Game Over

Game Over

I’m not usually a fan of horror movies, and prefer to watch anything scary at home where I can take a break or turn the lights up. However Game Over sounded a bit different from the usual horror film, and it turned out to be a good decision to go and watch it on screen. There are plenty of the usual horror film tropes; the stalker who breathes as if he has terminal bronchitis, excessive violence towards women and a few jump scares, but there is also a lot here that is different. Game Over isn’t an easy film to watch, nor to classify, but it does have a number of themes which encourage a deeper level of thought than a run-of-the-mill slasher flick. What exactly is going on is never 100% clear, and the audience is free to make their own interpretation of what occurs on screen – and that’s the main reason why I liked this film more than I expected. For me the final message was one of empowerment and overcoming fears, but I can see that this won’t be the case for everyone. Regardless, Taapsee Pannu and Vinodhini Vaidyanathan are excellent and if you are a fan of the genre this is definitely one to add to your list of must-watch films.

The first half is mostly setting up the events for the second part of the film. The opening scenes are immediately terrifying and horrific, showing a young woman’s violent death by a stalker who invades her house. The audience sees everything via the stalker’s viewpoint, ensuring that he (presumably) is never seen, although his breathing is loud and laboured. The film then moves on to introduce Swapna (Taapsee Pannu), a video game developer who lives in a large house with her maid, Kalamma (Vinodhini Vaidyanathan). It’s clear that Swapna has a lot of problems. Her house has a guard outside, she seems hyper-vigilant and she has security cameras everywhere. She’s also terrified of the dark and has a number of odd habits, preferring to sleep on her sofa and asking her maid not to move anything from its usual spot. Via a number of flashback’s we gradually learn that Swapna was seriously assaulted on New Year’s Eve a year ago and has PTSD as a result. After a very convincing breakdown at the door to a dark storeroom prompts a return to her psychiatrist (Anish Kuruvilla), Swapna discovers that she is likely to become more anxious and depressed as the anniversary of her assault approaches. She doesn’t want to follow her specialist’s advice to seek outside support during this time and after a sequence of events challenges her fragile mental state even further, she finally tries to take her own life. But this simply leaves her confined to a wheelchair with her legs in casts as the anniversary date comes around.

During the first half, good writing and convincing behaviour from Taapsee Pannu powerfully illustrate the effect of the assault on Swapna. The combination of Swapna’s mannerisms, repetitive habits and fear of the dark show the extent of her mental disturbance and inability to return to normal life. It’s all very realistic and unfortunately accurately represents the reality that many women are living with. One particular scene that hit home for me was Swapna’s reaction when Kalamma tries to reassure her that her attacker is behind bars. Her response is one I’ve heard repeated in real life, persuasive evidence for me that writers Ashwin Saravanan and Kaavya Ramkumar have done their homework here. Also excellent is the use of remembered conversations to illustrate how not to respond to someone who has suffered a serious assault. But even here the writers leave it open to the audience to decide if these are true memories of victim blaming from her family or instead, Swapna’s own feelings of guilt and remorse surfacing, despite none of it being her fault.

The second half of the film switches gears after a sentimental scene explains memorial tattoos, and a TV news item revisits the unsolved murder seen in the opening scenes. Suddenly Swapna is under attack in her own home and the question becomes one of survival given the odds stacked against her. Here there are the typical horror themes, odd noises, heavy breathing and a faceless serial killer with a sword and apparent grudge against women.  Some of this is genuinely terrifying, particularly since most of the suspense is built up by what isn’t seen, rather than by what is. However once the premise of the second half is revealed, the film does veer more into typical slasher territory, albeit with some good jump scares, but there is an overall drop in the level of tension.

