Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom

After tracking down a subtitled copy of Balaji Tharaneetharan’s début film, it took a little while to get around to watching the film. The synopsis wasn’t terribly inspiring; ‘a young man experiences retrograde amnesia after a cricket incident two days before his wedding’ and so, despite the presence of Vijay Sethupathi, I didn’t put it straight to the top of the pile. But I really should have known better. While not quite as good as Balaji Tharaneetharan’s later film Seethakaathi, NKPK has plenty of quirky humour and the story is much better than the one-line summary suggests. It’s funny, well told and best of all, the film is actually based on a true story that actually happened to one of Balaji Tharaneetharan’s friends. In fact the real-life Prem is the film cinematographer C Prem Kumar, while Bagavathi Perumal plays his real-life role as Prem’s desperate friend.

The plotline of the story really is as simple as the synopsis suggests, and yet there is so much more happening as Prem’s friends hide his amnesia from his bride-to-be and her family. And yet, the funniest part of the film isn’t the absurd lengths his friends go to in ensuring that no-one knows Prem has lost his memory. Rather it’s the baffled expressions on Prem’s face as he struggles to understand what is going on, and his repeated dialogue of the last few moments he can remember before he hit his head that raise the biggest laughs. Medulla oblongata has never sounded so funny!

The film starts with Prem discussing his problems with his friends, Bugs (Bagavathi Perumal), Saras (Vigneshwaran Palanisamy) and Balaji (Rajkumar). It’s a couple of days before Prem’s wedding and he’s worried because his fiancée’s family don’t like the match, his bike’s been stolen and he’s having problems with his boss. To take his mind off his woes, the friends decide to go and play a game of cricket, which Bugs takes far too seriously, while everyone else struggle to even hit the ball. But then, when running back to take a catch, Prem falls and hits his head. He seems fine, but as the friends are heading back home, Saras realises that something might be wrong. Prem keeps repeating the same thing, over and over again, with exactly the same phrasing and timing. He can’t remember that his bike has been stolen, and worst of all, he has no idea who his fiancée Dhanalakshmi (Gayathrie) is.

Because it’s a love marriage and the parents don’t approve, Bugs, Saras and Balaji spend the next few days doing absolutely everything they can to make sure no-one finds out and stops the wedding. They take Prem to a doctor who tells them that Prem could regain his memory at any time, or could potentially never remember, which means that they are continually on tenderhooks, waiting for that moment when Prem finally regains his memory. But instead, he just keeps going back to the moment when he falls and hits his head.

The friends are absolutely sure that Prem will be devastated if the wedding doesn’t take place, which seems a strange motivation for the extremes they go to, which even includes Saras jeopardising his own potential romance. But at the very end, there are stills of the actual wedding that the story is based upon, and by that stage it really does all make sense.

Vijay Sethupathi is simply amazing here, and brilliantly shows his internal confusion as he tries to work out what is going on, before losing the struggle and going back to the moment when he fell. His facial expressions are perfect, and I don’t know how he managed to keep repeating the same dialogue over and over again without cracking up laughing. The moment when he sees his bride and thinks she looks dreadful in all her makeup is sad and funny all at the same time. The writing is so well done that it’s possible to really feel for Dhanalaksmi and understand her hurt at Prem’s reaction, while still finding Prem’s comments hilariously funny.

Gayathrie doesn’t have very much to do, except stand beside Prem during the wedding, but she is such a talented actress, that even with little dialogue she gets across Dhanalaksmi’s love for Prem and also her despair at his attitude on her wedding day. The friends all have their own personalities, but it’s Vigneshwaran Palanisamy as Sara who really stands out as being the driving force behind the various schemes to shield Prem.

This is simply inspired and a very funny story which has been put together very well. The entire film only covers three days, a cricket match and a wedding, but despite being a little slow to start, once Prem loses his memory, there is a lot to enjoy. There are so many jokes, both visual and in the dialogue, but through it all, it’s Vijay Sethupathi who really stands out as a terrific performer. There is some real tension because the outcome of the wedding, Prem’s future and even his relationship with his friends is always in doubt, right p to the end. This is just a fun film and I recommend it to anyone who needs something to make them smile. 4 stars.

Sangathamizhan

Vijay Chandar’s latest film starts out as a spoof comedy, but ends up as a fairly run-of-the-mill mass entertainer by way of a tired romance and routine ‘villain versus the villagers’ plot. Vijay Sethupathi is always watchable, even in this clichéd action adventure, but the rest of the cast get short-changed by the screenplay, having little to do except either adore or loathe the lead character. There is plenty of action, comedy and even Vijay Sethupathi dancing, but by the end there really is little that makes Sangathamizhan stand out from the rather large pool of similar films.

