Yennai Arindhaal

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Gautham Menon’s third and final instalment in his ‘police trilogy’ has a more complex and interesting storyline than the previous two films, although there is still plenty of action and more than a few thrills. This time Menon focuses more on relationships, using these to define top cop Sathyadev (Ajith) and his reactions to various events throughout his life. One of the most important is Sathyadev’s relationship with Victor (Arun Vijay), a thug who ends up running an illegal organ trade, and who has a significant history with Sathyadev. Gautham Menon plays with the similarities between the two men who seem polar opposites but in reality have much in common despite sitting on opposing sides of a thin line.  There is also his relationship with his step-daughter Eesha (Anikha Surendran),  Eesha’s mother Hemanika (Trisha Krishnan) and right at the start, his relationship with his father (Nasser) whose murder is the starting point for that thin line.

The film starts by introducing Thenmozhi (Anushka Shetty), a smart modern woman who works as a software engineer. On a flight back from Boston to visit her sister, Thenmozhi ends up sitting beside a man she describes as the most gorgeous she has ever seen, but since she spends most of the flight vomiting into a sick bag it isn’t the most auspicious of meetings.  Her flight companion is Sathyadev, who is there to protect Thenmozhi from a kidnap attempt from the gang of organ thieves, although she doesn’t discover this until later. Somehow Thenmozhi’s heart has been identified as a perfect match for one of the gang’s clientele and a team of dodgy doctors are ready and waiting to perform the surgery just as soon as they can get their hands on her. Sathyadev’s old rival Victor is leading the gang and the film moves into flashback mode to explain the enmity between the two men and Sathyadev’s involvement in the current case.

The flashback goes right back to the murder of Sathyadev’s father, a moment where he had to decide which path to follow and on which side of the line to fall. The possibilities were there – to become a gangster and seek revenge, or to become a police officer and seek justice. No prizes for guessing which way Sathyadev decided to go, or that the very next scene sees him in jail. Of course all is not as it seems. While inside, Sathyadev becomes friends with Victor and the two escape together allowing Victor to marry the love of his life Lisa (Parvathy Nair) and have a jolly good knees up at the wedding.

After Sathyadev reveals himself as a police officer who has only befriended Victor as a way to get to his boss Matthew (Stunt Selva), Victor is devastated at the double whammy of the betrayal and his bad judgement in trusting Sathyadev. Unfortunately Menon doesn’t spend much time establishing the character of Lisa, but from snippets later on, it’s clear that she is instrumental in much of Victor’s later actions and she has a passionate vendetta against Sathyadev. I really wanted to know more about Lisa and why she was so deeply involved in Victor’s wicked schemes, but she glossed over quickly and her motivation is sadly never explored. Victor too doesn’t get as much character development as I would have liked but since he is basically completely evil maybe there isn’t much else we needed to know. As the tension mounts and his schemes are thwarted by Sathyadev, Victor has a couple of excellent hissy fits that perfectly convey his frustration and anger. Although he doesn’t have much scope, Arun Vijay does a good job with the character of Victor and his screaming, spitting frustration boils off the screen in the final scenes.

Lisa is the love of Victor’s life, and as such is his greatest weakness. For Sathyadev, it’s Hemanika, a Bharatanatyam dancer he meets while working undercover as an auto driver. The romance between the two is sweet and develops slowly, allowing Sathyadev to show a more introspective and human side. Hemanika has a daughter, Eesha, and for all her modern outlook (divorced single mum) she’s strangely reluctant to believe that Sathyadev can really love another man’s daughter as his own. This part of the film is beautifully done and Trisha is superb as she expresses all of Hemanika’s hopes and fears for the relationship.  Her characterisation is subtle but effective and fits perfectly into this more emotive storyline.

