Oct 12 2016


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Sivakarthikeyan is racing up the ladder of stardom with a string of hits but one of the problems I have with him is that he is completely stereotyped. As I mentioned in a previous review, if a scene from one his movies plays on TV, it is difficult to identify the film it is from since most of his movies are so alike. On paper, his latest film Remo seemed to be different. It had a strong technical crew(P.C.Sreeram, who gives us some bright visuals, Resul Pookkutty and Anirudh, who delivers a fantastic soundtrack), Siva seemed to be doing something different(dressing up as a woman) and there was no Soori to keep him company. Those might help identify the film when its scenes play on TV but other than that, the film feels like a standard Sivakarthikeyan outing.

Siva plays SK who falls for Kavya(a pretty Keerthy Suresh) but she gets engaged soon after. This allows SK to indulge in his usual girl-bashing(it sounds even more ridiculous here when he blames girls for making boys weep since Kavya doesn’t know who he is. Thankfully there’s no song. That comes much later in the form of Davuyaa…). SK gets the chance to audition for a K.S.Ravikumar film and when he learns that the director is looking for an actor who can play a woman on screen, he transforms into a nurse(the audition allows him to once showcase his mimicry skills). But that brings him back in touch with Kavya who christens him Remo and finds him a job.

Sivakarthikeyan in a woman’s garb is obviously the film’s biggest attraction. The nurse getup, in which he spends most of his time, sits well on him and he has the mannerisms(the way he bats his eyelids, the slightly exaggerated gait, the hand gestures) to pull the role off with a slightly comic touch without being cheap or vulgar(Remo Nee… is a fun bgm for his appearances as the nurse). And its not just the nurse getup. There are a few other costumes(a saree and even a nighty) that he manages to look at home in.

But the film doesn’t do much with him after dressing him up in a woman’s clothes. He plants the seeds of love in Kavya’s heart, goes around cheering up the kids in the hospital,  illustrates the strength of love using the victim of an acid attack and beats up bad guys. Technically, he could’ve done all of the above without any kind of make-up. The film doesn’t exploit the opportunities thrown up by the scenario of a man dressed up as a woman and so is unable to come up with the kind of crazy situations that Avvai Shanmugi did(Yogi Babu falls for Remo but is hardly around to contribute to the comedy). So there’s not much the film offers beyond the gimmick of seeing Sivakarthikeyan play a woman.

The film doesn’t do a lot with Siva’s dual act either and there are not many laughs as he befriends Kavya while acting as Remo and at the same time woos her as SK.  The film gives us a glimpse of what could be done in one scene where Kavya visits his house looking for Remo while he is in SK mode. With Saranya’s excited act, Sathish’s one-liners and Siva’s nervousness as he avoids detection, the sequence has more energy and laughs than the rest of the movie put together. The film needed more of this but a few scattered one-liners are all we get the rest of the time.

3 responses so far

Oct 10 2016


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Director Vijay’s new movie Devi(L) is billed as a horror-comedy, a popular genre these days. The opening credits, which start with a silhouetted woman with hair blowing in the wind and feature loud music, also point towards a some movie with serious horror elements. But the mere presence of a ghost does not make a horror movie. The film is simply a comedy that involves common horror movie tropes like a haunted house, a ghost with unfulfilled dreams and ghostly possession.

The ghost in Devi(L) is that of Ruby, a wannabe-actress who committed suicide because she couldn’t make it(the film, a trilingual, is set in Mumbai and its difficult to shake off the feeling of watching a dubbed film). So her goal is, unlike most horror movie ghosts, is not revenge. It is to fulfill her dreams of becoming an actress. To fulfill those dreams she takes over the body of Devi(Tamannah), who moves into the apartment where Ruby committed suicide. Devi, a village girl, has been brought to that apartment by her husband Krishna(Prabhu Deva), who is ashamed of her. He dreamed of wedding a modern girl and pursued such girls agressively(the comedy here, like him giving potential girls his rather damaged bio-data, is quite silly but allows a cameo by Amy Jackson in the song Chalmaar…) but ended up marrying Devi thanks to his strict dad and ailing grandma. Now he wants to hide Devi from his friends and colleagues and so moves in to the haunted apartment with her.

