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.

2 responses so far

Mar 21 2017

Train to Busan (Korean)

Published by under International Cinema


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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Mar 19 2017


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Yaakkai begins with a well-filmed scene where a car is pushed down from the rooftop of a Chennai hospital at night. When ACP Sahayam(Prakashraj) arrives at the scene the next day, we learn that the chief of the hospital Krishnamoorthy(Radharavi) was killed and then placed in the car before its fall. This sets the stage for a suspense thriller. As in recent thrillers, comedy is added to the mix with Singampuli showing up as Sahayam’s assistant but the case moves rather quickly as Sahayam finds a few clues, Krishnamoorthy’s son Sriram(Guru Somasundaram) returns from the US and a key player is killed.

Then the action shifts to Coimbatore to focus on the romance between Kathir(Krishna) and Kavitha(Swathi) and that is the film’s undoing. Kathir takes Kavitha’s photos without her knowledge and his first instinct when Kavitha faints in his arms after donating blood, is to take a selfie. So the romance has a troublesome start with Kathir not coming across as very likeable. It is never particularly charming and it is also periodically interrupted by the murder case. So it never gets us fully involved and its only bright spot is the catchy Solli Tholaiyen maa… number.

But Krishna’s performance ends up being the film’s biggest problem compared to his character’s unintended creepiness and the romance’s general blandness. We are used to seeing our heroines overact in an attempt to look cute and bubbly. But Krishna takes on that task here. He hams in every scene he is in trying to be cute and playful but fails miserably and is completely irritating. While talking about performances, Guru Somasundaram is completely miscast also. His acting and dialog delivery, especially when he talks in English, come across as artificial and unrealistic.

Even if most of Sahayam’s findings come from luck and convenient clues(like a haphazardly torn calendar sheet), his investigation keeps us marginally interested in the film. It comes as no surprise that the Kathir-Kavitha romance ends up being connected to the murder. The way the two tracks are connected involves the director playing with timelines but its not done too well and ends up being confusing with some of the suspense being broken at the midpoint because of the need to signal the intermission on a temporary high.

5 responses so far

Mar 16 2017


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Mupparimaanam doesn’t inspire much confidence in the beginning. Kathir(Shanthanu) gets a typical mass hero introduction scene where he swats away a bunch of goons at a marriage hall and then kidnaps the bride Anusha(Shrushti Dange). The fight sequence is good even if completely one-sided but the subsequent chase is rather generic and doesn’t generate much by the way of excitement. It doesn’t help that it reminds us of the similar chase in Gilli(the Yaaro Ivano… number takes the place of Arjunar Villu…) here.

Its during the chase that we learn about the romance between Kathir and Anusha. It is again a very routine romance where their families have a previous enmity stemming from Kathir’s dad, a policeman, being responsible for putting Anusha’s brother in jail. Its the kind of romance that is not particularly interesting but doesn’t make us cringe either. Kathir and Anusha don’t get the chance to be overly cutesy since the romance itself is pretty short and doesn’t have many sparks. The scenes with Anusha’s parents don’t get overly dramatic and there are a couple of scenes(like a wedding, an opportunity to elope) where we aren’t sure exactly how the story will proceed.

But the film then surprises us. As some blanks get filled in, we see the full picture and the story it paints is very different from what we had been led to believe. There’s some cheating by the director but it works and the way some of the events actually unfolded makes us smile. Even the cliched nature of the romance makes more sense now since it tricked us with its predictability.

The film told the romance without any unnecessary comedy but it adds Thambi Ramiah into the mix after things get serious. He doesn’t do any serious damage since flashbacks take up most of the screen time but he still feels unnecessary. The flashbacks also allow the film to add a song sequence featuring cameos by many actors(Arya, Vijay Anthony, Radhika, Ramya Krishnan are a few of the more high-profile actors to make an appearance).

2 responses so far

Mar 14 2017

Motta Shiva Ketta Shiva

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


The success of the last 2 Kanchana movies made Raghava Lawrence a star with box-office clout. While they were commercial successes, our heroes have always treated successful mass masala movies as the holy grail of stardom. Lawrence’s attempt at that stardom gives us Motta Shiva Ketta Shiva, a hardcore, B-grade mass masala movie. Lawrence is more acceptable as a mass hero than some other heroes but the vehicle he has chosen is pretty bad.

