Feb 22 2017

The Widow

Published by under Books

widow

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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Feb 16 2017

Singam 3

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

singam3

Suriya has mentioned a few times that Singam was the film that gave him good reach in the B and C centers. He must’ve wanted reassurance about that reach again after a smart film like 24 and so joins hands again with Hari for Singam 3. His decision isn’t that much of a puzzler since masala films are what our heroes drift towards whenever they are looking for a box-office hit. And I don’t mind sitting through a couple of these if they embolden him to do some potentially risky films like 24. I just wish Hari had invested some thought into the script to take the franchise in an interesting direction rather than recycle stuff from the previous 2 films.

Singam 3 is again a true sequel in that the the characters around Suriya are carried over from the previous film(s) and there are various references to the previous films. Duraisingam and his wife Kavya(Anushka) have a conversation mimicking one of their cute interactions from the first film. Duraisingam has a brief flashback to the second film when he sees someone in the hospital. The shift in the Australian policemen’s attitude towards him is based on an offshoot from his actions in Singam 2. And as in the first film, he has a scene where he runs alongside a fleeing bad guy after chasing him(though, this being a sequel, the bad guy in is an SUV!).

This time around Duraisingam(Suriya) is on deputation to the CBI and is sent to Telangana to look into the murder of the Police Commissioner(Jayaprakash) there. But with everyone talking in Tamil(to make understanding easier, as an opening caption tells us), the new location makes absolutely no difference and adds nothing to the story.

The film’s sole motive is to let Duraisingam go up against a string of bad guys at rising levels of the villain hierarchy before meeting the bad guy who is behind it all. All Suriya has to do is to glares, strut and shout his way through the movie. The main villain Vittal is played by an unfamiliar face, Thakur Anoop Singh, and his introduction sees him working out in his underwear(not gym attire, not shorts, underwear) inside his plane. This laughable introduction tells us about the kind of villain he is going to be and he remains ineffective throughout, staying far away from Duraisingam and barking cliched orders on the phone.

The story proceeds in a disappointingly straightforward way with no surprises or twists. The murder investigation doesn’t lead to a police procedural or even a regular suspense thriller. It peters out soon enough and is just the starting point for a larger story that eventually turns out to be about medi-waste and e-waste. Anushka barely has any screen time as the wife and is relegated to feeling sentimental about her thaali and fighting with Duraisingam over his dangerous missions. Shruti Hassan is the second heroine Vidya who develops feelings for Duraisingam and later plays the damsel in distress role. But this relationship fares a little better than in the previous film since Duraisingam doesn’t lead her on and has a legitimate reason for not disclosing that he is married.

With such a straightforward story, Hari is as always forced to drum up the pace artificially using quick cuts and fast camera movements to give the appearance of things moving fast. There are many times when even regular shots(like the scene where Reddy walks towards the police station) are sped up. Between Suriya frequently striding in slo-mo and others walking in such fast shots, its rare to see people moving at a normal speed in the film!

7 responses so far

Feb 14 2017

The TN Political Drama

Published by under Politics,Tamil Cinema

sasikala-OPS

It goes without saying that I’ve been watching a lot of movies but lately, the action in the Tamil Nadu political arena has provided more entertainment than all those movies combined. Yes, our movies do straddle several genres to entertain but even they would find it hard to throw in all the genre elements that TN politics has provided over the last few months.

  • Sasikala’s rise from aide to close confidant to CM-aspirant feels like a rags-to-riches story (or maybe a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story considering she was out of favor with JJ at one time before working her way back in to JJ’s confidence)
  • The mystery surrounding JJ’s death and the ensuing questions, doubts and rumors wouldn’t have been out of place at the start of an investigative thriller.
  • Sasikala and OPS shedding tears during interviews and press conferences provided the needed sentiments(AMMA sentiment!)
  • The equivalent to the hero transformation scene happened with Panneerselvam finding his voice and opposing Sasikala after the quiet, calm-before-the-storm meditation session.
  • The reports about MLAs being kidnapped, imprisoned in resorts and escaping after donning disguises seemed straight out of an action film.
  • The lead up to the results of the disproportionate assets case and the far-reaching consequences of the verdict were along the lines of a courtroom drama.
  • The terrific memes that resulted from the situation(my favorite one was about the MINI-MUM guarantee needed to become the CM when it looked like Sasikala was all set to take over the post) provided the comedy.
  • Edappadi K Palanisamy, who I have never heard of before, becoming the new AIADMK party leader and CM aspirant feels like the last-minute twist where a new character is introduced
  • OPS and Deepa joining hands is straight out of the pre-climax scene in a two-hero movie where they unite to take down the villain
  • And though it wasn’t directly related to the political turmoil, we can’t forget the massive jallikkattu protests that made it feel like we were watching a revolution movie.