The comedy arises from Krishna’s shock as his wife shifts between the traditional, religious Devi and the modern Ruby. Tamannah does the transformation between the two personas well and Prabhu Deva has the scared and shell-shocked expressions needed to elicit laughs as he tries to come to terms with what is happening. With the actors doing a neat job and the ghost never being seen, Vijay doesn’t have to rely much on make-up and/or graphics but the one scene where Krishna finds out how difficult it is to get out of the house is very creatively imagined and implemented. On the other hand, the overt comedy scene with the fake exorcist(Nasser) and his assistant(Sathish) is a misstep.

With Sonu Sood’s appearance as a big star Raj Khanna, the film morphs into a kind of a love triangle that alternates between being serious and being light-hearted(an example of the latter is the colorful Rang Rang… number). As Ruby becomes an actress, the ‘contract with a ghost’ part is supposed to up the comedy ante but it doesn’t work as well. Though the contract scene itself is fun with a good punchline, the ghost arbitrarily making decisions(like the fact that it won’t disturb Devi inside the house) to enable Krishna to bargain with Ruby, feels like lazy writing.

3 responses so far

Oct 06 2016

Aandavan Kattalai

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Is it really that difficult to find someone who knows English to proofread and correct something that is going to be shown on screen in a movie? Important messages that the movie is planning to convey? Manikandan’s Aandavan Kattalai (the director has been really busy. His Kutrame Thandanai opened just a few weeks ago) opens with 2 messages – ‘This film intends to create Awarness’ and ‘Trusting middleman is like expecting other’s hand to itch your nose’. The spelling and other grammatical errors in those sentences are quite glaring.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the film itself. Notwithstanding the heavy title(I’m still not sure about how it ties in to the movie. Its God’s decree not to use middlemen?) and those messages and warnings, Aandavan Kattalai turns out to be a delightful comedy. It is about a man Gandhi(a casual Vijay Sethupathy) trying to use unscrupulous means and agents to get the documents that will let him travel to London so he can earn money and clear his debts. But in a manner reminiscent of 80s Malayalam movies, the film uses his trials and tribulations to create wonderfully comic situations and deliver some big laughs.

The surprising fact is that Manikandan doesn’t gloss over what happens at the shady agencies that facilitate such illegal travel. As Gandhi’s visa is rejected and his friend Pandi(Yogi Babu is fantastic with some hilarious lines) gets his visa, we get a pretty detailed and convincing look at the various steps and the wide network that allows these things to happen. We see the smooth talking agents, we see the workers(like forgers) they employ, we see the contacts they have at the passport office. And the situations that Gandhi and Pandi eventually find themselves in illustrate the pitfalls in doing things in this way.

But even before Gandhi tries to get a visa, his house-hunting experiences give us an idea about Manikandan’s talent at extracting comedy out of some tough situations. The snapshots we get of the house owners, the condition of their houses and their conditions about the renters lead to some good laughs.

The film features a large cast of characters and Manikandan’s success comes from making so many of them stand out. This is as much due to their characterization and lines as to the actors playing them. A theater troupe leader(Nasser), the lawyer who helps out Gandhi, the junior to the lawyer(a fabulous and natural Vinodhini), the heroine’s mother and the officer who nabs Gandhi are some of the satellite characters who make a strong impression.

The relationship between Gandhi and Karmegakuzhali(Ritika Singh) is developed subtly and beautifully. Her initial reluctance to help Gandhi, the way she gradually comes around(Vijay Sethupathy’s innate likeability and sincerity help immensely in making this believable) and then takes an active interest in helping him are charted nicely. The idea of making him act as a mute(this is set up nicely by having another character act as a mute for a much more serious reason) is a winner, leading to some very funny sequences with a session with a pair of marriage counselors(watch out for Rithika’s expression and Vijay’s animated reaction to a question about their sex life) being laugh-out-loud funny.

