Apr 19 2017

Most Wanted

Published by under Books

most-wanted

After the success of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, there were several authors who adopted a similar style to tell their stories. So I read a string of books(The Woman in Cabin 10, The Widow, In a Dark, Dark Wood, etc.) with shifting timelines and/or multiple narrators and I was actually looking for a novel that told its story using a simple, uncomplicated narrative. Lisa Scottoline’s Most Wanted satisfies that criterion. The story takes off from an intriguing plot point that raises lots of questions but takes an easy way out when the time comes to answering those questions.

The story starts with Christine Nilsson quitting her job as teacher since she is pregnant. She is delirious with joy and her state of mind is expressed well. We soon learn that she used a sperm donor to get pregnant and the novel also does a nice job of illustrating the tension between her and her husband Marcus over this. Their conversations whenever the topic rears its head feel real since both their points of view are put forward without the author taking any sides.

When Christine sees a serial killer being arrested on the news, she is convinced that he is her sperm donor. But she has no direct way to confirm this since the sperm bank doesn’t reveal any information about the donor. The novel maintains the suspense well as she tries to confirm her suspicions on her own by meeting him. The story also raises questions about what effect the dad’s character will have on the baby. Here again Christine and Marcus have different points of view and Christine’s internal struggle about her choices is explained well. Characters like her best friend and a lawyer(Marcus wants to sue the sperm bank to find the donor’s identity) are used well to bounce off opinions and explain different parts of the process.

But after raising such interesting questions, the novel takes an easy way out. As Christine’s investigation into the donor’s guilt proceeds, the drama turns into a regular thriller. The pace is maintained as she gets closer to the truth and the main surprise is quite good. Familiar thriller elements like a foot chase are used to wrap things up but they don’t drag on for too long.

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Apr 18 2017

Kadamban

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

kadamban

Kadamban falls in the same category as films like Kaththi. It addresses an important, topical issue and builds a hero-centric story around it. The issue here is deforestation and though the film itself is simplistic, hero Arya’s lower star wattage allows it to be more focused while the issue itself leads to a unique setting and good action sequences.

Arya plays the eponymous hero, one among the tribe of people living in Kadambavanam in the hills. The overhead shots giving us a bird’s-eye view of the lush green hills are gorgeous and the film doesn’t spend a lot of time in introducing us to the key characters. There’s Rathi(Catherine Tresa, who somehow manages to fit in better here than she did in Madras) who pursues Kadamban for a short but uninteresting romantic track(even a situation that seems to be building up to something similar to the murungakkai scenes in Mundhanai Mudichu ends in comedy). There’s Rathi’s brother who harbors animosity towards Kadamban. And for some comedy, there’s a man(Murugadoss) who can’t stop making babies.

When a woman worries about impending bad luck after hearing birds shrieking atop the mountains, the scene immediately shifts to a businessman(Deepraj Rana) and his brother deciding to drive the tribals out to lay their hands illegally on the limestone deposits under the ground. The plans they lay to move the villagers to the base of the hill are reasonable but they go on for too long especially since the results of the plans are known. They would’ve probably also worked better with some suspense(for instance, the loyalties of a couple of characters could’ve been revealed later).

Eventually it falls upon Kadamban to save the day (Arya has worked on his physique and it helps in making the action sequences convincing. His diction has also improved and as a result, his short monologues against deforestation sound heartfelt and spirited). The scenes where the tribals are attacked are staged well with the chaos captured accurately. Some thought has also gone into the climactic fight as the tribals use a number of crude, hand-made weapons against the bad guys (actually all the action sequences are staged well. The introduction scene that sees Kadamban leap off a cliff to collect honey from hives under some outcroppings and a fight sequence in the forest between him and a couple of poachers are also impressive).

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Apr 13 2017

Kavan

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

kavan

For Vijay Sethupathi, easily the busiest hero in Tamil cinema today, Kavan can kind of be considered a step up into the big leagues. He has so far been working on smaller films with newer directors while Kavan is helmed by K.V.Anand, who has made big-budget entertainers with stars like Suriya and Dhanush. But the film, a political thriller that also delves into the world of cable television, doesn’t do the actor much good.

