Darbar (2020)

It’s always a major event when a new Rajinikanth film releases and even though I didn’t get to watch Darbar until the second day, the cinema was still packed for the evening show. But the initial excitement, whistles and cheers quickly faded as Darbar failed to engage the audience. I guess for every hit like Kaala, there has to be balance of a Lingaa and despite the star cast, Darbar ends up as a big miss. Individually each member of the cast is good, but the story just isn’t there, and when you add in some dodgy subtitles Darbar is simply very disappointing indeed.

The basic story is that widower and top police officer Aadhithya Arunachalam (Rajinikanth) is appointed as Commissioner of Police in Mumbai and sent to clean up the city. Why Mumbai? I couldn’t see any reason why this wasn’t set in Chennai, unless it was fear that people wouldn’t like the city being a hive of criminal activity. The opening scenes are of gangland style executions as Aadhithya personally rids the city of various gangsters but each of these seems overly simplistic. When we finally get to see Aadhithya it’s in a standard South-hero-introduction-scene™ where he is completely bullet proof, villains only attack either individually or in small groups, and where the sword proves mightier than the gun. It’s all just very meh, and not even the Rajni factor can elevate this into anything cheer-worthy.

The reason for the bloodbath is revealed and then there is a long flashback that follows Aadhithya’s arrival in the city showing the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of the top criminal Ajay Malhotra (Prateik Babbar). Because of course it’s just one man who controls 90% of the drugs in Mumbai, and naturally no-one else steps in to help the hundreds of addicts seen pleading for help in a ridiculously tone-deaf montage. It’s over-simplified to the extreme with absolutely no depth to the story at all. I seem to say this frequently about A.R. Murugadoss films, but there are good ideas here, it’s just that the execution is very sloppy. Too often there seems to be an assumption that the audience will accept anything just to see their hero in action, but no matter how amazing Rajinikanth is (and he is!) there needs to be a story.  With all the slick production values put into the film, it doesn’t make sense that the narrative is badly under-developed with minimal research into some key plot points. Don’t get me started on the medical mis-information here!

Along with all the usual action sequences, there is a sort-of romance track with Nayanthara, which has some promise but never delivers. Aadhithya wants his daughter Valli (an excellent Nivetha Thomas) to get married, but she doesn’t want him to be left alone and even teases him because he can’t talk to women. So Valli points out this random woman – Lily (Nayanthara) and asks her father to tell her she is beautiful. As the start of a relationship it has to be one of the lamest I’ve seen, and from this unpromising start, the whole romance never gets any better. There is an interesting arc though where Lily reports the creepy man who is following her (Aadhithya), and then later Lily’s cousin (Sriman) has a frank conversation with Aadhithya about the age difference. This is actually well done, but sadly doesn’t evolve any further which I think is a real missed opportunity. For her part, Nayanthara glides through the film looking stunning but also a bit of a fish out of water as her character doesn’t fit well into the storyline at all. 

Nivetha Thomas has the better role as Aadhithya’s daughter, and she brings personality and warmth to the role. Her interactions with Aadhithya feel genuinely those of a father and daughter, and she ensures that Valli’s part in the story does make sense. I really like her here and the scenes between Nivetha and Rajinikanth develop their relationship and bring a human face to the otherwise formulaic action-hero-cop persona of Aadhithya. Rajni too is great in these scenes, and I would have liked more of these emotional moments which could have been used to develop the story, instead of adding the pointless romance.

Also problematic is the villain, Hari Chopra (Suniel Shetty). Suniel Shetty is usually a pretty good villain – he has the sneer down pat and I’ve seen him generate a convincing aura of evil even if he doesn’t have the sheer physicality of some of the other classic bad guys. But he is totally wasted here. His introduction scene is pathetic and seems to be out of a gangster film for kids. I have no idea why he was supposed to be such a big shot, apart from the repeated reference to burning a police station some 20 years previously. Again, there are some good ideas thrown in when Hari first gets back to India and starts his campaign against the police, but all of this is weakened by some nonsense byplay with a knife and then completely destroyed by the ridiculous finale. Nawab Shah is reasonably good as Vijay Malhotra, the father of Ajay who is willing to go to any lengths to save his son, but the rest of the villains are faceless and are mostly of the rent-a-thug variety. Interestingly, they all seem to prefer loudly patterned shiny synthetic shirts which I did appreciate as a distinctive style choice for crooks.

