Kavan (2017)

Kavan

K.V.Anand doesn’t tread any new ground with his latest film Kavan, revisiting a theme of land and water contamination by big business that’s been seen many times before. But rather than making another ‘message’ or pure action film, here we are firmly in masala territory, and that’s what helps make Kavan such a watchable film. It’s set in the world of television and journalism where breaking news is the key to big ratings and in this new post-truth world of alternative facts, the machinations of one TV station to keep ahead of the competition don’t appear quite as far-fetched as they may have done a few months ago. Writers K.V. Anand, Subha and Kabilan Vairamuthu have come up with an entertaining screenplay and some excellent dialogue that drive the story along despite numerous diversions. With great performances from Vijay Sethupathi and Madonna Sebastian, Kavan is more engaging and enjoyable than expected, even with the 160 minute run-time.

Vijay Sethupathi is Thilak, the only student in his class who wants to make documentaries rather than work in films or TV which immediately identifies him as someone more interested in facts and the truth than entertainment. However, he ends up working at Zen TV, alongside his former girlfriend Malar (Madonna Sebastian) who doesn’t want a bar of him after their acrimonious break-up. Initially Thilak does well, impressing channel owner Kalyan (Akashdeep Saighal) with his novel approach, but it doesn’t take long until Thilak’s moral stance gets him into trouble. Kalyan is prepared to put anything on-screen as long as it will lift ratings and he isn’t above manufacturing news either. Alongside corrupt politician Dheeran Maniarasu (Bose Venkat) he spins facts out of all semblance of the truth to promote Dheeran Maniarasu’s political career and his own TV channel. The inevitable clash comes about due to Dheeran Maniarasu’s involvement with a chemical company which is polluting the local area.

Activists Mira and Abdul (Vikranth Santhosh) are friends of Malar who fall foul of the politician and his rowdies and their subsequent search for justice sees Thilak and his friends leaving Zen TV for good. They team up with Mayilvaganan (T. Rajendar) who has a small struggling TV channel and start their campaign to broadcast the truth.

Now, initially I found Rajendar’s comedy jarring and out of sync with the slick styling of the rest of the film, but as the story moves on, and Malar and Thilak start to work with Mayilvaganan, his eccentricities become more relevant and I found his scenes to be really funny. His routine may not change, but Rajendar is good at what he does and that can be very effective, especially as here when administered in small measured doses.

The move to Mayilvaganan TV has the added bonus of demonstrating how to renovate on a budget, if you should ever feel the need to know, and of course the new revamped channel starts to become popular as it spreads the true story of Dheeran Maniarasu’s various corrupt practices.

The story plans out exactly as expected but there is a good mix of drama, comedy, action, and just the smallest amount of romance as Malar and Thilak put aside their differences. Despite the total lack of surprises, the film keeps us interested by keeping the story topical – there are mentions of recent events such as demonetisation and the Chennai floods – and adding plenty of good snappy dialogue. Vijay Sethupathi is always very watchable and he excels yet again, ensuring that his character’s belief in truth and honesty in reporting never come across as preachy or too sanitised. No matter how ridiculous the plot (running through woodland carrying a camera chasing a car and still managing to arrive in time to catch the action for instance), it somehow always seems possible in the face of Vijay’s absolute confidence and sincere belief in the role he is playing. He looks the part of a journalist, and I loved the brief glimpse of laser eye-correction surgery to ditch his glasses before he went on-air as a talk show host. Shame though as he looks good in specs!

Madonna Sebastian too is charming and plays the role of a modern career woman well. Her early scenes with Vijay are brilliant and I liked Malar’s gradual realisation that actually Thilak wasn’t such a bad guy after all. For a commercial entertainer this is a better than usual female role where Malar isn’t just the love interest, but has a reasonably substantial part to play in the story too. The romance too is very low-key and more an acknowledgement that the two are in a relationship rather than the more usual excuse for a flurry of songs. This is pretty much all of the romance in the film – nicely condensed into one song from Hiphop Tamizha.

The friends, including a rather subdued Jagan, are all good too, although they don’t have much to do for most of the film. Vikranth Santhosh stands out as the activist and his impassioned appeals for justice come across as more heartfelt and sincere than expected for a masala film.

As in Ayan, Akashdeep Saighal as the villain is the weak link for me, although this is likely due to the sketchiness of his character. All the hair tossing and posing suit the character of a TV mogul better at any rate and his acting has improved slightly, but I didn’t buy into the character of Kalyan at all. Bose Venkat is much better as the corrupt politician and does appear appropriately duplicitous throughout the film. It’s often the villain that lets these films down, but since it’s the policies of Kalyan rather than the character that Thilak and Malar are fighting, it’s not as important that Kalyan fails to make much of an impression.

