxiously childish or patronising, and at heart he comes across as a nice guy. Sonu Gowda is also very good, especially in the second half where she gets the chance to really sink her teeth into a rather grey character indeed. Avinash is perfectly cast as the police officer determined to torture a confession out of his suspects, whoever they may be, as too is Rangayana Raghu as the ostensibly ‘honest’ Chief Minister Anantharamaiah. Pawan Kumar makes an appearance as a consultant IT specialist called Phaneesh and does just as good a job in front of the camera as he usually does from the other side.

Although I enjoyed the soundtrack, for the most part the dance sequences look awkward and more like the sort of routines you’d do in front of your bedroom mirror. The placing of some of the songs is also a little off, although this could partly be due to the clunky choreography which makes these sequences rather amateurish. Also initially confusing are the switches between past and present at the start of the film, since there is no timeline at this point, or any explanation of who the different characters are who only appear briefly and aren’t mentioned again until much later in the film. However, apart from these issues (mainly those dodgy dance sequences), the rest of the film really is excellent, with some very clever ideas and smart thinking behind an intelligent and carefully plotted thriller. Kudos too for the ‘loading’ symbol before the opening credits and the clever use of a film within a film idea that ensures the name of the movie is frequently repeated. Gultoo = Log Out for anyone who wants to know what the title means and hasn’t seen the movie’s FB page.

There is a freshness and vitality about this film and with great performances, a clever and realistic plot and very funny dialogue this is one not to miss. Highly recommended.

 

Advertisements

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.