Aug 17 2017

Gemini Ganesanum Surulirajanum

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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Combining the names of a yesteryear romantic hero and a comedian(from a different era) who is fondly remembered for his unique and distinctive style does lead to a catchy title that is suitable for a romantic comedy. But director Ilavarasu Odam apparently used up all his creative energy in coming up with the title for his film since beyond the title, there is very little creativity in evidence in either the romance or the comedy in his film Gemini Ganesanum Surulirajanum.

The film is an attempt to do a rom-com take on Cheran’s Autograph(the film is explicitly referenced at a few places). It starts off with Gemini Ganesan(Atharva) showing up at self-styled don Suruli’s house. Soori plays Suruli and with the cops looking for him, and his name occupying half the title, it initially looks like he would get a track of his own. But he is then relegated to the usual sidekick role of accompanying Ganesan and delivering reaction shots to his story. But he fares a lot better than Rajendran who gets the even more thankless role of a driver who simply drives Gemini and Suruli around.

Gemini is looking for Lavanya, who was a tenant at the house, to give her his wedding invitation. He and Suruli head out to locate her and during the journey, Suruli learns about the exploits of Gemini, who was a commitment-phobic serial lover. Aside from Lavanya(Regina Cassandra), Atharva also had brief romances with Saroja(Aaditi), Priya(Pranitha) and Pooja(Aishwarya Rajesh).

The problem is that none of these romances are likeable or believable. The need to fit 4 romances into the running time leads to all of them being quick and very superficial. The girls(Pooja fares a little better than the other 3) uniformly come across as silly and naive as they fall for Gemini for no obvious reason and he indulges in some meaningless acts(the silliest one sees him pick a random foreigner begging on the street and give him a shave!) to impress them. And after such brief romances, it sounds ridiculous when the girls get all serious and talk about marriage.

The comedy is supposed to come from the timing of these romances as Gemini surprises Suruli – and us – with how he managed to carry on more than one romance at the same time. But showing us how Gemini two-timed women multiple times doesn’t really count as comedy even if Atharva tries to act all cute and his behavior is later given a ridiculous back story(it involves Gemini Ganesan and his on-screen image). The only good laughs come near the end as a sudden, out-of-place sentimental scene is used nicely and is later followed by a funny twist that involves Suruli.

One response so far

Aug 15 2017

Meesaya Murukku

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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Meesaya Murukku is the semi-autobiographical tale of Hiphop Tamizha, the musical duo of Adhi and Jeeva that pioneered hiphop music in Tamil. The group initially had a small, niche audience before one of their tracks went viral and its popularity eventually led to full albums and then film music composing gigs. This path is traced in the film with the duo assuming responsibility for all departments like story, screenplay, music, lyrics and direction, aside from Adhi himself playing the lead role.

Adhi(Adhi) joins an engineering college though his real passion lies in music. But this doesn’t happen after some big argument with his father(Vivek). The dad’s arguments are sensible and convincing and Adhi takes them to heart. This father-son relationship is at the heart of the film and differs from usual dad-son portrayals that sees them at loggerheads(with the mom on the son’s side while trying to keep peace). The conversations the two of them have, like when Adhi’s romance runs into problems or when he sets out to pursue his passion, are a good mix of practicality and affection and the film doesn’t play favorites between them.

The college vibe in Meesaya Murukku feels quite real. There is neither the rich, futuristic feel of films like Kaadhal Desam(which gets referenced in one of the jokes) nor the crude, cheap feel of many other films that used the college setting just to ridicule the teachers. Though we don’t see Adhi attend many classes here either, his voice over about his experiences, his interactions with his friends and seniors and the atmosphere during the cultural programs all give off some realistic college vibes without the extremes that inhabit the portrayal of college life in most of our films. Some ridiculous scenarios like an old rival becoming the HOD damage the realism for the sake of comedy and Adhi gets a mass hero moment in the canteen but the film does a good job in portraying college life for the most part.

We get glimpses of Adhi’s talent at a couple of places as during his college life but this is balanced out by him freezing up when given the chance to showcase that talent. The rest of his college life is occupied by a very banal romance with Nila(Aathmika). Starting out with a big coincidence(she was his friend from school and ends up in the same college as him), there is neither cuteness nor drama in the track which is filled with familiar cliches like arguments with another suitor, minor misunderstandings, secret meetings and opposition from her family. The fun songs(like Maattikiche… and Sakkarakatti…)  turn out to be the only energetic portions of the romance.

