Mouna Guru (2011)

mouna-guru

Santha Kumar’s 2011 debut film Mouna Guru focuses on a young student and how his life falls apart when he inadvertently becomes involved with a group of corrupt cops. The basic story is simple, but Santha Kumar layers detail upon detail to make an intricate plot with plenty of twists and unexpected diversions. Perhaps the most unexpected is that one of the major characters is a pregnant police officer brilliantly played by Uma Riaz Khan, but the whole film is full of quirky characters that fit perfectly into the screenplay. With an engaging screenplay, great performances and realistic settings, Mouna Guru is definitely one of the better crime dramas I’ve watched recently and one definitely well worth tracking down.

The film starts in Madurai where college student Karunakaran (Arulnidhi) lives with his mother (Sujatha Sivakumar). Karunakaran is generally quiet and studious but socially inept, which means that he is often in trouble when someone challenges his rather literal and single-minded view of the world. After a few clashes his University asks him to leave, but luckily for Karunakaran his brother Amal arranges for him to complete his degree in Chennai. At the same time his mother also moves to Chennai to look after Amal’s new baby which solves the problem of leaving Karunakaran to fend for himself. However, with his mother and his wife’s sister Aarthi (Iniya) also staying in their flat, Amal needs to make other arrangements for Karunakaran. There is a free room in the College hostel but while this solves the problem for Amal and his wife it further isolates Karunakaran from his family. This turns out to be an issue later on when Karunakaran disappears and his family accept everything they are told, even though most of it is blatantly untrue.

Initially things seem to go well, but Karunakaran’s quiet and solitary nature soon sets him up to be bullied by the more popular class members, while his family pushes him further away. His sister-in-law is unwelcoming, his brother too busy and his mother only has time for the new baby. His only consolation is Aarthi who seems to be able to appreciate his (rather deeply hidden) good points. And these are hard to spot – Karunakaran is gruff and uncommunicative; he often appears angry and definitely has none of the usual social graces. However, there is a good side to Karunakaran. The opening song shows him feeding monkeys and rescuing snakes, while he appears to have keen sense of right and wrong that drives him to seek social justice.  He advises Aarthi to follow her dreams and work among the poor if that is what she really wants to do, while his own goal is to enjoy his job rather than make pots of money.  With all his idiosyncrasies, Karunakaran is a dreamer at heart and Arulnidhi does an excellent job of bringing such a complex character to life.

Aarthi is Karunakaran’s complete opposite. She’s friendly, approachable and seems to be doing well in her medical studies. However she’s drawn to Karunakaran and the idealist she sees behind the prickly façade, and slowly the two fall in love – much to Karunakaran’s mother’s displeasure.

Meanwhile corrupt police officers ACP Marimuthu (John Vijay), Inspector Rajendran (Madhu), Sub-Inspector Selvam (Balakrishnan) and Head Constable Perumalsamy (Krishnamurthy) are witnesses to a car crash, but rather than help the victim they steal a large quantity of money and finish the driver off into the bargain. Later ACP Marimuthu receives a blackmail call and eventually the four fix on Karunakaran as the student responsible. Even after they discover that Karunakaran was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, his prospects are bleak as ACP Marimuthu and co-conspirators are determined to silence him and any other potential witnesses.

Luckily for Karunakaran, Inspector Palaniammal (Uma Riaz Khan) is investigating the murder of a prostitute and ends up entangled in Karunakaran’s case. Palaniammal suspects that there is more going on than first impressions would suggest and she works tirelessly to get to the bottom of the case despite her pregnancy and the negative attitude from ACP Marimuthu and other members of the team. Palaniammal is a strong character with a very definite sense of right and wrong – basically the sort of police officer you’d want investigating your case if you were incorrectly accused of a crime. Uma Riaz Khan is excellent as she bulldozes her way through all opposition, compelling respect without ever raising her voice and just generally being a majorly awesome police officer.

There are only three songs in the film and they fit well into the narrative. This is perhaps the most traditional of the three as it develops the romance between Karunakaran and Aarthi. It’s a lovely song by Thaman and suits the mood of this part of the film perfectly.