Tilak(Vijay Sethupathi) joins Zen1, a television channel as a reporter (the actor looks his usual scruffy self initially but cleans up nicely later when he needs to be on camera to host a talk show). A riot he films on his phone outside the building catches the eye of the news editor Pillai(Pandiarajan) but also quickly teaches him how things work at the channel. He also finds out that Malar(Madonna Sebastian), who dumped him in college, already works at Zen1. This past precludes a romantic track between them with her attitude towards him changing gradually as they work together.

As long as Tilak, Malar and others are at Zen1, the film focuses on the goings-on at the channel. This is supposed to be an expose on what goes on behind the scenes in television channel companies but with the managing director Kalyan(Akashdeep Saigal) and manager Bhavana drawn as complete caricatures, the proceedings are over-the-top and unrealistic. A short look at the different areas of the company is interesting but once the film starts showing us how things are manipulated in a reality dance show, subtlety goes out the window. Some of the off-camera dealings in the backrooms are acceptable but when Bhavana relays instructions to the judges and slaps a kid on one of the teams to make him cry(he is asked to show emotions on losing but insists on smiling), the film begins to resemble a spoof rather than a satire.

K.V.Anand tries to make things realistic by throwing real-world names like Gopinath and editor Antony into the dialogs. His usual self-deprecating scene comes when Bhavana receives a phone call from him as he angles for an award. But these are familiar tricks from him. The only new thing he does is that way he plays with our expectations in leading to the intermission and that works well.

The over-the-top portrayal doesn’t stop with the channel execs and extends to the politician Dheeran Maniarasu(Bose Venkat) also. He chugs liquor in his car, talks crassly, beats up reporters and shows up at a place where a fake death is being planned just so he can incriminate himself. A pesticide factory he is associated with has polluted a lake and destroyed the lives of people in the surrounding villages. But its difficult to take things seriously when even these scenes are sprinkled with jokes(to be far, the Manirathnam-Bala comment is very funny).

Kalpana, a woman who led protests against the factory, is raped and the blame laid on her friend Abdul(Vikranth). While Zen1 cozies up to Maniarasu, Tilak and Malar walk out and join Muthamizh TV, run by Mayilvaganan(T.Rajendar). Rajendar is his usual over the top self, talking in rhymes when he is throwing punch dialogs and struggling to sound sincere when he serious. The climactic portions are chaotic with secret cameras, hidden mikes and elaborate schemes that miraculously work. There is a small surprise about one of the employees in Muthamizh TV but none of the other supposed twists come as surprises.

6 responses so far

Apr 12 2017

An Early Role

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

marimuthu

Actor Marimuthu has been pretty busy recently with good roles in films like Yaman and Kodi. He has become a solid, dependable character actor and is a quiet actor with a unique voice and dialog delivery.

I was watching Vaali recently. In the clip below, where Vivek walks into the camera shop to get a picture of Sona, the actor who walks inside (after Vivek says he wants a passport photo) is Marimuthu, isn’t it? The actor’s Wikipedia page doesn’t list his early acting credits but it does mention that he worked as an assistant to S.J.Surya. So I’m guessing the director gave him a walk-on role in his debut film.

2 responses so far

Apr 10 2017

Kaatru Veliyidai

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

kaatru-veliyidai

In Raavanan and then even more in Kadal, we saw a clear change in Manirathnam’s films. Straightforward stories were replaced more with universal themes, characters became more complex, having been painted in darker shades of gray and the romances became heavier. But those films didn’t bring him much BO success and with OK Kanmani, he went back to basics and gave us a simple, cute love story with almost no drama. In Kaatru Veliyidai, he tries to do both. The film is essentially a love story but the characters are more complex and the romance is set against the backdrop of  war. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked very well.

The romance is between Varun(Karthi), an Indian Air Force pilot and Leela(Aditi Rao Hydari), a doctor (the setting is Srinagar, allowing for some gorgeously breathtaking visuals throughout the movie). That the romance isn’t going to be  traditional is evident right from the start. When Leela first sees Varun, he is in a jeep with his girlfriend. The next time she sees him is when he is wheeled into the hospital badly injured and she attends to him. And its only later that he sees her (this is more interestingly shown. As she shines a light into his eye, we see her reflection inside his eye).

