K.G.F: Chapter 1

K.G.F: Chapter 1The first Kannada film I saw in a cinema was Ugramm, where I loved Prashanth Neel’s style and approach to story-telling, so it is reassuring that he has kept to a similar form for his latest epic KGF. The violence is bloody and excessive, the story ultra-masculine but with plenty of reference to the importance of mothers and the soundtrack is an important part of the film. But KGF has a grandeur and magnificence that comes with working with a larger budget and with a number of the Kannada industries top talent involved, KGF is an impressive venture indeed. There are a few issues, the lack of a decent female lead and some OTT and excessively dramatic dialogues for example, but Prashanth Neel has kept his eye firmly on the story, making KGF an excellent addition to the world of Kannada action cinema.

The film uses a framing device where TV journalist Deepa Hegde (Malavika Avinash) interviews ageing reporter Anand Ingalagi (Anant Nag) about his book, which was banned and burnt by the government of the time. Prime Minister Rimika Sen decreed that all mention of a certain ‘criminal’ should be wiped from history but Anand is prepared to share the story, although he jumps around in time which adds a non-linear aspect to the tale. In this way, Anand acts as a narrator of events, which span from 1951 to the present day and start with the seizure of land rich in gold by Suryavardhan (Ramesh Indira). Suryavardhan clears the land and establishes an illegal gold mine, worked by slaves and disguised as a limestone works. At the same time, local villager Saraswathi (Archana Jois) gives birth to a son she names Raja Krishappa Bairya who later becomes the infamous Rocky (Yash).

The story spans Rocky’s life from his birth to his infiltration of the mines in an attempt to assassinate Suryavardhan’s son Garuda (Ramachandra Raju). In between is the tale of Rocky’s rise to fame as a gangster in Mumbai and his desire to own ‘the world’ which eventually leads him into the gold mines. Along the way, Rocky has flashbacks to his childhood and to his mother’s words of advice which have helped to make him the man he has become. Since these are mainly words to make her son the richest and most aggressive man in India, they have stood Rocky well in his attempts to become the pre-eminent gangster in all of Mumbai. Rocky is a man who thinks nothing of killing anyone who stands in his way, often in the most bloody and gory ways possible. Luckily for our hero’s welfare, the thugs never manage to co-ordinate for more than two at a time to attack, and even when armed with guns they seem to forget how to aim to kill. However, I did appreciate stunt choreographer Anbariv’s goal of finding the most imaginative way to impale, garotte and otherwise dismember Rocky’s opponents – one of the best being with a handy anchor although Rocky’s prowess with a shovel was also superb!

Yash powers his way through his role as Rocky without ever demonstrating much emotion as the strong silent type who wades through rivers of gore to reach his objective. Although there are the flashbacks with his mother (featuring an excellent Anmol Vijay as the young Raja Krishnappa Bairya) and a rather uncharacteristic but brief romance with Reena (Srinidhi Shetty), for the most part Rocky is as stonyfaced as his nickname implies. However, to ensure that we know he’s not quite as much of a villain as his actions would suggest, Rocky is also shown to have a softer side, usually when faced with young mothers in extreme situations or when faced with gangs of poverty-stricken children. Nothing new or ground-breaking then, since this is typical Southern Indian hero behaviour, but it suits the character and storyline well, so there’s really no need to break the mould. 

The non-linearity of the story is one of its strengths and also works well to set up expectations for KGF:Part 2 as we are given tantalising glimpses into the next of Rocky’s adventures along with the puzzle of why the government decided to suppress his story with such assiduousness. Jumping around from the seventies (with flares and wide collars – love it!), where the action in the Kolar gold fields plays out, to adventures in Rocky’s youth explains much of his motivation and firmly establishes the other characters in the film. This is really helpful since there are multitudes of minor characters who are important to the story but who are all introduced quickly by Anand, making it difficult to remember who exactly is a gangster, who is a politician. And then decide if it even matters given they are all nasty pieces of work. This does allow for major complexity in Prashanth Neel’s world and he paints a grim picture indeed of corrupt politicians, lawless gangsters who have the police on their side and a poverty-stricken and joyless existence for the rest of the population. Into this dark world, it seems to make sense to inject some light by adding a romance, but the introduction of Reena with the usual stalking = love trope always feels like an add-on extra.

