NGK (2019)

NGK

Spoiler alert

I’m a big fan of both Suriya and Selvaraghavan and was intrigued to see how Selva would deal with a main stream hero given his usual character-driven and more unconventional style of film making. As it turns out, Selva has made room for both heroic gestures and quirky plot points in this tale of a young man’s rise to prominence in a political party, although ultimately neither meld particularly well together. In the end, the darkness of the storyline ensures NGK is still definitely a Selvaraghavan film, although only working in parts despite an understated, yet powerful performance from Suriya. There is a lot to unpack here, and I apologise for the spoilers which I haven’t been able to avoid in order to discuss certain aspects of the story.

Nandha Gopala Kumaran aka NGK (Suriya) is an organic farmer, living in a small town with his parents Ramanan (Nizhalgal Ravi) and Viji (Uma Padmanabhan). He’s married to Geetha (Sai Pallavi) and in the initial scenes both are completely besotted with each other to the point of irritating Viji with their romantic overtures. Kumaran is an organic farmer who has given up his city job to work the land with a group of like-minded idealists, but their livelihood is threatened by local traders and businessmen who want the farmers to buy their chemicals. Kumaran gets the idea of approaching his local MLA (Ilavarasu) from a neighbour Giri (Bala Singh) who works for the party. Giri has been beaten up by party men because he refused an inappropriate request from MLA Pandiyan’s but despite this, Giri still supports the party ideas. Straight from the start, it’s shown that the party elite are corrupt, lacking morals and purely interested in getting and keeping power. Kumaran uses his friend Raja (Rajkumar) who also works for the party to get an audience with Pandiyan, who agrees to stop intimidation of the farmers, but only if Kumaran enters politics and brings 500 of his own supporters into the party.

Interestingly, in these early scenes, Kumaran seems disgusted and repelled by Pandion, and is further antagonised by his bullying and repeated humiliations. But at some point Kumaran decides to kowtow and do everything Pandiyan wishes, including cleaning his toilet and supplying him with home-cooked food. What would help this transformation would be an explanation of why Kumaran decided to conform. Was it because he realised the power of politics and what he could potentially do if he managed to move up the ranks? Or was it simply to stop the humiliation, or perhaps even an attempt to shame Pandiyan into more moral behaviour? Sadly, none of the reasoning behind any of Kumaran’s choices are explained, although there are some pivotal events that we can assume helped shape his actions.

In the course of his transition to political power, Kumaran meets Vanathi (Rakul Preet Singh) who is a UK-educated political analyst tasked with helping the party win upcoming elections. Vanathi is impressed by Kumaran, presumably realising that his earnest demeanour and good looks will make him a good candidate to win over the voting public. Vanathi is an interestingly grey character who’s not above dirty tactics to discredit the opposition, although these are more about revealing the ruling party’s indiscretions rather than fabricating evidence to implicate chief minister Killivazhavan (Devaraj) and his minions. As Kumaran becomes more and more involved with the party, and by implication with Vanathi, Geetha starts to become jealous and finally accuses Kumaran of having an affair. Astonishingly (this is Suriya after all), Kumaran quickly admits his infidelity but it’s all the more shocking because there has been no hard evidence on screen and no real reason for the affair – after all, Kumaran had a wife he was supposedly besotted with waiting for him at home. Then too, his revelation is made somewhat passionlessly, but immediately followed up with a nasty challenge to Geetha asking her what she will do about it. So, was he just scratching an itch because he was away from home? Did he fall in love with the clever and politically sharp Vanathi – a world away from the more innocent Geetha? Or was it a more calculated ploy, to seduce the woman behind the party’s campaign for office for his own ambition?

