Alias Grace: Through A Tapestry Of Fabric

Murderess… the word has an odour, musky and oppressive; rustles across the floor like a taffeta skirt’

– Alias Grace (1996, Margaret Atwood)

Fabrics play a huge role in Alias Grace. All through the book and the show, a distinct sub-text prevails: That of patchwork quilts and patterns, of designs and superstition, a mosaic of scenes and snippets that may or may not form a coherent whole.

Alias Grace‘s Sarah Gadon embodies the Atwood woman in spirit. She is prosaic and poetic all at once; talks of lovely evenings, so beautiful that they make her sad, of the pleasure to be had in the sight of fresh laundry rippling in the air, of apples and parsnips and beets that have a different texture when boiled. She talks of a bloody petticoat from her first period, her pretty embroidered handkerchief that was found wound around the neck of the murdered housekeeper whose household she was a part of, a sample of cloth from the gown of her corpse. She talks of fashioning lovely cuts of triangles from the clothes and weaving them all into quilt that she would make for herself. It would ripple and billow in the air someday just as the others do. The triangles would occupy the centre of the tree of paradise, a pattern she loves. Or perhaps, I would make an old maid’s puzzle, she tells the doctor who has come to review her case, and diligently takes notes of what she says. “I’m an old maid, don’t you think, sir, and I’ve been very puzzled.”

Grace sews, fiddles with the thimble as she says this, glances at the doctor from under her lashes steadily scratching away at his book, smiles. She knows he’s smitten by the tale that she weaves. And by extension, herself. At times, Grace, clad in a roomy blue pinafore with a flat Peter Pan collar, wets the thread between her lips to sharpen the edge. Dr Simon Jordan listens, a perfect sample of gentleman wardrobery – a tie and a coat. It’s classic representation of Grace’s thoughts about him – refined, avuncular, decidedly dispassionate but not entirely unfeeling. She smiles as he flinches at her miserable past, presses on in a low voice.

A textbook example of post-modernist literature, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace on screen, based on the 1843 real life murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada, is terrifyingly subliminal in the portrayal of its protagonist. There’s violence in the peace, a precise, clinical loveliness to the frames that works below consciousness to arouse dread.

Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant and convicted murderess, with an abusive, lovelorn and poverty-ridden past, works in the scullery of the notoriously-reputed Scottish gentleman with a snowy, clipped beard. It makes for pleasantly creepy characterisation. When she meets Mr Kinnear for the first time, he punches a man in the gut for making advances towards her. He looks thorough, light travelling coat and a well-poised hat, helps her up the carriage, sits next to her as an equal. They drive down Yonge Street to his farm. Nancy Montgomery, whose acquaintance Grace had made a few days before, is gowned in elegant peach tones when Grace sees her first. Soft muslin and a fine set of teeth, gold earrings that catch the light of the sun. She reminds Grace of a dear, dead friend. Arriving at the Kinnear household a little later, Grace is conflicted; Nancy, picking flowers in the garden, wears the pink of roses, with a bonnet cinched in elaborate satin. Flashy, jarring and worldly to her grey plaid skirt, Grace observes that she isn’t too welcoming.

Atwood, in her book, names chapters after quilting patterns, a few of which are described in great detail. She writes about cut and borders – of Wild Goose Chase and Vine – quilts for the married and quilts for the matrons. Fabrics take on a distinctive literary quality as well; they are used as metaphors like in here, to describe sounds – “There is great pleasure to be had in a wash all clean and blowing in the wind; the sound is like the host of the Heavenly Hosts applauding – though from far away. They do say cleanliness is next to godliness.” They are also employed to be evocative of a particular smell. Mrs Humphrey, Dr Jordan’s forlorn landlady who would love to have him in her bed, is said to bear a “hot dry smell like that of white linen being ironed.”

