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.

Advertisements

Sahasam

Sahasam-Telugu-Movie-Poster

Who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt and adventure? Chandrasekhar Yeleti and the team who made Sahasam, that’s who! Well, at least they certainly haven’t made such a film so I have to wonder. Loosely drawing inspiration from Hollywood blockbusters like the Indiana Jones franchise and Telugu forebears such as Mosagallaku Mosagadu, this had the potential to be a highly entertaining tale. I expected better from the director of one of my favourites, Anukokunda Oka Roju.

The story centres on a simple and superstitious man who dreams of great wealth. When he finds his grandfather’s old papers he realises there may be a hidden family treasure. Unfortunately for Goutham (Gopichand) the treasure is stashed near his ancestral home in what is now Pakistan (shown in a flashback with Suman as the grandfather). And Pakistan, according to this film, is populated exclusively by terrorists. Even good characters think nothing of abducting people at gunpoint. Goutham crosses paths with Sreenidhi (Taapsee), a religious girl who is organising a pilgrimage to – guess where. He inveigles his way on to the trip and off they go. The second half of the film is the treasure hunt as Goutham tries to find the diamonds before Sultan (an, er, unbridled Shakti Kapoor) and his sidekick Dilawar (Raj Singh Arora) can get their hands on the loot.

Sahasam-the book

Gopichand has the requisite skillset for a Telugu film hero, but the material here is thin at best. The first hour or so is spent proving that Goutham is a bit dim and quite unlucky. You would only need so long to understand that if you were dumber than Goutham. The fight scenes are very athletic (the fake blood budget was fully utilised in many, many dismemberments) and Gopichand was clearly in his element in the thick of the action. Post interval Goutham becomes something of a puzzle solving killing machine with photographic recall which was moderately more entertaining. Goutham’s catchphrase is that he won’t take anything that isn’t his, but if it is his he will never give it up. And that sums him up as a dogged, dour hero rather than a swashbuckling one.

As Goutham wasn’t motivated by the usual romantic notions, Taapsee had even less to do than might be expected from the heroine. I find her appeal inexplicable so that was an excellent result. She does use both her facial expressions (grimacing and simpering) so I suppose that is something of an achievement. To be fair, her big moment was as a goat substitute in a game of buzkashi so there wasn’t a lot of nuance for her to convey. Zara, an ally in Pakistan, was much more effective as a character and her performance was more appealing.

Ali’s character was supposed to be an Indian security expert living in Pakistan but he gave his usual shtick and Qayamat Raju was just an annoyance. Shakti Kapoor is insanely over the top and while I enjoy a properly nasty villain as much as the next person, he spiralled from cunning and ruthless to stupidly petulant and cowardly and finally outright buffoonery. I would not have bet on seeing a worse actor than Abhimanyu Singh in my lifetime but a new contender has emerged in Raj Singh Arora. His idea of intensity is pursed lips and bug eyed staring which has an unfortunately comedic effect when his glued on beard is taken into account. A villain can be crazy but they have to be a credible threat and imbue the dynamic with some menace. Otherwise they are just a jumped up comedy uncle.

If I may name drop, earlier this week I attended a masterclass by the amazing Suhasini. Among other things, she spoke about the difficulty of capturing the expression and spontaneity of the live scene when dubbing dialogues. The sound team in Sahasam decided to get around this by ignoring such details. At one point the dubbing is so bad that the screaming goes on long after Gopichand has shut his mouth, and minutes later vigorous fight noises are dubbed over characters who are doing nothing.

The production design is often excellent, but some clunky CGI does detract from the drama. I liked the scenes set in Goutham’s home as it looked eccentric and colourful but still lived in and real. Ladakh played the role of Pakistan and cinematographer Shyam Dutt used the stunning scenery and harsh light to good effect. Unfortunately Shakti Kapoor and his convoy of thugs are often blocking the view. The ‘olden days’ sequences are blighted by some cheap looking visual effects and inconsistent approach to things like light sources in underground chambers. I found myself being distracted by the similarity of all the spiderwebs in all the caves and wondered if they were bought in bulk.  And apparently the ‘terrorists’ use special bullets that can kill a man but not penetrate a car windscreen. Then there are the other special bullets that can destroy masonry but not harm Gopichand. Sigh.

There are five writers credited (including Chandrasekhar Yeleti) and I wonder if that contributed to the lack of cohesion in the story. There are several tangents that fail to develop into anything substantial or credible and the mood sometimes changes abruptly. The pacing is never quite right and there is no tension leading up to the final scene despite all the ingredients being present.  I read an interview with the director and he mentioned that he felt obliged to change things a bit to suit Gopichand’s image. Perhaps the film would have benefited from some more consideration as to how to incorporate the action hero elements.

The songs by Sri are average and not very memorable. The hero introduction has some visual flair but the songs don’t contribute to the story and the picturisations are nothing special.

It was like watching two really bad movies rolled into one. Sometimes that results in a guilty pleasure that is So Bad It’s Good. Sahasam is only halfway there if you catch my drift… 2 stars!

Sahasam-fugitives

Gundello Godari

Gundello Godari

Gundello Godari is a step away from mass masala, going back to basics with a simple love story that evolves in quite a different way from the usual fare.  This is director Kumar Nagendra’s debut film and it’s loosely based on a novel by BVS Rama Rao, set around the real-life devastating floods in 1986.  Initially, newlyweds Malli and Chitra know nothing about each other, but as they battle through the Godavari floodwaters, they gradually learn about their respective troubled pasts.  The screenplay is a little patchy in places and the flood is frequently overly melodramatic, but good performances and beautiful music by Ilaiyaraaja make this a better than average watch.