Of course we know it’s not going to end well, and as events unfold Sathyadev is left to look after Eesha on his own. Rather than brushing this off as an inevitable consequence of the relationship and using Eesha purely as a bargaining tool against Sathyadev in the later scenes, Gautham Menon instead uses the developing relationship to give deeper insight into Sathyadev’s character. The way Sathya breaks the news of her mother’s death to Eesha is poignant and natural while the road trip the two take to allow Eesha to grieve for her mother is an excellent depiction of Sathyadev’s developing fatherhood, particularly when set against his memories of his own father. These two parts of the film, Sathyadev’s romance with Hemanika and the development of his relationship with Eesha are sweet and gentle and really should be out of place in a rough and tough cop drama, but their inclusion is perfectly done, and adds so much to Sathyadev’s characterisation that instead they feel essential to the story development. These are my favourite scenes in the film and Ajith is perhaps surprisingly good at showing this more tender side. I’m more used to his manic killer persona in films like Vedalam but he does an excellent job with a more introspective character here and is good at displaying compassion in his developing relationship with Eesha. Just as good is his frustration and helplessness as he tries to change to a desk job for her sake and realises he just can’t continue as a police officer if he wants to keep Eesha safe.

Perhaps the only misstep in the film is the character of Thenmozhi . Although she starts off as a strong and independent character, once she meets Sathyadev she seems to lose all reason and self-respect, propositioning him despite overhearing what appeared to be an intimate conversation he had with someone else. As the film progresses she becomes more and more of a doormat and seems to lose all of her gumption as the threat to her life increases. Anushka does the best she can but her character is too much a victim to allow much sympathy for her plight.

Along with the mostly excellent characterisations, the more mass elements of the film are also well done. The fight choreography works well and there is a good mix of different styles – knife fights, good old fisticuffs and a number of gun battles. Stunt Selva has cameo as the gangster Matthew and Gautham Menon himself pops up as a police intelligence officer. The film looks stunning too, and the cinematography by Dan Macarthur (an Aussie – yay!) is excellent, particularly during the scenes with Eesha and Sathyadev travelling around India. Harris Jayaraj’s music works well too and is a perfect soundtrack for some of the most poignant moments in the film, such as Eesha showing Thenmozhi her mother’s picture and Sathyadev braiding Eesha’s hair before she goes to school. A word too about Anikha Surendran who is very good as Eesha and conveys many emotions throughout the film simply and easily and perfectly suits the role of Sathyadev’s adopted daughter.

Yennai Arindhaal shows just how good an action thriller can be when there is more to the story than just the action. The characterisations are excellent and provide motive and the reason for Sathyadev and Victor to act the way they do. There is so much happening in this film and yet it is still the story of a cop and a villain and a plan to illegally harvest organs. Well written, well acted and beautifully put together this is definitely one to savour. 4½ stars.

Bujjigadu

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Puri Jagannadh and Prabhas are a winning combination and while Bujjigaadu lacks the wardrobe excesses of EK Niranjan, it is a fun if ludicrous film.

Little Bujji and Chitti are neighbours in Vizag, inseparable until they have a fight. Bujji always does what Chitti says and she tells him to not speak to her for 12 years, after which she will marry him. He knows he can’t stay without wanting to talk to her so he runs away. Time passes, and Chitti’s family move away. Flash forward and we see our grown hero (Prabhas) beating up goons in Chennai. As evidence of his Tamilification, Bujji is a huge Rajinikanth fan, desperate to get to the FDFS of the Superstar’s latest film. And that leads handily to a corking tribute to the man himself.

Bujji returns to Vizag after 12 years, confident that Chitti will be there waiting. He is distracted and strays into a comedy subplot which results in some jail time. While in jail he is offered 1 crore if he breaks out and kills a man. After a moment of soul searching and confirmation the target was a bad guy, he accepts. After all, he needs money to marry Chitti. Meanwhile she has returned from studying overseas to look for Bujji, only to be sent away by his folks with a flea in her ear.

The pair cross paths, each unaware of the other’s identity. Bujji’s nom de crime is Rajinikanth and apart from knowing Chitti (Trisha) is in Hyderabad, he has few leads to go on. Eventually Bujji discovers that Chitti is the sister of Sivanna (Mohan Babu), the man he was paid to kill but has since befriended. Bujji has been living in her home all along. Sivanna asked Bujji to keep his true name a secret as he knew his little sis would leave home as soon as she found her childhood love. So Bujji agrees, albeit with some conditions.

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Hero and heroine under one roof with the erstwhile villain, more villains breathing down their necks, true love and secret identities…What could possibly go wrong?

