May 23 2017

Baahubali 2 – The Conclusion

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

baahubali-2

Wild imagination and gripping storytelling combined with a huge canvas, terrific VFX and stunning visuals made Baahubali – The Beginning  an exhilarating experience. After ending the film as a cliffhanger and making us wait for 1 1/2 years to know the answer, director Rajamouli is back with Baahubali 2 – The Conclusion. A solid story packed with drama and intrigue and grand set pieces and action sequences make the film one of the few sequels that does end up being both bigger and better than the original.

The film starts off where the first one ended with Amarendra Baahubali(Prabhas) ready to become king of Magizhmathi. Its template matches that of the first part as romance and comedy dominate the proceedings initially(after a creative opening credits sequence that highlights some key scenes from the Baahubali). As Baahubali and Kattappa(Sathyaraj) interact with the people of Magizhmathi, he falls for a princess Devasena(Anushka) and accompanies her to her kingdom Kuntala. The comedy is pedestrian as Baahubali , hiding his real identity, clowns around with Devasena’s uncle(Subbaraju). But the romance is more substantial with Devasena coming across as a strong woman who can hold her own in a fight. And there is no item number either.

The film takes off as an attack on the kingdom forces Baahubali to reveal his real identity. The subsequent battle is exciting but its best part is not the scene with where Baahubali rides two bulls with flaming horns or the one where he breaks down a dam to drive the enemy away. A more intimate archery sequence, where he and Devasena fight off hordes of advancing soldiers,  is staged in a way that it is sheer visual poetry.

While Baahubali and Palvaalthevan(Rana Daggubati) are the real enemies, the film cleverly never pits them against each other in the flashback. Instead, the drama arises from Baahubali going against his mother Sivagami(Ramya Krishnan). Considering that the first half went to great lengths to showcase Sivagami as fair and a devoted mother to Baahubali, the clash between them is dramatic and every argument between them drips with emotion. Both Devasena and Kattappa are stuck in the middle though their loyalties lie on opposite sides. And that eventually leads to the answer to the cliffhanger question from the first part – Why Kattappa killed Baahubali?.

Aside from providing the answer, that sequence is an example of the fact that Rajamouli also knows when to slow things down and focus on the drama. The sequence doesn’t have the showiness or energy that punctuates the rest of the film and is somber as befits the proceedings.

Its action all the way once the flashback ends. The battle sequence looks grander though strategy takes a backseat. The final clash between Mahendra Baahubali and Palvaalthevan is visceral and intense enough to justify the emotions leading up to it. The falls and tumbles they go through look real and Palvaalthevan’s crumbling statue provides a nice setting and backdrop for the battle.

As in Baahubali, Rajamouli presents the film as a string of high points with the plateaus between them serving to set in place, the emotions and drama needed to make those high points work. And because those set ups are so effective, the high points don’t have to be manufactured artificially with slo-mo shots and punch dialogs glorifying the hero. Whether its Baahubali unmasking his real identity to the royals in Kuntala, Sivagami proclaiming the baby Mahendra Baahubali to be next king, Baahubali punishing the guard who dared molest the women or Devasena stepping on Palvaalthevan’s statue’s head to continue her uninterrupted walk, the scenes serve as mini-climaxes to the gradual build up of drama.

More than anything else, the film is a testimony to Rajamouli’s ambition, vision and imagination. The VFX, the set design and cinematography work together to realize this vision. Everything about the film from the story and characterization to the detailing in the grand palace interiors to the vastness of the battles is larger-than-life (this can be seen even in the song sequences, like the way a boat goes airborne). Its this grandeur that lets us overlook some of the moments where things become a bit too over-the-top(the way Mahendra Baahubali and his men enter Palvaalthevan’s castle is the worst instance).

Baahubali-2 completes the story and is bigger and better than the first part. But putting that comparison aside, the two films together make up one of the greatest cinematic achievements in modern Indian cinema.

11 responses so far

May 17 2017

Pa Paandi

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

pa-paandi

It looks like Dhanush is fast becoming the T.Rajender of this generation! After trying his hand – and being very successful – at acting, singing, penning lyrics and producing films, he has now turned director with Pa Paandi. It is a simple, feel-good film about a unique protagonist and like everything else Dhanush does, it works because it seems straight from the heart.

The aforementioned protagonist is ‘Power’ Paandi(Rajkiran), who was a famous, well-respected stunt master in films and having retired, now lives with his son Raghavan(Prasanna), daughter-in-law Prema(Chaya Singh) and their 2 children. The scenario is ripe for TV serial-like melodrama with a retired, old-fashioned, widowed father trying to cope with the fast-paced lives the rest of his family leads. And the first conflict, with Paandi switching on the TV and the loud volume waking up the family, points to exactly that kind of melodrama. But thankfully that doesn’t continue. There are no dramatic scenes of ill-treatment or fights and the issues(Paandi being a social do-gooder leading to Raghavan having to deal with the consequences) and arguments, when they happen are such that we can’t really take sides.