The film sticks to being realistic even after Adhi finishes college and doesn’t turn into a fairy tale, rags to riches story. Tonally, the film actually has a lot in common with Mugavari after this point since success doesn’t come easily and a momentary success doesn’t automatically lead to immediate fame and wealth. Considering the generally light-hearted tone, the route the film takes surprises us on a few counts. But it does manage to leave us with a smile on our lips with a very funny closing scene featuring 2 short cameos.

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Aug 08 2017

Sangili Bungili Kadhava Thorae

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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When I wrote about Maragadha Naanayam, I said that most horror comedies in Tamil cinema followed a standard template with stock elements like a haunted mansion, ghostly apparitions making sudden appearances and a group of comedians evoking laughs by being frightened by the scary images. I might have as well been talking about Sangili Bungili Kadhava Thorae since those elements are exactly what the film has in store for us.

The film opens with an NRI couple(Jai has a cameo here as the husband) being scared by the happenings in a palatial mansion they just bought(the background to this episode is a nice twist). Vasu(Jiiva), a house broker with a dream of owning his own home, is the new owner of the house but he discovers that another family has already taken up residence in the house and refuses to move out.

With these steps, the films quickly sets things in place for the horror-comedy genre. While the prologue sets up the haunted mansion for horror, the comedy aspect is more than clear from the cast. Vasu’s friend Sooranam is played by Soori while Jambulingam and his wife, the couple in the family claiming ownership of the house, are played by horror-comedy regulars Thambi Ramiah and Devadarshini  (the only surprise is that the wife is not played by the other genre regular Kovai Sarala but she does make an appearance later as an exorcist).

SBKT feels like a comedy most of the time. The episode where Vasu sells a house by giving it a religious touch is a bit satirical(it also sets up his romance with Shwetha(Sridivya), which then continues when she turns out to be Jambulingam’s daughter) and later, there is a running joke with Jambulingam using doing the laundry as a code for sex(the ploy was used in the American sitcom Friends before).

But as is common in the genre, most of the laughs rely on Jambulingam and Sooranam getting scared. For these, there are a couple of real ghostly happenings but most of the scares(like a ghostly figure in the garden or somebody getting grabbed and pulled away into the darkness) turn out to have simple, human-based explanations. These are sometimes meant to be a surprise and sometimes planned as Vasu and Sooranam play some pranks to scare Jambulingam and drive him out of the house. But these mini scares get tiring after a few few times since the story makes no progress.

The obligatory flashback explains the history of the haunted house(yesteryear actress Kausalya has a cameo here). The flashback by itself doesn’t do anything new but its nice the way the core idea in it(a man being betrayed by members of his family) is then used in the present to give the story some direction(bringing people together). This direction is set up in a rather clumsy manner(the way Vasu’s mother(Radhika) walks out with no attempts by him to persuade her to stay, is one example) and slapstick comedy takes the upper hand during these portions but it is finally nice to see some goal instead of more random scenes of characters getting scared.

5 responses so far

Aug 01 2017

Nibunan

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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After the thriller Achamundu Achamundu, director Arun Vaidyanathan switched both language and genre as he made the Malayalam political comedy Peruchazhi. Now he’s back in Tamil with another thriller. The tropes of the serial killer genre are done quite well to make the film entertaining but a few more twists would’ve made it rise about the few other serial killer thrillers we’ve had in Tamil cinema.

DSP Ranjith Kalidoss(Arjun) and his team consisting of Joseph(Prasanna) and Vandana(Varu Sarathkumar) receive a rather strange doll in the mail. They understand the seriousness when a social activist is murdered and his body is staged in a manner similar to the doll they received. The murders are suitably grisly with enough clues attached to them to keep us wondering about the meanings of the clues and the motives of the murderer. The way Ranjith decodes the clues are somewhat random(particularly the part that includes some “division”) but its fun to see how the answers help him and his team pursue the case.