The best part of the film is undoubtedly Rajinikanth, and he strides across the (many) plot-holes with panache, charisma and charm. He’s wonderfully engaging to watch and his supreme confidence is always fun, but there is too much reliance on his hand gestures, sunglasses and winning smile. Yes, he’s excellent, but without good dialogue and a convincing narrative, the film is simply a series of set pieces that could be slotted into any other Rajinikanth film. Still, the action sequences are beautifully shot by Santosh Sivan, Rajinikanth looks awesome throughout and the music is good, although Anirudh’s background score is more memorable than most of the songs. I did enjoy the choreography for these but the subtitles for the songs were dreadful! Some are totally incomprehensible (I suspect too literal translations) and I’m looking forward to the film streaming to screencap a few for Paagal Subtitle. It’s baffling to me how such a big production can fail to deal with essential basics like subtitles for an OS release.

I didn’t have great expectations from Darbar, but the film turned out to be more disappointing than expected. I’m glad I watched it in the cinema with a room full of like-minded fans, but I am frustrated by the apparently careless approach to the story. Come on Tamil cinema, Rajinikanth fans expect better!


Naiyaandi I’m a huge Dhanush fan, so despite the negative reviews it was inevitable that I would make the effort to see his latest film in the theatre.  And to be honest I don’t think it was quite as bad as reviewers have described, although it is still fairly terrible.  Naiyaandi is billed as a comedy and at least for the guys beside me in the cinema it delivered as promised, since they were literally rolling around in their seats laughing.  But I can’t work out if Sarkunam actually wanted to make a comedy or an action masala flick as the film ends up combining aspects of both genres without ever managing to form a coherent whole.  Naiyaandi is more like watching a TV comedy show with a series of skits, some of which work, and some which don’t, interspersed with the odd fight scene.  It does have a few funny moments, mainly in the second half but generally this is one to skip and wait for the DVD.

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Naiyaandi begins by introducing Meera Krishnan as a desperate mother trying to find a bride for the eldest of her three sons.  Her dilemma is quickly explained when the eldest son is introduced (Sriman), sporting an impressive paunch and seemingly well past marriageable age.  Matters look almost as bleak for the second son (Sathyan), however there is perhaps more hope for the younger son Chinna Vandu (Dhanush) who is much younger (and thinner) than his two brothers. For some unexplained reason, Chinna Vandu doesn’t live with the rest of the family, but rather lives with his uncle (Imman Anachi) in a small village and spends his time lazing around with his friends.  This also involves mooning after Vanaroja (Nazriya Nazim) who is visiting the village to spend time with her grandmother (Sachu).

On the surface Vanaroja should be fairly sensible; she’s apparently a dentist and comes from a loving and wealthy family, but she has irritatingly stupid habits which make her seem childish and inane, and generally she has the personality of wet tofu.  After a few days of being followed by Chinna Vandu, who uses more and more ridiculous methods of trying to attract her attention, Vanaroja decides that she has fallen in love with her stalker and plans to marry him.  Even though he appears to have no job prospects and she knows little about his family. Seriously – no-one is this dumb – even in a ‘comedy’!

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At this point Sarkunam seems to feel that the story needs a villain, so provides one in Vamsi Krishna whose psychotic determination to marry Vanaroja is perplexingly stubborn given that he’s only met her briefly.  However since his sole purpose is to provide a reason for our hero to abscond with the girl, presumably his lack of rationale doesn’t really matter.  Vamsi Krishna does the usual villain shtick, but it’s all very half-hearted and he’s neither menacing enough to be truly evil, or too over-dramatic to be funny.

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Things do improve in the second half where Vanaroja and Chinna Vandu are trying to hide the fact that they have become married from the rest of his family.  The only way to allow them to disclose their relationship is apparently to get Chinna Vandu’s two elder brothers married off, but this could be more difficult than ever since both brothers have their hearts set on Vanaroja.  Sriman and Sathyan provide some much needed comedy, which generally hits the mark and is actually pretty funny.  Whether it’s Sriman pulling in his stomach every time he sees Vanaroja, or Sathyan trying to get her to read his poetry, the two work well with each other (and with Dhanush) to make this section of the film more entertaining.

Nazriya Nazim doesn’t have much scope, but she is also better in the second half and actually seems to develop some personality as she dodges the two brothers while simultaneously contriving to meet Chinna Vandu in secret. Unfortunately this doesn’t last, and the final scenes are clichéd and ridiculously over the top without managing to raise many laughs. This is the first time I’ve seen Nazriya Nazim but she didn’t impress, although that is probably more due to her uninspiring and clichéd character which didn’t give her any opportunity to make an impact.


