Thirakkatha

 

Ranjith’s Thirakkatha is supposedly inspired by the relationship between Srividya and Kamal Haasan. I have zero interest in the love lives of celebrities but this is also a thoughtful look at the film industry, it’s a reasonably sane romantic drama except when it isn’t, and Priyamani steals the show.

Warning, spoilers ahead! There are some things that struck me so hard I don’t want to omit them.

Young gun director Akbar Ahmed (Prithviraj) is awarded for his first film hitting 100 days. He is given a trophy by industry legend Ajayachandran (Anoop Menon). Ajay’s internal monologue is all about himself and how he fought the odds to become a star. Certainly judging by some of the chatter amongst other guests, he is not universally loved. Akki is inspired to make his next film on the story of Ajay and his ex-wife, the star actress Malavika (Priyamani). She hasn’t been seen in years and nobody really knows much about her, despite all the gossip. Akki obtains diaries and letters written by director Aby Kurivilla (Ranjith himself) from his son Appu (Vineeth Kumar), and starts to piece their story together from both the private and public sources. The film unfolds through a series of flashbacks, interspersed with Akki telling the story as he knows it to his crew. When it seems that a story is all they have, they locate Malavika. Now terminally ill and alone, her life is a far cry from Ajay’s success and acclaim. What happened, and why?

Anoop Menon had to battle with some unflattering wigs and 80s attire that did an excellent job of obscuring his alleged charms, but Ajay’s determination is loud and clear. His break came playing a villain opposite Malavika and some producer’s nondescript son. He fell for Malavika at first sight, his heightened emotions helping him deliver a convincing performance. Whether shyly flirting with Malavika or pushing his career agenda, he didn’t back down when reminded of what people saw as his place. Ajay is obsessed with success and Malu was a lucky charm for his films. After a secret registry office wedding, Malu fell pregnant and planned to stop acting and be a mum. Ajay had been in a string of flops and was relying on Malu’s box office pull for their next movie to rescue his career. He told her she was ruining his life in favour of an unborn child and persuaded her to have an abortion, triggering events that ended their marriage. When Ajayachandran finds out about the movie, he tries to divert Akki to making a film with him rather than about him. Even Ajay’s wife thinks he’s a selfish bastard. Ajayachandran’s father was a makeup artist and people are snide about his lowly beginnings even now he is a legend. He became a big hero, but sometimes petty villain seems more his calling. Anoop Menon is most convincing as the selfish Ajay with his ambition and inferiority complex driving him. He benefits from a kind of halo effect in scenes with Priyamani, but seems lacking in the emotionally complex moments.

Malavika is a reluctant star, with a pushy ex-star stage mum (Mallika Sukumaran) and a loyal, almost silent assistant, Valarmathi (Surabhi). She’d rather get a job after graduating, but her mum hit Malu with a guilt trip of how she had to dance on film to raise her family and now the alcoholic dad is gone there is no money. Malavika is an assertive girl with everyone but her mother. I like the way she firmly shooed Ajayachandran away when she needed a moment between scenes. The flashbacks show all the drama behind the scenes as well as the vintage acting and dance styles of the early 80s.

Priyamani is just gorgeous, deftly showing Malavika’s star quality (the camera loves her), and her more pragmatic everyday personality. She berated Ajay for learning to kiss from watching local films, cheerfully telling him classic French films were the best reference. I loved Malu’s confidence in herself and her growing understanding of her power in the film industry. She has a drink with a producer but when he makes a pass she is comfortable and articulate turning him down. She doesn’t want to change who she is and she won’t be pressured or made to feel ashamed. Priyamani’s performance kept me invested in the story through even the most melodramatic plot contortions.

Major spoiler(s) – highlight to read:

Malu is told that during the abortion they found a growth that had to be removed. Later on her doctor friend Vasanthi tells her that Ajay lied – He requested that her tubes be tied so she won’t fall pregnant. It turns out this is not exactly true but that did nothing to quell my outrage. Firstly, bullying her into an abortion when she clearly wanted the child – BAD. Not telling Malu about the medical situation and not getting her consent or allowing her to have any part of the decision – BAD. Persuading the doctor to keep a cancer diagnosis from Malu so she would make another film instead of perhaps getting treatment that may have saved her life – BAD. Ajay believing that he was right because he wanted her to be happy and she would be happy when he was happy and he would be happy when he was a big star – BAD. Akki bringing Malavika to his place to recuperate although she didn’t know him at all, which is a nice gesture but once again there was no consultation with the actual patient, so therefore – BAD. The doctor who let Akki take a terminally ill stranger away just because – BAD. Everyone including Malavika apparently forgiving Ajay because he felt so sorry (for himself) – WTAF?!?