Ashwin Saravanan has crafted a different style of horror film that deals with psychological disturbances and Swapna’s own fears, ultimately becoming an allegory about fighting personal demons and coming to terms with the effects of violent crime. I love the ambiguity that swirls around almost every frame of the film, ensuring it’s difficult to decide just what is real, and what is only in Swapna’s head. Keeping the action mainly to one room in Swapna’s house accentuates the claustrophobic feeling of helplessness, just as everything Swapna does is a clear attempt to have some kind of control over at least one aspect of her life. Taapsee Pannu is good at looking grim and she’s convincing in her doggedly determined efforts to fight off a serial killer in the later half of the film. Where she really excels though is in the portrayal of a young woman with a fragile mental state, particularly realistic with regards to the circumstances that have led to her careful and carefully ordered existence. Vinodhini Vaidyanathan is the perfect contrast. She’s down to earth and pragmatic, but still empathetic and more than just Swapna’s domestic help. Vinodhini adds realism that helps ground the film and includes reactions that perfectly suit her character in each situation. The contrast between the two characters helps give the film some depth, especially since so little background is given while Kalamma’s support for Swapna is a key component in making the story more interesting.

This isn’t a film where there are songs or diversions from the main storyline, and at just over 100 minutes there is little wasted space. The diversion to explain the significance of the first murder is a bit of a stretch, but not a totally impossible one, and I didn’t mind the touch of sentimentality after such a bleak first half of the film. It was good to see Anish Kuruvilla briefly onscreen exuding the quiet confidence that we’d all like to see in a psychiatrist, and Sanchana Natarajan, Ramya Subramanian and Parvathi T are all good in their brief support roles. Although none of the ideas here are totally new in themselves, the combination all together isn’t one I’ve seen before, and the almost entirely female cast is also something of a novelty in Indian cinema. I was also impressed by the film releasing in Tamil and Telugu (I watched the Tamil version) and also in a dubbed Hindi version which hopefully will avoid the watered-down remake that seems to inevitably follow every successful SI film. Game Over is more than a horror film, and not just a psychological thriller either, but rather something in between. Scary, empowering and almost hopeful by the end, this is a film that has a lot to say despite the minimal dialogue.

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Manmarziyaan

Manmarziyaan

The performances from the three main actors are the reason to watch this romantic love triangle written by Kanika Dhillon and directed by Anurag Kashyap. Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal are the carefree couple indulging in their lovemaking whenever and wherever they can, while Abhishek Bachchan plays ‘the most patient man ever’ as Taapsee’s potential husband. The story doesn’t break new ground but the ever-present music and stunning locations make this a more watchable film than expected, even with its clichéd finale. And it’s good to have another female-centric film from Bollywood that doesn’t portray Rumi as a bad girl just because she indulges in pre-marital sex.

Taapsee Pannu’s Rumi initially appears manically impulsive which makes her rather more irritating than I suspect was intended. She’s also incredibly selfish, but then that applies to all the characters in this story, so her absorption with her own affairs sits easily beside the rest. But as the story unfolds, the complexities of her character become more apparent and Rumi’s ‘no apologies’ approach to life starts to make sense as her circumstances are revealed. She lives with her grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousin as her parents are dead, and she helps to run the family sports store. She used to play hockey at state level and still runs – for exercise, for enjoyment and also when she’s sad, upset or just plain angry.

Rumi is in love with Vicky (Vicky Kaushal), a free-wheeling DJ with spiky dyed hair and a collection of The Doors t-shirts. Vicky hops over balconies to have sex with Rumi behind her family’s back, although it’s pretty much an open secret in the neighbourhood since the lovers take a haphazard approach to concealing their activity. This is an entirely new side to Vicky Kaushal and he nails the man-child aspect of his irresponsible character with complete enthusiasm. He’s totally into Rumi and the two have an intensely passionate affair that all comes crashing down when Rumi’s aunt finds them together in the bedroom. Naturally the only solution is marriage, and rather surprisingly Rumi agrees. Perhaps she too has had enough of the sneaking around and she wants Vicky to finally ‘put a ring on it’. What moves the film forward here is Rumi’s family’s acceptance of Vicky as a husband if that’s what she wants. They may not totally approve, but there are refreshingly no demands to only marry the man of their choice. Rumi also takes a pragmatic view of the entire idea although her immaturity is on show when she declares that she will marry anyone the family chooses if Vicky fails to appear.