There is no real romance between Gandhi and Karmegakuzhali but the way they get closer, the glances and expressions that reveal how they feel about each other, the fact that they like/dislike the same things(people noisily sipping coffee, misgivings about marriage), all these lay a nice foundation for it. And this subtle build-up is capped off with a beautifully handled scene near the end(both Vijay Sethupathy and Ritika pull it off perfectly).

9 responses so far

Oct 03 2016


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


With director Prabhu Solomon’s fondness for intense love stories and Dhanush’s experience at enacting such roles, their team-up in Thodari was something to look forward to. But the film is an absolute train wreck. It has both romance and action but misplaced comedy ruins every aspect of the film

Even if completely unfunny, one can at least say that the comedy is not misplaced initially. Dhanush plays Poochi, a pantry worker on a train that is traveling from Delhi to Chennai. It is a rather unique profession for a Tamil cinema hero and and the film tries many avenues to elicit laughs but fails. There’s Poochi’s many veiled insults to his manager(Thambi Ramiah) as he makes some comment intended for him and then feigns innocence by directing it at his friend(this is mildly funny the first time he does it). There’s Poochi sabotaging the manager’s attempts to impress an actress traveling in the train. Apart from these, there’s also a minister(Radharavi) making some jabs at politics and insulting his own security.

A lot of comedy also revolves around Poochi wooing Saroja(Keerthy Suresh), the actress’ Malayali assistant. I guess we are supposed to laugh as he lies to Saroja about his friendship with Vairamuthu(Karunakaran, spouting nonsensical poems is the fake lyricist). But the biggest jokes are on Saroja herself as she is soon revealed to have absolutely no singing talent whatsoever.  This serves to make her the dumbest Tamil cinema heroine – a title she takes over from Kajal in All in All Azhaguraja – as she is blissfully unaware of her voice and talent and dreams of auditioning in front of IR and ARR and making it big as a playback singer.

A series of coincidences – and the fact that Prabhu Solomon has seen Denzel Washington-starrer Unstoppable – eventually nudge the story towards action as the train becomes a runaway train with no driver and no way of stopping it. More bizarre coincidences lead to Saroja being mistaken for a terrorist who has hijacked the train. But unfortunately the film doesn’t stop with the attempts at comedy even here. A group of panelists discussing the event resort to cheap mudslinging as they talk about the minister on board. A political protest on the railway tracks takes more potshots at politicians. There’s a point where Karunakaran implicates Thambi Ramaiah as a participant in a terrorist attack. We have a very serious situation with hundreds of lives in danger and some research is evident in the plans being discussed by the officials. But the director is hell-bent on treating the film like a comedy. So there is no opportunity for any thrills or suspense.

But the biggest laughs come from the leads themselves. With Saroja stuck in the engine and Poochi on the first compartment, their cheesy dialogs alternate between dumb and irritating(Saroja is definitely the bigger culprit among the two but Dhanush is equally guilty for acting as though he was in a comedy). In what is easily the film’s worst moment, they break into a song and Dhanush actually starts dancing on top of the compartment.


15 responses so far

Sep 14 2016


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Tamil cinema has given us a few different subjects recently but Pichaikaaran still manages to stand out with a rather unique story. Arul(Vijay Anthony), who has returned home after finishing his MBA abroad, has taken over the mills that were being run by his mother. When his mother is injured in a freak accident, a godman asks Arul to spend 48 days as a beggar if he wants to save his mom. Deciding to give it a shot, he ends up being saddled with a very unique profession for a Tamil cinema hero and the film employs it to mix sentiments, comedy, romance and action quite well.

Pichaikkaaran is no Naan Kadavul. Though there are a few shots that illustrate the beggars’ lives and the insults they suffer, things are mostly kept light-hearted as they own cell phones, make substantial income that they get to keep(there are no pimps in sight), have closets full of clothes in their makeshift living quarters, crash weddings and pass snarky comments about the passers-by. The tone is the same as Arul tentatively starts begging and gets a crash course on doing it effectively. The film treats it like a fish-out-of-water scenario and gets some small laughs as the rich Arul tries to get down and dirty and the other beggars help him fit in.