We actually see ketta Shiva first as ACP Shiva(Raghava Lawrence) takes charge after haggling a transfer from a minister he rescues from kidnappers. He is crooked and corrupt, making deals with criminals and taking bribes. Its usually fun to see our heroes play the bad guy for a change but Shiva here isn’t bad in an interesting way. He simply overlooks petty crimes and beats up small-time criminals. To make matters worse, he isn’t completely rotten either. So we have scenes like the one where he befriends a deaf-mute girl Nandhini and later saves her and her group from a goon.

Seeing Kovai Sarala, Sathish(who in recent movies seemed to be on the road to becoming the lead comedian but hardly has any screen time or lines here)  and Chaams as Shiva’s constables tells us that we are not supposed to take anything seriously but the comedy, revolving around them worshiping the ACP for his corrupt ways, is terrible(aside from making a mockery of the rules of the police). The same goes for Shiva’s romance with a journalist(Nikki Galrani). The usual idea of the hero making the girl jealous by cozying up to another woman is used as a ploy for the director to introduce an item number and Devadharshini adds to the annoying comedy as the journalist’s sister who adores cops.

Shiva’s corrupt behavior is not to just line his own pockets. He is actually out to irritate the Commissioner(Sathyaraj, in one of his most ineffectual roles) with whom he has a past. The reason behind this is a key twist but the revelation is handled in such a throwaway manner that we wonder why the director made an attempt to hide it. Another minor twist with respect to the victim of a crime is actually handled better and gives us a momentary surprise.

In keeping with the film’s trend, a single conversation is all it takes for Shiva to have a change of heart. So he turns into motta Shiva and goes up against GK(Ashutosh Rana) and his younger brother Sanjay(Vamsi Krishna). In keeping with the movie’s tone, they are both incredibly evil and incredibly stupid. GK’s plans to beat Shiva are silly and Shiva’s responses are sillier. A scene where some ladies imitate fight sequence moments from Tamil films(the Singam bit is the funniest) is the film’s sole clever moment. Lawrence thinks that shouting out a dialog automatically makes it a punch dialog and so keeps screaming threats and challenges until the movie finally draws to an end.

6 responses so far

Mar 09 2017

Kuttram 23

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Arivazhagan is a director who hasn’t hit the big league even after providing two good entertainers(Eeram, Vallinam) in two very different genres(horror, sports drama). Arun Vijay too has languished for years in the lower ranks of Tamil cinema without getting the all-important break that would enable him to climb up the rungs of stardom. The two have joined hands for Kuttram 23, a medical thriller. It turns out to be a mutually beneficial team-up since Arivazhagan gives us another solid entertainer in a different genre while Arun Vijay delivers a measured, restrained performance.

It is an exciting, suspenseful start to the movie when a priest is murdered in a church right after he gives confession to a woman who then goes missing. We soon learn that she was the wife of the head of a television channel and the case is assigned to Assistant Commissioner Vikram(Arun Vijay). From there the film moves briskly as he investigates the murder. Vikram gets too many easy breaks(a body is found soon, he gets a witness who saw the bad guys, etc.) but the suspense about the plot and some good action sequences(the best one though comes near the end when Vikram faces off against a bad guy inside a hotel room) keep the film moving consistently.

The film blends Vikram’s personal side into the story well. The first time his family is shown, we see his his sister-in-law(Abhinaya) enduring sharp barbs from Vikram’s mother about her inability to become a mom(this is brought up multiple times during the course of the film to seem like the film’s message). But we see later that this is not played out just for sentiments since she eventually plays an important part in the case. Similarly Thendral(Mahima Nambiar, who bears a resemblance to many actresses from an earlier era), is a witness becoming his love interest. With these aspects blended in, there are no awkward, pace-sapping detours for a romantic track or to showcase Vikram’s family.

But as with most other thrillers, this film is also unable to get away from the need to introduce some levity into the proceedings by casting Thambi Ramiah as a constable. While he doesn’t bring any big laughs, its still better than a separate comedy track and the director makes some amends by giving him one good scene where he manipulates the scene in an interrogation room after Vikram lets his emotions get the better of him.