Whew! I’m sure there are states that go through many years and multiple CMs without seeing even a fraction the drama we’ve seen in a couple of months. And its still not over.

Notwithstanding the presence of all the aforementioned genre elements, one could say that the whole thing is a comedy considering the farcical elements that touch every aspect of it. But the sad part is that after a comedy movie, we can simply walk out of the theater and put the film out of our minds while in this case, the happenings affect the future of an entire state and its people. I guess that makes this a dark comedy!

7 responses so far

Feb 09 2017

Bogan

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

bogan

Villains in most of our hero-centric masala films are little more than punching bags. They may be loud but they make up weak plans, get duped ridiculously easily and their threats are designed to simply elicit massy punch dialogs as responses. Thani Oruvan showed us how effective a thriller can be when the villain is the hero’s equal and puts up a strong fight. Now the same hero-villain team of Jayam Ravi and Arvind Swamy comes together in Bogan, another film where the villain is just as important as the hero. Its not as intense or well-paced as Thani Oruvan but manages to be quite entertaining if we are able to look past its preposterousness.

Once again, its the bad guy who gets the more interesting introduction. Aadhitya(Arvind Swamy) awakens with a bevy of beauties in a palatial house while Vikram(Jayam Ravi), the ACP, gets a generic introduction number(the fun Damaalu Dumeelu…) and a fight sequence(that copies ideas from at least 3 foreign movies). While Vikram speeds through a listless romance with Mahalakshmi(Hansika), Aadhitya commits a jewelry store robbery by what seems like remote control. This is a nice hook since we wait to find out how he committed the robbery.

Their paths cross when Aadhithya’s next robbery – at a bank – ends up incriminating Vikram’s dad(Naren), who works there. The story zips along nicely as Vikram finds out who is behind the frame-up and then attempts to nab Aadhitya. His MO is interesting(it also allows the 2 actors to have some fun as they lip sync to some old songs) and though everything falls into place too easily(like an electricity bill that catches Vikram’s eye at just the right moment), the way it all happens is interesting enough. Arvind Swamy, in these scenes, shows just the right amount of swagger and cockiness needed to make his character work and is delightful to watch.

The story takes an unexpected turn at this point. Though the ruse behind this(which also explains how Aadhitya executed the robberies) is preposterous, it does set up an intriguing situation that mimics the story of a Hollywood film from a couple of decades ago. With this twist, it becomes Jayam Ravi’s turn to display a playful arrogance now and though he isn’t as effective as Arvind Swamy, the suspense inherent in the situation carries the movie forward.

The film glosses over many details(I could never understand why a particular palm scripture was so important since it had already been used) and actions(like what Vikram does with some all-important evidence) to keep the story moving. But it does allow Aadhitya to be a few steps ahead of Vikram at many points and so its nice to see the latter struggle to overcome the rather unique challenge. The film is at its best when it focuses on Vikram and Aadhitya as it keeps us wondering about what Vikram can do(though the way Vikram eventually solves the problem is disappointingly simplistic). But the director seems to lose his footing whenever Mahalakshmi enters the picture. Vikram, who is so logical when trying to convince his superior, behaves illogically when meeting Mahalakshmi, leading to unnecessary comedy and a song sequence.

4 responses so far

Feb 05 2017

Enakku Vaaitha Adimaigal

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

enakku-vaaitha-adimaigal

Enakku Vaaitha Adimaigal starts off with photos of famous and not-so-famous friends, making it immediately clear that it is another movie that is going to sing praises of friendship. It does do so as Krishna(Jai) and his friends Ramesh(Karunakaran), Moideen(Kali Venkat) and Sowmya Narayanan(Naveen George Thomas) regularly pass comments on how friends help each other. But in keeping with the trend in recent movies(usually headlined by Sivakarthikeyan), this comes at the expense of the girls, who cause all the heartbreak and drive boys to suicide. And its not just the 4 friends either. Santhanam, in a cameo, pretty much says the same thing as a guest on a television show.

