Massu Engira Masilamani (Masss)

Masss

Venkat Prabhu is a man of many ideas – usually very good ideas – which have resulted in a number of successful films. However for his latest release Masss, he tries to cram as many ideas as possible into the first 20 minutes, and then continues to throw in yet more new ideas throughout the rest of the film. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not all of his ideas work and it’s even difficult to decide if they work or not because the film has already moved on to the next idea! As a result the confusion of the opening scenes feels like trying to cram a year’s work into 10 minutes before the start of an exam. Situations and characters flash by without a chance to work out who is who, what they are doing and how they fit into the story, and if I did have to answer questions on what was going on, I would fail miserably! However it does get better. Suriya is amazing, and his presence holds the film together even through the odd and even more oddly placed songs. The story starts to make sense and the pace slows down to manageable levels with enough comedy and action mixed in to make Masss well worth a watch and much better than the opening sequences would suggest.

Suriya plays Masilamani aka Mass, a con-man and thief who works with his best buddy Jet (Premgi) on a number of overly complicated heists that involve as much theatricality as they do actual thievery. But they make a mistake when they decide to rob a local don who takes exception to their activities. Mass and Jet only just manage to escape, but in doing so they have a serious car crash which has more implications than they first realise.

I had no idea about the story behind Masss and I think it works better when the events that occur are completely unexpected, so I will leave the details of the story there. Up to this point Suriya works his lovable rogue persona well and Premgi is relatively low-key as his best friend. After the first twist (one of many), Premgi takes more of a back seat in the proceedings which is an advantage to the storyline since he doesn’t quite have the acting chops required for such a major role, although his comedy does work well. Suriya takes centre stage and drives the story forwards with an excellent performance and plenty of charisma. There is a double role too, which is perhaps a little clichéd but still works within the format of the story. Plus double Suriya is always a benefit in my opinion (as long as they are not conjoined twins!).

Nayantara pops up as Malini, a love interest for Masss, but she has very little to do and doesn’t even manage a duet with the hero, so her role could have been skipped without too much trouble. She does look beautiful though, if perhaps a little unconvincing as a nurse, but has surprisingly little chemistry with Suriya. However I’m going to mark that down as not having any real opportunity to develop any sparkage due to the briefness of their time spent together rather than any real problem with Nayantara. Vidyullekha Raman makes an appearance as Malini’s friend and actually makes more of an impact than Nayantara, although sadly she too quickly drops out of the story. However they both fare better than Pranitha who appears totally mis-cast, or at least inappropriately dressed with terrible make-up, for her role as flash-back Suriya’s wife.

The film has a huge cast list and there are a large number of good actors who appear as assorted villains or who are part of a group who help Mass later in the film. Brahmi has a brief role as a corrupt doctor in Malini’s hospital, while Samuthirakani has probably the best realised villain role, although even he only appears occasionally. Parthiban manages a little more screen-time as a police officer on the trail of Mass and has some good one-liners while Karunas, Riyaz Khan and many others provide excellent back-up for Suriya. It seems a long time since I’ve seen Rajendran and it’s great to see him here in a small role as a member of the gang helping Mass even if again he only appears briefly.

The second half follows a more linear storyline, even with the flashback portion and the film settles down to an easier pace. What surprises me is that the film received a U certificate given that there is some fairly extreme violence and at times the film is quite frightening for a young audience, although the kids in Melbourne seem to be made of fairly tough stuff and seemed to take it all in their stride.

Masss is a little overlong and the at times it seems that Venkat Prabhu got a little too carried away with his special effect team. There are times when less really is better and there are a few moments here where more restraint would have had a greater effect. In addition, the songs don’t really fit, apart from one during the flash-back sequence and there are perhaps a few too many nods to other films in the screenplay giving the film a more derivative feel than I think it really deserves. However Suriya is excellent and the background score from Yuvan Shankar Raja makes up for any lack in the dance numbers. This is a film to watch for Suriya, the excellent support cast and for Venkat Prabhu’s occasional flashes of brilliance which occur just often enough to give Masss sufficient unexpected twists to entertain.

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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.

 

Govindudu Andarivadele

Govindudu Andarivadele

Soaring melodrama, fantastically colourful sets and Prakash Raj are the stand-outs from GAV. Add in Charan, who has definitely improved on his emoting, and you have the bones of Krishna Vamshi’s family drama that mostly delivers what it promises. There are plenty of emotional scenes as Abhiram (Charan) attempts to reunite his family in England with the rest of his estranged relations in India, and of course there’s some local trouble and a romance thrown in for good measure. While most of the film seemed to live up to Krishna Vamshi’s preoccupation with family values, there are a few scenes here that seem to be a hold-over from a less pc era, and stand out as glaringly sexist and just plain wrong. However the rest of the film is entertaining enough despite a storyline so overused that the lack of subtitles was really never an issue!