Gundello GodariGundello GodariGundello GodariGundello Godari

The story opens with the marriage of Malli (Aadhi) and Chitra (Lakshmi Manchu), although they barely acknowledge each other throughout the ceremony.  The first spark of interest occurs when the beautiful Sarala (Taapsee Pannu) gifts the groom with a golden ring, obviously with the intention of making his new bride jealous.  At that point, the sleazy Dhorababu (Ravi Babu) arrives and also has a present for the happy couple, this time a gold chain for the bride.  Lost in their thoughts, Chitra and Malli linger too long and get caught up in the flood waters as the rest of the village evacuates.  However, they end up cast adrift on a thatched roof together, just managing to stay afloat, and in the likelihood that they won’t survive, decide to discuss their past lives and exactly how Sarala and Dhorababu fit into the picture.

Gundello GodariGundello GodariGundello GodariGundello Godari

The initial flood scenes are well integrated between the sets and some good CGI.  There are one or two moments of soggy model villages eroding with a trickle of water, but these are brief, and after all, who doesn’t like to see the traditional model village make an appearance.  The cinematography by M.R.Palanikumaar is excellent, with beautiful shots of the river, wildlife and surrounding countryside particularly during the flashback scenes.  These contrast with the fury of the river in full flood, and also highlight the difference between Malli and Chitra’s earlier lives and their current turmoil.  Predictable perhaps, but when the parallels are drawn this well with good imagery it’s hard to object.

Gundello GodariGundello Godari

The first flashback deals with Malli and his undoing at the hands of his boss’s daughter.  Malli is a hard-working fisherman who has a good circle of friends, looks after his mother like all good boys should, and is saving up to buy his own boat.  He also tends to favour a string vest, but we shouldn’t hold that against him.

Kumar Nagendra captures the hopes and aspirations of a village fisherman perfectly and Aadhi is excellent in the role.  A boat race at a local fair epitomises Malli’s drive and determination to achieve what he wants, although the same fair brings him inadvertently to the attention of Sarala.  Despite her impending marriage, Sarala has no compunction in going after what she wants, and in this case what she wants is Malli!  Although she initially appears child-like as she threatens and cajoles Malli into taking her to the movies on her birthday, events become more sinister as Malli arrested by the local police on a spurious charge of brewing illicit alcohol.  Whether it’s Sarala or her father who is responsible, Malli ends up taking his frustration out on Sarala and gives her exactly what she wants in the process.  Sarala is an interesting and atypical character with her overt sexuality and brazen attempts to drag Malli into her bed.  Taapsee is good in the role, but her expression rarely varies, and although her knowing smirk is suitable a little more variation would have given her character more appeal.  Aadhi on the other hand does a fantastic job of capturing frustration, anger and even some lust in his dealings with Sarala and despite the nature of their relationship, there is plenty of emotion and sparkage between the two characters.

Gundello GodariGundello GodariGundello GodariGundello Godari

After Malli’s story, Chitra’s explanation of past events is not as well written and her story tends to wander off track.  Chitra was adopted by Suri’s (Sundeep Kishan) parents as a child, but it’s not a happy family. Suri’s father Somaiah is a drunkard and his mother Rathamma works as a prostitute to keep the wolf from the door.  Chitra is in love with the adult Suri, but he’s a man more interested in his chickens, in particular fighting cocks, than in Chitra.  He also pays a little too much attention to the bangle seller Bangari (Suja Varunee) and all together there seems very little reason for Chitra to want to marry Suri.

It’s actually a little creepy since they were brought up together as brother and sister, but since there is minimal chemistry between the two actors this isn’t a major issue.  Sundeep Kishan is restrained but adequate in his role as Suri, and the character doesn’t have a lot of depth for Sundeep to work with.  The explanation for Dhorababu turning up at the wedding is also less convincing, but Lakshmi Manchu is good as the beleaguered Chitra, and her spirited defiance against the various calamities that befall her is heartening.

Gundello GodariGundello GodariGundello GodariGundello Godari

While the flashback sequences provide some explanation of previous events, they do provoke more questions that are never answered.  There is no explanation of what happened to Malli after his interaction with Sarala, and more importantly no mention of whether or not he is working as a fisherman and able to support a wife given his previous dismissal by his erstwhile boss.  The arrangement of the wedding is never discussed and there is no reason given for these two strangers deciding to marry each other. Still, the developing relationship between the two is well handled, even though it is almost swamped at times by the drama of the flood, and both Aadhi and Laksmi Manchu are both very good in their respective roles.

Gundello GodariGundello Godari

Ilaiyaraaja’s music is evocative of the time, although there are two rather oddly placed item numbers which don’t fit as well and don’t have any real place in the narrative.  Mumaith Khan features in one of these, while Suja Varunee does the honours in the second, but both feel as if they are just added in to try and appeal to a more mass audience and aren’t particularly well choreographed.  However, apart from the first song, these are the only two numbers which feature any dancing, since the rest are used to showcase the various relationships of the main characters.

Gundello GodariGundello Godari

Gundello Godari is a brave attempt to take a different look at relationships and approach a love story in a more unusual way.  For the most part it works, although the second half could be tighter condensed to allow for a more detailed development of the relationship between the two main leads.  Worth watching for evocative imagery, good performances from Aadhi and Lakshmi Manchu and a bold characterisation from Taapsee.  3½ stars.

Gundello Godari