Although Rumi has absolute faith that her lover will agree to getting married, for Vicky that’s a step too far. He’s not ready for marriage, but he does at least admit his reluctance to an astonished and devastated Rumi. At this point the family contacts Kakaji (Saurabh Sachdeva), a marriage broker who has also been contracted to find a bride for Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan ), an NRI living in London who is back in India to search for a wife. Robbie might tie his turban on arrival in the airport to appease his rather traditional family, but is determined follow his own path as he searches for his life-partner. He falls in love almost immediately with Rumi’s picture despite the best efforts of Kakaji to provide a range of options. With Vicky’s refusal to commit, Rumi agrees to marry her family’s choice, but despite the wedding preparations, Vicky still isn’t able to let Rumi go and continually makes promises he just cannot seem to keep.

One of the areas that works well in the film is the depiction of Vicky’s commitment issues. There’s never any doubt that he is head over heels in love with Rumi, but his irresponsible nature doesn’t allow him any thought for the future. There’s an excellent scene where the two lovers run away together, only for Rumi to stop the car and ask Vicky where are they going and how will they survive. When he can’t answer, she knows that for all his passion in the bedroom, Vicky really isn’t husband material. Vicky’s father also has some harsh words for his son that ring true, telling him that he sees Rumi as a possession that he cannot bear to lose leading Vicky to make countless promises and break them over and over again. When we were discussing the film, a friend asked me why Rumi believed Vicky when it was so obvious that he wasn’t going to follow through? And that is the other part of the film that works for me. Rumi obviously loves Vicky and doesn’t want to lose him. So, she is prepared to do anything, say anything and believe him yet again when he says he will come and marry her. It’s a common scenario for women who believe they can change the men they fall in love with, and it takes maturity and experience to know that it’s simply not true. I could very much relate to Rumi’s attempts to hold on to the love she desperately wants to keep, despite being let down time after time after time.

Taapsee Pannu really is excellent here and after the initial overdone manic enthusiasm she settles down into a wonderful performance of a woman who is torn between her heart and her head. Her best scene for me was when she runs down to the river on her honeymoon and simply sobs, heartbroken and mourning the love she has lost. It’s a very powerful moment that’s followed up beautifully by her indifference to Robbie and her need to get drunk to sleep with him. Even when the story lags and the dialogue becomes repetitive, Taapsee is always engaging and convincing in her role.

What doesn’t work is Robbie’s insistence on marrying Rumi when he knows all about her relationship with Vicky. For all his talk about finding a life partner, his actions don’t appear to follow his words and his willingness to put up with Rumi’s bitchiness and indifference seems unlikely. Abhishek plays the sensible, sober and responsible Robbie well, but his character is simply too patient and understanding until towards the end of the film where he finally loses his calm façade.

The first half of the film has plenty of energy and sparkle that’s driven by Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal. Much also comes from Amit Trivedi’s fantastic soundtrack which is embedded in the very heart of the film and is used to good effect. Anurag Kashyap has added in twins who dance behind Rumi in a few of the songs and they are absolutely brilliant, adding yet more colour and vibrancy to the first half. Amritsar too is becomes part of the story as the city is beautifully filmed, and technically the film is excellent. Look out too for the gorgeous tea cups used by Rumi throughout the film and the thought that has gone into dressing Rumi and Vicky’s respective rooms.

Unfortunately, Manmarziyan loses steam in the second half and becomes rather repetitive although scenes between Vicky and Rumi still have an impact. The ending too is rather disappointing and tame after all the fireworks and energy at the beginning, and also much too predictable. This is a film to watch for the characterisations and the clever staging of a number of scenes rather than for the screenplay, which does tend to drag at times. But with such outstanding performances from the three leads Manmarziyan is still a step up from an average love story and definitely worth a watch.

Arrambam (2013)

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Arrambam is yet another Southern Indian film to use Mumbai as its backdrop, but really this action thriller could be set anywhere and still have the same impact.  Although there are a few Mumbai landmarks seen, the story is less about the location and more about the motivations behind the lead character’s quest for revenge, so despite Om Prakash’s excellent cinematography the background just isn’t important.  The action takes off immediately from the opening frames and there’s no time to take a breather until well into the second half. It’s fast, furious and best of all lots of fun as Ajith and Arya take on corruption in politics, the police force and basically just about everywhere!  There’s an excellent extended guest appearance from Rana Daggubati and even Nayanthara gets a chance to get in on the action and show off her ruthless side.  On the minus side, the songs aren’t too inspiring and there are a few gaping plot holes, but there is enough going on to make Arrambam an entertaining mass masala flick despite the lack of logic.