Ranjith is somewhat humanized with the time he spends with his family. He has some cute scenes with his wife(Sruthi Hariharan), sighs about his daughter’s school work and bonds with his brother Sandeep(Vaibhav). Aside from humanizing him, these scenes also offer some downtime from the intensity of the main serial killer track. But after setting the family in place, its a little disappointing that they play no part in the main track. The track could’ve use some emotional heft by involving Ranjith’s family. Ranjith is also afflicted with a disease but its used in a gimmicky manner as it affects him at some key points but he is able to overcome it exactly when needed.

The serial killer genre lends itself to twists and Nibunan also stokes our curiosity by keeping the killer’s face concealed the few times that he is seen. From the point of view, the big reveal is a disappointment. Once the backstory(this has more than a passing resemblance to the Aarushi Talwar case, which was seen in Talvar) is narrated, he is identified and the film sticks to this without any further twists, red herrings or multiple suspects. The only surprise comes from the actor playing the role.

5 responses so far

Jul 27 2017

Vikram Vedha

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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Cops and gangsters have long been two of the most popular and dependable roles for our heroes to play because these roles offer an easy way to package all the necessary ingredients – heroism, action, romance, sentiments, comedy – needed for a well-rounded masala movie. You can pick any  of our leading stars and they will have played at least one cop or gangster in their last few roles (Rajni and Ajith played gangsters in Kabali and Vedhalam while Vijay, Suriya and Vikram were cops in Theri, Singam 3 and Irumugan respectively). But because of their star wattage, these actors played straightforward characters with no shades of grey, they were pitted against one-dimensional villains and the movies left us in no doubt about who to root for in the battle between them.

Vikram Vedha pits a cop and gangster against each other. Madhavan plays the cop Vikram. He is honest but at the same time, not averse to fudging things as long as he gets the bad guys. Vijay Sethupathi is Vedha, a gangster with a string of murders to his name. While the roles are familiar, the characters are interesting enough to avoid the pitfalls of the genre movies that feature either of those characters. That, along with perfect casting(both Madhavan and VS do a fantastic job though VS steals the whistles and claps with several crowd-pleasing lines delivered in a nonchalant way. He also gets a fantastic bgm score), an intelligent script and a smart screenplay, makes the battle between them feel fresh and entertaining.

The film begins with the famous King Vikram-Vedhalam folklore which has the king seek and find the spirit only to have it climb onto his back. We know the rest of the story – the spirit narrates stories with questions at the end and would fly back to the tree if the wrong answer was given by the king. That tale is is ingeniously used to structure the film. So Vedha surrenders to Vikram, narrates incidents in his life and poses questions that make Vikram think. The questions are clever and not letdowns. While the answer to the first tells Vikram how similar he and Vedha think, the second leads to a particularly potent moment as Vikram blurts out a key piece of information.

When the film begins, Vikram and Vedha are completely different. Vikram is educated, married and on the right side of the law while Vedha is uneducated, single and pursued by the cops (in a way, the difference is announced even before the movie starts. The anti-smoking and drinking slide has Madhavan reading the English warning while Vijay Sethupathi reads the Tamil translation). But by the time the movie ends, they have both changed in each other’s – and our – eyes. In this the film is a little bit like Raavanan. The transformations the characters go through aren’t that drastic and the underlying mythical story isn’t interleaved as cleverly but the 2 primary characters do undergo a similar journey that changes them, their view of the world and our view of  them.

The film is careful not to undermine other relationships while depicting the fight between the protagonists. Vikram’s relationship with his wife Priya(Shraddha Srinath), a lawyer, is an example of this. Initially its all fun and games as they are a young couple in love. But once she is pulled into the game(Vedha hires her as his lawyer), the husband-wife relationship undergoes a change because of the cop-lawyer dynamics. Brought out nicely in a scene where she alternates between taking care of his wound and fighting with him for the way he used her, it adds another layer to the main conflict between Vikram and Vedha. On Vedha’s side, the care and affection he has for his brother Pulli(Kathir) and the relationship between Pulli and his lover Chandra(Varu Sarathkumar) are both depicted well.