Rakul Preet Singh is good in a role that starts off well, but which fades quickly once she (sigh) inevitably falls in love with Kumaran, despite her initial tough, woman-of-the-world persona. At least Vanathi has a reasonable character arc and she stays true to her own ideals throughout, apart from an unfortunate lapse during a dodgy romantic song which doesn’t fit with the rest of the screenplay at all. She still has values and these stand her in good stead as Kumaran becomes more manipulative and Vanathi gradually seems to realise what is happening. Sai Pallavi on the other hand doesn’t doesn’t fare as well as Geetha. Her initial interactions with Kumaran are too cloyingly sweet and over the top, while Geetha’s suspicion of an affair seem to come from nowhere, leading to some odd behaviours when she meets Vanathi. Her initial reaction to Kumaran’s affair is also strangely overdone, while the apparent acceptance in later scenes also doesn’t ring true, making Geetha a rather unsatisfactory and jarring presence onscreen. It’s odd since Selva’s female characters normally have strong characters and some reason for what they do, but here the women are all muted and take a very definite back seat to the main story.

Kumaran gradually changes throughout the story from an all-round nice guy to someone able to plot and scheme his way to success. What I can’t decide is if he turned to the dark side to win power to be able to help his people, or if he truly becomes corrupted to the point where he is prepared to use anyone to achieve his ends. The final scenes with Geetha and his parents suggest the latter, but I need to watch the film again to find more clues to his behaviour. I did pick up some. Selva uses changes in the lighting scheme here as he did in Pudhupettai to indicate some of the personality changes – changing from green to red lighting during a fight scene in an improbably cavernous bathroom, presumably to suggest Kumaran’s move towards more selfish motives. There are also questions around what really happens when Kumaran’s friend Raja dies, and his initial meeting with Vanathi definitely has more subtext, but I was concentrating too much on reading the subtitles to pick up on all the subtleties.

The glue holding the story together is Suriya, who forgoes his usual mass-style hero for an ambiguous character who definitely moves towards the wrong side of politics. It’s a subtle and almost low-key performance, although there is plenty of passion on show as Kumaran makes energetically impassioned speeches about farming and freedom, land and human rights, and inevitably ‘the common man’. Suriya gets across the definite sense that Kumaran is acting in all of his grand speeches, while still leaving his true motivation rather more ambiguous until the end, where his corruption appears to be complete. Here Selva has ensured that the film is very much about the star, and Suriya feels the space completely, including the requisite action scenes, dance moves and compelling charisma that end up defining the character too. Although the rest of the cast are good, they aren’t as memorable as Suriya, with the exception of Ilavarasu and Devaraj who have their own personality quirks.

Sivakumar Vijayan does a good job with the cinematography and overall the production is excellent even down to having readable subtitles in yellow font. Awesome! Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background soundtrack is good, and the few dance numbers are catchy enough, with the only real let down being the inappropriate romance track with Kumaran and Vanathi. It’s not a bad song, just oddly placed and bizarrely shot to show a romantic side to two characters who otherwise don’t appear passionate about each other at all. There are the characteristic dark themes and odd actions that remind you that this is a Selva film, but with Suriya front and centre, this is a more commercial and smoother film than his usual fare. The blend isn’t perfect but there is plenty here to keep you entertained, even enough for repeated viewings to see more of what is going on in the background. No doubt that will provide more clues and a clearer picture of just exactly who is NGK. I really enjoyed this, despite my issues with Geetha and occasional frustrations at not being able to decide exactly all the why’s. But then that is part of the genius of Selvaraghavan, to refuse to spoon feed his audience answers and keep everyone guessing. And even here with a mainstream hero in a more traditionally told story, he very nearly pulls it off.

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Thaanaa Serndha Koottam

Thaanaa Serndha Koottam

I really enjoyed Suriya’s latest movie, although I haven’t seen the original Special 26, and wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a rollicking heist movie, with Suriya playing a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, albeit in 1987, as he and his merry gang thieves disguise themselves as CBI officers to rob various high-profile victims of their ill-gained wealth. With Suriya on top form, the support cast generally excellent and plenty of humour in the engaging screenplay, Thaanaa Serndha Koottam is well worth catching in the cinema if you can.