Basically Kavan is a masala entertainer that doesn’t pretend to be anything ese. There is never any sense that the film is trying to be a serious exposé of the TV industry, or that the various feminist, Hindu-Muslim brotherhood or land right speeches are meant to generate a response; it’s simply a story to enjoy in the theatre with a box of popcorn. It is overlong and there are a number of diversions that aren’t at all necessary but the dialogue is good, the performances generally excellent and the masala mix is just about right. Worth watching for Vijay Sethupathi, Madonna Sebastian and a vision of alternative facts that’s perhaps a tad more realistic than may have been planned.

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Iraivi (2016)

Iraivi

Karthik Subbaraj’s third film is rather darker than his previous two, with less comedy and a serious theme about women who have to endure the poor decisions of weak men. It’s a film where the female characters are defined by the men, and the story is told through male eyes although the women generally are stronger and less flawed than their husbands. While the relationships are the core of the film, there is an overlying story that involves theft, murder and deception and although it’s another excellent film from Karthik, I kept thinking throughout that this would have been more powerful if he had shown more of the women’s viewpoint. However, highlighting the flaws in his male characters and ensuring that they don’t appear heroic is in itself a departure from the norm in Indian cinema, as is focusing on the plight of the women trapped in realistically troubled relationships. In Iraivi, Karthik has made another film that is not easy to define but one which will hopefully start conversations and make audiences think a little harder about the definition of abuse.

The film starts and ends with the women, even beginning and finishing with the same image of a hand outstretched in the rain. The rain is used throughout as a metaphor for freedom, with each of the women expressing a wish to stand in the rain and get ‘drenched’. In the images and dialogue shown over the opening credits, Ponni (Anjali) is a schoolgirl, with the acknowledged somewhat old-fashioned dream of making a good marriage and living the rest of her life in domestic bliss. Vazhini (Kamalinee Mukherjee) is shown to be a strong and confident woman who has defied her family to marry the man she loves while Meenakshi (Vadivukkarasi) is upset by her husband’s demeaning attitude towards her, which has been an unceasing constant throughout their life together.

When we next see Yazhini and Meenakshi, each has been changed by the men around them, while we get to see Ponni’s transformation during the story. Meenakshi has had some kind of fall and/or stroke. She is reaction-less in a bed in hospital and her two sons, Arul (S.J. Surya) and Jagan (Bobby Simha) blame their father Dass (Radha Ravi). He admits to being the cause of his wife’s hospitalisation, but despite the fact that she never moves and never speaks, Meenakshi has become their focus for any of the problems Arul and Jagan face. No matter that she cannot communicate, she is still their mother and that bond is as strong as always.

Yazhini is married to Arul, a film director whose last film is being held hostage by his producer after the two had a falling out. Arul is living in limbo until he can secure his film’s and has become an alcoholic as a result. He gets into fights in bars when drunk but is not physically abusive to his wife and daughter, but instead subjects them to his mood swings and depression, and the general uncertainty of living with an alcoholic. S.J. Surya is excellent in his portrayal of a weak and selfish man who cannot cope with his loss and has become bitter and completely self-absorbed in his misery. Kamalini too is very good in a role that captures well how many women become trapped by their circumstances. She threatens Arul with divorce but at the same time still loves her husband and tries very hard to be as supportive as she can. However, Arul’s alcoholism and refusal to move beyond his own self-pity makes it difficult to Yazhini to see any other recourse other than to leave, taking their daughter with her. The dialogues between the two are excellent, and the sense of frustration and despair from both Arul and Yazhini underpins every scene. As the story unfolds, it’s Yazhini who emerges as the winner, able to change and adapt she moves on with her life while Arul is stuck in the same self-destructive pattern. Even after going to rehab, his selfish nature has not changed and everything is still about getting his film released – even losing his wife isn’t enough of a jolt to dislodge him from the familiar rut of self-pity and single-minded focus on his film above all else.

Michael (Vijay Sethupathi) grown up with Arul and Jagan and considers them as family with Arul as his best friend. He is in love with a young widow Malar (Pooja Dewariya) but she has no interest in anything other than a physical relationship and rejects his proposals of marriage. Malar is an interesting character – she is a woman who knows what she wants and is not bothered about societies perception of her behaviour, but I felt that there was something rather contrived about her character and despite Pooja’s best efforts, Malar didn’t quite ring true for me compared to the other characters.

