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.

 

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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.

Arrambam (2013)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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