The film is a remake of Neeraj Pandey’s 2013 hit, Special 26, although director Vignesh Shivan has apparently given it a Tamil twist. Both films are based on a real-life robbery that took place in Bombay in 1987, and Thaanaa Serndha Koottam is set in the same timeframe, allowing for some period features such as the white ambassador cars that Iniyan and his gang use to pose as Government officials, and posters of old films displayed in the background. It also means we get such delights as the costumes and sets in this wonderfully OTT song from Anirudh Ravichandra:

The story goes like this. Suriya is Iniyan, an aspiring CBI officer who is rejected for his dream job mainly because corrupt officer Uthaman (Suresh Chandra Menon) holds a grudge against his father (Thambi Ramaiah). At the same time, many of Iniyan’s friends are struggling to find work due to corruption within the system and the high bribes needed to secure a position. Iniyan’s solution is to gather together a team of like-minded people who are willing to take part in his audacious scheme to rob the rich. And because the money they steal hasn’t been declared to the government, the victims are unwilling to report the crime, ensuring that Iniyan and his team escape scot-free every time.

Iniyan then gives all his ill-gotten loot away, ensuring that his character keeps an altruistic image despite his criminal activities. As the heat builds in Tamil Nadu, the gang move their operations to Hyderabad where they can’t speak the language. I could totally relate to their default use of words they had learnt from Telugu movies, although I’ve never found it to work quite so well for me, and the resultant confusion is perfectly developed into a very funny scene. Brahmi makes an understated appearance as a Telugu CBI officer while the Charminar is visible in almost every shot to make sure we know the action is now happening in Hyderabad!

There is a romance too as Iniyan falls for a girl who is drawn into his schemes. He doesn’t ever seem to find out her name, and I wasn’t clear on her connection to the original robbery, although to be honest I suspect there may not actually be one. Keerthy Suresh is fine as Iniyan’s love interest but really has little to do apart from appear in the songs and create the odd diversion in the storyline.

The rest of the gang get better characterisations and even some back story to flesh out their various personas. Ramya Krishnan in particular is fantastic here and makes a scarily believable CBI officer. As “Jhansi Rani’, she uses her piercingly chilling glare (perfected in Baahubali) to excellent effect as she storms into various establishments demanding they hand over their illegal savings. Then in a blink of an eye she becomes regular housewife Azhagu Meena, planning her eldest daughter’s wedding and dealing with her disabled husband. I love her in this role, and it’s fantastic to see her in such a strong and effective role that combines comedy and drama so well.

The others in the team, KP (Senthil), Ondi (Sivashankar) and Muthu (Sathyan) have smaller roles, but still add plenty of interest to the proceedings, and ensure that the team appears as a real gang rather than just an odd collection of people Iniyan has gathered together.

Against them are the real CBI officers and Kurunjivendhan (Karthik), an honest if somewhat overly enthusiastic police officer who helps Uthaman in his search. Nandha is also good in a small but important role as a rookie police officer who is conned by the gang while Yogi Babu, RJ Balaji and Anandaraj all have successful cameos.

Anirudh Ravichander just keeps producing the hits as he delivers yet another great soundtrack, managing to make the songs all sound as if they really do all come from the eighties. For the most part they’re well integrated into the film too with appropriate picturisation that suits the ambiance.

The only real miss in this film is the end, where the story switches gear and becomes a more typical Tamil herocentric finale with action, drama and a few too many pontificating speeches. It’s a disappointing end to an otherwise engaging film, but thankfully there are some last-minute shenanigans over the end credits to make the audience leave with a smile.

Overall this is a fun film and with such a great cast of characters and the always charismatic Suriya, Thaanaa Serndha Koottam turns out to be an enjoyable and overall very funny watch. Worth catching for Suriya, Ramya Krishnan and Anirudh’s soundtrack.

Si3 (Singam III)

singham-iii

Si3 is the third film in the Singam franchise from writer/director Hari and team, and it follows the same basic formula as the previous two films. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the problem here is that Hari sticks rigidly to the format and includes far too much lacklustre comedy and insipid songs that do nothing but distract from the main plot. That is rather less than expected too, although there is plenty of fast-paced action and blistering fight scenes, the story is scantily developed while characters some and go without ever establishing any sense of who they are and what their relationship is to the story. Suriya also seems to be on overdrive – every dialogue is delivered in either a hoarse snarl or a loud shout and the character of Durai Singam even less plausible than usual, having moved on from portraying a one-man army to more elemental unstoppable force that slams villains into the ground so hard that they almost ricochet into orbit. It’s excessive and overdone but the fight scenes are still fun to watch – if only the rest of the movie had been anywhere near as entertaining.