When Michael’s parents arrange a marriage with Ponni he callously informs her on their wedding night that he has been forced into the marriage and can never be the man of her dreams. Her female relatives advise her that this is usually the case, but that Michael will change with marriage, however when Ponni tries to engage with Michael he shuts her out at every opportunity. In almost every scene with Michael or Ponni there are background details or snippets of dialogue which seem to foreshadow their relationship. When it seems that Ponni’s preganancy might be the turning point in their relationship, Michael is arrested and sent to prison, leaving Ponni to deliver and bring up her baby by herself. It’s again brilliantly written to illustrate the effect on Ponni as the happy-go-lucky school girl is transformed into a weary and accepting mother, managing to cope as best she can. Anjali is fantastic throughout and the dialogue again is perfectly written to illustrate the difficulties of women in what is a fairly typical relationship, no matter where in the world or whatever the cultural background. Vijay Sethupathi is on top form too as a man who is easily led by his friends and finds it difficult to admit to mistakes, even though at heart he isn’t a bad person.

The third character in the story is less successful, and Bobby Simha never quite manages to make his Jagan as believable as the other two. Jagan is jealous of Michael as he loves Ponni himself and decides to do something about it when he sees her distress when Michael goes to jail. Ponni’s reaction is certainly not what I expected in a film, but it is what could happen in real life, whereas Jegan’s monologues about the oppression of women and the evils of society seem more filmi and contrived than likely to occur in reality. However, Jagan does give an interesting contrast to the other two men, and is a more typical film character while providing the overlying story of artefact theft and deception against which the various relationships are all developed.

The story meanders about haphazardly while establishing the main characters and displaying their motivations. There are repeated themes and foreshadowing of events to come, but the final outcome is difficult to predict and the twists along the way are unexpected and genuinely surprising. What stands out are the individual performances from S.J Surya, Vijay Sethupathi, Kamalinee Murkharjee and Anjali, all of whom are superb. There is able support from all the other actors including a restrained appearance from Karunakaran as Arul’s friend Ramesh. The background music from Santhosh Narayanan is effective and the songs good, although in general these don’t add anything to the film. Sivakumar Vijayan’s cinematography is outstanding, often using the lighting to heighten the drama while ensuring that every scene is perfectly arranged for maximum impact.

Karthik has payed exquisite attention to detail, and the set-up and execution of every scene is beautifully planned to deliver maximum impact. On repeated watching, the small details start to emerge and the links between events become clearer. It’s a film that actually becomes better the second and third time around and I suspect that every time I watch Iraivi there will be another detail I missed the first time. It’s not perfect however; the film is long and some of the diversions taken don’t add anything worthwhile to the story, while despite starting off well, the female characters start to lose some of their definition and eventually only react to the actions of the men. It’s still an intriguing film and one I highly recommend for a different look at relationships between men and women. 4½ stars.

 

 

 

 

Sethupathi (2016)

sethupathi-poster

After the excellent Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, S.U. Arun Kumar and Vijay Sethupathi are back together with a masala cop film, Sethupathi. But this isn’t your typical story with a hero police officer busting heads right, left and centre on the tail of some desperate villain. Although the police officer in question is as rough and tough as they come when he’s out on the streets, once he makes it back home it’s a different story. The film spends almost as much time looking at the home life of police inspector Sethupathi as it does following his investigation into the murder of fellow officer Subburaj. The glimpses of Sethupathi with his wife and children make him a more human hero, giving an insight into his thought processes and ensuring the otherwise routine story has plenty of depth and interest. He may be a violent and argumentative man at work, but at home he is in love with his wife and a good father to his young kids. Sethupathi has the usual chase sequences, fight scenes and general rowdyism expected of a police thriller, but it also has heart and that what makes it such a watchable film.

The film opening sequences give an indication that the police are the good guys. Here are the men you hope to meet when you have a problem – compassionate, caring and protective and doing the best they can in an often difficult job. The victim, SI Subburaj, is one such police officer. After stopping when he witnessed an argument between a husband and wife, he’s set upon by a gang of thugs and burnt to death on a bridge. Although the police officer belonged to another police station, the job of investigating his death falls to Inspector Sethupathi (Vijay Sethupathi), a man whose colleagues describe as a psycho but also 100% honest and incorruptible.