The film begin with Varun in a Pakistani jail. But the sequences in Pakistan add nothing to the story. The segments serves little purpose other than allowing Varun to reminisce about Leela and convince us about the depth of his love. The first scene shows a bloodied Varun talk about solitary confinement and torture but that’s it. After that he spends time in the yard talking to his fellow prisoners and even enjoying the rain. The subsequent escape scenes are amateurish and feel rushed with no sense of suspense or tension.

Right from Karthik in Mouna Raagam, Manirathnam’s romantic heroes have been charming and cute. Its not just the heroine who likes him but the audience too. But Varun here breaks the trend. Sure, he has his sweet moments(one is the the catchy Azhagiye… number). But he is also aggressive and chauvinistic and this side of him shows up several times when he is with Leela. There are instances where he talks about beating her if she doesn’t listen to him, rudely shuts her up when she tries to smooth things between him and his father, physically hurts her by twisting her arm, proudly brags to his friends about making her toe his line(even they seem uncomfortable hearing this) and backs out of the relationship with vague excuses at a key point. We get a few hints about why he has turned out this way but that doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t traditional romantic leading man material. Leela isn’t as radically different as Varun but it isn’t that easy to understand her either. She isn’t a complete doormat as she stands up to Varun and tells him what she doesn’t like about him. At the same time, she finds herself drawn to him and isn’t able to walk away from him.

Varun and Leela are a mismatched couple. We know this and they know this. So the film’s job is to make us believe that they should be together. It doesn’t do this too well. There is a scene where Nidhi(Rukmini), another doctor, tells Ilyaz(RJBalaji, looking very uncomfortable in a semi-serious role) that it is ‘love’. But we need more convincing than that which the film doesn’t do.

This is because the character-driven romance isn’t allowed to breathe. Seen separately, the scenes with Varun and Leela work well because the way they behave is so different from what we are used to, both in romances in general and Manirathnam’s movies in particular(situations that would normally be cute and playful in earlier Manirathnam films, like the scene where he barges into her house and talks to her while her parents are there, become serious drama here). So there are a lot of emotions and drama every time they meet. But seen as a whole, the relationship never grows. It doesn’t take a lot of time for them to fall in love and after this, we simply get a series of scenes where Varun behaves loutishly, Leela puts her foot down and Varun apologizes. We learn tidbits about both of them to fill in some blanks in their past but in the present, their relationship is stagnant and so their interactions gets repetitive very soon.

But the biggest factor that drags the movie down is Karthi’s performance. Maybe its all the movies where he has played the mischievous hero with his trademark sly look and smile but he is unable to express the passion this romance needs. His expressions look strained whenever he tries to show intensity and so the scenes where he professes his love or apologizes just don’t work(the numerous close-ups don’t help either). His performance further suffers in comparison to Aditi’s. She is fantastic, exhibiting the perfect mix of strength, vulnerability and confusion that her character needs.

10 responses so far

Apr 03 2017

Yaman

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

yaman

With Pichaikkaaran‘s surprise success, Vijay Antony became a bonafide star, a fact that is evidenced by the buzz around his new films. Following the film’s success, the music director-turned-actor seems to be following a simple formula for his films. They have a short, catchy title(his last 3 films were Pichaikkaaran, Saithaan and now Yaman and his next has been titled Kaali) and a twisty story that incorporates a soft, clean romance and mild humor. And Vijay Antony himself plays a character that has a few shades of gray. Yaman is a political drama but sticks to the same formula.

Yaman plays out like a rags-to-riches story in the political arena as its captures a man’s rise in politics. Thamizharasan(Vijay Antony), looking for money to pay for his grandfather’s surgery, agrees to go to jail in place of the real driver in a car accident. The jail stint pushes him into the political path as he comes between Manimaran(Marimuthu) and Selvam(Jayakumar) and through them meets Karunakaran(Thiagarajan), an ex-MLA who nurtures ambitions of becoming an MLA again. There are enough twists and double-crosses to keep things interesting as many of these characters have scores to settle with each other. So it all comes down to who gets to who first.