Though the film is character-driven, it functions well as a thriller too. The reason behind Vedha surrendering, which Vikram is tasked with finding out, drives the plot forward. As Vedha’s flashbacks fill in the story, the screenplay flows smoothly towards this answer. There are the requisite twists, some of which are good surprises. Particularly clever are the way many casual events and conversations from the past, both in Vedha’s stories and Vikram’s daily life, have a direct bearing on how the story proceeds. The climax is one place where Vedha’s casual tone feels somewhat overdone but the final shot is perfect.

12 responses so far

Jul 24 2017

Ivan Thanthiran

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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So far this year, the problems in TN’s college education system seem to be providing the most fodder for our filmmakers. After Bairavaa and Yeidhavan, Kannan’s Ivan Thanthiran also deals with the same subject.

Shakthi(Gautham Karthik), who owns an electronics store, is also a ‘reverse engineer’ – he reverse engineers expensive gadgets and builds cheaper versions. This helps kickstart his romance with Asha(Shraddha Srinath), a college student, when he sells her a laptop she claims was defective. But the fact that he is an electronics whiz is used throughout the film as he builds and employs many things like a “bug” camera, a tracker chip and an x-ray scanner. RJ Balaji plays his friend and gets a lots of quips in in his usual fast-talking style though the 2 monologues he delivers, one criticizing engineers and another sympathizing with them, are most likely to win him some loud cheers.

HRD minister Devaraj shuts down many colleges for poor infrastructure but its just a ruse to milk more money from the college administrators. Shakthi is hired to install security cameras at the minister’s office but gets cheated out of his payment and that kicks off his beef with the minister. But he gets more involved emotionally when he sees the consequences of the minister’s action and vows to bring him down.

Shakthi employs a lot of technology to implicate the minister and thankfully the minister responds in kind. So there is nice suspense as he tries to track Shakthi down(Shakthi’s pet dog gets to play a role the chase too in a crowd-pleasing scene). The way the minister gets out of a sticky situation is also clever and so he proves to be a strong adversary, which is necessary to make the fight interesting.

The film adds Asha into the mix to make the climax more suspenseful. That by itself is a good idea but the same cannot be said about the way she is brought into the picture. Though she doesn’t have much to do, she had some across as a focused, sensible girl in an earlier scene where her response to Shakthi’s proposal is delivered just right(his reaction is also subtle but effective). But all that is forgotten in an interview scene where, in his wish to get her back for the climax, the director makes her act in a way that is silly and regressive and nullifies the respect she gained until then.

Aside from the bad way Asha is brought in, the climax delivers a good mix of suspense, thrills and surprises. Shakthi’s situation is pretty dire(the film actually starts with this scene) and his recovery is a bit too fast and unbelievable. But his plan, when revealed, contains some nice surprises. One aspect of his plan is easily guessed since it is pretty old-fashioned but the other things put in place to lead to it(like the part with the road speed bumps) are clever and come as neat surprises.

7 responses so far

Jul 20 2017

Maragadha Naanayam

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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Recent horror comedies in Tamil cinema have tended to look alike with stock elements like a haunted mansion, ghostly apparitions making sudden appearances and a group of comedians evoking laughs by being frightened by the scary images. Maragadha Naanayam,  which mostly revolves around the search for the titular item, does things a bit differently and delivers some good laughs because of that.

Though termed a coin, the film’s maragadha naanayam looks more like a rather large pendant with a large green emerald encased in a gold circle. Supposedly guarded by the spirit of the king who owned it and was eventually buried with it, it has killed everyone who has laid hands on it. So no one is willing to take on the job of stealing it until Senguttuvan(Aadhi), who works for Ramadoss(Ramdoss) and is unaware of the coin’s history, agrees to steal it.

Senguttuvan starts off with some petty smuggling jobs which indicate the film’s comic tone. The film’s zaniness(a gangster speaks to the people he is threatening via radio) and some word plays that would make ‘Crazy’ Mohan proud(like a comment about the name John) keep the laughs coming in spurts. Senguttuvan gets three spirits to help him and the way they are employed is clever and the main driver for the comedy. The laughs peak in the scene where a character literally loses his head, which is a riot.

