Vikram (2022)

2022 is proving to be an excellent year for Indian cinema. Pushpa, RRR, KGF2 and now Vikram have really raised the bar and we’re only halfway through the year! In Vikram, Lokesh Kanagaraj delves back into the world he created with Kaithi and adds more threads to his tale of drug dealing, police corruption and gang warfare. With a who’s who of Southern Indian actors, an engrossing story and fabulous action sequences, Vikram is another ‘not to be missed’ film that deserves to be seen at the cinema.

The story begins with Police Chief Jose (Chemban Vinod Jose) bringing in a ‘black-ops’ team headed by an agent known only as Aram (Fahadh Faasil). The police have been sent a series of videos showing black-masked terrorists murder the local Head of Narcotics Stephen Raj (Hareesh Peradi), ACP Prabhanjan (Kalidas Jayaram) and Prabhanjan’s adopted father Karnan (Kamal Haasan). With the final murder seemingly unconnected, Aram immediately starts investigating Karnan, trying to find any possible link that might explain the deaths. His investigations reveal a man who had turned to drink and prostitutes after the death of his adopted son, but no link to the case Prabhanjan was involved with before his death. However, in the course of his inquiries, Aram discovers a missing shipment of drugs belonging to drug kingpin Sandhanam (Vijay Sethupathi) and identifies two more men involved with the drug trade who may be in danger. Veerapandian ((Gowtham Sundarajan) and Rudra Prathap (Aruldoss) are both likely targets as they reportedly know the location of the missing shipments, but despite the police, Sandhanam and Aram all trying to protect the men, the ‘men in black’ are hard to evade.

Aram and his men have no boundaries and as such threaten, beat and bully their way to the information required. Oddly, during the investigation Aram also marries Gayathri (Gayathrie Shankar) despite her ignorance about his real job and seeming unconcern about the man she finds being held prisoner in Amar’s offices. Apart from this one glimpse into a possible softer side, Fahadh Faasil’s Amar is as brutal and dangerous as the men he is seeking. As one of the top actors in the South, Fahadh Faasil is always impressive, but he is electrifying here to the point where he almost manages to steal attention away from Kamal Haasan. Fahadh’s body language, expressions and dialogue delivery are simply brilliant throughout and when his life starts to fall apart, his portrayal of a man at the limit of his ability to cope is excellent. One moment that really stands out is his absolute frustration when trying to resuscitate Prabhanjan’s young son which was simply perfect (standard filmi medical miracles aside of course). I also recognised the Queen of Subtitles rekhs as the dubbing voice for Dr Annie on the line assisting Amar with the process which added just the right note to the whole scene.

Vijay Sethupathi has played the role of a demented brutal gangster before, so the character of Sandhanam isn’t a stretch for him, but Vijay gives the character plenty of traits that set the gangster apart from his previous roles. Sandhanam has 3 wives, and there is an excellent montage where we see Sandhanam, his family and one of his wives practicing target shooting, perhaps to show he’s a supporter of equal opportunities for all. He certainly believes in keeping it in the family since his the main members of Sandhanam’s gang producing the drug supply are all from his large extended family, and he is ultra-protective of them, although happily expends his henchmen elsewhere when necessary. Able to switch between fake doctor, urbane businessman and unhinged gangster with a tendency to use his own product, Sandhanam is more complex than first appears and Vijay Sethupathi brings out all of these different facets of his character even with limited screen time.

Kamal Haasan is the focus of the film and despite not appearing much in the first half, his presence is still felt as the ghost manipulating much of the action. He is amazingly agile in the fight scenes, and if he appears rather less sprightly in an early dance sequence, there are reasons behind that which are revealed later in the story. This is another outstanding performance from one of the greats of Tamil cinema and he does not put a foot wrong. There is a good mix of humour in the dialogue too, and the addition of scenes with his family help to break up the actions sequences and add more fuel to the film’s fury. And if you thought Yash had a big gun in KGF2, think again – guns are so passé when you can have a cannon instead! The other support cast are also excellent from Narain reprising his role as Inspector Bejoy to Chemban Vinod Jose, Kalidas Jayaram, Sampath Ram and Ramesh Thilak. My favourite moment in the entire film comes from Agent Tina (Vasanthi) and I also loved the totally unhinged appearance by Suriya, who has a brief appearance at the end.