Every character and each interaction are important in developing the story and while it’s not immediately apparent exactly how everything fits together, it all becomes clear as events unfold. Although there are a number of coincidences, none seems completely unlikely, (except perhaps Aarthi’s discovering Karunakaran after he has gone missing) and mostly the film feels realistic. None of the characters here are anything out of the ordinary and their reactions are natural and seem perfectly reasonable given the circumstances. There are no big fight scenes either – Karunakaran only fights back when someone else attacks him, and his methods are rough and ready rather than filmi stylish. The glimpses of college life and the realities of a mental asylum also appear authentic and I love the conversation between the warden and a student about his choice of hairstyle. Another favourite character is Babu, one of the inmates of the mental asylum who is perfectly played by Murugadoss to evoke pity one moment and then laughter the next. It’s an accomplished performance even though he only appears towards the end of the film but I appreciated every moment.

Mouna Guru keeps the twists coming right up to the very end. Karunakaran switches between quietly passive and accepting to explosively fighting back and it’s almost impossible to determine which way he will go at any given point, which ensures that every scene ends up surprising in one way or another. Although the police officers are all fairly standardly corrupt, their individual reactions to the developing situation are all quite different and each emerges as an individual persona as a result. I also love the way all the pieces of the story interlock, finally all coming together like a giant jigsaw puzzle while the final climax keeps changing just as you think it’s all over. Well worth watching for the excellent performances and multi-layered story that feels scarily possible. 4 stars.

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Maryan

Maryan

Finally! It has been a long time since 3, but the wait has been well worth it. Dhanush is back in Maryan, a movie that sets out to prove that true love really can conquer all even if you were a bit iffy about that true love at the start. This is the debut film for writer/ director Bharat Bala and while generally he does a great job, there are times when the screen play lags a little, and the focus on desert imagery resembles a National Geographic special. However, superb performances from all the cast and A. R. Rahman’s wonderful soundtrack combine to ensure that Maryan is a film to savour. Plus English subtitles – perfect!

The film starts with Maryan (Dhanush) working in the Sudan for an oil company, where his love for Panimalar (Parvathy), his fiancée waiting at home in India, is perfectly captured by a brief phone call. But it hasn’t always been that way, and the film switches into flashback to explain just who Maryan is and how he came to be working in Africa when he is so obviously yearning to be home.

Maryan Maryan

This first section works very well, where Panimalar is seen as a lovelorn girl, chasing Maryan endlessly despite his disdain and often brutal rejection. Maryan is a fisherman who hunts in the traditional way and has developed amazing lung capacity, allowing him to remain submerged for longer than the other fishermen. He calls himself the king of the sea and obviously has an intimate relationship with the ocean which is really the only thing he cares about. Dhanush effortlessly establishes his character as a brash, arrogant young man who has his faults but is generally likeable and can dance up a storm.

Maryan

Slowly Maryan comes to appreciate Panimalar’s charms helped along by the active encouragement of his best friend, Panimalar’s brother Sakkarai (Appukutty). Dhanush and Parvathy play their roles perfectly here and the romance is expertly developed with an eye to small town sensibilities. Parvathy has a better than usual role as a heroine and she makes the most of it, using her eyes and body language to express her feelings as she establishes Panimalar as a feisty girl determined to get her man, no matter what it takes. There are a few funny scenes between her and her future mother-in-law Seeli (Uma Riyaz Khan) which work very well, and both Parvathi and Appukutty are to be commended for the way they manage to establish their sibling relationship so well in a few brief scenes.

Maryan

Despite the excellent chemistry between Maryan and Panimalar, there are a few miscues and the amount of violence Panimalar experiences at the hands of her beloved appears quite unnecessary. The initial slap when Maryan is frustrated by Panimalar’s persistent attempts to declare her love is perhaps understandable, but later scenes including Maryan saying, “Who else will I hit if not you?” are sadly all too common in Tamil films. I understand that this does depict real life where domestic violence is an ever present problem but I wish directors would use the characters to show that it’s just not acceptable rather than brushing it off as an apparently appropriate way for a character to show their distress.

Maryan

Maryan is forced to work in Africa to pay off debts incurred by Panimalar’s father Thomayya (Salim Kumar) and prevent her forcible marriage to Theekkurissi (Vinayakan). However just as Maryan is on the way to the airport to come home, he is kidnapped by Sudanese militants who hold him, his friend Sami (Jagan) and a fellow co-worker for ransom. While the African militants are poorly drawn, being caricaturised and frequently over the top, Dhanush and Jagan are both brilliant as they show their gradual mental and physical deterioration at the hands of their captors. There are some scenes here that are frankly uncomfortable to watch due to the sheer honesty of Dhanush’s performance and although this type of mental anguish is a role he has portrayed before he takes it to an entirely new level here. Jagan also seems perfectly cast as Sami, and his change from happy-go-lucky guy to terrorised victim is well portrayed.