As the film begins, Durai Singam is seconded to the CBI and sent to Vizag in Andhra Pradesh to investigate the murder of Police Commissioner Ramakrishna (Jayaprakash). The local police are surprisingly grateful to have Singam foisted onto them but the local villains, headed up by the enterprising M.S. Reddy (Sarath Saxena) are rather less thrilled by his arrival. Cue major fight at the train station that’s over almost before it begins as Singam throws his opponents through anything remotely breakable before leaving for Vizag police station. Vidhya (Shruti Haasan) spots Singam’s thug annihilation program at the station and instantly decides to follow and harass him by declaring her undying love at every opportunity. Vidhya’s attempts to entice Singam to reciprocate her love are mainly used as comedy, although there is nothing remotely funny about any of these scenes and Vidhya’s character is painfully immature and brattish. Vidhya is an investigative reporter and does have a minor part to play in the plot as well, but Shruti is completely wasted here in a role that requires her to do little more than pout at appropriate places and dance in a few oddly placed songs.

Although Singam is now married to Kavya (Anushka Shetty), he decides that for security reasons she shouldn’t accompany him to Andhra. However, Kavya decides to come along incognito using working for her father as an excuse, managing a few brief meetings with Singam and suffering through some appallingly bad wardrobe choices during an awkward song in the snow. Like the rest of Singam’s family back in TN, Anushka only appears as a means to link the previous movies to Si3 and otherwise her presence is completely superfluous to the plot.

Sarath Saxena is good as the don in charge of the criminal element in Vizag, but he doesn’t appear on-screen enough to develop much of a presence. He’s also not the main villain either, which is a shame since he would have been a much better choice than Thakur Anoop Singh. Singh’s Vittal is the son of the Central Home Minister but despite his parentage is an Australian citizen based in Sydney. His company is involved in the illegal dumping of Australian waste in India, with the Vizag part of the operation under the control of Reddy and his gang, which provides the connection back to the murder of the police commissioner. Sadly Vittal is an ineffectual villain who looks as if he has just stepped out of a shampoo commercial and spends most of his time pumping weights and channelling his inner Salman Khan. He is also horrifically violent to women, using this as a tactic to force other men to follow his commands. It seems oddly cowardly for a Tamil villain and I presume that Hari was ensuring that Singam’s opponent appeared as vile as possible, although I don’t think this was the best approach. Vittal is childish and indecisive and it’s hard to believe that he has built up a criminal empire given his whingeing and temper tantrums whenever things don’t go his way.

Without a strong villain, the story collapses into a series of frenetic fight scenes, punch dialogues from Singam and puerile comedy from Soori as police officer Veeram. There are some excellent actors in the support cast but they are given little to do and have very limited screen time. As in the previous Singam films, the focus is all on Suriya and the wafer-thin plot is purely an excuse to add in more fight scenes and shots of Suriya morphing into a lion or confidently striding around Vizag in his police uniform. Thankfully, Suriya is up to the challenge with his presence almost enough to hold the entire film together despite the hectic pace and general lack of a coherent storyline.

Harris Jayaraj provides the music but the songs are not memorable and the best, an item song featuring Neetu Chandra, is completely overpowered by the action taking place around the dancers. The rest are insipid love songs which are erratically pictured in various foreign locations, although I was happy to see Suriya in a Rishi Kapoor-style jumper at one point.

The best parts of the film are undoubtedly the fight scenes (despite the insane tossing around of villains like confetti), and Hari makes sure there are plenty including a variety of locations and items-to-be-smashed too. While Suriya is excellent as Durai Singam no-one else in the film has a chance to appear as anything other than as a bystander to events, although Krish does just manage to be noticed as Singam’s trusty assistant Sreenivas. Si3 suffers from the success of the previous Singam films as Hari has tried to make the third outing bigger, louder and even more action-packed but without a coherent plot, all the special effects, super-speed action and fight choreography aren’t enough to make a good film. Si3 is watchable, entertaining in parts and occasionally thrilling, but it could have been so much better.