Arrambam (2013)

poster 1

Arrambam is yet another Southern Indian film to use Mumbai as its backdrop, but really this action thriller could be set anywhere and still have the same impact.  Although there are a few Mumbai landmarks seen, the story is less about the location and more about the motivations behind the lead character’s quest for revenge, so despite Om Prakash’s excellent cinematography the background just isn’t important.  The action takes off immediately from the opening frames and there’s no time to take a breather until well into the second half. It’s fast, furious and best of all lots of fun as Ajith and Arya take on corruption in politics, the police force and basically just about everywhere!  There’s an excellent extended guest appearance from Rana Daggubati and even Nayanthara gets a chance to get in on the action and show off her ruthless side.  On the minus side, the songs aren’t too inspiring and there are a few gaping plot holes, but there is enough going on to make Arrambam an entertaining mass masala flick despite the lack of logic.

ArrambamArrambamArrambamArrambam

The film opens with a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this Mumbai, and Police Inspector Prakash (Kishore) is charged with tracking down this latest terrorist.  The man they are looking for is Ashok Kumar (Ajith), who has an unusual recruitment scheme to enlist the help of computer expert Arjun (Arya).  Also involved in Ashok’s master plan are his sidekicks Maya (Nayanthara) and Mango (Krishna) who assist Ashok with kidnapping Arjun and forcing him to hack into a number of computer networks.

Arrambam

Despite this rather inauspicious beginning, Arya’s character actually adds some light relief to the film, starting with a flashback sequence to explain why Ashok targeted him in the first place.  This features Arya heavily made up and wearing a fat suit as a stereotypical computer nerd at college.  Even with his daunting appearance and apparent flatulence, Arjun is still pretty popular due to his ability to hack into the college computer system and change grades as required for the other students. However when he encounters Anita (Taapsee Pannu) and decides that she is his soul mate, he’s inspired to exercise and loose the flab.

During a rather disconcerting song where a now trim and fit Arjun sprouts blue wings for no apparent reason, he manages to woo the girl and ends up heading to Mumbai for a job interview.  One which doesn’t turn out anything like the way he expected.  Arya still keeps the nerd mentality even though he’s updated his fitness levels and appears suitably geeky throughout while also managing to keep up with the action.  It’s helped by his choice of T-shirts, but he gets the attitude right and his lack of awareness of the world around him is absolutely classic. Taapsee is ditzy and rather shrill as his reporter girlfriend but thankfully she’s not on screen often enough to be too annoying.

ArrambamArrambam

 

 

 

 

 

While Ashok keeps telling his various victims to ‘keep it simple’, he himself makes things incredibly complicated by kidnapping Arjun and using threats against Anita to force Arjun’s compliance.  The first half keeps the thrills coming as Arjun attempts to escape and inform Inspector Prakash about Ashok and his criminal activities while trying not to endanger his girlfriend.

But of course that’s only part of the story and the second half involves a long flashback where Ashok’s motives are explained and suddenly the tables are turned.  The fast pace of the first half isn’t maintained and the film slows down considerably in the second, but there are still some good action sequences including a shoot-out sequence with Ashok’s old partner Sanjay (Rana Daggubati) and a high speed boat chase in Dubai.

Arrambam

Ajith is in his element here and writer/director Vishnu Vardhan has kept Ashok’s character deliberately ambivalent while making sure he has plenty of charisma and charm.  Ashok punctuates the end of his sentences by putting on his sunnies (which at least lets you know the conversation is over), and he is always über cool and classy despite his terrorist activities.  The relationship between Ajith and Arya also works well although the sequences with Rana and Ajith stand out as some of the best in the film.  The camaraderie between the two actors feels very genuine and it’s easy to believe that they are long term friends and partners with their teasing banter and rapport during police operations.

ArrambamArrambam

While Taapsee really is the drama queen the corrupt Home Minister Rane (Mahesh Manjrekar) describes, many of the other female roles have a strong presence.  Nayanthara gets to threaten, bluster and fight in many of her scenes and does an excellent job, keeping her fight sequences realistic and looking suitably athletic to carry it all off, while Suman Ranganathan is also very good in her small role.  I’m always happy to see Atul Kulkarni pop up although his role as the chief of police doesn’t really give him much scope here, and the rest of the supporting cast are equally kept mainly in the background.  Although I like Yuvan Shankar Raja’s soundtrack, the songs don’t work well in the film mainly because they disrupt the flow of the story. The item song featuring Akshara Gowda is particularly painful and seems completely pointless since it really doesn’t suit her character of the home minister’s daughter at all.  I don’t think that such a fast paced action thriller needs any songs other than the background score but at least the Holi song had more energy and made a little more sense in the context of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Arrambam.  It’s fast paced, slick and stylish with plenty of action and I loved that one of the female characters was involved in the mayhem too. You go girl! The excitement and tension of the first half isn’t sustained through the second, but with Rana added in to the mix the action is still full on. Worth watching for Ajith and Arya as long as you can ignore the lack of logic and just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Ajith boat

Panjaa

Panjaa’s opening titles are in bold graphic novel style with a 3D effect. Eye catching and intriguing, the confident visuals match a slick modern underworld thriller where characters are not always what they seem and life is lived in shades of grey.

There is nothing really new in the conflict at the heart of the plot, but Vishnuvardhan has tweaked things just a little and saves the film from being too familiar. I saw this in the cinema, without subtitles, when it released. While the basic plot and motivations were clear, I enjoyed seeing it again on a subtitled DVD as some of the characters’ thought processes were more accessible.