Its Divya(Pranitha) who drives Krishna to suicide. We learn this during his session with a psychiatrist(Thambi Ramaiah, with his stock expressions and dialog delivery. But he does make 1 joke, his response to Krishna revealing that KD was the pair’s nickname, work). Divya’s characterization comes as a surprise, especially towards the end but I wish they had given the character some heft. We are confused about her feelings towards Krishna since she is neither serious nor entirely flippant. But her character does eventually pave the way for another cameo at the end.

To the movie’s credit, Krishna’s three friends are given almost as much screen time as him and are not around just to tease him and/or bolster his image. They all have lives beyond hanging out with Krishna and have individual character arcs as Ramesh is getting ready to get married(the scene where he visits the girl’s house for the first time has some funny lines), Moideen is a share auto driver with a wife and son and Sowmy is a call center employee. Krishna’s father too is a familiar dad-as-friend character but is likeable because of his jovial nature.

The bulk of the movie’s time is spent with the three friends searching for Krishna since they fear the worst. While the search has its funny moments(the funniest joke happens in a mortuary with the attendant’s take on a popular TV show), its not all fun and jokes either. The friends are irritated by him (the Mannenna Veppenna… number expresses this irritation in interesting fashion in the format of different TV shows) and this leads to some frictioin among them too. While this keeps the search interesting, the same is not true about Krishna’s situation. As he contemplates taking his own life and keeps postponing it, the story stops and things get repetitive and tiring.

The director seems to have made up the script as he went along after Krishna gets back into the action. The situations that sees the three friends get into trouble are all not very interesting. There are some scenes that push the movie perilously close to being a drama rather than a comedy and so the comedy scenes aren’t very effective either. Naan Kadavul Rajendran makes an appearance and contributes to some gay jokes for his part.

11 responses so far

Jan 31 2017

U-Turn (Kannada)

Published by under Kannada Cinema

uturn

While most thrillers attempt to keep us in suspense about the plot and some of the characters, U-Turn keeps us guessing about the genre it belongs to for quite some time. It starts off looking like a socially conscious, investigative thriller as Rachana(Shraddha Srinath), an intern at Indian Express, collects evidence about drivers making illegal, potentially dangerous u-turns on a Bangalore flyover. Finally ready to make a story out of it, she visits the driver who committed the offense that morning in order to interview him but is unable to meet him.

The story starts moving at a brisk pace from that point onwards. What Rachana learns that night initiates a good mystery and the film becomes a full-blown thriller with what the police discover as they follow up on Rachana’s explanations. The police investigation is captured well even if the film resorts to cliches like a senior policeman who simply wants to wash his hands off and close the case. There are some shocking moments(the best happens as Rachana and Nayak(Roger Narayan), the cop who helps her, return after visiting a lawyer) but these are not overdone and the suspense about the events is maintained quite well.

Some camerawork and a couple of happenings break the suspense before it is explicitly revealed and the casual conversations between some of the characters after that look a bit silly. But the film still has a few twists up its sleeve and keeps us involved as it teases us by making us wonder which of the characters are in danger. The film also retains its ability to surprise us right till the end.

 

4 responses so far

Jan 30 2017

The Woman in Cabin 10

Published by under Books

woman-in-cabin-10

A cruise ship is a unique place to set a missing person story and that’s the setting for Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. Lo, a journalist for a travel magazine, gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cover the maiden voyage of an ultra-luxurious cruise ship Aurora. Lo meets the titular woman in the adjacent cabin briefly when she borrows a makeup item. Some happenings that night convince her that the woman has been thrown overboard. But with everyone on the ship accounted for, its Lo who is suspected of being paranoid and delusional.

The underlying mystery is good since it is never clear what actually happened to the woman in the cabin. As Lo meets everyone on board, the suspense about what actually happened in the cabin keeps mounting. The small segments about some happenings in the future(these are provided very interestingly through news reports, emails and online newsgroup posts) also keep the suspense going since we know some disturbing outcomes but not the full details. The answer involves a good twist and the route the story takes is not always predictable, particularly in the portions where Lo gets in trouble.