To add to the disappointment of an unimaginative storyline, the songs are uniformly terrible with bizarre choreography and obviously shot on a tight budget.  At least that’s the only explanation I have for the cheap and nasty costumes worn by the backing dancers in Switzerland.  Dhanush wears a succession of outlandish outfits which don’t suit him at all, and both he and Nazriya get little opportunity to actually dance.  I can’t decide if this was supposed to be part of the comedy or if the songs were meant to be taken ‘seriously’, but this is where the FF button and the film on DVD would be appreciated.


However, despite the terrible storyline, unfunny dialogue from Soori and Imman Anachi in the first half and nonsensical villain, there are a few things to enjoy about the film – even if only briefly.  Sriman and Sathyan are genuinely funny and the older Tamil songs that accompany some of their deranged imaginings are a good touch.  I did laugh for most of the second half of the film and it does seem better written with wittier dialogue.  Even the fight scenes are better.  Dhanush is fine in his role and always watchable, but the character here doesn’t require him to do anything special and such an unremarkable role is particularly disappointing after his impressive performance in Mariyaan.  Overall Naiyaandi is worth a watch for Sriman and Sathyan and the latter part of the film, but I think I’d recommend waiting for the DVD and judicious use of the FF button.

Aayutha Ezhuthu

A little bit of research informs us that Aayutha Ezhuthu was supposed to be a call to the youth of the nation to take up politics and generally to encourage political awareness. We really don’t know if this was true, since this film seems to show that life in politics is apt to be short, violent and fraught with danger. In addition, the wily politician who sets up the main characters seems to be thriving through his various corrupt dealings, so perhaps the film serves more to show what the problems are within the system. Aayutha Ezhuthu uses the converging storylines of three characters to set the scene and their subsequent interactions form the rest of the story. As the story unfolds the film becomes more of a straight ‘good guys’ vs. ‘bad guys’ although it’s not totally clear who exactly are the ‘good guys’ here.

The film opens with three main characters following their own storylines in traffic on a bridge. The same scene is shown from the viewpoint of each of these three and, after each vignette, we are shown that same character’s life in the few months prior.

First we meet Inba, played by Madhavan in an uncharacteristically brutal role for him.  He is a thug, who works for his brother mainly ensuring a local politicians campaign runs smoothly. Inba beats his wife and almost casually chooses violence over any other form of social interaction. Inba’s current employer, Selvanayagam the local politician played by Bharathiraja, is the spider in the centre of the web.  He employs Inba to police his rallies, and is in direct conflict with the second character in the drama, Michael.  Through their involvement with each other, the third, Arjun is drawn into the fray.

Suriya plays Michael Vasanth, a student, apparently a mathematical genius and also a political activist.  Not for him the more normal student methods of agitation such as demonstrations or debates, he prefers to be more direct in his approach and encourages retaliatory action.  This brings him into direct conflict with Selvanayagam and thus ultimately with Inba.  Suriya also seems out of place in his role.  He is muscular and obviously powerful, which doesn’t fit the image of a serious scholarship winning student.  His solution to problems faced by local villagers seems to be almost as confrontational as Inba’s violent tactics.  He appears belligerent and selfish as we see him brush off his mother’s concerns and treat his girlfriend badly. Although it is quite conceivable that students will use such extreme tactics, as has frequently been seen in many countries of the world, this approach just felt wrong with these characters. Perhaps this was partly an issue with the subtitles which may not have conveyed the dialogues accurately, but Michael came across as a very unpleasant character and his political aspirations felt more self-serving and less for the public good than perhaps was intended.

The final character in the drama is Arjun, played by Siddharth.  A playboy who has just finished his studies and plans to head to the US, Sid at least seems to fit the role he has been given.  His approach to life seems much more in keeping with his character and his pursuit of Meera, while typically filmi does feel much more genuine than Michael’s relationship.  By a series of coincidences all three are on the same bridge at the same time.  Inba uses this opportunity to get rid of Michael by shooting him, which sends him falling into the river past Arjun’s shocked gaze.

The storylines all converge at this point, and the aftermath of the confrontation is played out to its bloody and somewhat inevitable conclusion given the arrogance and brutality of the main characters.