Maryan Maryan

Despite all the drama, the film does drag a little in the second half. After all there are only so many times you can show someone running up a sand dune before it gets a little repetitive, but the hallucinations (yay – cheetahs!) and Maryan’s determination to make it home to Panimalar help keep things moving long. There is also a lack of hair continuity for Dhanush which is irritating considering the care which has obviously gone into the rest of the film. One good point is that Panimalar doesn’t do a disappearing act in the second half and the film does cut back frequently to show her initial despair and then fervent belief that Maryan is coming back to her. Parvathy is impressive in these scenes and her performance really is on a par with that of Dhanush.

Cheetah!Maryan

Technically the film looks and sounds beautiful. I’ve been enjoying A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack since it was released and the songs are even better on screen. The only one that doesn’t work so well is ‘I Love My Africa’ which has poor justification and picturisation but on the whole the songs are well placed in the narrative. I often don’t notice the background score on the first watch of a film, but here it is sweetly evocative and the natural music of the ocean and the desert are added in for haunting effect, adding to the magic of the images. The excellent cinematography by Marc Koninckx perfectly captures coastal Tamil Nadu and the deserts of Africa, highlighting the contrasting light of the two locations and make the landscape just as much a feature of the film as the actors themselves.

Maryan

Maryan is a film to watch for yet another amazing performance from Dhanush and equally impressive acting from Parvathy, while beautiful imagery and evocative music add to the overall effect. Even if the action part of the film doesn’t work quite so well, the love story is charming and inspiring. Watching Maryan you have to believe that true love really can conquer all and that’s a very heart-warming message to take home on a cold Melbourne winter night!

Anbe Sivam

Anbe Sivam is a film that many people recommended to me and since it stars two of my favourite actors, it was one I quickly moved up the ‘to be watched’ pile. The film has as its basis the themes of politics and religion, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and there is plenty of comedy along with all the drama.  The viewer is taken on as much of a journey as the two protagonists and although the film details their endeavours to make their way to Chennai it’s not just the physical travel which is explored. The film was directed by Sundar C while Kamal Hassan wrote the screenplay and even sang on a couple of the songs. Anbe Sivam has a more unusual storyline for a Tamil film, and although there are one or two clichéd characters and a few unlikely coincidences, overall it’s an entertaining watch. Kamal Hassan and Madhavan make a great team and both give excellent performances.

The film starts in Bhubaneswar airport in Orissa where Anbarasu (Madhavan) and Nallasivam (Kamal Hassan) are stranded due to the rains. Anbarasu works as a film maker in the world of advertising and since he despises the part of his name which refers to love, he prefers a shortened from of his name A. Aras. Initially Aras mistakes the bespectacled and physically handicapped Sivam for a terrorist wielding a pipe bomb, when in fact Sivam is armed with nothing more deadly than a cucumber.

A.Aras is as much of an idiot as his name sounds. He’s arrogant, quick to make judgments and quite convinced that he is always right. Sivam is a man afflicted with a paralysed right arm, one leg shorter than the other and an abundance of facial scars following an accident. He also has thick glasses and a facial tic which impressively Kamal Hasan manages to keep going throughout the whole movie. However, after his confrontation with the authorities Sivam explains to Aras that most terrorists don’t look like him at all, but instead are more likely to look handsome like Aras.

After all flights are cancelled Aras ends up unwillingly sharing a room with Sivam. Although Aras sneaks out early the next morning he still doesn’t manage to evade his unwelcome travelling partner as Sivam catches up to him in a flooded train station. Again Sivam comes to the rescue of the more impetuous Aras and aids him in his onward journey to Chennai. There are some beautiful shots throughout the film and the scenes here of the rain drenched streets and the countryside from the bus are excellent.