/rant

Ranjith is disparaging of some practices in his industry, calling out examples and mocking the results. Akki is very much the guy who got there because of his passion for film making. He’ll sign with a producer but he won’t let them dictate what he does. The line between life and story fodder is also explored through Akki as he grows closer to Malavika and has to decide how and if he will use her story for his career.

Prithviraj is low key and generally likeable as Akki. He is hampered a bit by the narrative structure that uses his character as an agent of voiceover, and from being in the modern day part of the story which is for me the least interesting. He works with a small group of trusted friends, running a restaurant with them in between films. Akki is prone to the unilateral decision, and most of his friends are followers. I was sometimes annoyed despite his good intentions just because he was so self-righteous. Akki and his capable girlfriend Devayani (Samvrutha Sunil) have a no fuss relationship and make a nice couple. As Malu and Ajay’s romance is explored, they realise maybe they need to think about theirs.

The songs (by Sharreth) fit better in the flashback. Onnodu is a random and quite uncoordinated song between prologue and titles, perhaps just there for the Prithviraj fans.

There is so much that I liked, but the flaws are equally striking. Some of the discussions about film making felt out of synch, but I liked the extra layer about interpretation and storytelling. Ranjith handled the multiple timeline structure more deftly in Paleri Manikyam, but the 80s flashback section is a highlight. 3 ½ stars! (BIG deduction for the medical ethics)

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Gentleman (2016)

 

Gentleman_posterFans of the duplicate hero genre will not be surprised by the plot developments in Mohan Krishna Indraganti’s Gentleman, but it is an enjoyable film with some very good performances. Unfortunately the trailer doesn’t do the film justice. But here it is.

Aiswarya and Catherine meet on an international flight heading back to Hyderabad. In a stilted “hey I know how we can fill in the time” scene, the ladies decide to tell each other about the men in their lives.

Cathy tells her self-described cinematic story of meeting Gowtham, and falling head over heels. Now, Gowtham is the typical filmi hero stalkerish won’t take no for an answer guy, but Catherine sends him encouraging signals. Their dates are actually very cute, they have fun together, and they do seem to genuinely like each other. She had to leave him to go do a VFX course in the UK, and can’t wait to see him again.

Aiswarya tells Cathy about her perfect fiancé Jai. Where Catherine and Gowtham were endearingly real, Jai and Aiswarya are annoying, privileged and clueless. They can get in the sea. They go on a roadtrip for two days, and ostentatiously leave all their money in their checked baggage. Aiswarya makes up rules about not working or trading things for money and not calling home. This is to test them and their compatibility. So they whinge the whole way to their destination, except for a brief break for Rajnikanth impressions, and take advantage of the hospitality of poorer locals. In one of many brilliant decisions, Jai feeds Aiswarya magic mushrooms then freaks out when the hallucinogens kick in. Finally they decide they must be each other’s soulmates because really, who else could stand either of them?

Imagine Catherine’s surprise when she sees her new bestie walk up to Gowtham’s double at the airport. And imagine her shock when she goes to Gowtham’s home only to be told he was killed in an accident. Was there a connection between Gowtham and Jai? Was Gowtham’s death really an accident? What does her friend Aishu really know about the man she is going to marry? And now imagine the rest of the story! Or, just wait until the end when two characters do an awesomely committed bit of “As you know Bob” exposition and explain the entire plot for the convenience of an eavesdropping character and anyone in the audience who hasn’t worked it out.