Clothing is also used a lot to reinforce character. Mary Whitney, Grace’s friend and confidante who presents her with a patterned kerchief on Christmas, has sharp eyebrows, a face not shorn of bony adolescence and a generally cheerful disposition. She’s sunny, often seen in the brightest of scenes, her apron decidedly white. George Parkinson, the son of the household, to whose advances she submits, has a gold chain twinkling over his coat. When Mary dies of a botched abortion, deliberately misled and used by George, Mrs Parkinson, his mother and the mistress of the household, is seen in a stuffy maroon gown that poufs over the arm. She bribes Grace into silence, presses a crisp note in her palm.

*****

Dr Simon Jordan, who seems both enchanted and repulsed by his patient, gradually becomes more involved in the tale she spins, needle, thread and thimble in rhythmic motion. He takes a fancy to her, begins fantasising. A risqué theme for the time the book was set in, it turns the psychologist-patient relationship on its head. Dr Jordan doesn’t quite know if he believes in her constructs; her tale seems deliberately thought-out, yet with a carefree innocence that he can’t quite place. In the novel, Atwood describes him as unpretentious. “He hates cravats and stocks and wishes them at the Devil,” she says, “he resents his trousers as well and all the stiff and proper clothing generally. Why does a civilized man see fit to torture his body by cramming it into strait-jacket of gentlemanly dress? Perhaps it’s mortification of flesh like a hair shirt. Men ought to be born in little woolen suits which would grow with them over the years thus avoiding the whole business of tailors and their endless fussing and snobberies.”

In Alias Grace, bonnets are subject to social class, too. Nancy Montgomery lends her elaborately fashioned one to Grace to wear on her birthday. Have the afternoon to yourself, she says. During other times, they make for a handy ruse. When Dr Jordan wonders why Grace doesn’t describe Mr Kinnear particularly to him, she blames it on her bonnet. “I didn’t wish to gape at him, sir,” she says, “And, I needed to turn my head because of the bonnet. I suppose you haven’t worn one, have you?”

No, says Dr Jordan, I suppose it’s very confining.

Much later, towards the end, Grace’s clothes see a dramatic transformation. In the final episode, she no longer wears blue, but a flowing black gown that fans out prettily across her lap. A dark veil over her head sets the mood for what is to come – a hypnotherapy session that seems to blow a new personality into Grace – vile, sinister, jeering. Did you help strangle Nancy, Dr Jordan asks of her. “It was my kerchief,” she twitters, “It was a shame to lose it. It was my mother’s and such a pretty pattern it had on it, too.”

*****

Aramm Review: Nayanthara Gets A Hero’s Treatment In This Poignant Drama

Gopi Nainar’s Aramm is eerily reminiscent of Kaaka Muttai. Not just because of the presence of the two child actors (Vignesh and Ramesh) who seem to have grown quite a bit, but also because of its stark reflection of social reality, or inequality if you would. Aramm constructs a rooted tale just like Kaaka Muttai, of a small family in a remote village who, despite their dire poverty and the lack of basic essentials, derive pleasure in the littlest of things and also fight their own demons. In a particular instance, the father, played by Ramachandran Durairaj, admonishes his boy for dreaming dreams of entering competitive swimming. Later that night, in a rustic setting that perhaps looks artful when viewed through the camera, he bares his soul to his wife. He tells her about his love for kabaddi and the social and political barriers that effectively put an end to his dreams. It’s tender, this instance; she listens, reaches out to touch him, they want to make love, but dare not give into moment; the kids sleep on a makeshift bed a few feet away. It’s an intimate scene that transcends physicality, and yet is so satisfyingly intense.

Aramm brims with such soulful frames before lapsing into drama. Nayanthara plays a district collector, with a distinct sense of right and wrong. And, an awesome taste in saris. She’s seen wearing just two through the movie. Of course, it may be considered blasphemous to indulge in talk about clothes especially given her role, but we will moon over her saris anyway. Soft cotton in lovely muted shades, with a high-necked blouse that serves to purposefully desexualise her, they are gorgeous, indeed. Nayanthara looks pretty as a picture in them; who says you can’t be smart and beautiful, hey?