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The film opens with a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this latest terrorist.  The man they are looking for is Ashok Kumar (Ajith), who has an unusual recruitment scheme to enlist the help of computer expert Arjun (Arya).  Also involved in Ashok’s master plan are his sidekicks Maya (Nayanthara) and Mango (Krishna) who assist Ashok with kidnapping Arjun and forcing him to hack into a number of computer networks.

Arrambam

Despite this rather inauspicious beginning, Arya’s character actually adds some light relief to the film, starting with a flashback sequence to explain why Ashok targeted him in the first place.  This features Arya heavily made up and wearing a fat suit as a stereotypical computer nerd at college.  Even with his daunting appearance and apparent flatulence, Arjun is still pretty popular due to his ability to hack into the college computer system and change grades as required for the other students. However when he encounters Anita (Taapsee Pannu) and decides that she is his soul mate, he’s inspired to exercise and loose the flab.

During a rather disconcerting song where a now trim and fit Arjun sprouts blue wings for no apparent reason, he manages to woo the girl and ends up heading to Mumbai for a job interview.  One which doesn’t turn out anything like the way he expected.  Arya still keeps the nerd mentality even though he’s updated his fitness levels and appears suitably geeky throughout while also managing to keep up with the action.  It’s helped by his choice of T-shirts, but he gets the attitude right and his lack of awareness of the world around him is absolutely classic. Taapsee is ditzy and rather shrill as his reporter girlfriend but thankfully she’s not on screen often enough to be too annoying.

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While Ashok keeps telling his various victims to ‘keep it simple’, he himself makes things incredibly complicated by kidnapping Arjun and using threats against Anita to force Arjun’s compliance.  The first half keeps the thrills coming as Arjun attempts to escape and inform Inspector Prakash about Ashok and his criminal activities while trying not to endanger his girlfriend.

But of course that’s only part of the story and the second half involves a long flashback where Ashok’s motives are explained and suddenly the tables are turned.  The fast pace of the first half isn’t maintained and the film slows down considerably in the second, but there are still some good action sequences including a shoot-out sequence with Ashok’s old partner Sanjay (Rana Daggubati) and a high speed boat chase in Dubai.

Arrambam

Ajith is in his element here and writer/director Vishnu Vardhan has kept Ashok’s character deliberately ambivalent while making sure he has plenty of charisma and charm.  Ashok punctuates the end of his sentences by putting on his sunnies (which at least lets you know the conversation is over), and he is always über cool and classy despite his terrorist activities.  The relationship between Ajith and Arya also works well although the sequences with Rana and Ajith stand out as some of the best in the film.  The camaraderie between the two actors feels very genuine and it’s easy to believe that they are long term friends and partners with their teasing banter and rapport during police operations.

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While Taapsee really is the drama queen the corrupt Home Minister Rane (Mahesh Manjrekar) describes, many of the other female roles have a strong presence.  Nayanthara gets to threaten, bluster and fight in many of her scenes and does an excellent job, keeping her fight sequences realistic and looking suitably athletic to carry it all off, while Suman Ranganathan is also very good in her small role.  I’m always happy to see Atul Kulkarni pop up although his role as the chief of police doesn’t really give him much scope here, and the rest of the supporting cast are equally kept mainly in the background.  Although I like Yuvan Shankar Raja’s soundtrack, the songs don’t work well in the film mainly because they disrupt the flow of the story. The item song featuring Akshara Gowda is particularly painful and seems completely pointless since it really doesn’t suit her character of the home minister’s daughter at all.  I don’t think that such a fast paced action thriller needs any songs other than the background score but at least the Holi song had more energy and made a little more sense in the context of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Arrambam.  It’s fast paced, slick and stylish with plenty of action and I loved that one of the female characters was involved in the mayhem too. You go girl! The excitement and tension of the first half isn’t sustained through the second, but with Rana added in to the mix the action is still full on. Worth watching for Ajith and Arya as long as you can ignore the lack of logic and just sit back and enjoy the ride!

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