Gentleman-Catherine and Gowtham

Niveda Thomas is fantastic as Catherine. Her acting is quite natural, and she has a healthy realistic beauty. Her chemistry with Nani was great, whether he was playing her boyfriend or the suspiciously perfect man going to marry her rich friend. When she started to question Jai’s integrity she took action herself and was as rational as someone so invested in the outcome could be. I also have to give some credit to whoever styled her for choosing a wardrobe that a normal young woman would wear instead of having her teeter around in high heels and higher skirts. Niveda has screen presence beyond what I’d expect for a 21 year old woman in an industry not known for developing actresses beyond their cup size.

Gentleman_Jai and Aiswarya

Surabhi was less impressive as Aiswarya, but that was likely due to the limitations of the character. Aishu was ignorant of the suspicions about her fiancé so was mostly the bubbly happy bride to be. She certainly looked the part of a pampered girl with an optimistic nature, and her scenes with Nani were generally good (if nauseating).

Nani’s characters developed from different directions. Gowtham was a bit of a pest who revealed his heart of gold as Cathy got to know him, while Jai started sweet and considerate, then revealed more of his ruthless side. Nani is always likeable, but he managed to make Jai creepily perfect so that everything he did after a certain point became suspicious, regardless of how innocuous it was. Even his 70s cop show blow wave seemed to indicate menace. Gowtham seemed less calculating, more of a take it as it comes kind of guy, and a bit glib. Gowtham’s fight scenes were very tongue in cheek and entertaining, which suits Nani to a T.

Sreemukhi is Nitya, a straight talking journalist who takes an interest in Jai’s business dealings and seeks Catherine out to help confirm her suspicions. They had a nice dynamic and it was good seeing another sane career woman in the ensemble. Srinivas Avasarala is good as Vamsi, Jai’s suspiciously agreeable cousin who doesn’t seem to mind being ignored continuously in favour of the golden boy. Vennela Kishore was amusing as highly strung work supervisor and Youtube legend. Tanikella Bharani has a small role as Jai’s uncle Mohan. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it gig so maybe he was just doing a favour for a mate. Vinay Varma is Catherine’s creepy uncle David, and I shed no tears for his character. This film was very smart in how it showed their relationship and Catherine’s reaction without getting into voyeuristic rapeyness. It was all wrong, and no more needed to be said. Rohini played Gowtham’s mum, and every time I see her on screen I just love her. Her acting is excellent, and she and Nani still had the rapport that I loved so much in Ala Modalaindi.

Saturday Night Fever had a dorky fun feel, with the main cast doing enthusiastically uncoordinated dancing that helped gloss over the song’s lack of freshness. Mani Sharma’s songs are standard formulaic film fare, and most add little either visually or musically. The engagement song at Aiswarya’s house (Dintaka Dintaka) was nice mostly for seeing the character actors get their moment in the spotlight.

I liked the use of graphic novel style effects in some early scenes but that seemed to go by the wayside later on in favour of standard dodgy looking breaking glass VFX and the like. Odd considering Catherine’s career, they didn’t seem to invest in getting that right.

While I was overjoyed to have subtitles, there were some silly errors in them. Broachers for brochures, one excellent instance of comma for coma, and my favourite – missionary for masonry (as in, the reinforcing rod is embedded in the missionary masonry). It did deflate a very tense scene.

See this for a complex and yet fast moving plot carried by Nani’s rock solid skills, and Niveda Thomas’ excellent heroine who does stuff that won’t make you facepalm all through the film.

Velaiyilla Pattathari

Velaiyilla Pattathari

I laughed, I cried, I clapped and cheered along with everyone else in the cinema, and finally I left with a big grin on my face.  Dhanush hits all the right notes in his 25th film with a full mass entertainer that has something for everyone.  This wasn’t the film I expected after seeing the trailer and despite a rather predictable storyline I was completely captivated by the infectious energy Dhanush brings to the screen.  Writer/director Velraj seems to have started with a blend of a number of previous Dhanush roles (he does seem to play the part of an unemployed layabout quite frequently!), but as the story develops the differences become clear and in any case, with the quality of the actors, any similarity ceases to matter.  What starts out as a family drama evolves into a full action adventure featuring snappy dialogue and perfect performances from pretty much the entire cast.   I loved every moment, from Raghuvaran riding his dorky cycle taking his brother to work, to the final shirtless fight scene and even the clichéd pre-interval ‘shock’ which segues into a perfect emotional response from Dhanush.  Paper-thin plot aside, this is a film to savour.