When Aramm opens, she sits opposite a bureaucrat in what looks like an inquiry. There seems to have been a dereliction of duty; the bureaucrat seems furious at her, but there are helpful nudges. He’s made to mouth dialogues that are worded to be self-incriminating as Nayanthara seethes in righteously indignant silence. She then speaks for the people, expresses disgust at the political play as the bureaucrat with a questionable sense of ethics and someone who appears worldly to the idealist that she is, berates her for acting on the job.

Aramm, at its heart, is a bleak tale of a family that falls on bad times. Nainar makes you a part of them; the camera follows the mother as she chooses a birthday cake for her young daughter, brooding over vanilla and strawberry and finally picking one that is neither, but just inexpensive. When her son who loves to swim develops an infection in the ear, she sends her husband to the chemist; paying for a doctor’s advice would mean that they cannot spend on their daughter’s birthday. It’s almost endearing, this portrait of a family that obviously loves one another. Running in parallel, and in the background, are some of the everyday issues that their settlement faces. The director juxtaposes different settings – water scarcity, corrupt politicians, a society plagued with various evils – places the four at the centre of each, and watches them cope. It’s clever filmmaking despite the prolonged drama that unfolds later, but you’d be much inclined to forgive it all because Nainar has chosen something that you’d probably read about when you open the papers tomorrow. Ghibran’s melancholic score is eloquent by itself, and when not predicting impending doom, it’s creepy enough to paint a musical portrait of a set of parents’ desperate plea for help.

The film weaves in and out of the inquiry, cutting to events in the past – and the collector’s association with the family. Incidentally, we learn her name in a well-poised moment, not right at the beginning, but towards the intermission. Nayanthara as Mathivadhani is the government’s nightmare; she calls herself a ‘democrat’, teaches the bureaucrats a lesson or two about democracy, and is not one to share their corrupt, self-serving ideals despite several naked threats. She’s almost too good to be true, and is quite reminiscent of the pure, heart-of-gold heroes our cinema usually favours. What’s different here though is that a woman is unreservedly given the treatment that’s usually saved for the male leads. A low-angle shot of Nayanthara right at the end is especially lovely; she’s imposing, towers over the camera, and walks decidedly down the path that she’s chosen for herself. Naturally, the most powerful instance in the movie also belongs to her. When Mathivadhani IAS emerges successful in a long, emotionally-exhausting mission, she breaks down and sobs in relief. There’s no shoulder-riding or other gimmicks that are usually a part of such frames – just an honest shot of a leader uninhibitedly displaying her emotions while savouring a quiet moment of triumph.

*****

The Aramm review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Ippadai Vellum Review: A Thriller That Tries Too Hard To Be Inventive But Fails To Keep Up Pace

It’s almost too cute to see a villain with a glass eye. Add to that some matted locks and a general rugged appearance, and the quintessential villain is yours to command. In Ippadai Vellum, Daniel Balaji as Chhota generates quite a bit of interest despite his very run-of-the-mill terrorist look. He’s in jail, his clothes, fingers and just about everything on him are filthy, and when he uncovers a secret stash of batteries, wires and assorted bits and bobs to make explosives – all from underneath the foot rest of a really filthy toilet – there’s some hope of a decent thriller. The only dampener though, is the all too familiar imagery that broadly hints at something grim – just in case we miss the other in-your-face clues. Distinct grey frames, incessant rain, a terrorist who tries to hack away at his chains and set a few things in motion – how boring, really. But Daniel Balaji, in his one thousand four hundred and fortieth role as a villain since Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu, does make you sit up, even if it’s for a brief while.