The duo end up taking a bus and a train on their quest to get to Chennai and along the way Sivam is unfailingly cheerful, chatty and full of unsolicited advice which drives the more reserved Aras crazy. Aras distrusts  Sivam and is rude and even callous in his continual attempts to get rid of Sivam, but his efforts backfire every time. This leads to a lot of comedy which, although often quite slapstick, is well-integrated into the story and is really quite funny. The conflict between the two allows discussion of their opposing views on almost every topic but most commonly Sivam’s communist beliefs. The dangers and benefits of globalisation and multi-national companies are touched on while the clash between Aras’s belief in capitalism and Sivam’s in socialism is an ongoing theme.

As they wait for the train back to Chennai, there is a long flashback which explains some of Sivam’s beliefs and how he came by his disabilities. An unscarred and healthy Sivam organises and takes part in street plays as a way to spread his message of equality and rights for workers. The main person ridiculed in these street plays is the rich and outwardly religious industrialist Kandaswamy Padayachi who is in conflict with Sivam as he refuses to give his workers adequate pay. Sivam meets his daughter Balasaraswathi and after some initial conflict the two end up falling in love. She persuades Sivam to paint a picture in her father’s factory as the fee for his art work will help fund further communist activity. His painting cleverly includes a large amount of communist imagery and I was intrigued to learn that both this scene and the painting itself were influenced by Diego Rivera’s mural at the Rockefeller Centre. Dolce and Namak’s excellent review notes a number of links between Dali’s work and the imagery depicted throughout the film too.

This part of the film is however the least satisfying and goes on a bit too long. Kiran Rathod is rather unsatisfactory as the rich daughter although I can’t decide exactly why, but she never engages any sympathy for her character. The love story seems very trite and there is no chemistry between the two actors here at all.Nasser as Kandasamy Padayachi is a typical evil factory owner although the duality of his evil deeds while continually offering prayers to Shiva was an interesting trait. There is a rather odd fight scene with Sivam using an umbrella as a weapon which doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the story although it is well choreographed. An earlier scene where the theatre group’s performance is broken up by the police is much more realistic and convincing, and this later confrontation seems unnecessary and more contrived. However the flashback does give insight into why Sivam looks at the world with his glass half full attitude despite his disabilities.

As the rest of their journey unfolds, Aras gradually becomes more compassionate, eventually becoming involved in the struggle to save a young boy’s life following a train accident. Sivam explains his belief that anyone who shows compassion and love to their fellow-man is themselves a god turning the more usual statement ‘God is Love’ neatly around. The last scenes are particularly powerful and moving and Sivam’s unfailing goodness does give the impression that he may indeed be a god. Albeit a flawed and very human one.

What really makes this such a good film are the performances from Kamal Hassan and Madhavan. Kamal Hassan plays Sivam with humility and warmth as a basically good man, but one who is not above playing tricks on his travelling partner. He’s also expressive and vehement in his role as an activist but rather more obtuse when it comes to personal emotions. The change in his character as a result of his injuries is very well depicted and despite his many irritating habits, Sivam is a very sympathetic character. Madhavan does well to hold his own against such a performance from Kamal Hassan. He has a great sense of comedic timing and his scenes with Kamal Hassan are compelling. Sivam is the person you really don’t want to sit beside you on the bus and Madhavan’s increasing frustration and anger is understandable and totally believable. His gradual change as he is exposed to the realities of life in rural India is also convincing and well portrayed. Perhaps the only odd note is his sudden desire to adopt Sivam as his older brother as this seems a rather sudden jump from just wanting him at his wedding. The coincidence that both men love the same woman is also a little unbelievable but for the purposes of the story I’m willing to ignore it. Uma Riyaz Khan appears in a small but very effective role as Mehrunnisa, a member of the theatre troupe and Santhana Bharathi is also well utilised as Padayachi’s enforcer. Both characters have more involvement with the story than first appears and I really enjoyed their contributions. The music by Vidyasagar doesn’t stand out particularly but it does fit well into the film and the songs seem to flow very naturally out of the dialogue. The title song, which appears as a recurring theme, is the most effective and haunting. This clip is fairly graphic and does reveal quite a bit of the story around Sivam’s injuries so skip it if you don’t like blood or don’t want to know more about what happens.

Anbe Sivam is a film I’ve now seen three times and I get more out of it on each viewing. Everything seems to have a second meaning, and that duality is reflected in the fact that the main characters are all known by two different names. It’s a fascinating film and it raises some interesting questions about love and the nature of God. I add my recommendation to all those people who advised me to watch it. 4 stars.