But the novel isn’t always gripping. There are a number of characters to keep track of initially as we get to know the passengers and the staff aboard the ship. Things barely move forward as Lo meets the others(though a couple of these meetings prove to be important later). And it is rather disappointing that an important happening early in the story doesn’t turn out to be connected to the story at all. Also, Lo herself isn’t a  very likeable narrator. The writing is good when expressing her state of mind at many places but it does get rather repetitive as she repeatedly doubts herself and then grabs a hold of herself to keep digging into the mystery of the missing woman.

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Jan 25 2017

2016 Tamil Songs

Published by under Audio,Tamil Cinema

During the year, I listen to songs from individual albums and one of my activities in the new year is to create a playlist of all my favorite songs from the films that released the previous year. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and with my ‘2016 Favorites’ playlist ready, I thought I’d share it here.

In 2016, there were some albums like Irudhi Suttru, Kabali, Acham Enbadhu Madamaiyada, Kidari and Remo that I listened to as soon as they were released and ended up liking all or at least most of the songs. These were the songs that went on to play in repeat mode throughout the year and the songs I kept going back to after I listened to other soundtracks. But there were other albums that I didn’t listen to quite as frequently. This happened because I liked only some of the songs, the music director wasn’t popular enough to prompt me to listen the songs immediately or the movie itself arrived with little hype and I ended up listening to the songs only after I saw the film or read some good things about the music.  But there were some very good songs among them too and those are the ones you’ll find in this post.

I’m hoping that this list helps some of you discover songs you may have missed. On a more selfish note, I’m also hoping you have some favorites that I might’ve missed.

Aandipatti Kanavaa…, Naan Kaatrile…, Endha Pakkam (Dharmadurai)
Adiye Azhage…, Mangalyame…, Eppo Varuvaaro… (Oru Naal Koothu)
Aathangarai…, Kannukkulla Vandhu…, Otha Mazhaiyila… (Kadalai)
Chellakutti…, En Jeevan… (Theri)
Uyire En Uyirena…, Veredhuvum Nijame Illai…, Enge Ponaai…, Indha Kaadhal Illaiyel… (Zero)
Mazhai Ingillaye… (Ammani)
Naan Un…, Mei Nigara…Punnagaiye…, Kaalam En Kaadhaliyo… (24)
Kodi Parakkutha…, Ei Suzhali…, Sirukki Vaasam… (Kodi)
Oyaa Oyaa… (Kashmora)
Halena…, Kannai Vittu… (Irumugan)
Aattakkaari…, Paaruruvaaya…, Vadhana Vadhana… (Thaarai Thappattai)
Akkam Pakkam Paar…, Paravai Parandhichi… (Kaadhalum Kadandhu Pogum)
Aval…, Kondattam… (Manithan)
Chellamma…, Halla Bol…, Ola Ola Kudisaiyila… (Joker)
Idhu Kadhaiya…, Nee Kidaithai… (Chennai 600028 II)
Imsai Rani… (Aandavan Kattalai)
Kaatril Aeri…, Man Meedhu…, Nadhiyil Vizhundha…, Yaarume Thaniyaai… (Parandhu Sellavaa)
Kanna Kaattu Podhum…, Kannamma…, Pollapaiyaa… (Rekka)
Konji Pesida Venaam… (Sethupathy)

Happy Listening!

9 responses so far

Jan 19 2017

Koditta Idangalai Nirappuga

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

koditta-idangalai-nirappuga

As a director, Parthiban has usually displayed a willingness to experiment, to deliver stories that were different from the usual. He went all out  by wading deep into the ‘meta’ aspects of cinema in his last film Kathai Thiraikkathai Vasanam Iyakkam. He reins himself in and delivers a more straightforward story, only occasionally resorting to gimmicks, in the interestingly titled Koditta Idangalai Nirappuga.

Kevin(Shantanu) arrives in India from Australia, looking to purchase some land. He is cornered at the airport by Rangarajan(Parthiban), a contractor. At Rangarajan’s suggestion, Kevin stays at a rather palatial house instead of a hotel. That’s where he meets Mohini(Parvathy Nair). Parthiban makes us wonder for a little bit if he has also jumped on the horror-comedy bandwagon but the story then takes a turn that is not entirely expected.