The ex-stunt master part makes Paandi an interesting protagonist. It makes the film a masala film as it leads to comedy(as he hunts for new jobs), sentiments(the scenes with his grandkids and a lovely scene where visits a shooting spot and relives the glory of his past) and fights. These are all done with moderation and work well. Rajkiran’s soft-spoken, genial performance works perfectly and Sean Roldan’s fantastic soundtrack provides great support with songs like Vaanam…,  Soorakaathu… and Veesum Kaathodadhaan…. The bits of overt, loud comedy(Gautham Menon has a cameo in one such bit) don’t work as well but they aren’t long either.

Paandi’s loneliness and general boredom are built up through small moments to nicely to lead up to him setting out on his road trip. But it soon turns into a trip down memory lane as he reminisces about his short-lived love affair. Dhanush plays the younger Paandi and while his romance with Poonthendral(Madonna Sebastian) isn’t anything special, it is short and sweet and sets the stage for what is to follow.

Once Poonthendral(Revathi) reenters the picture, the film is an absolute delight. Revathi reminds us once again what a fantastic actress she is. From her tentative “hi” and joke about Paandi’s salt-and-pepper hair, the conversations and interactions between them are completely natural(Sean Roldan again shines with Venpani Malare…). The couple’s age and maturity makes even cliched Tamil cinema scenes, like the one where the hero shows up drunk at the heroine’s doorstep, refreshingly new and proceed very differently. The segment makes a nice point about seeking companionship in one’s old age in a matter-of-fact manner(Vijay TV’s DD shows up here) and wraps things up on a perfect note.

16 responses so far

May 10 2017

Vivegam Teaser

Published by under Preview,Tamil Cinema

Director Siva’s films so far(Siruthai, Veeram and Vedhalam) have all been mass masala films. While his success rate tells us that he has learned the art of making a hero-centric masala film, he didn’t seem like the kind of director who would be suited to directing an action thriller. His films were loud, didn’t possess the style and sheen that go into making a good thriller and that first scene in Vedhalam, which was set abroad, was very amateurish. So I didn’t have much confidence when news came out that Vivegam, his third film with Ajith, would be an international thriller with Ajith playing an interpol agent.

But the teaser released today came as a pleasant surprise. The focus is entirely on Ajith with not even a glimpse of the heroine(Kajal Agarwal) or the villain(Vivek Oberoi) but it has been cut nicely and looks sleek and stylish(the shots of Ajith training in the wilderness look very cool). I’m certainly looking forward to the film more now.

20 responses so far

May 09 2017

8 Thottaakkal

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

8-thottaakkal

The title refers to the 8 bullets in the gun that is stolen from Sathya(Vettri), an inspector. Sathya, who spent his younger years in a juvenile school after being convicted for a crime he did not commit, is an interesting character who stands apart from the cop characters we’ve seen in Tamil cinema over the years. He is not corrupt but neither is he a supercop out to quell injustice. He is quiet and non-controversial but also has a good heart. So he seeks quiet solutions to issues and is unpopular in his own police station.

After a short journey, the gun ends up in the hands of Moorthy(M.S.Bhaskar) who uses it to commit a crime but the crime has some unexpected repercussions. Moorthy again is not your average criminal. As he goes about his life after the crime, we see that he has a family and was driven to the desperate move because of the problems he is facing. There is subtlety in depicting his situation and Bhaskar nails it with a fantastic performance. Considering that he is such an average Joe, the contradiction comes from the fact that his act was not a spur of the moment crime but was well researched and planned.

The stories of these two characters move in parallel as Sathya tries to retrieve the gun and save his career while Moorthy tries to keep things contained even as they spiral out of control. Their lives are closely linked and they both are forced to act out of character at times. There is a sense of unpredictability to both their tracks that keeps us consistently engrossed in the film. While its not a big surprise that their paths intersect, their interactions are lovely and the scenes are filled with equal parts drama and suspense.

The film is filled with interesting characters who impact the lives of Sathya and Moorthy. Even if some of them appear only for a short time, they play important parts in the story. There are small stories woven around these characters too and the connections these stories establish and the effect they have on the main story are cleverly written. The only misstep is the romance between Sathya and journalist Meera(Aparna Balamurali) which hardly has an effect on the story and worse, leads to some badly picturized songs.

