Thani Oruvan

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Thani Oruvan pits a dedicated police officer against a corrupt scientist in psychological thriller that has plenty of drama and action. The writing collaboration between director Mohan Raja and Subha results in a cleverly plotted story with some unexpected twists, but the real success lies in the detailed development of the two main characters. Neither is completely black or white, although the shades of grey are relatively muted, while the cat and mouse relationship between the two provides good structure to the film. Excellent performances from the whole team but particularly Arvind Swamy as the villain of the piece ensure that Thani Oruvan is a better than average police drama and one that’s well worth a watch.

You know a film is going to be pretty epic when the story starts with a dramatic birth. Sengalvarayan (Thambi Ramaiah) is a party man through and through to the point where it’s more important to him that he ties flags for his leader’s appearance rather than take his heavily pregnant wife to hospital. The leader senses an opportunity for some good publicity and sure enough, the baby is born in the back seat of the politician’s car leading Sengalvarayan and his new son Pazhani to develop a relationship with the man who will later become Chief Minister (Nassar). The significance of these events doesn’t become apparent until later on but they provide an instantly intriguing start to the film.

After the dramatic opening, the story moves to a group of young police officers in training and their vigilante-style activities against the local criminal community. Despite the group’s best efforts, the crooks never stay in jail and Shakthi (Ganesh Venkatraman), Suraj (Harish Uthaman), Kathiresan (Sricharan) and Jana (Rahul Madhav) all look to their friend and natural leader Mithran (Jayam Ravi) for a solution. Naturally Mithran has a plan, having spent the last few years investigating all known criminal activity and discovering that all crimes are interlinked and ultimately committed by a small group of individuals. As a result he’s made it his mission in life to eliminate one of these top 15 criminals responsible for all of the crime in India, and of course his buddies want in on the action. He has a shortlist of three possible men to choose from; Ashok Pandian (Nagineedu), Perumal Swamy (Madhusudhan Rao) and Charles Chelladurai (Saiiju Kurup) who between them (according to Mithran) account for 80% of the criminal activity in the country.

Mithran’s biggest problem is which one to choose, although I’m not entirely sure why he couldn’t decide to eliminate all three given that he has his whole career ahead of him and could work on knocking off one every 10 years or so. Regardless, while he is working out which one to target, he discovers that all three actually work for a much bigger villain – highly respected scientist and Padma Shri awarded Siddharth Abimanyu (Arvind Swamy). Siddharth is known for his work in the pharmaceutical field but in reality he’s the mastermind behind all sorts of criminal activity and not a nice man at all, despite his designer suits, fashion model wife and impressive collection of University degrees.

Siddharth is of course the grown up young boy from the start of the film and his inept father is now the Health Minister in Nassar’s government, allowing Siddharth to do basically whatever he wishes. Mithran and Siddharth cross paths when an American drug company owner comes to India to open access to lifesaving medications – something that Siddharth and his associates will go to any lengths to prevent. Once Siddharth becomes aware of Mithran and his attempts to put him out of business, the contest between the two begins in earnest with each determined to eliminate the other no matter what it takes.

The characterisations are the key here and while Mithran doesn’t have all the answers he uses a methodical approach and informed reasoning to work out what Siddharth will do next. Almost too good to be true, Mithran is depicted as a dedicated and passionate police officer with a strong sense of social justice, who is almost hyper-aware of crime in his surroundings. However as he gets drawn into a battle of wits with Siddharth his obsession threatens to take over his life while his friends and allies become tools to use in his fight. His motto is that a man’s capability is defined by the quality of his enemies and by that measure he needs to be very capable indeed. Mithran’s passion for justice is what makes him get out of bed in the morning, so he has none left over for potential love interest Mahima (Nayantara) and as time goes on, little patience to deal with his friend and colleagues either. These shades of grey give Mithran more credibility and offset his tendency to indulge in pompous and long-winded speeches about truth, justice and the rights of all to obtain cheap pharmaceuticals when required. Jayam Ravi is perfectly capable as Mithran but he is very serious and it would have been good to see an occasional smile outside of the obligatory song with Mahima.

Siddharth is a more cerebral villain than usual and uses his political influence to neutralise any threat from Mithran while his quick reactions and scientific knowledge also stand him in good stead to outwit the police officer at almost every turn. He doesn’t throw tantrums, swear vengeance or send out gangs of thugs as Tamil criminal masterminds are wont to do, instead he simply adapts, moves on and changes direction.

Arvind Swamy is excellent as the criminal mastermind, with the beauty of his characterisation lying in just how very ordinary his Siddharth is. He’s rich  – designer suits, trophy wife and beautiful house all attest to how wealthy he is, but on the surface he could be any scientist working on medical breakthroughs with no indication of how cruelly callous he can be when required. Those moments when he casually orders someone’s death or explodes into controlled violence are almost totally unexpected and seem to come out of nowhere, making Siddharth a very effective and chilling villain despite his generally debonair persona.

Nayantara’s character Mahima is interesting too. On one hand she’s the typically dumb love interest who thinks that by following the hero around and declaring her love at every eventual opportunity she will eventually wear him down – and to be fair that is what happens here too. But on the other hand, she’s a forensic scientist who has some good ideas to help Mithran’s investigation, and appears coolly capable and professional in her work. If only Mohan Raja had avoided the ‘love at first sight’ cliché and given Mahima and Mithran a more plausible and realistic romance I would have liked her character more. But Nayantara does give Mahima professional competency and a no-nonsense approach most of the time that fits well with the overall tone of the film.

