Eega

A friend asked me what the movie I was going to see was about. “A man is killed. He reincarnates as a fly. He seeks revenge”. They seemed unconvinced but Eega really is wonderful. Despite word of subtitled prints, we knew wouldn’t get them in Melbourne. Luckily fly is a universal language, and we are always up for an adventure without subtitles!

Nani (Nani) is in love with Bindu (Samantha). Sudeep (Sudeep), a local tycoon and possessive psycho, decides he must have her so he kills Nani. Fate intervenes and Nani is reborn as a fly, eventually recovering memories of his past life. He sets out for revenge and to protect Bindu. This may sound silly, but it is a tribute to writer/director SS Rajamouli and his cast that I absolutely went with it and was caught up in the drama, the action and the hi-jinks. I had reservations about the post-reincarnation relationship as clearly Bindu had not moved on and it was never going to work despite the fact that she could see his inner beauty – he’s a fly, she’s a human…Yes I became emotionally invested in the love life of a CGI insect.

Nani is good in his role. Because the basic plot was well publicised, I did feel like I was waiting for him to die. I really like Nani (the actor), but his role in the story limited my interest in his character.

While human Nani showed charm and some skills, the fly was simply amazing. He knew engineering, physics, ballistics and who knows what else. He also retained his penmanship, using Bindu’s fallen tears to write a message (presumably ‘Hey it is me! Nani!’) He was the real hero with all the trappings. Eega-Nani had a training montage as he built his strength up in a gym made of household objects, he had a victory dance, and he had right on his side. The fly’s character developed over time as he became tougher, more lethal, and better at turning a disadvantage to an advantage. I like the decision not to give him a voice so all his communications were via gesture or charades. The animators did a superb job of making him very expressive but still a housefly. I suspect Eega-Nani and Bindu had some written exchanges off camera as I am not sure mime would have conveyed the more complex elements of their scheme. He wrote a very clear death threat to Sudeep as well so he had good communication skills.

 

Samantha is lovely as Bindu. Her flirtation with human Nani was mostly carried out through facial expressions and she was really good, with excellent comic timing. She was also quite convincing in sadder scenes. Considering most of her scenes were with a CGI fly, she does very well to make it ring true. While Bindu’s back story seemed flimsy at best, she seemed nice and actively tried to do good through the NGO she ran. Her hobby of micro-art came in very handy when Nani needed teeny tiny equipment and weapons. The partnership also kept their fledgling romance alive which was sweet and yet all wrong (with him being a fly and all).

 

Speaking of creepy – Sudeep. From suavely unpleasant kingpin, through a spiral of aggravation and irrational behaviour to outright craziness, Sudeep was hilarious and scary. He had a gun wall in his home so that was an early sign. As Eega-Nani pestered him, Sudeep became less and less stable. Sudeep’s reactions to the fly were increasingly frantic and extreme but he melded it with gradual deterioration in his mental stability and health that made it good acting and not just slapstick. I imagine the direction went something like “ear, ear, nose, other ear! nose! gone..where did it go…gone, relax, EAR!!!!” His security team swapped guns for fly swats, his house became a fortress against bugs, his attire was more and more peculiar. The blend of comedy and threat is brilliant. There is nothing likeable about Sudeep’s character and yet I looked forward to his scenes. For the faint-hearted there is a scene requiring pixilation as Sudeep attacks the Eega with the only handy weapon – the pink towel he was wearing. It’s a wildly uninhibited scene and I laughed so hard I almost cried.

Adithya (as Sudeep’s sidekick) did get the rough end of the pineapple in the hair department, having both the wavy mullet and the manband in play. His reaction to his employer’s insanity (and then proof of Eega-Nani’s unnatural abilities) was very funny. But the psycho villain’s sidekick has a precarious, and rarely a long, life. The supporting actors are not prominent, which is wise considering most scenes combine multiple points of view and there are some complex interactions.

The camera follows Eega-Nani through all manner of mayhem and danger, and the choreography and planning of those scenes is meticulous.I really loved a moment when fragments of shattered glass reflect a fighter plane formation of flies surrounding Nani.  It’s as dramatic as if a human film hero was in a fight for his life, and gets the adrenalin pumping. But it’s not all action and there are scenes that are just pretty or sweet. There are some very dark moments, but the message that killing a bad man to do the right thing is entrenched in Telugu film so I guess it wouldn’t have surprised the kids in the audience.

What made Eega work so well was the well plotted story and the restraint in using effects. The CGI served to further the story, and there was never a dull moment. SS Rajamouli has an impressive ability to get a story on screen and make it engaging. There are nods to other films and stars, and the Telugu heroic tropes all get a workout too. I have some quibbles, but they are insignificant on balance. The timing, the pace, the effects, the cast are all pitch perfect. Loved it!