Most of the film looks to have been shot on location and it adds a note of authenticity in terms of the buildings, the lighting and the sense of place. I particularly liked the ornate architecture of Kolkata, as well as the lush green of the countryside. The colour palette is subdued and the style is pared back and modern. There is nary a plaid shirt in sight!

Jai (Pawan Kalyan) is the enforcer for Bhagawan (Jackie Shroff). He is a shadowy figure, always a step ahead and coolly efficient in his execution. Jai has a strong moral sense and acts according to his own notion of right and honour. He serves Bhagawan because when his mother and sister were assaulted, Bhagawan gave him justice and a refuge. But when Bhagawan’s son Munna returns from overseas, it is clear that Munna is not the kind of man Jai could tolerate, let alone support. Things escalate as Munna takes full advantage of being his father’s son.  Jai struggles between loyalty and his own code, and the need for more in his life.

Jai also struggles with the ladies. The one he wants makes him shy and tongue tied. The one that wants him is very assertive but he isn’t interested. I’m not convinced Janvi (Anjali Lavania) was necessary to the story, but it was nice to see the bad girl get to talk and think for herself. Unfortunately she ran into the brutal Munna on a bad day so it was shortlived. I like a good skanky item and this is certainly skanky.

Pawan Kalyan is a hero but Jai is almost an anti-hero. He is moral by his own lights but he is a professional killer. He is nice enough but not a good guy as such. He isn’t a dashing romantic hero although women fancy him and he doesn’t really win anything other than his own life. The final scene is ambiguous enough that it could be a vision of the future or a memory of the past so it’s not a resoundingly happy ending. Pawan Kalyan is very good as Jai. He draws the eye in all his scenes, using stillness and silence more than histrionics. His acting range easily spans Jai’s story from laid back comedy to high tension drama.

The casting is excellent. Having said that, I really do not understand the recent fad for Jackie Shroff in South Indian films. He doesn’t bring anything unique to the kind of roles he is playing, but he is adequate as Bhagawan. Munna (Adivi Sesh) is Bhagawan’s son, an overly entitled sadistic nutter. His performance is over the top but Munna needed to be hateful and I was certainly sick of the sight of him! Atul Kulkarni is excellent as rival crook Kulkarni. He conveys an intensity and intelligence that made Kulkarni seem plausible as a successful ‘businessman’. The relationship between Bhagawan, Kulkarni and Jai is revealed over time and the reactions and decisions of the main characters are consistent with what we know about them. The second tier of gangsters is represented by Tanikella Bharani as the slippery Guruvaiah and Sampath Raj as Kulkarni’s right hand, Sampath along with Amit Kumar and others in support. The interactions are well written and fairly restrained so it is possible to believe these guys can function in the real world. There are glimpses of family and other concerns that build a picture of this slice of the underworld.

Sarah-Jane Dias is Sandhya, a tree hugging good girl who turns up to work in Jai’s nursery. Yes. Jai is a complex man and has diversified his investments into a plant nursery he runs with Chotu (Ali). Jai is drawn to Sandhya and she likes him. Their relationship starts with superficial attraction and develops through time and proximity. She has a bit more going on in her life than just waiting for Jai, but she is primarily the love interest. I liked their scenes more on the second viewing as the dialogues helped show her character as smarter than her prancing around in gumboots lead me to think (although I appreciated the work appropriate clothing). Just as things looked promising, Sandhya returns home suddenly to see her sick grandmother.

The timing coincides with Jai’s need to get out of town. The rural setting puts him back in touch with his childhood self. He is looking for love and a home, the things he lost when his family was torn apart. But his past is a threat to himself and anyone close to him so he needs to resolve that while still keeping the promises he made.

The country sojourn introduces more of the excellent support cast including Subbaraju as Sandhya’s brother Ashok and Brahmanandam in amusing form as an inept local cop. I loved that this song is essentially a tirade against the greedy and cowardly policeman Paparayudu, accompanied by uninhibited dancing and some jiggly-bellied tiger men.

Ashok is a protective brother, henpecked yet determined to remain a bachelor, and no match for the smooth townie Jai or for local rowdies. He is frantic when Sandya comes home unannounced as he knows troubles from the past will be stirred up again and he wants to keep her safe.

Subbaraju gets to show off a bit more of his acting range than normal, and when he isn’t beating up baddies he has some fun scenes with the women of the household. Ashok and the rest of the family are vivid characters and very much part of Sandhya’s life.  Back in town, Chotu (Ali) was in trouble and believe it or not, I was sad to see his predicament. Despite these being small roles, the details are nicely drawn and the actors all deliver good performances. That kind of attention and care makes Panjaa quite satisfying viewing.

The comedy is not too intrusive. Pawan Kalyan doesn’t mind playing for laughs and I really enjoyed the Mega Tribute as Jai was persuaded to pose with cut-outs for a photo. Brahmi and Ali are in character roles and their shtick is part of the story so it stays on track. The fight scenes orchestrated by Shyam Kaushal are brutal but not too bloody, and highlight Pawan Kalyan’s strengths. The editing and composition of the action sequences is top notch. Everything flows quite well and there is a consistent look and feel to the whole film.

There are some flaws. The romance between Jai and Sandhya is a bit laboured and she does far too much marvelling at blades of grass and cooing at flowers. The first half takes a while to go anywhere. ‘Paparayadu’ excepted, Pawan Kalyan looked a bit lacklustre in the dancing but the choreography wasn’t that exciting either. The soundtrack by Yuvan Shankar Raja is average and the song picturisations are quite predictable but don’t detract from the film. Overall, the positives greatly outweigh these niggles.

Panjaa is a well made thriller with good performances and a cohesive story. It’s not dazzling or wildly original, but I never found it dull. It’s a quality effort and well worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. 3 ½ stars!