The way the bad guy is brought in is awkward and the way Vikram makes the connection to identify him strains credulity. But to the director’s credit, he maintains the suspense about what exactly is happening for a really long time. Even after the link between the victims has been established, it is difficult to fully understand the villain’s motives and actions(the relevance of the 23 in the title is also revealed quite late in the proceedings). This is partially due to how weird those motives end up sounding when he finally spells them out but when it works in keeping us involved in the movie, the villain’s weird way of thinking is something that is easy to overlook.

7 responses so far

Mar 06 2017


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


I was pretty excited when Rum was advertised as a “heist-horror thriller” since those are two of my favorite genres and Tamil cinema has recently delivered some good films(Pizza, Maya, Rajathanthiram, etc.) in both those genres. But that advertisement is quite misleading. Rum is pretty much a horror film with the heist portion serving only as a short set up. And even as a horror film, it doesn’t tread any new ground.

The heist is carried out by 5 friends Shiva(Hrishikesh, who played Dhanush’s brother in VIP), Riya(Sanchita Shetty), Raj(Vivek), Nepali and Kural, to get a hold of some precious stones. The caper has some good ideas but the setup is laughably bad(the insanely valuable stones are transported in a truck with a single police jeep for security) and so the execution proceeds too smoothly to take up time or generate tension. Once the friends decide to keep the stones and spend the night in an isolated house(which a prologue has already told us, is haunted) in the middle of the forest, the film enters horror territory.

The early parts – where things go bump in the night without anyone, including us, knowing why – go on for too long. Some of the camera shots(like one where we see a crossword puzzle being solved) are inventive and there are a couple of good Boo! moments but there is little beyond that to hold our interest since the happenings in the house are standard horror movie cliches. Since our filmmakers have to tack on comedy to any genre, Vivek cracks a few jokes, but very few of them work.

A particularly gory pre-interval moment finally signals that the film has gotten serious about being a horror film. The eventual flashback(which features Miya George as one of the characters) to explain the house’s hauntings is as cliched as it gets with murders and a rape. But there is a good twist about where the loyalties of one of the characters lie and the film does take the effort to explain many of the supernatural happenings from before like a self-solving Rubik’s cube, Kural playing bounce with no one in particular, etc. Narain plays a particularly nasty villain and so the scenes where he gets his comeuppance – particularly one involving a mix-up with lemons – are enjoyable.

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Mar 02 2017

Adhe Kangal

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Producer C.V.Kumar has built up a reputation for bankrolling small but interesting films in a variety of genres ranging from sci-fi(Indru Netru Naalai) to horror(Pizza). Like many of the films that he has produced, Adhe Kangal too features actors who are not household names(yet) and a new director. And like those other films, this film, a thriller, also keeps his reputation intact.

Varun(Kalaiyarasan) is a visually challenged chef (the blindness and the intricacy involved in cooking make this an interesting combination. But barring one scene, this skill isn’t really exploited in the film). The film starts off looking like a love triangle as Sadhana(Janani Iyer), a journalist, likes Varun but its Deepa(Sshivada) who Varun falls in love with. This romance is developed nicely even if it is quick, with some small moments that capture Deepa coming to terms with and accepting Varun’s blindness. The Idho Thaanaagave… number helps even if Kalaiyarasan looks completely out of place in the dream sequence portions of the song.

The plot moves forward in interesting fashion after Varun gets into an accident. His actions are natural for someone in his position and don’t seem guided simply by the dictates of the screenplay. The key plot point is pretty obvious much before the actual reveal but it is built up to in an interesting manner and it also doesn’t completely kill the film since there are still some good knots left to unravel. The screenplay is constructed well without any obvious holes, the answers provided(like the way the marks were selected) are satisfactory and its nice that small things from before(like a photograph on the wall of Varun’s restaurant) lead to those answers.

When Balasaravanan is introduced as a constable, it looks like the film would do the same mistake that so many thrillers do – damage the tone of the movie by introducing unnecessary comedy. Though he does crack a few jokes and is mainly employed for comedy relief, he also plays an important part in Varun’s investigation. So his role doesn’t do much damage to the film’s pace.

Among the actors, Kalaiyarasan and Janani Iyer are rather low-key, which helps keep the movie’s look realistic. But the standout is Sshivada who digs into her role with relish. She brings out all the facets of her complex character convincingly and gives the film the energy it needs.