The story opens with a déjà vu from K3G as Abhiram demonstrates just how well he can play rugby when the opposing team fail to follow the rules of the game and actually attempt to tackle. Real rugby players end up covered in mud and crushed under a few tons of Welsh full-back in my experience, but apparently not in Vamshi’s world. Abhiram lives in a very nice pad in London with his father Chandrasekhar (Rehman) and his little sister whose name I didn’t catch. Unfortunately Chandrasekhar misses out on an appointment to be Dean of Medicine at a London University and interprets this as karma due to an old rift from his own father.  No academic politics in Vamshi’s world either then, I presume!

Overnight Abhiram decides that he will be the one to make all right for his father, and heads off to India to do what he can to bring the families back together. Sadly though, he doesn’t take time to remove his rather odd pony-tail which I can only assume must have been an attempt to look ultra-hip and cool – London-ishtyle. Not my favourite look for Charan, but it did grow on me as the movie went on.

GAV - Charan

Things definitely look up once Abhiram makes it to India, does all the usual touristy things, and then heads off to his grandfather’s village. Following the standard family reconciliation template, Abhiram makes contact with the rest of his family anonymously by pretending to be a visiting agricultural student who wants to learn from family patriarch Balaraju (Prakash Raj). Balaraju runs his family and the village with a benevolent but very traditional hand while stopping his brother (Kota Srinivasa Rao) from clearing and developing the area. Living in the wonderfully pink and majorly over-decorated mansion is also Chandrasekhar’s wastrel brother Bangari (Srikanth): a man with an unfortunate propensity for mesh singlets and garish shirts. Oh, and he drinks, gambles and tries to kidnap and rape his potential bride, Chitra (Kamalinee Mukherjee). This is one of those scenes that really should never have made it in to a film in this day and age, and it does feel completely anachronistic with the rest of the story. Equally disturbing is Abhiram’s use of some photographs he has taken of his cousin Satya (Kajal Agarwal) dancing in Western clothes as a way to blackmail her. This is straight out bullying and sexual abuse, and I find it hard to believe this got past the censors in an otherwise ‘family-friendly’ film. Thankfully Satya does manage to effectively deal with Abhiram’s harassment, but it makes their subsequent romance initially less believable and Abhiram appear as a bit of a prat.

The rest of the film is much better, and that’s mainly due to excellent performances from Prakash Raj and Charan. Prakash Raj is perfect as Balaraju and he knows exactly how to play the strict but compassionate head of a large family. He never puts a foot wrong and wrings every possible drop of emotion out of his time on screen. He even manages to make stick fighting and motorbike riding emotional events, as he unknowingly bonds with his grandson. Jayasudha is just as good as Abhiram’s grandmother, and again she manages to take her overly emotional scenes and tame them down to something more realistic and believable.

Charan gets a chance to show that he can play more than just an action hero and he definitely rises to the challenge. His Abhiram has more shading than other characters I’ve seen Charan play, and he conveys plenty of emotion and feeling in his speeches, even though I couldn’t understand a word! Despite the initially rocky start, there is plenty of chemistry and some major sparkage in the romance between Abhiram and Satya. Charan is one of the few actors that interacts well with Kajal in this respect and their romance really does light up the screen. Charan does manage to stick close to his real love though, as seen in this song mainly set in and around Petra. I wonder if it’s written into every contract that he must get at least one scene with horses? Kajal gets rather short-changed in the choreography here, although Charan doesn’t actually get to dance much either and sadly most of the songs have more emoting than dancing.

The rest of the cast are all capable and fit well into their roles. Rao Ramesh, Posani Krishna Murali and Adarsh Balakrishna are part of Kota Srinivasa Rao’s opposing family but never feel terribly menacing. Adarsh’s character is mainly just very shouty and aggressive, and the various fight scenes, which appear to have been structured around rugby tactics, aren’t up to Peter Hein’s usual high standard. The film looks gorgeous though. The pink palace is amazing – Satya has a stunning peacock painting on her wall, and most of the other rooms are similarly adorned with fantastical artwork and gorgeous furniture. I would live there!

GAV - the pink palace

The emotional quotient does head into overload at times and the ending is particularly excessive, but that doesn’t really seem to matter since the whole point of the story is overblown sentiment. As a straightforward family drama GAV works well enough despite the cliché-ridden storyline and the strong performances help push it over the line. Well worth watching for Prakash Raj and Charan, particularly when you can marvel at the wonders of the pink palace as a bonus.