Parthiban’s primary goal here is to keep the audience guessing. As the drama plays out, we keep wondering about what Mohini’s intentions are, how much Rangarajan knows about what is going on and how far Kevin is willing to go. Mohini is the primary reason behind the confusion. As she cozies up to someone at one time and lashes out at the same person at another time, she keeps us guessing about how the story will move forward. But the uncertainty alone is not enough to hold our interest. After a while, the film begins to drag as the story, which revolves only around these 3 characters, shows no signs of moving forward.

Though the story is serious, there are a lot of jokes, puns, wordplays and double entendres that keep the proceedings from getting serious. Rangarajan’s broken English creates some funny moments and some of the wordplays(I liked the one on ‘attitude’ near the end) are pretty clever. Parthiban also tries to recreate the kind of comedy he did so successfully with Vadivelu in films like Vettrikkodi Kattu. Here his target is Thambi Ramiah, who he teases and dupes because of his memory loss problem. But the jokes aren’t as funny and Ramiah is definitely not in the same league as Vadivelu when it comes to reaction shots.

Parthiban, for his part as director, uses different techniques to surprise us. He uses the familiar trick of showing some events happening before revealing them to be a dream or imagination. In a couple of places, he asks us to do what the film’s title orders i.e. fill in the blanks. So he shows us flashes of the future, leading us to imagine a certain sequence of events. He then shows us how things actually played out and this is usually quite different from what we imagined. Eventually this happens during the film’s climax too.

One response so far

Jan 17 2017

Bairavaa

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

bairavaa

If Suraa‘s colossal failure put Vijay on a comeback route that saw him appear in somewhat different films like Kaavalan, Nanban,  Thuppaakki and Puli, Theri made me wonder if Puli‘s failure had made him jump back on the masala bandwagon. That doubt has been confirmed with his latest film Bairavaa, a film that fits the ‘standard Vijay film’ definition in every aspect.

The film does a decent job of presenting the expected masala elements initially. Bairavaa(Vijay, sporting an unflattering wig) being a collection agent for a bank isn’t made use of for the rather uninspiring intro scene(when he goes cycling in the morning. No fight, no race, just cycling) and intro song(part of a generally underwhelming soundtrack from Santhosh Narayanan). But we do get a fun, imaginative action sequence right after. Sathish as Bairavaa’s friend gets a few laughs(many of those come in the Nillaayo… song sequence, like the throwaway shot where he imitates one of Kamal’s Moondraam Pirai antics) with Rajendran adding some in a cameo. There is barely any romance aside from the song sequences but the film does have a heroine in Malarvizhi(Keerthy Suresh) and Bairavaa does have the usual ‘love at first sight’ experience.

Malarvizhi is mainly employed to bring in the bad guys. The only mild narrative twist comes from who these bad guys are. We initially think its a father-son pair we see at a wedding. But its just a red herring – a good one though – as we soon learn about the real villains PK(Jagapathy Babu) and his henchman Koattaiveeran(Daniel Balaji). The state of one of the colleges run by PK becomes the issue that makes Bairavaa go up against them, allowing the actor to spout some dialogs about the education system.

The bulk of the movie is of course taken up by Bairavaa clashing with the two villains. Both the villains are rather weak and so there is no suspense or tension in these clashes(like the income tax raid at PK’s house). They are simply scenes to get Vijay fans cheering(the Varalaam Varalaam Vaa… music does the job nicely) as he wins over them and walks away in slo-mo and to that end they work. Koattaiveeran ends up being a little more three dimensional than PK with his affection for his ill wife. This aspect is also used well for one of the unique scenes in the movie where Bairavaa creates friction between PK and Koattaiveeran.

The action sequences continue to be nicely done after the action moves to Tirunelveli(Sathish disappears  and Thambi Ramaiah makes an appearance but he doesn’t make his presence felt and is completely sidelined). One good action block sees Vijay on the run as he is pelted with petrol packets. It works even though the eventual punchline feels rushed. The climactic fight sequence is also done well, making good use of the setting, a building under construction. But the fight is part of a climax where Vijay’s plan and the way it unfolds are both quite silly.

3 responses so far

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