The action sequences here by Anbariv are excellent and Girish Gangadharan captures the effects beautifully. The scale of the film is huge with wide shots over the city of Chenni, massive gunfire and explosion sequences and then a total change to close-ups of Sandhanam’s gold teeth. Girish ensures it all looks stunning regardless. Even at 3 hours of runtime, nothing in the film drags and with Anirudh’s soundtrack underpinning the action and emotions of the film, the balance is perfect. Thanks to rekhs who has subtitled the entire film with perfect English although the use of ‘shucks’ and ‘crap’ as substitutes for the actual dialogue did make me smile. I’m assuming there is a censorship reason behind the change since the original words are clearly audible. Thanks too for the yellow font which is much more readable than white.

Vikram is high octane action with plenty of plot detail and connections that make the plot intriguing as well as exciting. The performances are uniformly excellent and I honestly think the film is many times better than anything I’ve seen from Hollywood in recent times. While a number of the characters from Kaithi resurface, Vikram is a self-contained story that can be enjoyed without having seen the earlier film, and the references aren’t so obscure that it’s impossible to work out previous links. I’m looking forward to the next instalment and seeing just what Lokesh Kanagaraj comes up with next in his mad and crazy world of drug lords and special agents.

Kaathvuvaakula Rendu Kaadhai

Vignesh Shivan’s latest film with Vijay Sethupathi is a romantic comedy with the ‘twist’ that Rambo is equally in love with two girls. In any other film, this would be called two-timing or cheating, but here we are supposed to feel sorry for Rambo and support his attempts to commit bigamy. For all of that, there are some entertaining moments, and all three leads put in good performances. But at the end of the day, Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhai is a one-time watch with an unsatisfying love triangle.

The film starts with a TV show called ‘Real or Reel’ that’s explaining how Rambo ended up with two loves. There is a flashback to the story of young Rambo (Kamalesh) and his unlucky family. None of the family are able to marry due to their reputation for bad luck until the day Rambo’s father decides to wed Minah Kaif (Divya Pillai). Thinking their luck has turned, the family celebrates, but on the day he is born, Rambo’s father names him as Ranjankudi Anbarasu Murugesa Boopathy Ohondhiran (aka Rambo), which you would think would be bad enough luck all by itself. But then his father dies, and Rambo’s mother has a stroke that leaves her bedridden. From here, nothing goes well for Rambo. His mother becomes more unwell when he nears her bed, and as soon as he walks out into the rain it stops. Saddest of all, he can never manage to buy a chocolate ice-cream and the entire village considers him to be unlucky. Despite all this Rambo manages to grow up and back in the present day has 2 jobs and a nice apartment, so he can’t be all that unlucky all the time – just with rain and ice-cream.

By day Rambo is a driver for Ola cabs, and this is how he meets Kanmani (Nayanthara). She is looking for a husband and uses Rambo’s cab to travel to meet prospective grooms and their families. Kanamani has two siblings, her younger sister Minmini (Dipika Kothari) and her brother Bhargav (Bhargav Sundar) who has Downs syndrome. Part of her problem is that she needs to marry to regain ownership of the house her father left her, but she also wants to be sure that any prospective husband will also look after Minmini and Bhargav. This appears to be a major sticking point as none of the families she visits are willing to accept Kanmani along with her siblings. However, in her journeys with Rambo, Kanmani finds him to be kind and accepting of her brother and sister, while in turn they both accept him too. Slowly Kanmani starts to think of Rambo as a potential life partner and eventually she proposes to him.

By night, Rambo is a bouncer at a nightclub and there he meets Khatija (Samantha), the rather reluctant girlfriend of club owner Mohammed Mobi (S. Sreesanth). Mobi is a drunken rich prat who is abusive and generally unpleasant, so when he slaps Khatija, it’s a relief to see him get his comeuppance from Rambo. Naturally Rambo and Khatija become friends and he keeps her safe when Mobi starts stalking Khatija and generally behaving in a threatening way. Both Kanmani and Khatija declare their love at the same time leaving Rambo at a loss of what to do as he loves them both equally and decides he cannot give up one for the other.

It’s bad enough that Rambo is two-timing the two women, but the story takes a turn for the worse when Kanmani and Khatija both fight over Rambo after they all end up moving into Kanmani’s house together. It gets even more problematic when Rambo’s friend (Lollu Sabha Maaran) tries to convince both women to marry Rambo since their love has turned his life around after his tragic childhood. Frustratingly it’s left to the women to ‘save’ Rambo, who really does not need saving at all given he is gainfully employed, has a number of friends and a family who care about him. Regardless, Kanmani and Khatija have to put their differences aside to soothe Rambo and ignore their own distress at finding out he has been two-timing them with each other.