Bujji and Chitti still imagine each other as they were in childhood, and their adult selves don’t really hit it off. I wondered how long they would last once they had to spend a lot more time together and the idea of a mutual destiny started to wear thin. Trisha plays Chitti as a little stuck-up, vain and intolerant, but still with some likeable characteristics. Good friend The Mahesh Fan once damned Trisha’s acting by saying she always looks a little more in love with herself than with her hero (Mahesh in that instance) and I tend to agree. Trisha and Prabhas do have an easy rapport but it never seems like a sizzling chemistry.  On the other hand, when Trisha looks at herself in a mirror, all bets are off.

Prabhas is immensely likeable, and despite his slightly dorky charm he can muster up a good death stare and punch dialogue when needed. Bujji is fairly easy going but he is a Telugu film hero so there were a few moments of brain melting ‘logic’ and chauvinism. His declaration that if Chitti said she loved him he would have to kill her because she could only ever love him and she didn’t know who him was so clearly would be guilty of cheating and thus deserve to die made me wish again that every film had a Tight Slap Administrator, and that it was me.

Mind you, Prabhas does get props for his Chihuahua wrangling skills.  And I love how much love Bujji has for Sivanna and his constant calling people Darling.

If we define love as mutual respect and affection with a dash of chemistry, then the strongest relationship in this story is between Bujji and Sivanna. Sivanna sits back to watch his goons take Bujji apart, but instead finds himself cradling his bloody opponent, shouting at him not to die because he loves him. Mohan Babu and Prabhas play off each other very well, and their characters seem more complex when they are together as they get down to the truth of things rather than just posturing.

Of the large supporting cast, MS Narayana is a standout as Bujji’s boozy, soft hearted dad. The scene where he recognised his runaway boy was sweet, and I really do like him in roles where he gets to act and not just be the butt of jokes. Sanjana plays Chitti’s sister Kangana and she is pretty and not completely terrible so I suppose she met the brief.

The villains are Machi Reddy (Kota Srinivasa Rao) and his two lions – Ajay and Supreet. House favourite Subbaraju is excellent as hapless third son Venkat , who seems a bit too sensible and not really hard-core enough for his dad. Sunil and Ali provide more than enough pointless comedy. Brahmaji is Sivanna’s hot headed sidekick. And Mumaith Khan does her thing as a welder/item girl.

I liked that she wore professionally appropriate gear for both her day jobs.

The fight scenes are campy and funny, with lots of flexing and posing by Prabhas. Every single breakable thing on set is utilised, and the sound effects team are given full rein on the biffo and squishy stabby noises. The finale took place on an abandoned film set so there were lots of fragile brick walls and stained glass windows, enough for everyone to have a go. Almost all the boys get to fly about either through wires or effects. I kind of love the moment when Bujji sets his foot on fire, all the better to kick the goons with. That’s commitment. I liked that Bujji could pour out his feelings in Tamil to Telugu people and in Telugu to Tamil friends and thus get to wallow in his woe while keeping his secrets. There were some zingy one liners and some mystifying subtitles, and that all adds to the fun.

The costume department made some interesting choices, and I applaud their application to the task of dressing the overseas backing dancers with only the materials commonly found in hotel rooms and budget clothing chains. And Prabhas takes denim in some unexpected directions. The songs are mostly fun (even if just for the outfits) and help you take a breather in between fight scenes.

Bujjigaadu has a hero who knows exactly how to hit all the right spots in a mass potboiler, and a director with a big budget and a sense of fun.  4 stars!

Mankatha

Mankatha

I missed Mankantha when I was in Chennai due to limited time and sold-out shows in my usual cinemas – which I guess was a good indication that the film would be worth seeing.  Venkat Prabhu’s fourth film does feature his usual crowd of young actors, but also stars Ajith Kumar in his fiftieth film – it’s all about the numbers!  Mankatha is an action thriller based around the theft of illegal gambling money and features so many twists and turns that at times it’s hard to keep up with just who’s double-crossing who.  Although there are a few leaps of faith required to fully engage with the plot, overall the pace of the action and an excellent performance from Ajith in a negative role make the film well worth a watch.

