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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Iraivi (2016)

Iraivi

Karthik Subbaraj’s third film is rather darker than his previous two, with less comedy and a serious theme about women who have to endure the poor decisions of weak men. It’s a film where the female characters are defined by the men, and the story is told through male eyes although the women generally are stronger and less flawed than their husbands. While the relationships are the core of the film, there is an overlying story that involves theft, murder and deception and although it’s another excellent film from Karthik, I kept thinking throughout that this would have been more powerful if he had shown more of the women’s viewpoint. However, highlighting the flaws in his male characters and ensuring that they don’t appear heroic is in itself a departure from the norm in Indian cinema, as is focusing on the plight of the women trapped in realistically troubled relationships. In Iraivi, Karthik has made another film that is not easy to define but one which will hopefully start conversations and make audiences think a little harder about the definition of abuse.

The film starts and ends with the women, even beginning and finishing with the same image of a hand outstretched in the rain. The rain is used throughout as a metaphor for freedom, with each of the women expressing a wish to stand in the rain and get ‘drenched’. In the images and dialogue shown over the opening credits, Ponni (Anjali) is a schoolgirl, with the acknowledged somewhat old-fashioned dream of making a good marriage and living the rest of her life in domestic bliss. Vazhini (Kamalinee Mukherjee) is shown to be a strong and confident woman who has defied her family to marry the man she loves while Meenakshi (Vadivukkarasi) is upset by her husband’s demeaning attitude towards her, which has been an unceasing constant throughout their life together.

When we next see Yazhini and Meenakshi, each has been changed by the men around them, while we get to see Ponni’s transformation during the story. Meenakshi has had some kind of fall and/or stroke. She is reaction-less in a bed in hospital and her two sons, Arul (S.J. Surya) and Jagan (Bobby Simha) blame their father Dass (Radha Ravi). He admits to being the cause of his wife’s hospitalisation, but despite the fact that she never moves and never speaks, Meenakshi has become their focus for any of the problems Arul and Jagan face. No matter that she cannot communicate, she is still their mother and that bond is as strong as always.

Yazhini is married to Arul, a film director whose last film is being held hostage by his producer after the two had a falling out. Arul is living in limbo until he can secure his film’s and has become an alcoholic as a result. He gets into fights in bars when drunk but is not physically abusive to his wife and daughter, but instead subjects them to his mood swings and depression, and the general uncertainty of living with an alcoholic. S.J. Surya is excellent in his portrayal of a weak and selfish man who cannot cope with his loss and has become bitter and completely self-absorbed in his misery. Kamalini too is very good in a role that captures well how many women become trapped by their circumstances. She threatens Arul with divorce but at the same time still loves her husband and tries very hard to be as supportive as she can. However, Arul’s alcoholism and refusal to move beyond his own self-pity makes it difficult to Yazhini to see any other recourse other than to leave, taking their daughter with her. The dialogues between the two are excellent, and the sense of frustration and despair from both Arul and Yazhini underpins every scene. As the story unfolds, it’s Yazhini who emerges as the winner, able to change and adapt she moves on with her life while Arul is stuck in the same self-destructive pattern. Even after going to rehab, his selfish nature has not changed and everything is still about getting his film released – even losing his wife isn’t enough of a jolt to dislodge him from the familiar rut of self-pity and single-minded focus on his film above all else.

Michael (Vijay Sethupathi) grown up with Arul and Jagan and considers them as family with Arul as his best friend. He is in love with a young widow Malar (Pooja Dewariya) but she has no interest in anything other than a physical relationship and rejects his proposals of marriage. Malar is an interesting character – she is a woman who knows what she wants and is not bothered about societies perception of her behaviour, but I felt that there was something rather contrived about her character and despite Pooja’s best efforts, Malar didn’t quite ring true for me compared to the other characters.

