Bhaagamathie


Anushka carries Ashok’s hodgepodge of horror and suspense, reinforcing her credentials as a leading actress. While the concept is good, the visuals are (mostly) impressive, and the cast is strong, the pacing is a little off and Ashok is heavy handed with the “twists”.

In an attempt to stymie man of the people Minister Eswar Prasad (Jayaram) in his path to the CM job, hard nosed Vaishnavi (Asha Sarath) and an ACP with convenient ethics (Murali Sharma) are told to get the dirt. Eswar’s former secretary, IAS officer Chanchala (Anushka), is serving time for killing her fiance who just happens to be the ACPs younger brother. She is taken from her cell for an unofficial interrogation and relocated to a decrepit old mansion in a spooky forest setting. What could possibly go wrong?

Chanchala and Vaishnavi play cat and mouse as Chanchala insists she is answering truthfully while not saying what Vaishnavi wants to hear. But after the interrogation sessions, Chanchala is confined to quarters with only the work of the VFX team to keep her company in the mouldering splendour of Bhaagamathie’s palatial home. And who is Bhaagamathie? Local legend says she is a demon, history may indicate she is a queen who trusted the wrong person, or is she just a figment of Chanchala’s imagination? Is Chanchala haunted, mad, or possessed? Murali Sharma (whose character name I forget) wants Chanchala dead and is quite happy to see her suffer at the hands of unknown possibly demonic tormentors. Comedy officers played by Prabhas Sreenu, Dhanraj and Vidyullekha Raman bumble around and add credence to Chanchala’s claims of supernatural goings on. What is really happening in that house? And if Chanchala is playing at being mad, what is her end game?

Anushka takes everything in stride and delivers a superb performance. Ashok throws in some Arundhati references, but Chanchala is a different woman. She is rational and curious, and goes looking for what caused that bump in the night. She knows the game the CBI is playing and will not perjure herself just for her own freedom. She is strong and ethical, and people maybe should have paid more attention to that facet of her character. Her fear and determination to survive are palpable. There are times where Chanchala seemed to be playing a game with her captors and I genuinely didn’t know what to believe, was she duplicitous, or you know, possessed and innocent. I was impatient to get back to Chanchala when she was not on screen. Whether you believe her condition is spiritual, psychological, or fraudulent, Anushka’s performance packs a wallop.

The supporting cast is strong but most of the roles are cookie-cutter and have no subtlety or sense of inner life. Jayaram is too good to be true as the people’s pick. Murali Sharma does well as the conflicted cop, but his character is written with little ambiguity so there is not much tension when it comes to crunch time. He does what the script needs, not so much what his character’s past actions might have indicated up to that point. Asha Sarath is strong and Vaishnavi is a good foil for Anushka but again, Vaishnavi is following the demands of the plot and sometimes they forget to write her brain into key scenes. It was nice when it made a come back. Unni Mukundan appears in several flashbacks as Shakthi, Chanchala’s murdered fiance. He was fine, but again his character was written to do things to fill a gap in the plot so he was limited with what he could bring to the table. Thalaivasal Vijay plays a character that surely had to be a reference to the doctor in Chandramukhi or Manichitrathazhu. And then he disappears, never to be mentioned again.

While the visual design is excellent and the atmosphere really works to add a sense of mystery and creepiness, Ashok messes up the pacing of some of the revelations and the logic doesn’t always bear scrutiny. He seems to prefer to show and tell and show again rather than assuming his audience has seen the same movies he has or that they can follow the breadcrumbs and reach their own conclusion. There are nods to Manichitrathazhu, Arundhati, the Usual Suspects, but not all are seamless or successful. The first half is all about building the supernatural element and reinforcing Chanchala’s status as a murderer. Then when she is finally removed from the scene after a night rich in incidents and mayhem, there is a sudden shift. The supposed revelations come one after the other and there is no time to absorb and reflect back on the prior events and reset your expectations before Ashok throws in another twist and shows all the details. But for all the surveillance technology and supposed experts observing via CCTV, nobody asked the same questions I was asking myself. A flaw in the writing, or was I really destined to be a highly successful filmi villain?

Thaman’s soundtrack is mostly confined to adding loud dramatic underscoring, just in case you didn’t realise you were supposed to be scared. Or maybe to let the audience know they should terminate their very loud phone conversation and pay attention to this bit coming up. In deference to this genre, there was only one duet and no big musical production numbers.

I enjoyed this for the way Ashok built his film world, and for Anushka tearing it up. I don’t think anyone could be genuinely completely surprised by the twists and turns but the journey is largely entertaining. With a couple of good minor “Boo!” scares into the bargain.