Radikaa Sarathkumar seems to be the mother-in-demand in Tamil cinema. In Ippadai Vellum, she plays a single mother who fends for her family by driving a bus. And that, perhaps, is the most progressive part of the film, never mind the fact that the idea is readily milked for emotions later. Her son, Udhayanidhi as Madhusudhanan, is an out-of-work engineer in love with a colleague (Manjima Mohan as Bhargavi). Just when they plan to marry, things go awry. Much like Maanagaram and other movies that tried to connect separate events that occurred over the course of a single day, Ippadai Vellum throws together the proverbial bad guy, the good guy, and the comedian and sees what it can brew. It invents extraordinary scenarios just so that its characters could meet, has brothers who go to great lengths to express their disapproval in their sisters’ choice of spouse, and has some unfunny, contrived moments in the name of comedy. At one point, Soori, who plays a dubbing artiste, mistaken for a terrorist aide, says in what’s propped up to be a hilarious moment. “Naa bayangaravaadhi illa, verum bayangara vyadhi” [I’m not a terrorist, I just have a disease].

Udhayanidhi, accused of being the other terrorist aide, takes it upon himself to find the guy, and set several wrongs right at once. And, Ippadai constantly tries to establish the cleverness of its lead, while also trying to be wildly creative. Its terrorists use a single mail address to communicate; they don’t quite send mails to each other, instead, save all their messages as drafts.

All said and done though, Daniel Balaji as Chhota, who had generated some interest in the opening sequence, deserves a villainous act that befits his growing personality. He may have been well suited to play the murderous guy in the Gautham Menon directorial more than a decade back – all grey and moody – but right now, he could well use some clear skies, bright sunshine and a little more layer than just those matted locks.

*****

The Ippadai Vellum review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Aval Review: Horror Film With Quite Some Promise & Little Too Much Convention

Aval‘s strengths lie in its wonderful frames. The setting is picturesque, almost too lovely for horror, but that’s really what director Milind Rau plays with. The hauntingly beautiful quality of the locales, or the effect lent to them on the post-production table, a palette of blue, grey, and red for contrast may perhaps sound a little too pedestrian for this genre, but boy does it set the tone. A little settlement in Himachal Pradesh, surrounded by the mighty, almost ominous-looking mountains is where Aval takes place.

A young couple – one of them a neurosurgeon (Siddharth) – welcomes new neighbours, a family of five, whose house is the abode of a sinister something. Things shatter, doors bang, apparitions are seen, and a young girl (Anisha Victor as Jennifer) seems possessed. Siddharth flits in and out of his neighbour’s home, much to the chagrin of his wife (Andrea Jeremiah), and to the delight of Jennifer who has a tendency to take near-suicidal walks, and seems always on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The most chilling moment in the movie belongs to her. As the malefic spirit of a woman who’d lost her child, she lets out a grief-stricken, almost feral cry, which, when amplified at sound-designing – passes well above the threshold for human tolerance of high-pitched sounds. Thanks in part to Dolby Atmos too, of course.

If there’s something that you wish that horror movies don’t do, it’s confine themselves within the cozy, familiar comforts offered by a haunted house and other related paraphernalia. But, movie after movie, a haunted bungalow after haunted bungalow (with stylish flooring and décor in this case), never fails to lure the filmmakers. It probably calls out to them as Vijayalalitha does to Jaishankar here:

Aval also has a fiery cross in place to add character. There are also stray mentions of ‘Friday the 13th’, the holy Bible, ‘The Exorcist’, and other props to create mood, but those are just inconsequential at best and obsolete at worst. For the camera not only captures the sleepy loveliness that the locale exudes, it also lends itself over to the still mountain regions, terrifying in its allure. In a particular frame, a dark forest is flanked by hills on either side. A neon jeep breaks the near perfect symmetry. Aval opens to a moment back in time, a Chinese mother and her young daughter in the wilderness, the house looming large – set to a sweet, chilling lullaby.

It is, as the the director had intended, unadulterated horror for some time, until it succumbs to conventional tropes of the genre. What seems to be a good tale of haunting despite the hills and the house and the exorcism and the babies, soon turns into a story about witchcraft, the hills, the house, the exorcism and the babies. The title too, isn’t uncommon. Pronouns, by and large, lend an air of sinister foreboding to a horror film, and here, it’s no different. Except for the gender perhaps.