Velaiyilla Pattathari

As the title suggests, Dhanush is the out of work loser in his family, with a father who fails to understand his ‘difficult’ son.  His younger brother Karthik (Hrishikesh) is taller, has a job and is held up to be the ideal son in stark contrast to Raghuvaran (Dhanush).  Samuthirakani plays their father and his disapproval is wonderfully understated, so that it’s hard to tell if his condemnation is genuine or simply masking concern for his jobless son.  Samuthirakani has a perfectly gruff and irritable exterior and escapes stereotype by the realistic alternation between criticism and approbation of his eldest son.  Meanwhile, Saranya Ponvannan is a stereotypical Southern Indian ma, but she is perfect in her role and makes much more of her character than seems possible at first glance.  In particular, her reaction to Raghuvaran’s fight with some hired thugs in her front yard is hysterical!  Again it’s little touches and Saranya’s ease of expression that lifts her role out of the stale and mundane, while such attention to detail in the characterisation ensures the appeal of the characters and bolsters the time-worn storyline.

Velaiyilla Pattathari

The first half of the film focuses on the family dynamics and Raghuvaran’s dreary days as he spends his time filling in job applications and doing the household chores.  There are plenty of lighter moments though as Raghuvaran looks after his dog Harry Potter, and tries to catch a glimpse of his new, reportedly attractive next door neighbour.  Velraj mixes small every-day occurrences with more significant events to gradually build a picture of Raghuvaran’s ambitions, morals and general mind-set which in turn sets up the rationale for the action in the second half.  Raghuvaran is determined to get the job he wants and not just take any work for the sake of becoming employed.  The only thing which seems to have any power to change his mind is his attraction to Shalini (Amala Paul) and their budding romance.

Velaiyilla PattathariVelaiyilla Pattathari

Amala Paul doesn’t have a large role in the film, but she turns in a good performance and has plenty of onscreen chemistry with Dhanush.  Their romance is sweet with Shalini taking the more aggressive role, and it’s a pleasant change to have a film where the hero isn’t a creepy stalker. Or at least not as soon as he gives up his telescope to his mother!

The second half follows Raghuvaran’s fortunes once he does find a job, and the whole dynamic of the film changes to more hero-centric action with slickly choreographed fight scenes and the requisite villain.  Vivek pops up in a fairly subdued role to add some mildly amusing comedy, and there is a second heroine (Surabhi) although her storyline peters out when the action ramps up.

Velaiyilla Pattathari

Amitesh is Arun, the villain of the piece.  He’s a rich boy given control of his father’s company despite a lack of talent and what I would call nounce, and for various petty reasons and sheer spitefulness decides to eliminate his competitor in the world of building development.  It’s a tad far-fetched but I did like the rather brattish and petulant character of Arun which was a respite from the typical brutal world-domination style villains usually encountered.  Amitesh doesn’t really match up to Dhanush in terms of acting skills and it’s fairly obvious who is going to win any encounter, but the various plots and counter-plots are fun.  I also appreciated the fairly accurate representation of a visit to the optometrist and an eye examination in the second half since attention to eye health is rarely featured in movies!

Velaiyilla Pattathari

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack since it was released, and the songs are even better in the context of the film.  Dhanush dances up a storm and the choreography is well suited to the characterisation.  Udhungada sangu is probably my favourite but Anirudh Ravichander’s music and Dhanush’s lyrics (yay for subtitles!) are well matched to the screenplay and the songs are sensibly placed in the narrative.

The entire cast are all excellent but with a strong screen presence, Velaiyilla Pattathari is very definitely Dhanush’s film through and through.  He nails the role of Raghuvaran and as always I am completely amazed by his ability to make me believe 100% in his character, no matter how improbable or unlikely.  The interactions with his co-stars are flawless and when it gets to a long and simply brilliant monologue his facial expressions, body language and delivery all combine to make it one of my favourite scenes this year.  The mixture of comedy, action and drama, plus superb performances makes this one of Dhanush’s most entertaining ‘commercial’ films in recent times and I’ll definitely be heading back to the cinema to catch it again.  Highly recommended – I loved it!