Chennai 600028

Chennai 600028

The opening moments of Venkat Prabhu’s debut film seem to be setting the scene for a retelling of West Side Story, with two rival cricket teams called the Sharks and the Rockets replacing the American street gangs. But surprisingly the rivalry between the two teams isn’t the focus of the story at all. It’s smarter than that. Yes, there is plenty of cricket and even some cross-team rivalry, but Chennai 600028 mainly follows the different players from the Sharks team for one year, with all the highs and lows you’d expect in any character drama. Essentially, it’s a story about an everyday group of friends, connected by locality and a passion for their cricket team.  None of the actors were well known at the time, and they all fit easily into the roles of regular guys, some of whom have jobs and some of who are still at college, but who all hang around together to play gully cricket. With some clever dialogue and good situational comedy, Venkat Prabhu ensures that despite a rather rambling storyline, the film has plenty of laughs and enough memorable characters to make the film an entertaining watch.

The Sharks team live in the Chennai area of the title and are introduced one by one by a narrator who describes them by their cricket skills; although generally some other identifying characteristic is also given. This is incredibly useful as there are 10 named team members and it’s very easy to lose track initially of just who is who and where they fit into the team. The film starts off with the defeat of the Sharks for the fourth time by the Rockets, mainly due to a dismal performance from supposed ‘all-rounder’ but actually terrible player and tail-ender Seenu (Premji Amaran). He’s the bumbling fumbler who cannot take a catch to save his life, but is generally loud and obnoxiously cheery despite his limited cricketing talents. Premji is a little more restrained here than in later films such as Goa, and he’s mostly funny thanks mainly to a good rapport with the other characters and some witty and well written dialogue. I didn’t know that Premji was also a musician, and he is responsible for the background score as well as one of the songs – pretty impressive!

Along with their most recent defeat, the Sharks players all have their own problems, although lack of money is the most regular feature in their discussions. The money is for their regular drinking sessions, which allows them to sit and talk about life, cricket and women, which eventually leads back to money, of course! It all fits in well with their various personalities and since the characters are all engaging and seem to fit well into their roles it comes across as a genuine look at life in the area. Plus we get this song, which perfectly captures the group of friends out drinking and having a good time.

Things change when Rocket team member Raghu (Jai) moves into the Visalatchi Thottam area with his family. Raghu feels that his world has come to an end, nicely illustrated by some excellent histrionics in the bathroom, and this does indeed seem to be possible given his initial reception by the locals. He’s looked on with suspicion and to add to his woes, his old team are too far away for Raghu to make it to regular practices, meaning he’s left out of their line-up for matches.

Raghu is one of the central characters for the story and Jai is excellent here in his first main role. His initial arrival into the new area is hilarious, and in just a few scenes he imbues Rahgu with plenty of charm and appeal, making his eventual acceptance into the rival team seem more plausible. His resemblance to Vijay is also part of the comedy, but best of all are his scenes with Karthik (Shiva Sundaram) starting from when a fight seems inevitable. Karthik is in love with Selvi (Vijayalakshmi) who is the sister of Karthik’s teammate Pazhani (Nithin Sathya) and therefore, for some obscure reason, off limits. Raghu’s father on the other hand is friendly with Selvi and Pazhani’s father, so inevitably Raghu is often seem chatting to someone who does at least acknowledge his existence. Karthik has some wonderful lovelorn expressions as he sees his rival on the field appear to become his rival in love and the interactions between the two potential adversaries are very well done.

Aravind (Aravind Akash) is also in love with a wealthy girl Swetha (Kristine Zedek) who regularly comes in to the coffee shop where he works. This is a rather more implausible romance, which is made more unlikely by the couple mainly only appearing together in song. These romantic songs also slow down the pace of the film and seem somewhat out of place in an otherwise more realistic and upbeat film.  Aravind is fine in his role as part of the cricket team and amusing as a guy in love but Kristine has very little to do and doesn’t impress in her few moments on screen.

There is a side plot involving Karthik’s brother Guna (Sampath Raj) but mainly the action revolves around the team members, their relationships with each other and their ambition to finally win the Radio Mirchi Cup.  There are no standout heroes, just a regular group of mates and that’s what appeals most about the film. Venkat Prabhu has captured plenty of camaraderie, but included discord and division to spice up the story and the blend is just about perfect. The cricket scenes are nicely placed in the film too – not too many, but enough to keep focus on the team rather than on just the individuals.  The commentary is also excellent (although that just might be my subtitles) and reflects the general standard of cricket commentary the world over!