 

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Sarrainodu

Sarrainodu

If all you want in a movie is plenty of gory fight scenes and a couple of good tunes then Sarrainodu is probably the film for you. But on the other hand, if you prefer a cohesive story with an actual plotline, semi-plausible romance and an attempt at more than one-dimensional stock characters, then best to steer clear. The one saving grace in Sarrainodu is Allu Arjun, who manages to entertain even while playing a violent, psychopathic stalker who nonetheless is actually the hero.

Bunny is Gana, ex-military, although ‘ex-‘ exactly what is never specified in a general vagueness that afflicts every character.  Gana spends his days bashing up offenders his lawyer uncle Sripathi (Srikanth) has failed to bring to justice in court, much to the frustration of his father (Jayaprakash) who feels he should be doing something more worthwhile with his life. The rest of the family dramatics follow Telugu Mass Movie Formula No 1, with the addition of a comedy track featuring Gana’s sister-in-law (Vidyullekha Raman), a Tamilian obsessed to the point of mania with sambar and Brahmi as a philandering brother-in-law. Neither of the two comedy tracks is funny and Brahmi’s sleazy character is particularly off with little relevance to the rest of the film but then that’s nothing unusual for this type of film.

With some nice symmetry, while Gana is belting the living daylights out of gangsters to reclaim land they appropriated, uber-villain Vairam Dhanush (Aadhi) is cheerfully slaughtering villagers to grab their land for his pipeline project. Vairam likes the sound of his own voice and witters on about ‘background’ as if the concept may have some significance to the plot later on. Perhaps it was meant to, but since the background of neither Gana nor Vairam (or anyone else for that matter) is given anything more than a brief mention, Vairam’s insistence on the concept makes little sense.

As a villain, Aadhi has a good sneer and appears appropriately nasty, but his character is so one-dimensional that Vairam himself has very little impact. He’s evil purely for the sake of being evil and naturally (adhering to TMMFNo1) he’s rich and privileged with the Chief Minister as his father and a large criminal network at his beck and call. Aadhi tries hard to give Vairam some personality but he has little to work with and his villain pales beside the spectacle of Gana’s righteous fury.

Gana falls in love with Hansitha Reddy (Catherine Tresa), oddly cast as a very unlikely MLA, and decides to follow the usual path to true love (TMMFNo1 again) by stalking the girl until she falls for his charms. This is even less viable than usual given that as an MLA Hansitha has the wherewithal to send Gana about his business, but bizarrely she declares her love for him instead. The path to true love is not smooth however and there is a complication in the form of Maha Lakshmi (Rakul Preet Singh), who falls heavily for Gana when he rescues her from Vairam’s thugs. Sadly neither of the romances works well at any point in the film and there is zero chemistry between Bunny and his two leading ladies, probably due to a lack of screen time together and therefore little opportunity for any relationships to develop.

Bunny is on top form here and single-handedly manages to hold the film together despite the many flaws and gaping holes in the barely-there plot. Whether he’s fighting or dancing he looks amazingly fit, and effortlessly switches between his devotion to Hansitha and his uncontrollable fury when he sees injustice against the helpless. As always he looks awesome in the song sequences where every dance routine features excellent footwork, amazing energy and that trademark Bunny grin. S.S. Thaman’s songs are catchy and memorable too, and the choreography is well suited to showcase the stylish star. He gets to wear some incredibly bright and colourful costumes and fares rather better in the wardrobe department than Catherine Tresca and Rakul Preet Singh, who both suffer from the curse of inappropriately skimpy Western style costumes in the songs, although both look stunning for the rest of the film. Anjali has a better time of it with her guest appearance in the item song blockbuster – which I love for many reasons, not the least of which being that one of the backing dancers is totally rocking a cool pair of specs – you go girl!

The other aspect of Sarrainodu that works well is the action, with fight sequences that are well imagined and expertly staged despite being incredibly violent and completely over the top. Where else would you have a fight scene on roller blades for example, or a wonderful stand-off by the hero beating numerous thugs while the participants in Puli Kali leap energetically around the fight? Most of the action contains a lot of slow-motion, but this highlights the choreography and showcases the small vignettes in the background – the bystanders, a horse bucking as it runs past and the portentously displaced gravel with every one of Gana’s footsteps. And it’s just as well that the action sequences are good as there are a lot of them – Gana spends most of the film fighting in increasingly violent and bloody encounters, throwing thugs around like confetti at a wedding and inflicting maximum damage on Vairam’s crime empire.