This is the central problem with the story, and it leaves a really bad taste behind. The rest of the comedy with Rambo’s aunt (Kala Master) and uncles desperately trying to get him to marry to lift their own ‘curse’ feels tacked on to give a reason for the idea of Rambo marrying two women, while the drama with his (now older) mother (Seema) seems superficial and again a device solely to promote Rambo’s wedding. 

And yet, there are parts of the film that do work well. Despite the rather low-key nature of the two romances, there are couple of standout scenes. One on a bridge with Rambo and Khatija trying to get to know each other is written to bring out Rambo’s vulnerability while a sequence with Kanmani in the cab demonstrates his kindness and thoughtfulness. I also like how cinematographers S.R. Kathir and Vijay Karthik Kannan change the lighting to show the difference between Kanmani and Khatija. The lighting for Khatija is bright and fluorescent, with scenes shot in the nightclub and on neon-lit city streets, while Kanmani is shown during the day in more natural lighting. The women are divided in their clothing as well with Kanmani depicted as traditional, wearing sari’s and Indian clothing while Khatija frequents night clubs and only wears Western clothes. To continue the dichotomy, Kanmani is Hindu while Khatija is Muslim. Other examples include Kanmani having a job in a show shop while Khatija is wealthy enough to give Rambo money without asking him any questions and Kanmani having 2 siblings while Khatija appears to be an only child. It becomes farcical when Kanmani tells Rambo she prefers plain shirts, while Khatija votes for patterned, which leaves Rambo wearing a hybrid of the two to try and keep both women happy.  

While Vignesh Shivan has focused on the issue of Rambo’s supposed jinx and his inability to choose between Kanmani and Khatija, he adds odd details which never go anywhere. When Kanmani and Rambo meet there is a log dialogue about her being Bengali but after this scene, her heritage is never mentioned again. The house Kanmani’s father left her is being used as a film set and a rather unpleasant relative is living there, but again this is never explained, nor this relative’s brief supposed interested in Kanmani as a potential wife. There are just as many unexplained questions about Khatija. For instance, she tells Rambo she wants to be a singer, but after this we hear nothing more about her career. It’s also never explained why she puts up with Mobi, apart from some vague mention of not wanting to make her father ill. A further exploration of any of these points, and just 1 heroine would have made this a more interesting and satisfying film to watch, but instead Vignesh is determined to go stick with his two-timing hero.

While Vijay Sethupathi, Nayanthara and Samantha are all fine in their roles, the romances are sterile and there is little passion between Rambo and his two fiancées. Of the support cast, Redin Kingsley and Kala Master fare the best and S. Sreesanth is nicely repulsive as Mobi. Thankfully Anirudh is back on form after the woeful Beast soundtrack, and his songs here are a mix of sweetly sentimental and upbeat dance numbers that all sound great. However at 2 hours and 39 minutes, Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhai quickly outstays its welcome and despite the music, performances and general all round greatness that is Vijay Sethupathi, this really is one just for fans. 3 stars.

Kadaisi Vivasayi (2022)

I’ve enjoyed every film from M. Manikandan so far and I’m impressed by the variety of the subjects he tackles. From a reflection on globalisation in Kaakka Muttai to the thriller Kuttrame Thandanai and the very funny Aandavan Kattalai, his films have been entertaining and thought provoking, and Kadaisi Vivasayi is no exception. This time his focus is on an octogenarian farmer and preparations for a ceremony at his village temple. Mayandi (Nallandi) has lived all his life simply, used to back-breaking labour every day and farming using traditional methods. But when an incident forces an unexpected change in his life, the consequences involve everyone in the village.

What impresses me most about Kadaisi Vivasayi is the excellent cinematography and the almost documentary feel to the early part of the film as Mayandi, his life and the village are all introduced. When I worked in Tamil Nadu I stayed in small villages, one near Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) and one near Thanjavur, where I saw scenes just like this every day. My family are farmers back in Northern Ireland as well, so this felt like a real step back home for me, especially since my Great Uncle’s farm had no electricity or running water, similar to Mayandi’s house here. Mayandi and his life are introduced by the camera following him through his normal activities. His care of the land and respect for all living things is clear at every stage, while the sheer amount of hard work that he gets through each day is impressive. The slow pace also allows appreciation of the countryside; the shimmer of leaves against the sky, the lush green of new crops and the glory of peacocks, spreading their feathers against the rocks beside the fields are all featured as Mayandi makes his way to the fields.