But Thamizharasan’s real enemy is Thangapandi, a minister. There is a history between the two of them but the interesting aspect of it is that Thamizharasan doesn’t know about it. So we know the reason behind Thangapandi’s shock on seeing Thamizharasan but Thamizharasan himself is oblivious to it. This makes the battle between them a little different with Thangapandi having the upper hand as Thamizharasan trusts him. That being said, the culmination of this aspect of their enmity isn’t very satisfactory. It doesn’t provide suitable closure to the weight of the secret that Thamizharasan was unaware of.

Thamizharasan is definitely a mass hero even if a rather soft-spoken one. He has a number slo-mo shots and no one lays a hand on him in the fight sequences. But as he gets deeper into politics, he displays a hard side that goes against the clean image that our mass heroes posses. Most of the people he goes up against are bad and his acts feel justified but the way Thamizharasan manipulates the minister’s PA(Charlie) to get what he wants shows a side of him that isn’t completely good or ethical.

A few more instances of this kind of behavior would’ve justified the title and made the character – an the film itself – more interesting, especially towards the end. It would’ve definitely added spice to the bland romance between Thamizharasan and Anjana(Mia George), an actress. I was kinda hoping that at least some of his interest in the romance would be due to the help her stardom would provide to his political aspirations but that never comes up. So the romance exists as always to pave the way for a couple of duets though the director has made an effort to make it a bit relevant by adding a small link between her and Thangapandi.

11 responses so far

Mar 30 2017

Kadugu

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

Director Vijay Milton started off strong with Goli Soda, where he showed us that a strong script and interesting characters can easily overcome a movie’s lack of star power to create a rousing experience. But he forgot all that as the lure of a big star vehicle and a big budget led him to make the terrible 10 Endrathukulla. Thankfully he has learned the lesson well and with Kadugu, makes a confident return to the kind of movie Goli Soda was – an intimate, character-driven film with solid characters and an interesting storyline.

‘Puli’ Pandi(Rajakumaran), a puli vesham artist, does odd jobs for the inspector(Venkatesh) at the police station. Pandi is so good that it feels like he was transplanted from a Vikraman movie. He gets an awkward introduction with a dialog designed to showcase his good heart(he will not do something bad even when no one’s looking) but he does grow on us as he does some good deeds in secret(it is never clear though where he gets the money to give away 50 Rupees or buy a brand new pair of Bata sneakers). Rajakumaran, Devayani’s husband and the butt of numerous jokes when his Thirumathi Thamizh stills were released, is a surprising choice for the role but it works.

Nambi(Bharath, finally finding a good role) is introduced as another do-gooder. But unlike Pandi, he is painted with shades of gray as the film progresses. Some of his actions come as good surprises and drive the story forward but though the motivations behind his changes are strong, the transformations themselves feel a little too quick and abrupt.

The film proceeds with a light tone initially and is peppered with funny lines from many different characters(an example is Nambi’s grandma with her focus on everyone being fed. She gets a strong punchline at the end too). The comedy with Pandi’s facebook friendship with Evi(Radhika Prasidhha, again playing a teacher) gets a bit loud but it doesn’t go on for too long and gives the opportunity for an in-joke about Rajakumaran. Anirudh(Bharath Seeni), another helper at the police station(his backstory is funnier than Pandi’s), also gets a few laughs with his one-sided love for Maga(Subiksha). There are some sharp social observations too(like how social media has made everyone find their voice, valid or not), mostly from Pandi, but they don’t destroy the film’s tone.

The way Anirudh’s efforts to impress Maga go wrong with Nambi benefiting from them are natural and it initially looks like a way of setting up the movie’s real romance. But we actually get hints about Nambi’s character from these incidents, which gradually leads to the film’s main conflict. The suffering of the girl caught in the middle of it is captured well and the way the different characters react to the incident drives the rest of the film as some of them try to protect her, some run away and others take things into their own hands. Eventually Pandi’s goodness drives his actions and makes us root for him in the slightly over-the-top but still rousing climactic fight.