Reena is the daughter of Rajendra Desai (Laxman), one of Suryavardhan’s accomplices in the goldmine and as such she is portrayed as arrogant and heedless of the general population. Rocky sees her and is instantly smitten, following up his initial advances with some terribly cheesy dialogue while Reena does her best to let him know she isn’t interested. Until she sees his compassionate side, which is apparently enough to change her mind. Sigh. Srinidhi Shetty doesn’t have enough screen time to make any impression, but for the most part she too is fairly dour, grim-faced and like Rocky, prone to making declarative speeches. Rocky doesn’t have much dialogue at all, but when he does speak it’s generally overly dramatic and interspersed with plenty of threats and promises of violence. Even the minor characters rarely seem to speak normally to each other and instead there are bold announcements of bravery and threats of violence that do start to wear after a while. The narrative from Anand is in stark contrast and is more minimalistic and factual although this is occasionally confusing when characters are only briefly mentioned once.

Ravi Basrur and Tanishk Bagchi provide the music which suits the atmosphere of the film well. There is one introductory dance number with Yash which is appropriately exhilarating and an oddly placed dance number with Tamannaah, but for the most part the songs are used to help drive the narrative forward. Along with the soundtrack, they succeed in adding emotion and suspense to the film, and unlike Ugramm the music here is kept to a reasonable volume. Cinematographer Bhuvan Gowda keeps the film to grey and dark tones, and doesn’t have much opportunity to vary the colour palette, although scenes in the mine and at a temple ceremony are beautifully done to add red tones to the darkness. Kudos to the fashion designers for recreating the seventies in a relatively subdued fashion and not dressing the characters in ridiculous costumes. The sets and clothes are set in the right time period but not ostentatiously so, and as such don’t take away from the action unfolding onscreen. Kudos to the distributors for ensuring reasonably good subtitles, although the white text was often obscured by the background. Still very grateful to have Kannada films subtitled – even the songs!

KGF is basically another gangster action drama, but what lifts it above the rest is the sheer scale and complexity of the narrative along with standout performances from Yash and the literal cast of hundreds that add depth and texture to the plot. Be warned that the film is incredibly violent, and the fight scenes are frequent, fast and furious but they do fit the story and act to showcase a world that is brutal and uncaring. The story points out that power is the only thing that matters and Rocky’s power is that of his fists. Throughout, it’s those with power who dictate events, and Rocky is determined to control the gold and therefore the money, giving him all the power in the world. There is a lot to take in with the story but the mixture of fast-paced action and slower framing narrative works well to bring it all together. Overall Prashanth Neel has crafted a good story, told it well and pictured it beautifully to draw out the desolation and despair of the gold fields, and the gritty underworld in Mumbai. After all the excitement of Chapter 1, I’m definitely looking forward to Chapter 2!

KGF

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Ittefaq (2017)

Ittefaq poster

In this 2017 version of Ittefaq, Abhay Chopra takes elements from the 1969 original and spins them into a police procedural that ticks most of the boxes. There are two conflicting stories that police detective Dev (Akshaye Khanna) has to unravel to find the identity of the killer, but he only has three days to solve the puzzle before he has to let his main suspect walk free. There is a good amount of suspense in this stylish thriller and a better than average story, but it’s Akshaye Khanna as the determined detective that makes Ittefaq worth watching on the big screen.

The film starts with a car chase as famous UK writer Vikram Sethi (Sidharth Malhotra) attempts to escape the Colaba police force, who want to bring him in for questioning over the suspicious death of his wife. They finally catch him in an apartment belonging to a lawyer, Shekhar and his wife Maya (Sonakshi Sinha), but when the police arrive they find Shekhar has been murdered and Vikram is standing over the body. Dev (Akshaye Khanna) is called in to investigate the death of Vikram’s wife Katherine (Kimberley Louisa McBeath) and Shekhar’s murder, with Vikram the prime suspect.

Vikram and Maya both have quite different stories of what happened in the apartment and each version is shown in Rashomon style flashback as Dev asks the relevant questions. Maya tells a story of being held in her apartment by a violent and agitated Vikram before her husband arrived, saving her but ultimately being murdered by Vikram. Vikram on the other hand explains how he was injured after his car crashed and was looking for help, but Maya acted suspiciously from the start. It’s an interesting puzzle that relies on the credibility of each witness and how believable their respective stories appear.

The first half builds suspense as Vikram and Maya recount their version of events while the police search for the truth. For a change, the police aren’t the usual vicious thugs or bumbling incompetents, although there is some comedy relating to the police officers who are first on scene at the murder. However, the comedy here is well thought out and gives the subordinates personality that ultimately makes the film more interesting – making tea at a crime scene, snacking on soaked almonds and joking about a guard dog are all relatively normal activities that contrast with the strange events of the crime.  While Dev barks out questions and mulls over the evidence with the forensics technician, his police officers are changing the light bulb in Vikram’s cell and discussing their views on the murders – which all helps to cloud the truth. The various red herrings and clues scattered through the dialogue work well to further deepen the mystery and the addition of a suicide potentially linked to Vikram and his wife add more potential suspects that Dev has to investigate.