What are much more interesting about this film are the female characters.  Although she is regularly abused by Inba, his wife Sasi is a very strong personality who is determined to wean him away from his brother’s influence and stop his forays into crime. Their relationship is very realistically portrayed by Meera Jasmine who is fantastic as the battered wife. Despite her family’s objections to her husband, Sasi enlists them to help get Inba a job, so she obviously has great powers of persuasion.  Madhavan’s scenes with her are the best in the film and she was very compelling in her performance. Trisha in her role as Meera is less of a driving character, but she is part of the reason why Arjun changes his playboy ways as he slowly falls in love with her.  She is convincing and effective in the initial scenes, but towards the end of the film she appears to be sidelined. Esha Deol plays Geetha, who is involved with Michael.  There is a lot of potential in their relationship as he doesn’t want to get married and asks Geetha to move in with him instead.  This opportunity to look at the issues surrounding marriage and commitment is squandered as the theme is never really developed further.  Geetha lies to her parents and to Michael’s mother and never really becomes anything other than the woman in Michael’s life.

However these three women, as well as the various female characters that stand for election in the story, seem to be at least an attempt to show women as other than just the pretty wife, girlfriend or daughter.  There is more meat to their roles here, although it’s not sustained and ultimately only Sasi makes a lasting impact.

Because of the belligerence behind Michael’s actions it’s hard to see him as one of the good guys.  The virtual worship of him by the other students contributes to the impression of arrogance and he imposes his will on everyone around him without any seeming thought to the consequence.  Despite his thuggish ways, Inba appears as the more sympathetic character as he is genuinely trying to change his ways, but cannot get out of the cycle of violence he has lived with all his life.  The supporting characters all seem to have their own agendas as well, keeping the whole feel of the film as one of corruption and deceit.  The only genuine people seem to be the villagers caught up in the struggle for their village. While the film tries to be a statement on youth and politics, the end result seems to disregard Michael’s supposed motivation and political ambition and highlight the futility of anything other than corruption and violence as a means to achieve and hold on to power.  The secondary plot line of Inba’s attempts to escape his violent lifestyle is much better handled. While Meera Jasmine is the standout performance, both Trisha and Esha Deol ultimately aren’t given enough screen time to be effective.  A special mention for Sriman who played the character of Dilli, and was excellent in his role as Inba’s conscience.

Heather says: I really didn’t like this film.  For me it may have worked better if the casting of Madhavan and Suriya had been the other way round.  I found that Suriya didn’t fit the image of a student at all. He is too old and not convincing, while Madhavan in his role switches between mayhem and maniacally happy.  This didn’t seem to fit either the characters lifestyle or generally bleak prospects.  As a man recently released from prison, with a pregnant wife and no real job aspirations other than working for his brother, the ‘crazy happy’ was difficult to swallow.  Some of this was to show the reason why his wife stayed with him, and indeed some of these scenes were much less overdone.  This may have been a directorial decision as Abhishek Bachchan appears very similar in his characterisation of Beera in Raavan. I stuck with the film mainly because of the relationship between Inba and Sasi which was very well portrayed. Siddarth’s character was also quite watchable, and overall the story was interesting, but I was very tempted to fast forward every time Suriya was on screen. I have liked him in the other films I have seen him in and was horrified by him in this.  I really wanted his character to die as quickly as possible, just so that I did have to suffer through his flexing and belligerence.  I wish I had liked this film more but thought it was a potentially good story that for me was ruined by bad choices in the cast and poor directorial decisions. 2 1/2 stars from me.

Temple says:  This is another film that, like Leader, is well made but not likeable. I have issues with the character of Michael and his immunity from consequences. Everyone around him is made to pay for his activism but he escapes with a few flesh wounds. Surya was unappealing as he seemed to show only the arrogance of Michael and gave me nothing to respect in that character. Unlike Heather, I really liked Madhavan’s performance in this. I thought he really made sense of Inba and Sasi’s relationship, and showed the complexity of his character. He was boyishly impulsive, and casually brutal in turns. He showed the pressure Inba felt to be a man’s man and ignore his wife unless they were behind closed doors. Their relationship was compelling as Meera Jasmine showed the gamut of attraction and repulsion depending on which side of her husband’s nature was dominating.  I didn’t get the impression he was ‘crazy happy’, he was just a thoughtless guy who wanted what he wanted, and was happy so long as things ran his way. I thought the whole cast, with the exception of Surya, did a good job and made the most of their roles. I did have to laugh (a lot) at the idea of Esha Deol teaching French though! So, while I don’t like the inherent message that corruption is OK as long as you say you mean well, I do think this film was compelling and well made. The only disappointment was the lack of follow through on what seemed to be interesting roles for women. 4 stars from me.