(Pssst – Make sure you stay for the end credits)

Edited to add:

ReleaseDay is streaming Eega with subtitles so now you have no excuse not to see it! You will need to create a login to the site and it’s a festival print which I am told is around 20 min shorter than the theatrical release. You can also check  out http://blog.releaseday.com/ for articles and news on Telugu films. 

Heather says: Loved it, loved it loved it! I’d read very little about this film and I’d only seen the trailer once, but when I saw a needle lightly indenting a cornea I knew this was going to be an excellent film for me. Plus it’s Rajamouli so of course it was always going to be a good story, and it didn’t disapoint.

I do really like Nani, and I liked his rather self-sacrificing character here too. His one dance routine was fun and his obvious adoration of Bindu was quite sweetly portrayed. Nani did show some early signs of his engineering know-how by quickly constructing a parabolic light reflector from a satellite dish and an old chip packet, but his intellect certainly blossomed when he returned as Eega! Some of the ideas here were simply ingenious and Rajamouli totally captured just how irritating a fly can be, let alone one that’s out for vengeance. The CGI was of a very high standard and I was amazed at how easily different emotions and attitudes were conveyed by Eega-Nani. The fly charades where Eega-Nani made his requirements known to Bindu were hilarious and I have to say that she is much better at this game than I could ever be.  In fact Samanatha was very impressive here as Bindu to the point that I didn’t realise who the actress playing Bindu was at first! I’ve never thought too much of Samantha as an actress in her previous films so it was a real revelation to see her put in such a fantastic performance here. I have a theory that similar to Shriya, her hairstyles have a lot to do with it. The longer and more curly Samantha’s hair is, the worse her acting and since here Bindu has lovely straight hair Samantha really shines in the role.  This got me through the rather bizarre romantic scenes between Bindu and Eega-Nani since my reaction was more of a: ‘Samantha can emote – who knew!’ rather than concentrating too much on the fact that their relationship was never going to end well! Samantha also got some beautiful costumes to wear, and I loved her fringed tops which suited both her and her character very well.

But despite Samantha’s amazing performance and even with the antics of Eega-Nani to contend with, the real star of the film was without a doubt Sudeep. He was brilliant in every scene and as Temple has described perfectly, the change as his initial evil and sinister businessman became very disturbed and unstable was superbly done. The scene with the towel was one of the best in the film (I’m laughing now even thinking about it) and his more and more frantic attempts to escape Eega were totally hilarious. Considering that Sudeep was in general having to react to a nonexistent opponent during filming, I think he did a fabulous job and his reactions were totally believable. I can’t think of anything in this film that I didn’t enjoy and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s easy to understand without subtitles and the many references to other films just add to the whole experience. Go! Watch! Enjoy!

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Cinema Chaat & the Australian Festival of Travel Writing

Temple has been invited to take part in a panel discussion along with Shalini Akhil, Mitu Bhowmick-Lange and Roanna Gonsalves at the Australian Festival of Travel Writing at 6pm on Friday 29 October:

Bollywood Stories and Contemporary Indian Cool. Indian Film Festival Director and Producer Mitu Bhowmick-Lange, writer and comedian Shalini Akhil, and Bollywood blogger Temple Connolly discuss the influence of Bollywood on their creative projects and writing with Roanna Gonsalves.

And yes, she’s warned them she will be sneaking in more than a passing mention of the South Indian film industries. There are some fantastic writers and photographers at the festival, so it’s quite an honour for our blog to get a gig.

Follow this link to view the whole program and book tickets if you wish.  If you’re really lucky you’ll get to sit near Heather in the audience!  She has promised not to heckle (much).

Arundhati

Arundhati is a wonderful revenge story with plenty of melodrama, over the top action and what appears to have been an unlimited budget for blood.  Add in a heroine driven storyline with some excellent performances and it makes for a worthy  addition to the South Indian Cinema Induction Programme.

We learn through flash-back that Arundhati was a princess of Gadwal, trained in the arts of dance and war.  Her bravery even as a child was likened to the goddess Jejamma, so this was how she was known.

Her sweet and innocent older sister, Bhargavi was married off to Pasupathi, the evil and depraved nephew of the King, who enjoyed a protected status despite his raping and murdering ways.  After he attacked and killed Jejamma’s blind dancing teacher, Bhargavi killed herself.

In revenge the precocious young Arundhati beat Pasupathi, tied him to a horse and drove him from the kingdom.  Despite extensive injuries he didn’t die, but was rescued by a group of Agoras and learned to be even more evil, which we didn’t think was possible.

Having his vile talents augmented by the knowledge of tantric arts and by the possession of malevolent spirits, he returned to take revenge on Arundhati, fortuitously arriving on the day of her wedding.

Some excellent posturing and slashing later, including a take on the drum scene from House of Flying Daggers, Arundhati defeated him and imprisoned him in the palace, still alive but trapped in a fairly well constructed tomb.