The mother sentiment looms large over Pichaikkaaran as Arul sacrifices his rich lifestyle to try and save his mother. But since the sentiment is inherent in his actions and not in-your-face(like it used to be in many P.Vasu films for instance), it is more effective without seeming melodramatic. The film uses the sentiment well late in the film when Arul is faced with a tough choice with respect to saving two lives. The suspense is built up well and the choice he makes does come as a surprise though the film takes the easy way out and doesn’t force him to go through with it.

Its not easy making a romance between a beggar and an entrepreneur – Mahi, played well by Satna Titus, runs her own pizza place with her friends – believable but the film makes it work. The meet-cute is silly(she is going after a fly and instead slaps his face as he enters the restaurant) but is developed with some solid scenes(the one where he helps her when she is insulted by an Audi driver is nicely done). There are some nice moments and sharp dialogs between them both early on(like the selfie scene) and later after she stumbles upon his secret.

The romance, comedy and sentiments seem integral to the film but the action portions seem unnecessary and present simply to feed Vijay Anthony’s desire to be seen as a mass hero. They don’t even arise out of the bad guy’s acts(this is Arul’s uncle, who has his eye on his wealth and inadvertently causes the aforementioned conflict). The rowdies exist simply to be beaten up by Arul in a couple of fight sequences. There is also a subplot about illegal pharmaceutical testing, that seems like it belongs in a different film.


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Sep 11 2016


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Its pretty obvious that Vikram likes playing dress-up. That has become his calling card as he has gone through a lot to change his appearance and mannerisms to play several completely different characters in movies like PithamaganAnniyan and I. So it is a little surprising that he has never played a double role so far in his career. He finally gets a chance to do that, playing both hero and villain in his latest film Irumugan.

The villain he plays is Love, a chemist who has manufactured a drug that makes superhumans out of ordinary people by simulating fear in their brains and accelerating the generation of adrenaline. His face looks botoxed – mainly because of those high, arched eyebrows that reminded me of Karthika’s perpetually arched brows in Purampokku – but his wig, bright and unique costumes, effeminate mannerisms(there are quite a few hints that he is a transgender) and accent combine to create a different, interesting character. He is flashy but doesn’t go too over-the-top and so makes a strong villain.

But its a while before we meet Love. First we are introduced to Akilan(Vikram), a RAW agent who quit the agency after his wife Maya(Nayanthara), also an agent, was killed during an assignment (Nayanthara looks gorgeous as she is introduced in the catchy Halena… number. Vikram too looks suave but his dance steps look awkward and it gets worse in the next 2 duets, particularly in Kannai Vittu…).

When an elderly Malaysian man goes on a rampage in the Indian embassy in Malaysia, the head(Nasser) of RAW brings Akilan back. The reason – the Malaysian man sports a tattoo that connects him to Love, who was behind Maya’s death and was killed by Akilan. Vikram plays Akilan in a straight and serious mode as befits a man who has lost his wife. There are no cutesy moments though Aarushi(Nithya Menen) tags along with him and a particular scene where a character is shot really shows where Akilan’s priorities lie.

The film moves at a fast clip as Akilan tries to get to the root of the mystery of the gunman. Things are kept interesting as he follows the leads that slowly get him closer to the end and the fights and car chases are short and slick. Thambi Ramaiah once again kills the film’s serious tone, showing up as a bumbling Malaysian cop but at least Karunakaran, even if in just one scene, plays it straight with just some wry humor.

The film has a good twist and a few surprises as the case with Love gets resolved pretty quickly as he is nabbed. But with Vikram playing the bad guy, its obvious he can’t go down that easily and he gets some bombastic scenes as he gets back up again. After this, the film begins to drag and logic takes a hit as the film introduces sequences, like the happenings in the Malaysian hospital revolving around a Malaysian minister, to further showcase Vikram’s  dress-up fetish. The scientific jargon thrown around does sound acceptable but at the same time, gadgets like the DS-like controller(that allows Love to decide the fate of his tattooed henchmen via a convenient menu) look somewhat amateurish. But as in the early portions, the stunt sequences are still done well. As in films like Muni and Enthiran, the superhuman strength aspect makes the fights more interesting and acceptable.

