Kavan (2017)

Kavan

K.V.Anand doesn’t tread any new ground with his latest film Kavan, revisiting a theme of land and water contamination by big business that’s been seen many times before. But rather than making another ‘message’ or pure action film, here we are firmly in masala territory, and that’s what helps make Kavan such a watchable film. It’s set in the world of television and journalism where breaking news is the key to big ratings and in this new post-truth world of alternative facts, the machinations of one TV station to keep ahead of the competition don’t appear quite as far-fetched as they may have done a few months ago. Writers K.V. Anand, Subha and Kabilan Vairamuthu have come up with an entertaining screenplay and some excellent dialogue that drive the story along despite numerous diversions. With great performances from Vijay Sethupathi and Madonna Sebastian, Kavan is more engaging and enjoyable than expected, even with the 160 minute run-time.

Vijay Sethupathi is Thilak, the only student in his class who wants to make documentaries rather than work in films or TV which immediately identifies him as someone more interested in facts and the truth than entertainment. However, he ends up working at Zen TV, alongside his former girlfriend Malar (Madonna Sebastian) who doesn’t want a bar of him after their acrimonious break-up. Initially Thilak does well, impressing channel owner Kalyan (Akashdeep Saighal) with his novel approach, but it doesn’t take long until Thilak’s moral stance gets him into trouble. Kalyan is prepared to put anything on-screen as long as it will lift ratings and he isn’t above manufacturing news either. Alongside corrupt politician Dheeran Maniarasu (Bose Venkat) he spins facts out of all semblance of the truth to promote Dheeran Maniarasu’s political career and his own TV channel. The inevitable clash comes about due to Dheeran Maniarasu’s involvement with a chemical company which is polluting the local area.

Activists Mira and Abdul (Vikranth Santhosh) are friends of Malar who fall foul of the politician and his rowdies and their subsequent search for justice sees Thilak and his friends leaving Zen TV for good. They team up with Mayilvaganan (T. Rajendar) who has a small struggling TV channel and start their campaign to broadcast the truth.

Now, initially I found Rajendar’s comedy jarring and out of sync with the slick styling of the rest of the film, but as the story moves on, and Malar and Thilak start to work with Mayilvaganan, his eccentricities become more relevant and I found his scenes to be really funny. His routine may not change, but Rajendar is good at what he does and that can be very effective, especially as here when administered in small measured doses.

The move to Mayilvaganan TV has the added bonus of demonstrating how to renovate on a budget, if you should ever feel the need to know, and of course the new revamped channel starts to become popular as it spreads the true story of Dheeran Maniarasu’s various corrupt practices.

The story plans out exactly as expected but there is a good mix of drama, comedy, action, and just the smallest amount of romance as Malar and Thilak put aside their differences. Despite the total lack of surprises, the film keeps us interested by keeping the story topical – there are mentions of recent events such as demonetisation and the Chennai floods – and adding plenty of good snappy dialogue. Vijay Sethupathi is always very watchable and he excels yet again, ensuring that his character’s belief in truth and honesty in reporting never come across as preachy or too sanitised. No matter how ridiculous the plot (running through woodland carrying a camera chasing a car and still managing to arrive in time to catch the action for instance), it somehow always seems possible in the face of Vijay’s absolute confidence and sincere belief in the role he is playing. He looks the part of a journalist, and I loved the brief glimpse of laser eye-correction surgery to ditch his glasses before he went on-air as a talk show host. Shame though as he looks good in specs!

Madonna Sebastian too is charming and plays the role of a modern career woman well. Her early scenes with Vijay are brilliant and I liked Malar’s gradual realisation that actually Thilak wasn’t such a bad guy after all. For a commercial entertainer this is a better than usual female role where Malar isn’t just the love interest, but has a reasonably substantial part to play in the story too. The romance too is very low-key and more an acknowledgement that the two are in a relationship rather than the more usual excuse for a flurry of songs. This is pretty much all of the romance in the film – nicely condensed into one song from Hiphop Tamizha.

The friends, including a rather subdued Jagan, are all good too, although they don’t have much to do for most of the film. Vikranth Santhosh stands out as the activist and his impassioned appeals for justice come across as more heartfelt and sincere than expected for a masala film.

As in Ayan, Akashdeep Saighal as the villain is the weak link for me, although this is likely due to the sketchiness of his character. All the hair tossing and posing suit the character of a TV mogul better at any rate and his acting has improved slightly, but I didn’t buy into the character of Kalyan at all. Bose Venkat is much better as the corrupt politician and does appear appropriately duplicitous throughout the film. It’s often the villain that lets these films down, but since it’s the policies of Kalyan rather than the character that Thilak and Malar are fighting, it’s not as important that Kalyan fails to make much of an impression.

Basically Kavan is a masala entertainer that doesn’t pretend to be anything ese. There is never any sense that the film is trying to be a serious exposé of the TV industry, or that the various feminist, Hindu-Muslim brotherhood or land right speeches are meant to generate a response; it’s simply a story to enjoy in the theatre with a box of popcorn. It is overlong and there are a number of diversions that aren’t at all necessary but the dialogue is good, the performances generally excellent and the masala mix is just about right. Worth watching for Vijay Sethupathi, Madonna Sebastian and a vision of alternative facts that’s perhaps a tad more realistic than may have been planned.

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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.