The climax is set up in interesting fashion with a key aspect of the situation mirroring something that happened earlier(and set in motion most of the things that followed). But the actions of the characters aren’t logical and so while there is some shock value, the denouement isn’t fully satisfactory. The subsequent twist about what actually happened isn’t that surprising either.

5 responses so far

Apr 27 2017

Shivalinga

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

shivalinga

P.Vasu brought his film Apthamitra from Kannada to Tamil as Chandramukhi and delivered one of Tamil cinema’s and Rajnikanth’s biggest BO hits. He travels the same route with Shivalinga, a remake of the Kannada hit of the same name which also he directed. Raghava Lawrence lacks Rajni’s star power but more importantly, the film, a murder mystery dressed up as a horror-comedy, is insipid and derivative.

Rahim(Sakthi) is killed when he is pushed from a running train. The death is ruled a suicide but after his lover Sangeetha claims that there was no reason for him to kill himself, the case is assigned to CB-CID officer Shivalingeshwaran(Raghava Lawrence). There are just not enough suspects to make the murder mystery gripping or even interesting. The inter-religious romance, which the parents on both sides have reconciled to, is the only thing we learn about Rahim and Sangeetha and there’s not much there to raise interest. The lack of clues for Shiva to follow is an interesting aspect of the case but this just means that the investigation doesn’t make much progress as he takes steps(like measuring dimensions of a post at the murder spot) which look cool but eventually don’t amount to anything.

With such a weak murder mystery, the film turns to horror-comedy to fill in the gaps. Shiva weds Sathyabhama(Ritika Singh) and they move into a mansion, conveniently situated right next to a cemetery. All the horror movie cliches dutifully make their appearance as Sathyabhama becomes possessed. Ritika gets to splash on white paint and sport bad teeth as the spirit takes hold of her. Lawrence inhabiting his Kanchana persona of being scared of ghosts, Vadivelu as a thief who has taken up residence in the house and Urvasi as Shiva’s TV-cook mom take care of the comedy. The comedy again is hardly fresh and is mostly Vadivelu being scared of Sathya’s transformations.

The mystery finally picks up some pace as Shiva rounds up a bunch of people and gathers them in a room for the grand revelation. There are a few surprises in his story and it does build up to a nice surprise when one of them is unmasked. But inexplicably the story continues on to lead to another person and this is a damp squib. The reason behind the crime – awkwardly set up with an abrupt and unconnected sequence earlier – is silly and so this revelation ends up being anti-climactic.

13 responses so far

Apr 25 2017

Dora

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

dora

Nayanthara is truly in a league of her own when it comes to Tamil cinema heroines today. While the Samanthas and Kajals are showing up in inconsequential and sometimes downright insulting roles in hero-centric films, Nayanthara is getting films where she not only gets top billing but does many of the things we usually expect from our mass masala heroes. And in Dora, a horror film, she is even more of a mass masala heroine that she was in films like Nee Enge En Anbe and Maya.

Nayanthara plays Pavalakkodi, who starts a call taxi company along with her dad(Thambi Ramaiya). There are a few laughs as he treads carefully around her and tries to be on her good side(the scene where she talks about his marriage is funny). At the same time, the dad-daughter bond that is created is quite effective, something that becomes important later. Through all this, there are enough pointers to tell us that Nayan is the star of the show. When her aunt insults her, she throws out a challenge a la Rajni in Annamalai and walks out in slo-mo to the original scene’s iconic background score. And Thambi Ramaiyah utters a dialog that praises her uniqueness and humility.

The vintage car that Pavalakkodi eventually buys is haunted. There are some nice hints about who is haunting it before it is actually revealed at the intermission point. It is a nice twist and leads to a different kind of horror film. It is a revenge tale but it doesn’t rely on Boo moments or ghostly images to scare us.

There are multiple connections between Pavalakkodi and the car and these give the story a strong emotional core. There is also a trio of bad guys who carry out daring robberies and a cop(Harish Uthaman) who is investigating the case. The tracks eventually dovetail, again in a couple of ways. One, which almost kickstarts a romance before backing out, is a surprise. But the other connection is the main one as it sets Pavalakkodi out to get revenge.

The bad guys are pretty vile. This leads to some disturbing violence against women but also makes us root for them to get their comeuppance. Nayan displays a nice swagger once she becomes the woman thirsting for revenge. She gets her own theme music – which reminds one of Bairavaa‘s bgm – to slo-mo shots of her walking and she gets a whistle-worthy scene where she does an Anniyan by switching between a scared woman and a taunting one. The scene where she tricks the police and the one where she look for her are written well. The climax goes on for too long but the car gets a whistle-worthy scene that works.

6 responses so far

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.

Comments Off on Most Wanted

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).

One response so far

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.

7 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

Older Entries »