Sethupathi rules his police station with a heavy hand, but although many of his officers seem terrified of him, he has the respect and loyalty of his right-hand man Murthy (Linga). Despite all his bluster, Sethupathi has very clear ideas about what is expected from a police officer and is determined that everyone should follow his line. He tells his men that they should not upset the public unnecessarily although he isn’t slow to react when he thinks a crowd is being disrespectful outside the hospital. He’s infuriated that someone has dared to kill a police officer and expects that everyone will be as enthusiastic about tracking down the killer as he is himself, and when that isn’t the case he’s quick to anger and lets everyone have the sharp edge of his tongue. But for all his barely contained violence, even at work Sethupathi is more caring than first appears. When a man comes in looking for his missing wife, Sethupathi sends the couple’s young daughter away so that she does not have to hear her father speaking ill of her mother. It’s clear that he’s thinking of the bigger picture and hoping for a good outcome for the family.

Sethupathi quickly discovers that SI Subburaj has been killed by mistake and the real target was another police officer, SI Kanagavel. Kanagavel is married to the daughter of local king-pin Vaathiyar (Vela Ramamoorthy) and by all accounts it isn’t a happy marriage. Rather than letting his daughter divorce Kanagavel, Vaathiyar decides to murder him instead – effective but perhaps not the best solution to the problem. While investigating, Sethupathi arrests Vaathiyar who immediately swears vengeance for the insult. At the same time, something goes wrong during an interrogation of two schoolboys, resulting in Sethupathi’s suspension and an investigation into his actions. While Sethupathi desperately tries to work out what happened and prove his innocence, Vaathiyar is out for blood and determined that Sethupathi will pay for his embarrassment – one way or another.

Vijay Sethupathi does masala cop brilliantly here, twirling his moustache and barking orders while displaying all the tenacious enthusiasm of a bulldog on the scent as he chases down criminals. He’s determined, ferocious and heroic – exactly as required for a mass action film. The brilliance lies in the other side of Sethupathi. The man who goes home to romance his wife and play with his children, call home when he’s away on business and send selfies to his wife to let her know how much he misses her. I always appreciate some good white board pondering – used here as Sethupathi tries to figure out why a gun fired when it shouldn’t have, and the many little touches that A.R. Arun Kumar adds in to illustrate the family dynamic. Vijay Sethupathi changes body language, demeanour and his language once he gets home and I love how realistic he appears as he deals with the doubts and problems that he faces every day. Plus of course he’s great in the fight sequences and completely nails the tough cop persona in every way.

Remya Nambeesan is also fantastic as Sethupathi’s wife as are the two child actors who play his children. There is lovely chemistry between the two actors, and their relationship feels comfortable and enduring – exactly as you’d expect for a couple who had been together for a while. This is a much better thread to the story than the more usual ‘romantic interest’ and the relationship provides a structure and a focus to Sethupathi’s actions that makes them appear logical and inevitable. There are hints that there are some troubles in the marriage and issues with Sethupathi’s in-laws that are never fully revealed. I can’t decide if the film would be better with a little more detail or if the hints should have been removed but regardless the relationship itself is so well done that in the end it doesn’t really matter.

Vela Ramamoorthy is a rather pedestrian villain, but then again he’s not really the focus of the film. His attempts to remove Sethupathi are inconveniences rather than obstacles in Sethupathi’s path and the Inspector makes it clear that if Vaathiyar would leave him alone, Sethupathi has no further interest in him. Amusingly the various thugs are rather less eager to jump into battle than usual and with Sethupathi’s reputation their reluctance makes sense, but once they do attack the choreography is well executed.

The film looks good too with some clever framing shots from cinematographer Dinesh Krishnan who uses mirrors and reflections beautifully throughout the film. The music from Nivas K Prasanna works well in the film and is mainly used to further develop the relationship between Sethupathi and his wife or as background music for the action scenes. There are no big song and dance numbers and the film doesn’t need anything so commercial to detract from the actors’ performances. It’s also short, at only 2 hours the screenplay is kept tight and the pace generally fast. I thought there might be some long drawn out revenge at the end, but instead it’s kept short and sweet, totally fitting the character and his approach to his job.

Sethupathi is an excellent mix of action and drama. The crime element of the story works well and Vijay Sethupathi is charismatic and engaging as the lead character. Adding in the domestic scenes is a clever idea that pays off superbly, giving more interest to the central character and a human touch to the whole story. I love that the romance is between a husband and wife rather than a token heroine who only turns up for the songs, and too that the relationship is so comfortable and warm. Definitely a cut above the usual police thriller and highly recommended. 4 stars.