15 responses so far

Feb 27 2017


Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema


Notwithstanding the weak critical and commercial reception it got, Manirathnam’s Kadal was definitely a dream debut for Gautham Karthik since it got him noticed. But based on the scripts he has been selecting since then, the actor seems determined to become the poster boy for actors whose career takes a sharp nose dive after starting off with a strong debut. His latest film Muthuramalingam continues the downward trajectory of his career. If anything, it makes the fall seem steeper.

Muthuramalingam(Gautham Karthik), is the much loved son of Mookiah(Napoleon). Muthuramalingam is really good at the art of silambam and gets the chance to display his expertise at a couple of places. Gautham acquits himself well at this but comes up short pretty much everywhere else. His punchlines are laughable and this is due to both his inability to deliver them convincingly as well as the quality of the lines themselves. But he does have a moment referring to his lineage when dances to Amaran‘s Vethala Poatta Shokkula….

But before we know about Muthuramalingam’s silambam skills, we learn that he is also really good at headbutting. We get an absurd intro scene where he headbutts a goat(!) and a couple of scenes where he vanquishes others using the same skill. But its not all for fighting. He once renders his lover Viji(Priya Anand) unconscious when he inadvertently knocks her on the head and the way he and his dad express affection is by gently hitting their heads together(that’s all the dad asks for when Muthuramalingam is leaving him). With all this headbutting, the film might as well have been named Mutturamalingam!

Mookiah sports a voluminous mustache and the reason soon becomes clear since the film is obsessed with mustaches. It has a few dialogs that associate them with manliness but it doesn’t stop there. It goes to silly lengths with a cop hauling Mookkiah by his mustache and Muthuramalingam chopping the cop’s hand off for insulting his father. But the silliest moment comes later when Muthuramalingam, with his pencil-thin mustache, lets a policeman go, telling him that he didn’t kill him because of his mustache!

With Mookaiah and Muthuramalingam going into hiding, the film shows some signs of coming to life. But with Vivek showing up as the cop assigned to bring them in, the suspense is channeled into comedy. His antics and jokes barely raise any laughs because of the situation(we are supposed to believe that the cops are looking for Muthuramalingam without a single photo to actually identify him. But the track still fares better than Singampuli’s horrendous track in the first half that saw him wander around with a vessel with a human head hidden inside).

The film’s main conflict is introduced abruptly just before the intermission but the opportunity it affords for drama is not followed up well either. The main revelation is easy to guess(the other two possible choices have no emotional heft) and though it leads to sentiments, it doesn’t evoke any emotions since the relationship between the characters until then has not been shown strongly enough to warrant those sentiments. The villain’s act behind the whole thing in the flashback doesn’t make a lot of sense either. There is a small twist that sets up an interesting conflict between two characters but that is revealed in a matter-of-fact way and so has no impact also.

7 responses so far

Feb 22 2017

The Widow

Published by under Books


Its become rare these days to read a simple, straightforward story where the narration is not complicated by unreliable narrators, multiple points of view and the story itself moving back and forth in time. Fiona Barton too relies on many of these techniques in her debut novel The Widow. The story keeps us hooked with good suspense but the straightforward story feels more like a drama or an investigative tale rather than a twisty thriller like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, 2 books its been compared to.

The story revolves around a little girl Bella who went missing while she was playing in the yard. Parts of the book deal with the time right after the incident as an inspector Bob Sparkes becomes obsessed with finding the girl. As with any story dealing with kids, there are some unsavory characters and scary information about their behavior but these are the best parts of the book. Bob’s investigation is thorough and his cycles of hope(when he gets a new lead) and disappointment(when the lead doesn’t pan out) are described well. We also meet Dawn, Bella’s mom, who clings to the hope that her daughter is alive and waits for her to return.

The story actually starts a few years later with the titular character Jean Taylor, whose husband Glen Taylor has just died in an accident. She is being interviewed by a reporter Kate Waters and we soon learn, through the sections flashback sections, that it was her husband who was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. Jean’s segments give us the picture of a naive wife whose life is controlled subtly but completely by a manipulative husband. We share her doubts about her husband’s nature and its these doubts about his innocence that give the story its suspense.

The multiple narrators help tell the complete story in bits and pieces and the story moves forward quickly as the two timelines eventually merge. But barring the suspense about the husband’s guilt about there are no real twists or surprises in the story.

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