*****

The Aval review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Meyaadha Maan Review: A Movie That Belongs To The Supporting Characters

What a brilliant actor Induja Ravichandran is. In Meyaadha Maan, she plays Sudar, the sister of lead actor Vaibhav Reddy, who plays ‘Idhayam’ Murali – named after the 1991 movie starring actor Murali. As her brother drinks, mopes, and does the things that have become quite ritual for lovelorn men in cinema to do, Sudar lives up to her role as the feisty sister. A few moments in, she’s engaged in a nasty brawl with a guy over a ‘proposal’ – and as her brother arrives, hackles and sickles raised, it is revealed Sudar had delivered the letter. Other instances of hilarity solely belong to Sudar and Vivek Prasanna, the actor who plays Murali’s friend. But Meyaadha Maan – which incidentally is the name of the band that Idhayam Murali is a part of – chooses to focus on the lead couple and their dreary romance.

‘Idhayam’ Murali, who is said to embody the spirit of North Madras, falls in love with Madhu (Priya Bhavani Shankar), who is portrayed as distinctly upper class – and caste. And drawing inspiration from the movie the lead is named after, she’s all things dainty to his dilapidation, pretty house, a pomeranian, the works. He, on the other hand, is the stray that wanders inside – an analogy that the movie makes, by way of Madhu’s father, and tries to milk for what it’s worth. Hero sulks, drinks more, indulges in derogatory commentating, calls the girl names, calls the family names. Santhosh Narayanan supports the proceedings with traditional bar songs with lyrics that may mean something if you are well and truly drunk.

Amidst all this, Sudar falls in love. And thus begins a romance that sparks some real interest, and is a source of much mirth. When a potential suitor tells Murali that he fell in love with Sudar when he saw her tending to a wounded puppy and helping an elderly person across the road, he’s driven out in style. Later though, Vinodh, who finally begins to feel a little less brotherly towards Sudar, falls for her when she helps a visually-challenged woman write her exams. This moment isn’t set to a romantic score, but is just as funny as the couple themselves.

But Vinodh and Sudar end up being mere props in the grander scheme of things. A subject that Tamil cinema doesn’t tire of exploring with different actors and screen-names: A romance that almost fails and gives rise to a bearded creature who drinks, dances, abuses. There’s nothing about Murali that would make you want to sympathise with him, nor does Madhu inspire any interest; they just end up being mere stereotypes of the world they are portrayed to belong to. The only consolation perhaps, is the fact that the movie could be, and probably is a satirical take on Idhayam.

Vinodh and Sudar, on the other hand, are refreshingly honest in their rooted performances: They wear their hearts on their sleeve and live it up every moment with a joke or two and creating general mayhem as they go. If not for these two, Meyaadha Maan would just end up in the league of movies that have an idea but don’t quite know what to do with it.

*****

The Meyaadha Maan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Kalavu Thozhirchalai Review: Uninspired Crime Thriller That Doesn’t Make An Effort To Engage

If anything, Kalavu Thozhirchalai is ambitious. It wants to be a pacy crime thriller with an ingenious plot, and to this effect, it wants to employ the ever-fascinating legacy of the Chozhas. A lovely temple heist involving subterranean caves, decoding inscriptions on pillars wrought centuries ago, and generally, creating an air of mystery that comes with the territory.

But what Kalavu Thozhirchalai attempts, it doesn’t succeed at.

Vamsi Krishna, as Suresh Chandra, a member of an organised crime group plans a heist in a renowned temple in Thanjavur. He eyes the idol – a maragathalingam (an emerald linga) which glows from within as if painted neon – and enlists the help of a local petty thief to do the job. The thief, hilariously named ‘Sweet’ Ravi, has quite the reputation -“I don’t steal idols,” he says, “I move them” – and lives in abject poverty. The camera wanders through his past, brings us snatches of his life and love. He has a girlfriend whom he loves, and who loves him back, and like any Tamil heroine worth her salt, she urges him to give up his life of crime. Sweet Ravi listens, but money beckons. He has to marry and marriages cost money. Plus, he needs a Pulsar.