The opening scene of the film typifies much of the first half. It’s a jumble of mass action and hero-centric plot with a mixed bag of comedy that generally works better than the dramatic dialogue. As aspiring actor Murugan, Vijay Sethupathi has a classic hero entrance before single-handedly reducing a gang of villains to groaning bodies on the floor, while his friend Soori (Soori) cracks a few jokes and performs the usual slapstick side-kick role. It works to some extent as neither Vijay nor Soori seem to be taking any of the dialogue seriously and there are a lot of sideways glances and self-referential jokes in the opening sequences. But the inclusion of a college girl who needs to be rescued from rape, some tasteless jokes about a group of prostitutes and rather humdrum action make this rather more cringeworthy than it needed to be, particularly for the start of the film.

The first half also includes a woeful romance with a truly terrible introduction scene for Kamalini (Raashi Khanna). Murugan crashes Kamalini’s birthday party and then proceeds to scold her for being so generous as to provide him with a free drink at the bar. Somehow this is supposed to make her intrigued by Murugan rather than acting as most women would in this situation and just calling for the bouncer to kick him out of the nightclub. At no point does the love affair between the rich industrialist’s daughter and out-of-work actor seem plausible despite the clichéd and formulaic development of the relationship. The only good thing about their romance is the inclusion of the upbeat and jaunty Kamala (which features men in colourful tutus as backing dancers), even though it doesn’t fit into the narrative at all. In fact, generally the music from Viviek-Mervin is excellent throughout, while the lyrics are beautifully translated by rekhs, who doesn’t just translate the words but makes the lyrics rhyme and scan perfectly. Why doesn’t everyone do this instead of providing literal translations that make absolutely no sense at all?

The plot begins with a courtroom scene where a group of villagers are trying to prevent a copper processing plant from opening in their area. The land appears to have been acquired illegally and for a change the judge seems to be on the villagers’ side, giving the developer just a few weeks to come up with evidence to prove that the factory won’t be a health risk to the villagers. This all becomes much clearer in the second half, which moves into flashback mode to explain the fight between the owner of the copper factory, Kamalini’s father (Ravi Kishan) and the village headman Devarajan (Nassar). Also drawn into the fight is the local politician (Ashutosh Rana) and the rest of Devraj’s family, including his son Sangathamizhan (Vijay Sethupathi).

The tone of the second half is much darker than the first, and from a frivolous romance comedy, it changes into a more dramatic action film. This disconnect between the two halves of the film is jarring as the shift happens suddenly (there is no interval given in Australia) and the mood change is relatively extreme.  Despite this, the second half is actually significantly better since it also includes Nivetha Pethuraj as Thenmozhi, Thamizhan’s romantic interest. Thenmozhi is a better realised character than Kamalini, despite her short time on-screen, with sharper dialogues and actions that actually make sense. Nivetha also has a good on-screen chemistry with Vijay in the romantic scenes between the two characters, which is a significant improvement on the lacklustre interactions he has with Raashi Khanna in the first half. The love story here is also more plausible, making me wonder why so much time was wasted earlier in the film, when the second half has a more convincing story, sharper action and generally improved performances from the entire cast. The main downside is Ravi Kishan’s rather anaemic villain who just doesn’t seem evil or ruthless enough, and Kamalini’s rather bizarre justification for accepting her father’s final fate.

The glue that manages to hold the entire film together (just) is Vijay Sethupathi and his frequent knowing nods to the camera seem to signify that he finds the entire story just as ridiculous as the audience. At times the film dips closely towards satire and throughout the first half I kept thinking that Vijay Chandar was trying to poke fun at the mass genre. But then the second half moves quickly towards more serious topics and the jokes dry up, along with Soori’s virtual disappearance from the screen as the film moves into more straight-up action territory. It doesn’t quite gel there either however as there is too much baggage hanging around from the first half that acts as a distraction. The two characters, Murugan and Thamizhan are also very similar which further undermines the dramatic ‘reveal’ of the finale. The positives are the music, Vijay Sethupathi and rekhs excellent subtitles, but otherwise this is a rather pedestrian and predictable outing that is really one only for fans.

Sindhubaadh

 

Sindhubaadh

S.U. Arun Kumar previously teamed up with Vijay Sethupathi for the excellent Pannaiyarum Padminiyum and police-drama Sethupathi, both of which had well developed and slightly off-beat stories with an interesting array of characters. It’s disappointing then, that in Sindhubaadh, he’s come up with a disjointed story and characters who don’t seem to know exactly who they are supposed to be. Thankfully, Vijay Sethupathi is excellent and his presence, along with a strong performance from his son Surya Vijay Sethupathi is enough to keep the first half of the film engaging, but things go rather more pear-shaped in the second half.