Chennai 600028 is an excellent début and a good indication of what to expect from Venkat Prabhu as he uses most of the same ingredients (and often the same actors) in his subsequent films such as Saroja, Goa and Mankatha. Mainly Chennai 600028 is a film about people, their lives and their dreams, and only after those details are fully realised is a story superimposed on top.   It works because of the very ordinariness of the characters – these are guys that can be seen on every patch of ground, anywhere it’s possible to set up stumps and standing around on every street in Chennai. That is the charm of the movie. Recommended for excellent performances, witty dialogue and a film that  captures the intensity and ubiquitousness  of street cricket in India.  4 stars.

 

Anjathey

Anjathey is just over 3 hours long, tends to veer occasionally into OTT melodrama and only has 3 songs, but still manages to enthral with some good performances from the cast, excellent camera work and an engrossing storyline. Director Mysskin takes a story about two friends and the wedge that drives them apart, and weaves it through a crime thriller without losing any of the intensity he creates in the opening scenes. Its slick, the pace is relentless but the main characters are still clearly drawn and each has a well-defined role to play in the drama. There is so much that is different about Anjathey that it’s annoying when a few clichés do creep in, and the film does suffer from an overly long climax. But despite these few flaws and a truly terrible wig worn by one of the villains, it’s an impressive film and did inspire me to seek out Mysskin’s other excellent movies.

 

 

 

Anjathey starts with shots of the sky and the characters only appear as brief glimpses from an odd angle while the action builds. It’s a different approach, one of many unusual camera angles used throughout the film, and helps to build the characters of the two men by contrasting the first appearance of Kripa (Ajmal Ameer) with that of his best friend Sathya (Narain) who is shot more conventionally. Although the two are both sons of policemen and live opposite each other in the same colony, the similarities end there. Kripa is dedicated to his dream of becoming a Sub-Inspector in the police force and to that end he trains and studies every day. Sathya on the other hand is a drifter with no real aim in life and is happy to spend his days lazing around drinking with his friends. Sathya’s father is not impressed by his son’s lack of ambition and constantly compares him unfavourably with Kripa, which does nothing to improve their already strained relationship. Finally after a very public dressing down at a temple festival, Sathya decides to prove his father wrong and applies for an SI position at the same time as his friend.

 

 

 

 

The different attitudes and personalities of the two friends are illustrated in the way they tackle the exam and interview; Kripa is tense and eager to excel, while Sathya is laid back and relaxed. He has already arranged for his influential uncle to ensure he gets a place and ultimately he has no real desire to be a police officer, so failure just means his father proves his point once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sathya is accepted as an SI, but Kripa fails the selection process which makes him resentful and bitter. To the dismay of his friends, he turns into a drunken layabout which in this film means a wild hairstyle and a tendency to abuse the local bar staff. Meanwhile Sathya discovers that he likes the deference he gets from the community in his new job and also enjoys the perks, although his early career of brawling hasn’t prepared him for the gruesome reality of life on the force.

 

 

 

 

The rather abrupt turnaround by Kripa is a little unconvincing given his early dedication and generally decent persona, but the gradual change is Sathya is well written and Narain portrays his growing pride in his uniform well. However this is also where those clichés start to appear, and Sathya quickly becomes a one man army capable of overcoming armed gangs of thugs with ease. Even more ridiculous is the ‘one by one’ attacking strategy employed by the gang when a concerted rush would have removed Sathya easily – how come the bad guys never know this? However the small details that show Sathya’s concern for his friend and his determination to become a good police officer go some way towards compensating for the filmi hero antics. The local police aren’t so much corrupt as lazy and their preference for the easy way doesn’t fit well with Sathya’s newly discovered ambition. But Sathya isn’t perfect either and the flaws and shading of his character are more in keeping with the realistic style of the film than his occasional forays into crime fighting superhero.

 

 

 

 

However, where Anjathey really excels is in the depiction of the criminal gang operating a kidnapping ring in Sathya’s area. The gang is strictly small time and there are no mega maniacal big boss scenes or ridiculous schemes to extort money. Daya and Logu, along with a couple of sidekicks, focus on kidnapping young girls who are kept unconscious in sacks before being ransomed back to their families. Their operation is basic but feasible and Prasanna as Daya makes a convincingly creepy villain. Full marks as well for managing to look menacing in that dreadful wig! The interactions between the characters are all very well written to give a sense of the different personalities and their very ordinariness makes their actions all the more chilling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandiarajan starts off well as Daya’s partner in crime Logu, but once the gang are on the run he becomes a whimpering coward and loses some of his credibility. Interestingly one of the other gang members is never shown in any detail and his face is never seen although he does appear frequently and has a major role to play in the gang. It’s one of the strengths of the film that the support cast have well written roles and create an impact even with their short time on-screen. ‘Bomb’ Ramesh who plays Sathya and Kripa’s friend Kuruvi deserves mention for his antics, but the old lady who helps Sathya with an injured man on the street and Vijayalakshmi who plays Kripa sister Uthra are all excellent.