When Michael’s parents arrange a marriage with Ponni he callously informs her on their wedding night that he has been forced into the marriage and can never be the man of her dreams. Her female relatives advise her that this is usually the case, but that Michael will change with marriage, however when Ponni tries to engage with Michael he shuts her out at every opportunity. In almost every scene with Michael or Ponni there are background details or snippets of dialogue which seem to foreshadow their relationship. When it seems that Ponni’s preganancy might be the turning point in their relationship, Michael is arrested and sent to prison, leaving Ponni to deliver and bring up her baby by herself. It’s again brilliantly written to illustrate the effect on Ponni as the happy-go-lucky school girl is transformed into a weary and accepting mother, managing to cope as best she can. Anjali is fantastic throughout and the dialogue again is perfectly written to illustrate the difficulties of women in what is a fairly typical relationship, no matter where in the world or whatever the cultural background. Vijay Sethupathi is on top form too as a man who is easily led by his friends and finds it difficult to admit to mistakes, even though at heart he isn’t a bad person.

The third character in the story is less successful, and Bobby Simha never quite manages to make his Jagan as believable as the other two. Jagan is jealous of Michael as he loves Ponni himself and decides to do something about it when he sees her distress when Michael goes to jail. Ponni’s reaction is certainly not what I expected in a film, but it is what could happen in real life, whereas Jegan’s monologues about the oppression of women and the evils of society seem more filmi and contrived than likely to occur in reality. However, Jagan does give an interesting contrast to the other two men, and is a more typical film character while providing the overlying story of artefact theft and deception against which the various relationships are all developed.

The story meanders about haphazardly while establishing the main characters and displaying their motivations. There are repeated themes and foreshadowing of events to come, but the final outcome is difficult to predict and the twists along the way are unexpected and genuinely surprising. What stands out are the individual performances from S.J Surya, Vijay Sethupathi, Kamalinee Murkharjee and Anjali, all of whom are superb. There is able support from all the other actors including a restrained appearance from Karunakaran as Arul’s friend Ramesh. The background music from Santhosh Narayanan is effective and the songs good, although in general these don’t add anything to the film. Sivakumar Vijayan’s cinematography is outstanding, often using the lighting to heighten the drama while ensuring that every scene is perfectly arranged for maximum impact.

Karthik has payed exquisite attention to detail, and the set-up and execution of every scene is beautifully planned to deliver maximum impact. On repeated watching, the small details start to emerge and the links between events become clearer. It’s a film that actually becomes better the second and third time around and I suspect that every time I watch Iraivi there will be another detail I missed the first time. It’s not perfect however; the film is long and some of the diversions taken don’t add anything worthwhile to the story, while despite starting off well, the female characters start to lose some of their definition and eventually only react to the actions of the men. It’s still an intriguing film and one I highly recommend for a different look at relationships between men and women. 4½ stars.

 

 

 

 

Ranuva Veeran (1981)

ranuva-veeran-title

S.P Muthuraman’s 1981 epic is standard mass fare in terms of the story and style, but it did bring early-ish career Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi together as hero and villain respectively. I saw this on a dodgy unsubtitled print, and no one seems to have bothered with detailed cast lists and the like so I will mostly have to refer to characters by the actor’s name. And my usual “Adventures Without Subtitles” caveat applies – I probably made it all up!

Raghu (Rajinikanth) returns home after military service. He defeats thugs on a train, acquires a gun-obsessed child, and returns home only to find that his village has been preyed upon by bandits lead by a mysterious man with one eye (Chiranjeevi). Raghu uses a rousing training montage to equip the villagers to fight back, and tensions escalate. He also meets the lovely Bhumi (Sri Devi) and decides to make her life miserable with his approach to courtship. When Raghu finally slaps the creepy contact lens and fake beard right off Chiranjeevi’s head he realises the gang leader is in fact his old college friend. After faking an accident the gentlemen retire to a grove of trees and strike poses as they declaim their views on good and evil or plaid or something. They certainly are not the same boys who were bosom buddies. And even worse, Chiranjeevi is married to (or living in sin with) Raghu’s sister Ganga who is the mother of the gun toting tot. Raghu eventually manages to overact his way through the dramatic landscapes and to freedom. Chiru is unrepentant about his criminal life, barely blinks at his son being rehomed, and seems more motivated now his secret is out in the open. Bad guys being bad guys, he is still intent on one more heist and that leads to the knock down drag out finale.

Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth have a similar ability to inject a feeling of quality in even the silliest or most sketchy of roles. Every hero needs a strong adversary and their scenes together have dramatic impact even when things are beyond ridiculous. Both actors spend time frolicking under waterfalls, with varying results. There is a real sense of personal animosity and betrayal in their confrontations. And karate!

Sri Devi gets the rough end of the pineapple with almost no nuance to her role and the burden of steering Rajini around in the dances. Plus perching on a giant Vat 69 bottle as it revolved looked quite scary.

Rajinikanth is the typically righteous and capable hero and seems to relish the mass dramatics. He is laconic but charismatic, and his chemistry with Chiranjeevi is great. His rapport with Sri Devi is less natural but they do have some scenes where neither of them is shouting or threatening the other, and those do work quite nicely.

My favourite action sequence has Rajini kind of mummified and stolen from hospital by Chiru who thinks it is his badly burned goon. But Chiru is not fooled and pours petrol over Rajini…Anyway, the suit morphs from mummy to Ninja to fireproof welding hood and the stunt body in the suit also morphs a bit. It’s a fun and fiery sequence! And did I mention the dancing and the karate?

Chiru makes a big entrance as he tries to evade an entire state’s worth of police. He has a glassy blue eye, and a striking purple suit that I would not have chosen if I was trying to look inconspicuous. But where was he hiding the grenade? Chiru tries to extort money from the mill owner, but Raghu hires security, who work for Chiru and it’s all so much more complicated than it needs to be.

I am not sure but suspect that the gimp masks on the hired goons might not be enough of a disguise in a small community. Look, I really don’t know where Chiru is hiding his grenades but if it’s where I think it is, he is brave and not counting on having any more children.

Raghu interrupts a cockfight run by Bhumi (Sri Devi), getting a cock drunk so it wins. How dare women think they can win at a manly man’s sport like letting a chicken kill another chicken. Bhumi may be silly and loud but Raghu is so mean to her, apparently because she is strong, independent, and her spirit must be crushed so she can settle for him. In another scene Rajini throws sarees at the men who hid from a gang, which is again quite unfair on women who tolerate enough pain to keep popping out babies and putting up with their husbands. It’s not a forward thinking feminist film by any means. Sri Devi wears clothes that are far too small and minus  a chunni in that universal filmi sign of “simple to the point of checking for head injuries”, and screeches a lot.

Bhumi absolutely scandalises Raghu’s family who are quite stitched up, but Raghu is more egalitarian so I did like his complete lack of judging her on her caste or status. Sri Devi’s scenes were an uneven mix of slap happy confrontations and slapstick comedy, but she is charming in a shrill and chicken obsessed way. And someone had to know what to do in the big musical numbers.

Raghu’s family show a dedication to overacting that thankfully failed to manifest in him. The boy Iqbal is shrill and annoying, and reactions to him highlight the differences between the father (Poornam Vishwanathan) and Raghu especially where religion and social welfare are concerned. Raghu’s mother (Nalini) gets her teeth into the scenery too, and I could see why the military might offer Raghu some peace and quiet. Sister Ganga is clearly sad to be separated from her family but will not give up Chiru. She has to make some hard decisions and while she is the film’s fallen woman she is not unsympathetic or unlikeable.

The finale is epic as Chiru and gang spend what seems like DAYS riding their motorbikes towards a big festival that also requires a Rajini and Sri Devi dance number. The climax involves a lot of karate and finally Iqbal’s penchant for guns is utilised. I’m not sure what becomes of that child but I hope all of his near and dear were aware of his vengeful streak and accurate aim.

See this for the excellent pairing of Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi, for some striking visuals including Rajni prancing through giant bottle props, and because you’d never get the budget to put this cast together again today. 3 ½ stars! Would have been 4 but all that screeching…my ears are still recovering.