Boyapati Srinu adds almost every possible masala ingredient in this mish-mash of a film, but fails to provide a coherent plot or any rationale to his characters. I love a good mass entertainer – I don’t expect great character development or logic and realism in the plot, but there does need to be an actual plot and some sort of reason for the antagonism between the hero and the villain.Sarrainodu does not succeed by any of those criteria and yet I still enjoyed the film. The fight scenes are excellent, the dance sequences well worth watching and Allu Arjun puts in a magnificent performance that just about manages to overcome all the flaws in the film. One for the fans sure, but if you’re a fan this is Bunny at his best and that’s all that’s needed.

Massu Engira Masilamani (Masss)

Masss

Venkat Prabhu is a man of many ideas – usually very good ideas – which have resulted in a number of successful films. However for his latest release Masss, he tries to cram as many ideas as possible into the first 20 minutes, and then continues to throw in yet more new ideas throughout the rest of the film. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not all of his ideas work and it’s even difficult to decide if they work or not because the film has already moved on to the next idea! As a result the confusion of the opening scenes feels like trying to cram a year’s work into 10 minutes before the start of an exam. Situations and characters flash by without a chance to work out who is who, what they are doing and how they fit into the story, and if I did have to answer questions on what was going on, I would fail miserably! However it does get better. Suriya is amazing, and his presence holds the film together even through the odd and even more oddly placed songs. The story starts to make sense and the pace slows down to manageable levels with enough comedy and action mixed in to make Masss well worth a watch and much better than the opening sequences would suggest.

Suriya plays Masilamani aka Mass, a con-man and thief who works with his best buddy Jet (Premgi) on a number of overly complicated heists that involve as much theatricality as they do actual thievery. But they make a mistake when they decide to rob a local don who takes exception to their activities. Mass and Jet only just manage to escape, but in doing so they have a serious car crash which has more implications than they first realise.

I had no idea about the story behind Masss and I think it works better when the events that occur are completely unexpected, so I will leave the details of the story there. Up to this point Suriya works his lovable rogue persona well and Premgi is relatively low-key as his best friend. After the first twist (one of many), Premgi takes more of a back seat in the proceedings which is an advantage to the storyline since he doesn’t quite have the acting chops required for such a major role, although his comedy does work well. Suriya takes centre stage and drives the story forwards with an excellent performance and plenty of charisma. There is a double role too, which is perhaps a little clichéd but still works within the format of the story. Plus double Suriya is always a benefit in my opinion (as long as they are not conjoined twins!).

Nayantara pops up as Malini, a love interest for Masss, but she has very little to do and doesn’t even manage a duet with the hero, so her role could have been skipped without too much trouble. She does look beautiful though, if perhaps a little unconvincing as a nurse, but has surprisingly little chemistry with Suriya. However I’m going to mark that down as not having any real opportunity to develop any sparkage due to the briefness of their time spent together rather than any real problem with Nayantara. Vidyullekha Raman makes an appearance as Malini’s friend and actually makes more of an impact than Nayantara, although sadly she too quickly drops out of the story. However they both fare better than Pranitha who appears totally mis-cast, or at least inappropriately dressed with terrible make-up, for her role as flash-back Suriya’s wife.

The film has a huge cast list and there are a large number of good actors who appear as assorted villains or who are part of a group who help Mass later in the film. Brahmi has a brief role as a corrupt doctor in Malini’s hospital, while Samuthirakani has probably the best realised villain role, although even he only appears occasionally. Parthiban manages a little more screen-time as a police officer on the trail of Mass and has some good one-liners while Karunas, Riyaz Khan and many others provide excellent back-up for Suriya. It seems a long time since I’ve seen Rajendran and it’s great to see him here in a small role as a member of the gang helping Mass even if again he only appears briefly.

The second half follows a more linear storyline, even with the flashback portion and the film settles down to an easier pace. What surprises me is that the film received a U certificate given that there is some fairly extreme violence and at times the film is quite frightening for a young audience, although the kids in Melbourne seem to be made of fairly tough stuff and seemed to take it all in their stride.

Masss is a little overlong and the at times it seems that Venkat Prabhu got a little too carried away with his special effect team. There are times when less really is better and there are a few moments here where more restraint would have had a greater effect. In addition, the songs don’t really fit, apart from one during the flash-back sequence and there are perhaps a few too many nods to other films in the screenplay giving the film a more derivative feel than I think it really deserves. However Suriya is excellent and the background score from Yuvan Shankar Raja makes up for any lack in the dance numbers. This is a film to watch for Suriya, the excellent support cast and for Venkat Prabhu’s occasional flashes of brilliance which occur just often enough to give Masss sufficient unexpected twists to entertain.