5 responses so far

Sep 07 2016


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Wagah, a big letdown from director GNR Kumaravelan who previously helmed the solid Haridas,  is a silly romance that is set in Kashmir, around the India-Pakistan border. It follows the familiar template of the lovers being separated and then fighting against odds to get back together again. The only difference is that instead of the bloodthirsty relatives of the heroine, the hero here ends up fighting bloodthirsty soldiers from Pakistan’s army.

Vasu(Vikram Prabhu) sees joining the BSF in Kashmir as a path to an endless supply of free alcohol. But the film does turn serious once he actually enrolls in the army and we get glimpses of a life plagued by isolation and loneliness(though Karunas shows up soon as his uncle to dispel the film’s serious tone). The Pakistan army is quickly set up as cartoonish villains as they routinely behead Indian soldiers and don’t spare even a lamb that steps across the border.

The way the romance is developed is almost an insult to the serious situation in Kashmir and at the border and the efforts of the army stationed there. It kicks off with a cliched love-at-first-sight scene when Vasu sees Kanoom(Ranya Rao), a Kashmiri girl living with her grandfather. But then the first actual meeting between them happens during a serious training exercise where Vasu is dressed up as a terrorist and gets his bottoms pulled off while being captured by Kanoom and her friend(Vidyulekha). Then comes another ridiculous scene where he shows up drunk after losing his aranakodi(which, for some unfathomable reason, Vidyulekha has retrieved and worn around her neck!) and tricks Kanoom into retying it around his waist.

Its not just in the early scenes that the two are playful. A later scene sees Vasu escort her several kilometers through a forest, where they are in constant danger of being caught, which would result in certain death for Vasu. But the way they behave,  one would think they were taking a leisurely, fun stroll through a garden as they goof around and at one point, even have a friendly race where she tricks him to win.

Since Wagah opens with Vasu in prison, it isn’t a big surprise that he gets captured. And since its a hero-centric Tamil film, it isn’t a big surprise that he escapes. After this, the film goes into Gadar mode with Vasu going up against Pakistani soldiers (Kanoom’s family is conveniently sent out of the picture in a scene that is supposed to be tragic but ends up looking silly the way it is staged). The woods provide a nice setting for the fights and the action is staged quite well.


7 responses so far

Sep 06 2016

Aarathu Sinam

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Malayalam cinema usually delivers the best thrillers since the films focus on the story without distractions in the form of romance, comedy or songs. Aarathu Sinam, a remake of Malayalam film Memories(it was directed by Jeethu Joseph, who directed Drishyam/Papanasam), remains faithful to the original in content and presents the story without unnecessary distractions. But the simple story and flat film-making ensure that there aren’t many thrills.

The film stumbles a bit tonally at the start. It jumps right into the story as 2 random men are killed and their bodies displayed in public in an identical manner. But Robo Shankar, as the cop who is initially assigned the case, comes across as a big mistake since his jokes disallow the film from setting the atmosphere that a good thriller needs. Thankfully he disappears once the case is assigned to Arvind(Arulnidhi), who is now an alcoholic after a devastating personal tragedy.

Arvind’s alcoholism doesn’t really seem to have affected his mental faculties since he makes good progress in solving the case (it does affect his ability at a key point in the story but that comes much later). The only time the film shows some sparks of life is when Arvind starts making some headway in the case. The way he finds a religious angle to the case and the subsequent link he finds between the victims infuse some energy into the story.

But the thrills are short-lived. Once the link is found the story proceeds in a straightforward manner. The roots of the case lie in a cliched incident from the past and there are no twists or surprises in the identity of the murderer as Arvind follows the leads to unmask him. The only mild twist comes in the form of Arvind’s stronger connection to the case at the end.

One response so far

Aug 29 2016

2 Disappointing Books

Published by under Books

last-mile  wolf-lake

Memory Man, the first book in David Baldacci’s new series came as a big surprise for a long-time reader like me. With a new central character Amos Decker who had hyperthymesia – the ability to remember everything -the book featured some good mysteries and didn’t have even a whiff of American politics, the subject of almost all Baldacci books. The second book in the series, The Last Mile, also kicks off with a good mystery as a high school football player Melvin Mars, who is jail for the murder of his parents, gets a last-minute reprieve when another criminal confesses to the murders. Decker, who hears the news on the radio, takes up the case.