 

Anegan

Anegan

Somewhat ironically I had to wait until I got back to Australia to see KV Anand’s latest film despite spending the last few weeks in Tamil Nadu.  I was keen to see Dhanush in a triple role, since the trailer looked promising and three times as much Dhanush can only ever be a good thing! I also loved both Ko and Ayan, and was hopeful that Anegan would be a return to KV Anand’s earlier form after the disappointment of Maattrraan. And overall I wasn’t disappointed with Anegan. The first half is a little slow, and Dhanush’s really quite terrible wig in his first incarnation is rather distracting, but the second half is much better with an improvement in the main relationship and some good plot twists. Although the story doesn’t really get going until after the interval, catchy songs, some stunning visuals and an entertaining story make Anegan well worth a trip to the cinema.

Anegan opens in Burma of the early sixties and tells of a romance between a Tamil labourer Murugappa (Dhanush) and the daughter of a high-ranking official Samudhra (Amyra Dastur). It’s all fairly typical stuff, including a damsel in distress and daring rescue scene, secretive meetings in full public view and the stiff parental opposition you would expect. What never fails to amaze me is how young Dhanush can appear to be when required – a shave plus a bad wig and suddenly he looks sixteen. Here he appears younger than his co-star despite her giddy antics and plaited pig-tails, and maybe that’s why the romance never seems to sizzle. It’s not the best start for a love story that is supposed to be strong enough to span time and involve a number of reincarnations, but there is a sweet song and at least the lead pair look reasonably cute together. Naturally fate intervenes when the military coup forces most of the Tamil workers to leave Burma and Samudhra tries to escape her abusive family by tagging along with the general Indian exodus.  However Samudhra’s escape is foiled by Mallika (Aishwarya Devan) who is jealous of Samudhra’s relationship with Murugappa and things don’t end well for the star-crossed lovers.

Fast forward to the present day, where Madhu (Amyra Dastur again) is undergoing regression therapy to help her deal with the stress of her job in a large gaming company in Chennai.  The story of Murugappa and Samudhra is revealed to be her ‘memory’ of a past life and Madhu is convinced that the different incarnations of Murugappa she remembers mean that he is her soul-mate, and that they are destined to finally be together. The previous lives she remembers all have the two separating in quite horrible circumstances, generally involving murder and death, but this possible outcome doesn’t seem to worry her at all. Instead Madhu’s only concern seems to be that she hasn’t managed to meet her ‘soul-mate’ so far in her current lifetime.

Naturally that is remedied almost immediately and Madhu meets Ashwin (Dhansh again), an IT expert, also working for the same company. Yet again he’s from a lower class family but unlike Madhu, Ashwin has no memories of a past life and very little interest in Madhu other than as a work colleague. But soon event start repeating – Ashwin steps in to save Madhu from serious injury, and co-worker Meera (Aishwarya Devan again) is a potential rival for Ashwin’s affections, while Madhu is relentless in her pursuit of Ashwin as her long-lost love.

For most of the first half Madhu is erratic and completely annoying as she veers between bratty rich girl behaviour and total mental instability, although I put most of her crazy psychotic behaviour down to the drugs she is taking from her therapist mixed with the natural remedies from the family’s guru. Her attitude makes her a rather unlikeable character for most of the first half and her attempts to convince Ashwin that they are MFEO should have been enough to see him run for the hills. But instead he seems to suffer from a similar mental disorder and for no particular reason at all (unless it’s her inherited millions – which would at least make sense!) Ashwin decides that he’s in love with Madhu.

Thankfully Madhu becomes somewhat less irritating in the second half. The film moves back in time again while she relives her past life as Kalyani which turns out to be one of the best parts of the film. Perhaps the effect of the wigs wears off after prolonged exposure, but Dhanush’s Kaali is vibrant and likeable while Kalyani is less naïve than Amyra’s other incarnations, leading to some definite sparkage between the couple. The present day scenes also step up a pace in the second half as Ashwin and Madhu work with Commissioner Gopinath (Ashish Vidyarthi) to find out what happened to Kali and Kalyani and Madhu’s boss Ravikiran (Karthik) starts to take an interest in his employee’s mental deterioration. Dhanush is excellent throughout and makes his three separate characters (four if you include one who only appears in a song) quite distinctly different personalities. Murugappa is sweet and innocent, Kaali is a rough and tough rowdy with a heart of gold while Ashwin is the quintessential computer nerd, who still manages to fight like a pro, filmi style. Ashwin provides the thread that binds them all togther, but the most successful is Kaali, and Dhanush looks as if he is having the time of his life dancing and singing through the streets in a mesh singlet!

Anegan is a good blend of romance and action with a reasonable thriller element woven into the story, and generally strong characterisations. There are a few totally unrealistic moments, Madhu speeding through the traffic in Chennai is one (hah! nope – couldn’t happen in Chennai traffic!), and the attempts to make Ravikiran a hip and trendsetting boss fall rather flat, but mostly the screenplay from KV Anad and Subha works well.  Amyra is rather overshadowed by Dhanush and her theatrics in the opening scenes are particularly wearing, but she does improve as the film progresses. Aishwarya Devan is better is her small role  and it’s a shame she didn’t have a longer time on-screen. The rest of the supporting cast including Jagan as Ashwin’s friend and Mukesh Tiwari as Madhu’s uncle are all good, and Om Prakash ensures the film looks stunning with the scenes in Burma particularly well shot. Harris Jayaraj’s songs fit the film well and the background music is also excellent. Overall the film mixes plenty of action, comedy, suspense with the romance, and even if the story is fairly predictable the different incarnations of the lead characters ensure the story feels fresh and engaging. Anegan may not be quite in the same league as Ayan, but it’s definitely a large step in the right direction and well worth a watch –  and not just for the multiple incarnations of Dhanush!