When the village tree is struck by lightning, the elders decide that this is due to not praying at their temple and devise a festival to appease the village god. This involves an offering of rice and as the only farmer left in the village, Mayandi is tasked with producing the first grains needed for the festival. At the same time, the villagers approach the last potter to make the clay pot and horses needed for the ceremony. He too is elderly and frail, and the idea of traditional expertise being lost and time-honoured knowledge squandered as no-one takes up these customary trades underlies the plot of the film. There are caste issues in the village too and most of the villagers have sold their land to developers as the lack of water makes farming unprofitable and just too hard. Once of the villagers (Yogi Babu) has bought an elephant from the proceeds and points out that he makes more money each day from his elephant than he ever did farming. Against this backdrop, Mayandi’s decision to keep farming seems inexplicable, but he explains that without farming, he would have no reason to get out if bed each day. It’s all he has ever known, and it is his life – it is as simple as that.

But Mayandi isn’t as sanctimonious as that makes him sound and M Manikandan adds comedy though Mayandi’s interactions with the local shopkeeper who tries to sell him seedless tomatoes amongst other more modern innovations. There is comedy too with Kali Muthu as a bald man so desperate to grow back his hair that he is willing to try any outlandish remedy and a police officer (Kaalaipandiyan) who is consistently mistaken as an electrician, auto-driver and various other professions except his real job.

In addition to being old and illiterate, Mayandi is also hearing impaired, so when he is arrested for a crime he clearly didn’t commit, he doesn’t understand what is happening or why he cannot go back to his farm. The farcical nature of the court proceedings is kept grounded by the sympathetic but punctilious judge (Raichai Rabecca Philip) who would like to release Mayandi but is bound by strict rules and has to follow procedure. One story arc follows the police officer who is tasked with looking after Mayandi’s crop and how that allows him to become a more sympathetic character. While in jail, Mayandi also shows one of the other inmates how to grow a plant from seed but despite this brief respite, Mayandi is still lost without his usual day to day routine. Poignantly he can only see the tops of the trees from his cell and is reduced to looking at the sky, waiting to be able to go back to his fields.

A side plot involves Mayandi’s son Ramaiah (Vijay Sethupathi) who is said to be mentally disturbed following the death of his girlfriend. He is a follower of Murugan and wanders the area with all his possessions in two jute bags. Ramaiah wears numerous broken watches on his arm and appears and disappears randomly, seemingly unaffected by time and the burdens of everyday living. He is a spiritual figure who stops to tell his father about Murugan and it is hinted throughout the film that he is actually the most sane character despite his mental illness. Vijay Sethupathi is excellent and his portrayal here is the main reason why the character works within the film. He conveys an other-worldly quality to Ramaiah and his relationship with the natural world creates a bond with Mayandi who also has a great respect and belief in Nature.

Nallandi was a farmer rather than an actor and here he seems to be just living his life rather than acting throughout the film. He is the archetypal farmer and has a clear connection to the land. One member of his family describes him as someone who always knows when it is going to rain, and Mayandi himself tells the judge that by keeping him in jail she is killing thousands of lives, meaning his young rice seedlings. His face is mostly expressionless which fits the type of man he is playing as does his placid acceptance of everything that happens. Even during arguments in the village square he is quiet and still, clearly seeing the village issues and problems as nothing to do with himHe clearly has no time for anything that doesn’t relate to his work, as is shown when he buys what appears to be a decoration or charm in the village. When stopped by his grandson he explains that it’s actually treatment for snake bite and each part is useful in some way. Mayandi reminds me so much of my Uncle who is similarly quiet and just gets on with things the way he has always done them, without any fuss or bother! 

For much of the film, the background noise is that of nature, the sound of birds and insects, the bells on the cattle and the sound of the wind through the grasses. Santhosh Narayanan’s music suits the film and is used sparingly making it unobtrusive but effective. M. Manikandan touches on a number of social issues but they don’t impinge too much on the film and mostly occur as a brief conversation. A man who is accused of beating his wife is released by the police without charge (it’s not serious!), while Mayandi with his less serious crime is held in jail for weeks. Corruption is the police force is touched on a number of times but the funniest is when the young village girl with dwarfism mentions that she would vote for the judge without being bribed when she scolds the police for arresting Mayandi. All small moments that are effective but don’t overshadow the main story. 

The other members of the cast are excellent and the slow pace of the film suits the storyline. I really enjoyed this film and found it a real delight to watch and a feast for the senses. Enjoyable in every aspect, Kadaisi Vivasayi is simply an excellent film and one I fully recommend watching. 4½ stars