4 responses so far

Mar 27 2017

Ennodu Vilaiyadu

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

ennodu-vilaiyadu

Ennodu Vilaiyadu has the very unique backdrop of horse racing. The sport has a reputation of being addictive and destroying families as huge amounts of money are gambled away on the races but the film doesn’t deal with that aspect of it except for a couple of warning lines at the end. Instead it uses it as the launchpad for a thriller.

We get an interesting look at the sport as we see Vikram(Bharath) keep tabs on Sharma(Yog Japee), the owner of one of the horses. We learn about both the legal and illegal aspects of it as we see the things that factor into a person’s pick of the horse(a character mentions that this is the only reason the sport is still legal) as well as the backroom dealings that go on to fix the races. And those shots of the horses dashing out of the gates and kicking up dust as they race towards the finishing line are always fun to watch.

In parallel, we also meet Sridhar(Kadhir) who has moved from Trichy to start a new job. With two young heroes, it comes as no surprise there are two romantic tracks. Vikram falls in love with Minnie(Chandini) while Sridhar rooms with Inba(Sanchita Shetty), his sister’s friend, and eventually develops feelings for her. Both the romances are unimaginative and have the flimsiest of links to the main story. Inba needs money to get back her house and Sridhar decides to help her while Minnie’s wedding to Vikram is threatened(this is brought about in a laughably contrived manner) by his huge credit card debts.

Its a little disappointing that a lot of the action happens away from the racing field but things are still closely connected to what happens there. Once the story gets going after the unnecessary romances, the focus shifts to a bag of money. The screenplay is developed interestingly as it ends up with one character who is unaware of it while there are multiple people looking for it. Some contrivances aside, these portions are interesting. A couple of fights damage the realistic feel the movie maintained until then but the multiple tracks are resolved satisfactorily through a climax that fittingly revolves around a horse race.

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Mar 23 2017

Welcome Back!

Published by under Tamil Cinema

arvind-swamy   jyothika-36v
 

Tamil cinema is pretty unforgiving when it comes to giving second chances to our heroes. There have been many actors who have bounced back after after almost being written off after a string of flops but they typically had a strong fan base that never lost faith in them and so they never really went out of the limelight. But once an actor loses his standing as a hero, fades away from public memory, it has been near impossible for him to make a substantial comeback and play the central character again.

This non-happening of second chances is not for lack of trying. Mohan, who ruled the roost in the 80s, tried to play the hero again after a long gap in Anbulla Kaadhalukku but it was a disaster. More recently there was some buzz around actors like Ramki(Biriyani) and Karthik(Anegan) coming back to films but they turned out to be one-off attempts with no talk since then about them acting in any more films. The only way for heroes to continue acting is to take on character roles as actors like Prabhu and Sathyaraj have done. They have graduated to playing elder character roles but the roles they are taking up have become progressively worse(Sathyaraj’s role in Motta Shiva Ketta Shiva is a recent, sad example) and their presence no longer adds any buzz or hype to the movie.

The fate of our heroines isn’t that different. Most of them have a much shorter shelf life compared to the heroes and after a brief hiatus they come back in character roles that are significantly elder to the same heroes they paired with just a few years back. From there its a short step to TV in the form of either serials or talk shows(earlier there used to be an intermediate step of acting in devotional movies but those aren’t being made these days) where they get to play the lead.

We’ve seen many actresses from earlier eras like Radhika, Ramya Krishnan, Banupriya and Kushboo traverse this career arc. More recently, Nadhiya has been seen in many character roles. Even Simran, who was the leading heroine for so many years, couldn’t escape this as, once her time as heroine was over, she showed up in terrible films like Kicha Vayasu 16 and Ainthaam Padai(I think appearing in a Sundar. C masala film is a sign of an actress’ career hitting the nadir) before moving on to character roles with Vaaranam Aayiram and TV shows like Jackpot.