The rest of the cast are good with Thambi Ramaiah providing some laughs as an inept politician, but mainly giving a further insight into the character of Siddharth. Rahul Madhav is the best of Mithran’s friends, Vamsi Krishna is suitably menacing as Siddharth’s hitman, while Mugdha Godse is good in her brief but important role as Siddharth’s wife. The film looks good too, with effective use of split scenes and an effective mix of technology and good old-fashioned fight scenes. There are a few leaps of faith required but they aren’t too ridiculous and mostly the plot makes sense.

Thani Oruvan is an intelligent thriller with a good mix of action and drama and excellent characterisations. It is a little overlong, but the story keeps moving along at a good pace and like any good page-turner it’s always worth finding out what happens next. Worth watching for Arvind Swamy’s villainous scientist and the psychological cat and mouse game between Siddharth and Mithran. 4 stars.

 

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Gouravam

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Radha Mohan’s Gouravam is a thoughtful film. Revolving around the mysterious disappearance of the hero’s friend, it is unfortunately undermined by some clumsy plotting and suspension of logic by key characters at pivotal times. But it is visually lovely and a different kind of heroic journey than I expect from mainstream Telugu cinema so I found the time passed pleasantly enough.

Rich city boy Arjun is sent to rural SM Palli by his dad, ostensibly to inspect a factory or something. His college friend Shankar lives in that region, but Arjun finds out that Shankar eloped with the landlord’s daughter some 6 months ago and hasn’t been seen since. Arjun soon realises that the rural idyll isn’t that idyllic once you scratch the surface. He goes back to SM Palli to find Shankar. No one will tell him what happened, but with help of his friend Venky (Sricharan) and lovely young lawyer with a social conscience Yamini (Yami Gautam) Arjun keeps digging. Rather than being a conventional lone vigilante hero, Arjun draws on social media and his friendship networks by the busload as he mobilises The Youth. Prakash Raj is Pasupathy, the landlord whose daughter allegedly eloped with Shankar. His brothers (played by Harish and Brahmaji) are a looming menace, trying to send the young outsider back to Hyderabad. The Establishment vs The Youth plays out as you might expect but there are some twists. How Arjun deals with this is surprising for a Telugu film as he does not dismember anyone. He uses the courts, the media, public attention and even the usually useless police.

There are red herrings and characters who turn up to highlight significant moments. A young boy, possibly autistic, is a constant presence as he draws everything he sees. The plot is partly a mystery and unfortunately there are some miscalculations. It was blindingly obvious that there was a witness and there were other early indicators of who could shed some light. The pace was a bit slow with respect to the dramatic development, but the leisurely tempo did work well with the rural setting. I’ll skip over most of the plot to avoid spoilers but overall the incidents mostly made sense, just the way things unfurled was a bit iffy.

It is a very pretty film to look at. Arjun and The Youth stay in a very colourful and neat tent city in the countryside, the village is picturesque, houses are beautiful and seem lived in. Things are keenly observed by the camera if not the characters, so I found I was often more engaged in just looking at details.

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As the latest Mega Boy to take to the screen, Sirish has chosen an unconventional story. However his hero intro is pure formula. Arjun runs, swims, prays, pouts, kicks the bejesus out of his trainer and – ladies take note – he cooks. What a paragon. The comparisons with his older brother Bunny are unavoidable but naming the character Arjun and filming in what excitable people on Twitter tell me is his brother’s weekender house probably indicates Sirish couldn’t care less. In terms of his acting, he is much more effective in the dialogue driven scenes than when he is required to emote silently. He also looks a little awkward and posed when he has to do nothing in a scene.

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The story would have been more balanced if Arjun was more integrated into an ensemble. Yamini and Venky were pushed aside to accommodate the herocentric approach.  It would have been nice to see more of them, even the little romantic thread with Venky trying to woo Yamini, to give them more substance. Venky dropped everything to go with Arjun, Yamini devoted time and effort to helping and not just because she fancied Arjun. I was pleased to see Yami Gautam playing a quietly assertive young woman with none of the airheaded silliness so common to the Indian filmi heroine.

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The supporting cast outside of the The Youth are more successful in blending their performances and they do create some really intense scenes. Prakash Raj has little screen time but huge impact. Pavitra Lokesh who played his wife and Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli as his daughter in law were good but that household was all about the menfolk. Harish and Brahmaji were villainous and menacing, and over powered Sirish in most of their scenes together. LB Sriram was effective as Shankar’s bewildered and frail father and Nasser did his usual thing.

True to the more realistic style, there were only a couple of songs (by SS Thaman). I enjoyed the picturisation for Chetinundhi Mannu Thesi most as it used the countryside beautifully and I liked the pleasantly random looking backing dancers. Especially the three dudes who popped up out of the lake for a chorus. No one really dances much in Gouravam and Sirish looks like he is concentrating but not struggling so that might be a good sign. I hope he has the Mega Dance Gene.

I opted to see the Telugu version of Gouravam for a couple of reasons. Of all the languages I don’t speak, Telugu is a little easier for me to pick out the random words I know so an unsubtitled film is a challenge but not unappealing. Prakash Raj took the very commercial and audience friendly step of making the film available online on a pay per view basis where there was no distribution agreement in place. Hurrah! The Tamil version was on in cinemas here but the hit and miss distribution by the local Telugu film guys means I’m never really sure of seeing any new Telugu films unless they star a top hero. And frankly, since ticket prices for Telugu films are now up over $AUD23 I want to be reasonably assured of getting my money’s worth! So shelling out a fiver and watching Gouravam from the comfort of my living room was a good deal, and I think it’s a great way to expand the audience for less mass oriented films.