Two generations later and there is a new Arundhati, who comes back to town for her marriage.  Pasupathi is now an evil spirit, confined in his grave in the ruined fort by various amulets and prayers which prevent his escape.  He uses the influx of naive newcomers to try and break free of his prison. He tricks a young couple into entering the fortress where one disappears and the other becomes insane.  Attempts by the mad man to break open the grave are thwarted, and he ends up being chained up in the village.  Pasupathi is able to lock doors and move objects to try and kill Arundhati’s father, but luckily can’t use the same tactics to escape.

Just as an aside to all heroines and disposable sidekicks – if you go into a building and have to break cobwebs which are thick enough to block your way, there is a very good chance that the friend you are looking for is not actually there, since otherwise there would already be a path of broken cobwebs – just a suggestion!

Eventually and inevitably Pasupathi manages to break free and torments Arundhati. She now has to come up with a way to vanquish this evil spirit for good, otherwise he will claim her as his wife and all of her family will die.   She has some help in the form of a Muslim fakir who seems to be pretty well unstoppable, which is just as well as there are many attempts on his life!  Sadly he is pretty inept at passing on the simple instructions he was given to stop Pasupathi or the second half might have ended much sooner. Everyone else who tries to help her dies – usually in very gruesome and bloody ways!  Did we mention this film had an exceptional gore and blood budget? The heavy-breathing Pasupathi manages get Arundhati exactly where he wants her – but will he succeed in his evil plans of rape and revenge? Will Arundhati remember her brave heritage and triumph over her immortal adversary?

Anushka excels in her double role as both the modern day Arundhati and the warrior princess.  In Jejamma mode she is masterful and determined, while in the modern day avatar Anushka manages very well to convey the despair and madness as Pasupathi torments Arundhati with images of her family’s fate.  She carries the film, and manages to be compelling, beautiful and convincing. However, there are some scenes later in the film that drag on for far too long. There is really only so much whimpering and scrambling that Anushka can do in her modern day character before the impact of her reactions fades. The young actress Divya Nagesh who played the young princess Arundhati was a delight to watch as she faced down the original Pasupathi.   Sonu Sood appeared to revel in his role and conveyed the total depravity of his character with great gusto and much eye twitching madness.  He seemed to be having such a great time as the completely evil Pasupathi and we just love him in this total manic mode! There is a downside to this wholehearted effort. He is just having too much fun and it detracts enormously from the characterisation. In some scenes he looks like he is barely restraining laughter and as a result Pasupathi just isn’t really evil enough to be truly frightening. As the second half was quite drawn out and hinged on Arundhati’s fear of Pasupathi, the lack of real menace did make the film feel overly long and the uneven pace was jarring.  Sayaji Shinde puts in a very credible performance as the knowledgeable fakir, and we loved seeing Manorama as the old servant who fills in the back story for modern day Arundhati and us.

The music is well integrated into the drama, and all songs serve a purpose. The cinematography is excellent and both the set and costume design really enhance the story. The special effects are for the most part used well, but there is a tendency to overdo things. The blood and gore team were especially enthusiastic!

The novel (to us) use of death by coconut was dramatic but repetitive and once again, key scenes dragged on a bit too long to sustain the drama. The climax of the film seems to stop and start. Modern day Arundhati had to scramble around crying and panicking for ages until the two storylines started to piece together for the conclusion. We theorised that the director still had a couple of days and half the blood budget left to use and decided to just go for it. The ending is bloody and violent and yet uplifting once it really gets going.

Heather says: I loved this film.  The two leads are fantastic and the child princess Arundhati does a really good job for such a young actress.  The story is very heavily focused on Anushka, and this is probably one of the film’s flaws in that the other characters don’t ever really engage us.  Sonu Sood is totally manic, which makes for some great viewing but not necessarily the best approach for his character. His Pasupathi was too cartoonish to ever be scary, particularly in the latter half of the film where the heavy breathing began to become wearing.  However, he was very watchable and certainly seemed to be making the most of his time in the film.  There were a few too many plot points clashing with each other at the end, and modern day Arundhati was just a little too wimpy. But still a very watchable film – I give this 4 ½ stars.

Temple says: I really enjoyed seeing a tough yet feminine heroine driving what is for the most part an action film. Anushka is stunning in this, and deserved the critical acclaim and awards. I like Sonu Sood but his hamming annoyed me. It wasn’t really the role for a lighthearted villain and would have benefited from a more menacing performance. As it was, he reminded me of a character from an old TV series – Catweazle. You can go look that up and see what I mean! The film really is the story of the bitter enmity between Arundhati and Pasupathi so that lack of serious venom detracted a bit from the overall impact. The pacing was all over the place too – some scenes dragged on far too long, while others rushed through interesting bits of the back story. The modern day avatar of Arundhati didn’t get much to do apart from crying and running until towards the end of the story.  But thanks to the amazing screen presence of Anushka the film is absolutely rivetting at times.  I give this 4 stars – it would  have been less except for her extraordinary performance.