Anandraj is particularly good as a gangster Twinkle Ranganathan. He pulls off the difficult job of playing a comic villain without hamming it up and his interactions with his dumb but well-dressed henchmen are frequently funny. M.S.Baskar also makes us chuckle with his deadpan delivery during an interrogation scene. At the same time, the reaction shots could’ve been orchestrated better. The reactions from the actors in many scenes, like a torture scene involving a drill or another one where a couple of the goons commandeer a vehicle with no driver, are not effective and lessen the impact of the scenes, leading to muted laughs.

Senguttuvan is in love with Chanakya(Nikki Galrani), who he just sees at the bus stop from across the road. The way this romance is developed is one of the film’s pleasant surprises. While the track seems familiar enough initially, it packs a couple of good surprises with respect to Chanakya. Senguttuvan and Chanakya do end up spending a lot of time together but it is not in the way we expect. The film appears to take the easy route with a cheat at the end but it is only a momentary occurrence and the film admirably sticks to its guns with respect to the story.

4 responses so far

Jul 18 2017

Vanamagan

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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Jayam Ravi seems to be at the forefront of the movement to make Tamil cinema tackle hitherto unexplored genres. His Miruthan was Tamil cinema’s first zombie movie and his upcoming Tik Tik Tik is apparently set in space. His Vanamagan brings Tarzan to Tamil cinema as he plays a tribal who calls the forest his home, in the Andaman island. But with director Vijay behind the camera, the film ends up being a bland, uneasy mixture of George of the Jungle and our own, recent Kadamban.

Kavya(Sayyeshaa, a fantastic dancer as she shows in the Damn Damn… song sequence) is a spoilt rich orphan who has been raised by her dad’s friend(Prakashraj). When her trip to Bora Bora gets cancelled, she has to settle for a trip to Andaman. When driving, she ends up hitting a tribal(Jayam Ravi) who we know is called Jara and is on the run from the police. As Kavya brings the tribal – now named K. Vaasi – to Chennai,  Vaasi, who has had no contact with humans other than his tribe members and has been shielded completely from the outside world is suddenly thrown into the midst of humans.

We get the feeling that this fish-out-of-water scenario should’ve led to a lot more laughs. After all, Vaasi has had no exposure to any of the amenities or technology that we are so used to and pretty much everything around him is new and confusing. But we get just a few glimpses of Vaasi reacting to the new world around him and these aren’t very funny. I laughed once when Thambi Ramiah, who plays Kavya’s manager/chef, tries to discipline Vaasi and has the tables turned on him but that’s about it.

The problem is that director Vijay has loftier ambitions. He wants to use Vaasi’s situation to show his life and emotions as pure and illustrate the hollowness of Kavya’s materialistic life. So, many of Vaasi’s experiences make him remember the bad experience he had with humans who entered the forests to see the tribals. And Kavya does some dumb things(she knows that most concepts of her world are alien to Vaasi and yet pays him a salary and then leaves him alone while she goes to play badminton) just so that Vaasi’s innocence can be shown(he burns the money for warmth in the air-conditioned office).

After the action shifts back to the Andaman, the film’s story resembles that of Kadamban as the tribals are forced to go up against a greedy construction company that is trying to take over their lands forcibly. But with the preceding portions being concerned with Vaasi adjusting to the real world rather than life of the tribals, their problems don’t have as much of an impact here as they did in Kadamban. The solution is also more hero-centric as Vaasi indulges in heroics alone rather than the tribals working together to defeat the bad guys. But with Vaasi forced to stay quiet, Kavya gets to spout a nice monologue, which is more than what our heroines usually get to do in the climax.

7 responses so far

Jul 12 2017

Bharathanatyam Arangetram

Published by under Family

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Once again, the blog had a long break because of an India trip. Trips to India didn’t lead to a break in blog posts earlier. If anything, the blog used to temporarily become more relevant as I caught up on the latest movies in Chennai theaters and wrote the reviews. But the trips these days have become quite different. This trip was a particularly busy one with events, both good and bad, making it a roller-coaster of a trip emotionally.

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The highlight of the trip was my daughter’s Bharathanatyam arangetram, which we held in Chennai. While the remote planning and coordination made things tough in the months leading up to the arangetram and led to occasional misgivings about the decision to hold the event in Chennai, those doubts evaporated both during and after the event.