 

 

 

 

Once Kripa is recruited into their organisation it’s obvious that the film is going to end up with a show down between the two friends, but the journey to get there is kept engaging by the police operation to track down the kidnappers. It’s kept reasonably realistic and there are no overly dramatic shoot outs or suicidal rescue attempts to interfere with what becomes a serious police drama. And I do always appreciate a good white-board moment.

The liberal use of free camera does suit the suspense of the police drama, but Mysskin also uses some odd camera angles and unusual shots. One scene is filmed entirely at a few inches about the floor, and it’s rather bewildering until the last few seconds where with one of the character’s actions it suddenly makes sense. Not all of the techniques work however, and occasionally it feels as if the director was trying out a variety of different styles just to see how they would look rather than to create a specific effect. But the cinematography by Mahesh Muthuswami is excellent and there is good use of shadows and unconventional lighting techniques to add atmosphere and tension to the plot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are only three songs in the film and at least two of them seem superfluous. The story isn’t one that needed an item song, or even a romance, although the relationship between Sathya and Uthra is kept very much to the background. However I really like this song featuring the friends’ dancing in the pub and it fits well into the story.

Anjathey is a complex film that  sucessfully combines a number of themes. It’s a story of friendship, a thriller, a crime drama and also throws in a touch of romance. Overall it’s compelling viewing and I recommend it as an entertaining and rather different style of film from Kollywood. 3 ½ stars.

Hanuman Junction

I’m not usually a fan of slapstick comedy in any language, but despite the entire complement of comedy uncles and plenty of farce, I really enjoyed Hanuman Junction. The story is nothing new but it’s entertaining and well told, with some good performances from the main cast. Although not all the comedy works, there is enough that does to make this a funny film and there is plenty of drama and the usual fisticuffs to add in to the mix. It’s actually a remake of the Malayalam film Thenkasipattanam which may be partly why it’s one of the better comedies I’ve seen.

The story follows two young orphans Krishna and Dasu who, along with Dasu’s little sister Devi, enterprisingly set up a business together in Hanuman Junction. However the seeds of a life long feud are sown when their fledgling shop is destroyed on the orders of local boss Devudayya (Jaya Prakash Reddy). On the advice of their mentor, the two decide to fight back and over the next 15 years graduate as fully qualified thugs themselves. By means of their fists and general belligerence they manage to depose Devudayya and rule over Hanuman Junction while running a successful carrier business – JD and Company.

For Krishna (Arjun Sarja) and Dasu (Jagapathi Babu) nothing matters more than the other’s happiness and the two have a fine bromance together which rather disturbingly involves wearing matching outfits a lot of the time. Krishna is the more likeable brother and Arjun has plenty of charm as seen before in Sri Anjaneyam. Jagapathi Babu is fine as Dasu but seems a little more stilted in comparison. His character is also darker than Krishna’s and without that lighter mood he often appears to be little more than a plain thug. They both resort to fighting to resolve every little issue, often appearing to go out looking for confrontations. However the two work together well and show that it’s necessary to keep your buddy with you at all times when fighting – even if you have to get your friend out of a hospital bed and carry him on your back to the fight!

Enter Sathru (Venu Thottempudi), a new manager for KD and Company who has designs on Devi (Vijayalakshmi) and a novel approach to winning her hand. After stalking Devi through her years at college (which we know is a sure sign of true love), Sathru has a plan to civilise the two brothers in the hope that this will impress Devi enough to marry him. Devi seems to have been worn down by Sathru’s perseverance or perhaps it’s just that she hopes his plan to calm her brothers down will actually work since she’s not impressed at all by their rowdy ways. Sathru’s idea involves getting the two brothers married as he thinks that a wife and children will act as soothing influences, or at least not give them any time to go out fighting which is probably more likely. I liked Venu in Gopi Gopika Godavri but his character is a bit more hit and miss here. Sathru is played strictly for laughs and the comedy relies very heavily on him getting slapped around by everyone. From time to time this is mildly amusing but his hapless scheming is much funnier and works better, especially later in the film.

Sathru doesn’t have to work very hard to find a candidate for Krishna’s wife. Meenakshi (Sneha) is Devudayya’s adopted daughter and she has had an understanding with Krishna since they were kids. But while Krishna is happy to let their relationship evolve slowly, not wanting to let her relationship to Devudayya upset Dasu, Meenakshi is keen to get her man and is not averse to taking matters into her own hands. I’m not very sure what a good day of butterfly romancing is, but Meenakshi is determined to have one.