After a good first half, the second has a few more issues as a number of holes start to appear in the narrative. Dev’s piecemeal questioning of Vikram and Maya over the three days doesn’t stand-up to expected police procedure while a possible witness in Maya’s maid seems to go nowhere, but despite these shortcomings, the final outcome remains in doubt right up to the climax and big reveal. Part of this is due to the excellent poker faces from Siddharth and Sonakshi whenever they are interviewed by Dev. Both seem equally credible, and the switch between the two respective views in the flashbacks muddies the waters further. Sonakshi appears furtive and ill at ease during Vikram’s account, while in her own flashback sequences she is every bit the terrified woman held hostage in her apartment. Siddharth too is excellent as he switches between violent intruder and frantic victim while appearing completely sincere and totally devastated by his wife’s death during his interrogation. Of the two, Sonakshi’s character has less dialogue and isn’t as well developed, but both actors are good in their respective roles and manage to make their characters a believable witness and a plausible suspect depending on the viewpoint.

Akshaye Khanna is wonderful as Dev, playing the character fairly straight but with the intensity that’s expected from any fictional detective. Abhay Chopra gives him some background too by adding in a few crucial moments between Dev and his wife (Mandira Bedi) that allow a more human side to his character and lighten the mood when the drama threatens to get too repetitive. Akshaye also gets some of the best dialogue which works to ensure Dev appears as a detective who is smart enough to solve the crime despite the dual handicaps of his less than stellar associates and the restricted time he has to work on the case. It’s great to see Akshaye back in a role that plays to his strengths and he is charismatic and convincing as Dev, while ensuring that the focus is on the investigation, rather than simply the character.

Michal Luka helps create atmosphere by some excellent use of lighting, both in the flashback sequences and during the investigation, while the background music from Tanishk Bagchi adds to the mood without being intrusive. The running time is fairly short too at only 107 minutes, which means Abhay Chopra has to move the story along and establish the characters quickly, all of which helps to add tension although ultimately not quite as much as the story needs. The end too isn’t quite as satisfying as expected, although it is surprising with a clever break in the case that comes from a more unexpected direction. Overall Ittefaq does keep you guessing and although you may not be on the edge of your seat throughout, it’s still a respectable enough thriller with solid performances and good twists. Worth watching as a reminder of just how good Akshaye Khanna can be and then wonder why on Earth we don’t get to see him more often!

Kapoor & Sons

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Kapoor & Sons is a refreshingly ‘un-Bollywood’ look at family and family relationships from director Shakun Batra. In conjunction with co-writer Ayesha Devitre Dhillon, Batra has produced a film that delves past the superficial public face of the Kapoor family to reveal the insecurities and arguments that lie beneath. It seems that there is something for everyone to relate to in this story – whether it’s the marriage between Harsh and Sunita that is falling apart, or the sibling rivalry between brothers Rahul and Arjun, most of the film relates to family episodes that are easily recognisable and understandable. While not everything in the story works, the relationships and characterisations do, making Kapoor and Sons a film that stays with you after the end credits have rolled.

I do love Rishi Kapoor and one of the drawcards of this film for me was watching him play the ageing patriarch of the Kapoor family. The prosthetics used to age him appropriately are fairly obvious and his character’s fixation on pornography quickly wears thin, but as the story progresses and Amarjeet Kapoor insists that all he wants as he approaches his ninetieth birthday is a happy family photograph, the character gains depth and intensity. The film starts with Amarjeet ‘practicing’ his death, obviously a common occurrence since his son Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and daughter-in-law Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah) pay no attention to his histrionics. The couple have their own problems and ignoring Amarjeet, or Daddu as the family call him, just seems to be part of their usual day. Harsh and Sunita have grown apart over the years of their marriage and there is a definite chill as they barely manage to speak civilly to each other. Sunita suspects that Harsh is having an affair with a previous work colleague Anu (Anuradha Chandan) and the two bicker and argue constantly. It’s a well written portrayal of a marriage gone sour where even the smallest comment can start a major argument and there no longer seems to be any common ground between husband and wife.