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The arangetram was held in Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mylapore. The auditorium was excellent and the staff was very helpful for everything like lighting and decorations. The chief guest was famed dancer Chitra Visweswaran. As I told my daughter, I have barely any knowledge of Bharathanatyam but even I know about Chitra Visweswaran and that just goes to show how famous she is. The guest of honor was Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala. Kavya was blessed to be able to perform her arangetram in front of such luminaries and receive their feedback and blessings.

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The audience was definitely the biggest reason for my happiness at conducting the event in Chennai. If held in the US, the seats would have been mostly filled by the parents of other kids from the dance school, people I barely knew. And most of them would’ve been there because of Kavya’s association with the dance school rather than because they personally knew her(or us). But the venue being Chennai meant that the audience was composed almost entirely of family and friends. So I personally knew most of them. These were all people who genuinely cared for Kavya, wished her well and wanted to see her succeed. Most of them being Chennai residents who enjoyed the arts, they also liked Bharathanatyam and really enjoyed the performance. So the comments and wishes heaped upon Kavya during and after the performance felt sincere and real. And Kavya felt it too. She was initially not too happy about doing the arangetram in Chennai since her friends wouldn’t be able to attend and she didn’t know many people outside the close circle of relatives. But she was thrilled about the venue and the chief guests and the heartfelt outpouring of wishes after she finished and is now completely happy that the event was held in Chennai.

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She did a fabulous job on stage. She was incredibly nervous in the green room and even in a little bit of pain because of some parts of the costume. But none of it showed when she was dancing. I haven’t seen her dance the last few months as she has been practicing for the arangetram and so I saw a huge improvement in her dancing. Her expressions were terrific and she looked very professional as she performed with a lot of grace. The pieces had been selected with care to showcase her grace and expressions and she aced all of them. My favorites were Angayarkanni Varnam, which showcased all nine emotions of Goddess Meenakshi, and Thottu Thottu Pesa Varaan, a song about Lord Krishna’s playfulness, but all the pieces were beautiful and my heart swelled with pride as I watched her dance.

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There was a huge sense of relief as the curtains came down – both literally and figuratively – after the Thillana. As Kavya finally relaxed and accepted all the wishes showered upon her, it was certainly one of my proudest moments as a parent…

13 responses so far

Jun 14 2017

Yeidhavan

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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Yeidhavan follows the Bairavaa route in exposing the seedier side of our education system. But instead of a superstar like Vijay, its Kalaiarasan who has to fight the system. This works well initially since the lack of image-enhancing songs and fights allow the network and the way the system works to be shown better. But Kalaiarasan does turn heroic later on and that makes the film feel more run-of-the-mill.

Krishna(Kalaiarasan) attempts to enroll his sister in a medical college and encounters non-approved colleges, huge capitation fees and shady agents who can procure seats for the right money. Krishna’s family feels real and so his desperation and struggle to collect the needed money for his sister are understandable. The focus continues to be on the system as Government approval is denied for the college that he eventually enrolls his sister in. So the students begin protesting while Krishna finds that he has no way of getting the money back.

A separate track sees a rowdy Dharma rob a rich man Gaurav and the latter search for Dharma to get his revenge. The way the two tracks dovetail is cleverly done. Gaurav’s identity and link to Krishna, the fact that what Krishna thought was a planned murder was simply an accident and Dharma’s connection to Krishna are all small surprises that build up to a nice route for the film’s story to take. Krishna employs the old adage “the enemy of an enemy is a friend” but we know that this new friend is also an enemy and that piques our interest about what his plan is going to be.

The film gives Krishna an interesting job – he runs a company that makes machines that count notes. This is not just a gimmick either since the profession comes in handy at a few places. Janani(Satna Titus), his lover, doesn’t fare as well. She is a cop and isn’t afraid to use her job to take Krishna aside for some alone time. She also helps him out a few times but is given less to do as the story proceeds and  is barely seen after Krishna puts his plan into action.

Things become a tad cinematic as Krishna executes his plan since the people he goes up against are real powerful and he barely has any resources. But some well-constructed scenes(like the one where some goons try to kill a college student) and short bursts of thrills(as when Dharma goes to Gaurav’s office) keep things moving. Some double crosses make things interesting towards the end but also make things more cinematic as Krishna turns into a regular hero who can win a fight against anybody.

3 responses so far

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