Luckily for Sathru’s plans, the two brothers’ inept handling of a festival results in singer Sangeetha (Laya) being thrown out of her uncle’s house. As Devi decrees that Sangeetha can stay with her until she decides what she wants to do next that gives Dasu a potential bride and Sathru plots to get the two together. But nothing goes to plan as Sangeetha declares her love for Krishna and Dasu mistakenly thinks that Meenakshi has been selected as a suitable wife for him. More great lyrics in this song!

In the middle of all this farce, Davudayya is trying to win back control of Hanuman Junction and destroy the two brothers once and for all.  There are more fight scenes, plenty of melodrama and the comedy of errors becomes more and more convoluted with the only sure thing being that Krishna and Dasu are more devoted to each other than to any of their prospective brides.

It’s all wonderfully silly and there are some genuinely funny moments and good one-liners. Every single possible Telugu comedian seems to have been roped in, but their roles are kept to a minimum which keeps their antics under control. Brahmi is in good form as Sangeetha’s uncle and Kovai Sarala goes totally over the top as her disapproving aunt. Ali, LB Sriram and MS Narayana do their usual thing but in a more restrained manner which makes them reasonably amusing and I didn’t find it necessary to use the FF button at all.  There is one protracted skit involving a comedy cow which overstays its welcome, but otherwise I found most of the confusion between the prospective couples quite funny. The comedy works for me as the underlying story itself is amusing and the slapstick and comedy uncles are just window dressing rather than the main event.

While Arjun and Jagapati Babu have reasonably well-developed roles, the women overall are given much less to do. Meenakshi is the best of the female roles and Sneha makes the most of her irrepressible and mischievous character. Sadly even her role is reduced in the second half of the film but her interactions with Dasu are among the funnier moments. Laya is very restricted in a role that doesn’t require her to do anything other than generally mope around while Devi appears on-screen even less.

The songs don’t stand out in any way, but I do like the choreography and the picturisation which seems to suit the village style of the film. the choreography is credited to Lawrence and Dinesh which perhaps explains the exuberant quality of some of the steps. Suresh Peters apparently reprised the music from his Malayalam soundtrack and apart from some rather odd lyrics the songs fit well into the main narrative. I love the way this song seems to have been filmed with a group of locals who just happened to be standing around with nothing better to do one day so were rounded up for this clip. Plus there is some excellent uncle dancing from Arjun and Jagapathi Babu.

As I‘ve written before, comedy is the hardest genre to understand in a foreign language and I’m sure that I missed a lot of the references here even without the added issue of dodgy  subtitles. But Hanuman Junction is still a funny film and so far tops my list of good Telugu comedies – not that it’s a very long list! I think it’s worth a watch for Arjun and Sneha and for an updated version of the Sholay-style friendship between Krishna and Dasu. You can always FF past all the really stupid slapstick. 3½ stars.

Temple says:

I loathed almost every second of this excruciatingly unfunny and stupid film. I’ve been on quite strong painkillers for a week and I watched this for a second time in the hopes that it would improve under the influence, but no.

The director seems to think that if someone falling over and landing with their head in a bucket once is genius, how hilarious will it be if they do it over and over? And then applies that logic to EVERYTHING. Slapstick can be really funny, and so can running gags, but this film is so heavy handed and witless I just groaned. Normally I’m all for two men in a cow suit, but even that was belaboured and went on and on and on. There was too much repetition and overuse of standard jokes, pratfalls and sight gags, so even the mildly amusing stuff lost its appeal very quickly.

None of the actors impressed me, and I was disappointed to see Jagapathi Babu and Arjun wasted in such unlikeable roles. Krishna and Dasu’s relationship was straight out of the tin labelled ‘generic brand filmi bromances’, and I found it very unengaging.  Arjun as Krishna has almost no personality until very close to the end of the road, and by then I was over it. Jagapathi Babu’s Dasu is an aggressive alcoholic bully with few saving graces, and yet is supposed to be a sympathetic character. His ‘romantic’ dilemmas were not well developed  (‘Oh you love my brother,  so then I pick HER’ is about the sum of his emotional journey), and his reactions seem all out of proportion. The romances are not well developed and none of them convinced me in the slightest that it was genuine attachment and not a sense of entitlement or something,  so I couldn’t care less about the outcome. Although I was pleased to see Sneha in actual clothes (not skanky item apparel) and looking quite pretty for a change. There was little effort placed into writing the story or making any of the characters more than caricatures, so the actors were at a disadvantage from the get go. It’s just a mish mash of brawls and bad jokes, with a big bucket of sentiment thrown in for the climax.

Watch the songs for a bit of colour and movement and avoid the rest. Luckily? the film is on youtube with subs so I didn’t have to buy another DVD that ends up as a drinks coaster or bird scarer. I’d still like those hours of my life back though. I suppose I have to give a rating … 1/2 a star – just for the song picturisations which are mildly diverting.