Considering this history, what Arvind Swamy has done recently is quite surprising. The actor had a decent run as a romantic hero in the 90s, acting in films with some big directors like Manirathnam, Balu Mahendra and Rajiv Menon. But not being successful as an action hero(En Swaasa Kaatre proved it quite emphatically) put his leading man status in danger and he soon disappeared from the scene. His comeback with 2013’s Kadal wasn’t very successful and I assumed that he too had joined the list of actors with failed comebacks.

But 2015’s Thani Oruvan, where he made the surprising decision to play the bad guy, has given him a completely new lease of life. He stole the film as the suave, stylish businessman and crackled in the role with style and swagger that we hadn’t seen in him before. He was again the best thing in Bogan even if his performance wasn’t that different from what he did in Thani Oruvan. Just when we thought he may be getting stereotyped comes news that he is playing the lead in some exciting new movies like Sathuranga Vettai 2(with Trisha) and Vanangamudi(with Ritika Singh). So 25 years after he was introduced as a hero, he has come full circle and is once again playing the hero. That’s quite an achievement.

If what Arvind Swamy has done is surprising, Jyothika’s comeback is even more remarkable. She had a pretty long and successful run as a heroine, acting with all top heroes of the day. Marriage pretty much sounds the death knell for our heroines and so Jyothika voluntarily moving away from films after her marriage to Suriya seemed like a pragmatic decision at the time(it seemed even more sensible after Sillunu Oru Kaadhal :)). And it seemed like the end of her film career.

But after a 6 year break, she surprised everyone by coming back to movies with 36 Vayadhinile. And it wasn’t a supporting role either. She played the lead in a woman-centric film that conveyed a strong message about female empowerment. Her performance and the film itself got generally positive reviews. But she hasn’t stopped there. She is now leading a cast of women in Magalir Mattum and has also been cast by Bala in his next film Naachiyaar, along with G.V.Prakash. More telling than those is the fact that she opted out of Vijay’s Atlee-directed film because of the script(a role that is now being done by Nithya Menen). Again, quite an achievement.

This doesn’t mean things have completely changed. I don’t think we are going to see Arvind Swamy play a mass hero or Jyothika pair up with Ajith or Vijay in a film that gives her a substantial role. But these two actors have certainly gone against the norm and added some interest and flavor to Tamil cinema today.

7 responses so far

Mar 21 2017

Train to Busan (Korean)

Published by under International Cinema

Train-to-Busan

Among the sub-genres in horror, my least favorite is the zombie movie. Most of these zombie movies end up looking the same since the story line cannot deviate much from zombies chasing humans and attacking them to create more zombies. The Korean film Train to Busan also does this but does a few other things as well to show that there is still life left in the genre after all.

As in most films in the genre, we get an opening scene with an infected deer to tell us that something is afoot. After that, it doesn’t take too long for the story to kick off as a diverse group of passengers board the titular train(the film’s only dab at humor comes here as it misdirects us into thinking that some hanky panky is going on in the bathroom but it turns out to be something completely different). A last-minute boarder is already afflicted and since anyone who is bitten by a zombie turns into one real fast, it doesn’t take long for the train to be filled with zombies intent on attacking the few remaining humans.

The film creates a central group of characters that we care about. Some of them, like a little girl Su-an and a pregnant woman Jung yu-mi, are designed to be vulnerable but others like the Su-an’s dad Seok-woo(he is taking Su-an to her mother), the pregnant woman’s husband Sang-hwa, two sisters and the members of a baseball team earn our sympathy through their actions. So there are some surprisingly emotional scenes as some of them become victims. There is also the token bad guy who acts in some pretty nasty ways at the expense of others.

But zombie movies are mainly about the chases and action as the humans try to escape their attackers and Train to Busan has some good ones. The train provides an interesting setting as the things it provides(like glass doors at either end of each car, the bathrooms, the tunnels the train passes through) are used to stop the multiple zombie attacks from feeling repetitive. A couple of stops at stations help provide additional set pieces as the crowd of zombies smash through windows and glass panes to continue their attack. There is also a well-picturized train crash at the end. The characters ensures that the chase scenes are thrilling and the fact that we do not know who will survive makes them suspenseful.

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