The story starts with Ajith as Police Officer Vinayak Mahadevan, landing onto the screen in a typical Tamil Hero entrance style (i.e. unlikely appearance from out of nowhere) to prevent what appears to be a corrupt police execution of smuggler Faizal (Aravind Akash).  The lines are blurred right from the start – is Vinayak a hero, fighting corruption and gambling despite being suspended from duty for saving Faizal, or does his drunkenness and casual infidelity  point to even bigger character flaws and a tendency to flout the rules for his own benefit?  Each subsequent scene makes the conundrum more difficult to solve, and this ambiguity runs throughout the action in the first half.  It’s not until much later in the film that Vinayak’s true character becomes apparent (or does it?) and his real motives are revealed.

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Then there is ‘Action King’ Arjun, who appears as Prithviraj, the head of a special task force entrusted with stamping out illegal gambling on cricket matches after the head of the anti-corruption squad Kamal Ekambaram (Subbu Panchu) commits suicide due to his own gambling debt.  However Kamal isn’t dead, but instead reappears as one of the investigative team, a detail which I kept expecting to have some relevance, but it never actually does.  Arjun is very OTT in his action scenes, made even funnier by his terrible floppy hair, but otherwise delivers  a generally straitlaced and relatively heroic portrayal of a senior police officer intent on stamping out gambling.

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Vinayak, one night stands aside, is in a relationship with Sanjana (Trisha), the daughter of Arumuha Chettiyar (Jayaprakash).  Chettiyar runs the illegal gambling network in Mumbai along with various other illegal activities, and he also just happens to be the man who employs Faizal.  Was this good planning by Vinayak, or just a coincidence?

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Since Vinayak apparently turns a blind eye to Chettiyar’s illegal activities the question then follows, is this all part of an undercover plan to infiltrate the gang and bring down Chettiyar or does Vinayak really not care about his potential father-in-law breaking the law beyond the opportunity to pocket a few bribes?  It’s hard to tell, as Ajith makes the most of his devastatingly cheeky grin and ever more crazy persona to keep everyone guessing his true motives.

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Meanwhile, Chettiyar’s henchman Sumanth (Vaibhav) is in cahoots with local Sub-Inspector Ganesh (Ashwin Kakumanu) and bar-owner Mahat (Mahat Raghavendra) to steal the gambling take from the IPL final.  Mahat ropes in his friend from home Prem (Premji Amaren) who just happens to be an IT expert as well as a terminal idiot.  A little of Premji’s humour here goes a long way and less really would have been better, but cleverly developed group dynamics and good performances from the rest of the gang help keep the story on track.  In due course, Vinayak finds out about the plot which just happens to coincide with his own plans to loot the money, and the conspirators end up joining together to steal $5 billion in US dollars.  While some of the heist details require a major suspension of disbelief, the rest of the story deviously pits everyone against each other with  betrayals, plot twists and unexpected revelations, which mean it’s necessary to concentrate and pay attention to work out just who is allied with who at any given time.

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While the guys get all of the action and pretty much all of the storyline, there is very little for Trisha and the other female characters to do.  Anjali has perhaps the next most realised role as Sumanth’s wife, but her only value is as a bargaining tool later in the story.  Andrea as Prithviraj’s wife and Lakshmi Rai have even less of a role, and almost all of the female roles could have been eliminated without making any real ripple in the story.  The songs are also mainly superfluous although the soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja does have a few memorable tracks.  This is probably the best choreographed, although the visual effects for Vaada Bin Laada are worth a look too (watch out for the plane on the wall that takes flight).

Ajith is definitely the star of the show in a negative role that must have been a hoot to play.  He spits venomous lines with great joie de vivre, throws in plenty of bleeped out profanity and his crazed megalomania is wonderful to behold.  He has great chemistry with Arjun and the two take control of every scene they are in.  However Vaibhav is also notable and the other cast members all provide solid performances.  While the focus is on the action there is also some nifty camera work from Sakthi Saravanan, including a great shot of some boys playing cricket in the slums while Vinayak chases down Sumanth.

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Mankatha is not the most convincing heist film, and it would definitely benefit from trimming some of the excess in the form of unnecessary songs and peripheral characters, but it succeeds in entertaining which after all is the main purpose of cinema.  I loved the twists and turns and appreciated Ajith’s excellent demonstration of just how to keep everyone guessing while Arjun tries his best to convince everyone that he is the hero.  It’s amusing and doesn’t take itself too seriously which makes for an enjoyable watch. 3 ½ stars.