Vijay Sethupathi is Thiru, a petty street thief who is hearing impaired. He lives with his adopted son Super (Surya Vijay Sethupathi), although the actual story behind their relationship is shrouded in various tales they spin Thiru’s uncle (George Maryan). Thiru’s lack of hearing allows him to sidestep his uncle’s attempts to sell their house to grab some fast cash and their tussles provide some of the comedy in the first half. Thiru is a pretty laid-back guy who doesn’t seem to have too many problems with his deafness and seems happy to continue on his slightly crooked path through life. Super is a perfect side-kick and his high spirits offset Thiru’s more relaxed approach to life.

Meanwhile Venba (Anjali) has returned from Malaysia where she’s been working in a rubber plantation to pay off family debt. Her family are trying to arrange her marriage but Venba’s loud strident voice puts off potential suitors. For the hearing impaired Thiru though, she’s the one person he can hear easily and he instantly falls in love with her voice. But Venba isn’t interested in marrying a thief, leading Thiru to try and change her mind by the tried and trusted method of stalking and harassment. And, as only ever happens in the world of movies, this tactic works – and now it’s Venba’s family who aren’t impressed with the prospect of a thief for a son-in-law. By this stage though Venba is quite prepared to sacrifice her family for a man she despised only a song or so ago, and she returns to Malaysia just to finish up her job there, promising to be back in a couple of days.

Unfortunately for Venba, the corrupt owners of the rubber plantation where she was employed are involved with a much larger criminal gang. When she arrives back in the country she’s sold to a consortium who are involved in the skin trade, with a more literal meaning than usual. Venba manages to get word to Thiru who sets off for foreign shores using the name Sindhubaadh in his fake passport with Super in tow. But this is where the story starts to break down. There are way too many coincidences that are used to patch over the gaping plot holes as Thiru crosses Thailand and into Cambodia in the search for Venba. Along the way, Thiru just happens to meet people who can both speak Tamil and point him in the right direction, including Vivek Prasanna who is trying to buy back his daughter from the same gang. There’s also a Tamil speaking police-man and the chief villain, Ling (Linga) coincidentally is a Tamilian adopted into the Thai gang.

Ling is a typical caricature of a bad guy who has a big build up as a vicious and remorseless killer, but ultimately ends up fairly ineffectual, resorting to screaming threats and petulant displays of bad temper. The mullet really doesn’t help either. Also strange is Thiru’s sudden emergence as a mass-style hero who can easily vanquish the thugs who stand between him and Venba. He’s a one-man army as he develops sophisticated traps, kills his opponents with a quick twist of the neck and survives everything that is thrown at him. At one point, Super throws a stone at a 4WD which flies through the window, hits the driver and causes the entire car to flip over. And that’s not even the most ridiculous part of that entire scene. It’s just all too much of a change from the easy-going persona of the first half and the continual coincidences just make the story even more ridiculous.

There are some good points though. Despite the clichéd romantic plotline, Anjali and Vijay have excellent chemistry together, and Anjali is good as the capable but loud Venba. It’s unfortunate that she has less to do in the second half, but she excels at looking terrified and at least she does get a chance to fight back. The best relationship though is that of Thiru and Super, and there is a wonderfully joyful camaraderie that shines out of everything they do together. Their father/son dynamic translates well into the story and Surya is developing into a fine actor. His comedic timing in particular is fantastic here, and his cheeky grin perfectly suits his character. In reality it’s this dynamic and the scenes between father and son that keeps the film from total disintegration in the second half.

Another plus point is a brief but well written scene with a prostitute who was one of the women seen working with Venba earlier in the film. She has information for Thiru and unexpectedly S.U. Arun Kumar treats their interaction sensitively with reactions from Thiru that are much more in keeping with his earlier persona. Sadly, it doesn’t last, and we’re quickly back to the mayhem and slaughter, but it does show that there are some good ideas here despite the lack of overall cohesion.

I really wanted to like this film. There is the makings of a decent story hidden under all the unnecessary travels across SE Asia, poorly utilised hearing impairment and extravagant Thai gangster plot. Vijay, Surya and Anjali are all excellent and make their characters engaging despite the inconsistencies in behaviour. It’s also encouraging to see a film about people trafficking that isn’t voyeuristic but gets across the horror of being treated like a commodity and the fear that prevents escape, even if that’s mostly subsumed under the action adventure. Technically too, the film has been well put together and the subtitles by Aarthi are clearly visible and grammatically correct.  What lets the film down is the screenplay which just doesn’t come together once the story leaves India and all the extra threads to the story that mainly just add confusion. Sindhubaadh ends up as a formulaic mass action film that isn’t terrible but doesn’t have any of the magic expected from the pairing of Arun Kumar and Vijay Sethupathi. Worth watching once for the father and son relationship that genuinely lights up the screen.