Their two grown up sons live overseas. Based in London, Rahul (Fawad Khan) has one successful book behind him but is falling behind his publisher’s deadline for the second. Arjun (Siddharth Malhotra) on the other hand is an aspiring writer, but is working as a bar-tender in New Jersey as he tries to find a publisher for his work. Both return to the family home in Coonoor when Amarjeet is hospitalised with a heart attack and the film follows the various relationships within the family as they are reunited under the one roof once more.

For me the most successful character is Sunita whose bitterness at her life flavours every word she says in the first few scenes. Her relationship with Harsh is perfectly portrayed and the hurt and resentment come through in each conversation. She has issues with her two sons too.  Arjun accuses her of always favouring her eldest son and although she denies it vociferously it’s obvious that she does have a definite preference for Rahul.  When she finally discovers the secret Rahul has been keeping from her she is devastated and Ratna Pathak Shah is superb in portraying her feelings of betrayal and loss mixed in with remorse and just a little guilt for some of the things she has said and done. She’s not just defined by the relationships with her husband and sons either, as her dreams of starting her own catering business allow her character to be more than just reactive. Rajat Kapoor too is excellent as the distant husband who wants to save his marriage but can’t seem to take the first step to making the necessary changes in his relationship. Although at times the bickering does seem to go on too long, to the point where I became uncomfortable watching Sunita and Harsh argue, it is true to life with every irrational and tit-for-tat response feeling genuine and realistic. There are moments of tenderness too and despite all the hostility there is a pervading hope that perhaps the two will manage to resolve their differences. The writing emphasizes the emotions of each character clearly and ensures the dialogue feels realistic and genuine.

The two sons have their problems with each other as well as with their parents. Arjun has always felt that he is the outcast in the family, particularly in comparison with Rahul, who always seems to be the perfect son. Returning home to find that his room has been taken over by his mother while Rahul’s has been left untouched immediately reinforces his feelings of alienation, further fuelled by his belief that Rahul stole the story of his first novel. Although Rahul can see the issues bedeviling the family and does his best to smooth things over, he has his own problems to work through.

During his visit home, Rahul wants to work on his latest book and also find a suitable place for an artists’ retreat. His search brings him into contact with Tia (Alia Bhatt) who is attracted to Rahul, but Arjun has already met Tia at a party and decided to make her the object of his attentions. This sets the two brothers up as potential rivals – an added friction that escalates the conflict between them. What makes it more believable though is that even with the issues between the two brothers, they still have typical sibling conversations. It’s not all arguments and fighting and the two share a good rapport that seems very natural. It’s typical family behaviour that adds to the authentic feel of the film and makes the characters more relatable. Both Fawad Khan and Siddharth Malhotra are at their best when dealing with each other, although otherwise Fawad Khan comes out the better of the two in terms of performance.

While Alia Bhatt is fine as Tia, her manic pixie-girl act is occasionally too OTT when added in to all the general angst of the Kapoor family. However, I like that Batra gives her character more depth using her friendship with Bunkoo (Aakriti Dobhal) and her dealings with cook/general handyman Kishore (Pradeep Pradhan) to bring out different aspects of her character. The romance between Arjun and Tia is also fairly standard stuff but does provide some welcome relief from all the squabbling between family members. Sukant Goel as Wasim and Fahim Shaikh as his brother Boobly also ensure there is some lightness amid all the doom and gloom as the rest of the ‘comedy’ is rather more hit and miss. Tia’s ‘jokes’ are not funny at all (although that I presume is the whole point!) while Daddu’s antics at the hospital appear too forced and falling just on the wrong side of offensive to raise anything more than the occasional smile.

Another plus for the film is the soundtrack which maybe works so well due to the number of different composers and lyricists involved. The background score by Sameer Uddin is lovely and the various songs include music from Amaal Mallik, Badshah, Arko and Tanishk Bagchi that give a good mix of different styles that each suit the flavour of the film. My favourite is Kar Gaya Chul above, but each is well placed in the narrative and complements the action. The scenery and beautiful house also give an authentic home-like atmosphere that adds to the overall realism of the film.

Although the film pacing is occasionally uneven and at times the arguments threaten to veer a little too close to farce, for the most part this is a realistic look at middle class family life. The arguments, petty disagreements and relationship flaws within the family are all explored, firstly among the family and then further secrets revealed when private disagreements are suddenly open to public view. The writing is excellent, the characters beautifully  developed and the story flows well from one excruciating argument to the next, with all the angst and self-recrimination that goes along with family fights. I thoroughly enjoyed Kapoor and Sons and recommend it for the wonderful performances, realistic dialogue, plausible situations and overall thoughtfulness that make this one of the better films from last year. 4 ½ stars.