The plot moves briskly for a while with some interesting questions(like the timeline) surrounding the day Mars supposedly killed his parents and the reasons behind the confession by a man seemingly unrelated to Mars. But beyond a certain point, it starts to get incredibly convoluted. It touches everything from a foreign drug mafia to racism in the past and takes too many turns to connect them all up. At the same time, the answers to the most interesting questions end up being too simplistic. The way the mystery is solved isn’t very satisfactory either. Decker has too many leaps of intuition and there are points where he seems to be clairvoyant rather than just having a good memory.

With Think of a Number, John Verdon jumped right to the top of my favorite authors list. The intriguing mysteries, the interesting investigation and the elegant solutions made it a suspenseful, gripping read. The next 2 books weren’t as good but still good reads but his fourth book Peter Pan Must Die saw Verdon return to form with a good mystery and a surprising but logical answer. In his latest book Wolf Lake, detective Dave Gurney gets involved in the case of a hypnotherapist John Hammond, 3 of whose patients have committed suicide after getting identical dreams. Hammond is the resident hypnotherapist at a resort(the owner also committed suicide after getting the same dream) and that’s where Gurney goes to investigate the case.

The question about how different persons can get the same dream is an interesting question but its unfortunately the only interesting question that the book throws up. Gurney’s investigation eventually leads to an incident in the past, a very cliched plot point and the answers to main mystery end up being quite disappointing. The case also involves some hi-tech gadgetry and government involvement but they don’t amount to much other than some small mysteries that are solved soon. In the previous books, Gurney’s wife stayed on the sidelines. Here she is directly involved with her own link to Wolf Lake but her parts become quite irritating as they simply distract Gurney from his main investigation at key points in the story.

Baldacci and Verdon are 2 of my favorite authors and it was rather sad to read disappointing books from both of them. I’m now reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and so far it looks like Rowling isn’t going to disappoint. More on that later…


5 responses so far

Aug 25 2016

Amma Kanakku

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Amma Kanakku is a sweet, feel-good film about the efforts of a mother to set her daughter on the right path in life. The mom is Shanthi(Amala Paul), who is widowed and works as a maid in the house of Dr. Nandhini(Revathi) but also does a couple of other jobs to supplement her income. Though she is a maid, Shanthi’s daily life quickly makes it clear to us that Amma Kanakku is no Kutty or even Kakka Muttai. We never see her do any menial tasks and Nandhini is very affectionate towards her. Though she is a single mom, there are no leering men making unwanted advances or comments and her co-workers at her other jobs are also nice(even when firing her!). All these help the film maintain its feel-good vibe throughout.

Shanthi’s only aim in life is to see her daughter Abhi(Yuvasree) do well in school and succeed in life. The good news is that these characters come across as real even in this sanitized world . This starts in the very first scene when Shanthi tries to wake Abhi up. She coddles her daughter but as soon as the stresses of life appear(in the form of a cooking accident),  her tone and attitude change. So the characters and the conversations they have mostly ring true and this ensures that though the film is filled to the brim with ‘nice’ characters, it is never boring.

Abhi pays scant regard to her studies and Shanthi is devastated when Abhi reveals that her ambition in life is to become a maid like her mother. So Shanthi takes matters into her own hands to get Abhi to study. Her plan is cute like the rest of the movie  and the competition that ensues between mom and daughter as a result of that is a lot of fun. Amala Paul does well in these portions with her tiny smiles and the glint in her eyes egging Abhi on. Samuthirakani plays a teacher in Abhi’s school and though he indulges in some buffoonery like most of our cinema teachers, he also conveys his seriousness about his job.

While Shanthi’s plan takes up the bulk of the movie, it doesn’t directly lead to the resolution. Eventually there is a showdown between Shanthi and Abhi(this is where Amala comes up a bit short. She seems inhibited when expressing her disappointment and anger at Abhi’s act) that plays a more direct role in Abhi’s realization. The ensuing climax is handled with subtlety and grace and that makes it all the more effective.


6 responses so far

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