Suresh Chandra, as the operator of the crime, is always glued to his Mac, staring at what looks like a video-game like interface that maps the heist area. He explores little known caves used by the Chozhas, walks, crawls, dusts, coughs and does what it takes to make us believe that there’s something serious underway. There’s also a continuous stream of commentary – in the form of a voice-over – to announce what Vamsi is up to, thanks to which, and the general setup, the plot ignites no interest. It’s dull and dreary, with songs snuck in at random intervals that by the end of the first half – which is propped up to be a moment pregnant with suspense – all that it elicits is a dry chuckle.

It’s easy to see what the censor board would have loved in the movie, though. Seeking to restore the much-revered and worshipped idol of the Tanjore temple, is a CBI officer named Irfan. He risks his life, doles out lessons in upholding the culture of the place, which he mysteriously connects to the lost idol, and is so eerily reminiscent of Vijayakanth in throes of patriotic fervour. He also traces Sweet Ravi with a cigarette butt that he had left behind – something that eloquently describes the kind of crime thriller that has been conceived.

Indeed as the movie closes, with scenic views of Yercaud, and a really boring chase – there just isn’t any engagement, just an dispassionate observation of the proceedings. And when Irfan shoots straight at Vamsi’s heart in the penultimate scene, you wonder whether there’s any real science to the movement of blood which spurts from his chest; wouldn’t it be more of a gentle trickle than a sudden burst of red?

*****

The Kalavu Thozhirchalai review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Magalir Mattum Review: Delivers Much-Needed Lessons In Gender Sensitivity; The Crowd-Pleasing Tendencies Can Be Forgiven

At the heart of Magalir Mattum is a beautiful relationship; a little too perfect in theory, but that perhaps is the whole point. Bramma weaves an unorthodox tale of a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law, brilliantly side-stepping their common connection: The son/the husband. There just absolutely isn’t any trace of him until moments before the end, except a few hints. And till then, you don’t even get to know his name – Bramma shoves a token connect, one that seeks to drive home a point, and also allows the kind of camaraderie that Magalir Mattum aspires to have. Gomu aka Gomata (Urvashi) and Prabha (Jyothika) might as well be roommates – an older woman steeped in convention over time, and a younger one who embodies the present – quite opposites in temperament and outlook – but co-existing in peace.

A few moments into MM, a young wife seems to be engaged in a public spat with her husband. She makes a passionate argument to the camera on behalf of wives who quit the workforce to stay at home, and are eventually derided by their husbands for it. In the loud, very theatric monologue, she also makes a reference to physical abuse. The theatre – mostly comprising women – erupts in solidarity. The young women up front are particularly boisterous. But when Jyothika – who plays a filmmaker in the film – steps up to the woman and wonders if she’d get a divorce, she rears back as if struck, all timid smiles. An obvious no. It’s propped up to be a source of much amusement – the idiosyncrasies of an Indian ‘housewife’: Someone who hates the trappings of a marriage, but stays married, anyway. Bramma isn’t derogatory about it though; the laughs borne out of the moment are organic, but dark.

An article in Scroll – centered around the case of domestic violence in Silicon Valley – describes what women in abusive relationships experience, based on several personal accounts from Maitri and Narika, two non-profit organisations that work with victims of abuse in the Bay area:

“Happy memories are built over the same period as the abuse,” it says, “The same person who massages his wife’s feet when they ache beats her when he is angry. As the abuse increases over time, so does a fondness for the perpetrator. The stakes in a relationship increase. The couple may have children together, as well as a joint bank account. Their lives are so intertwined that it is hard to walk out of the relationship.”

The report is localised and uni-dimensional, with heavy focus on Silicon Valley where education levels are high, and so is wealth. Bramma’s characters though, have neither – nothing that belongs to them, anyway.

*****

Magalir Mattum, otherwise, is a lovely tale of three friends from college who reunite in their sixties, their meeting aided and abetted by Facebook, and the daughter-in-law of one of them. Rarely does female friendship takes precedence on screen, and even when it does, it is more of an instrument to serve a larger purpose – most often, a romance. MM, which would pass the Bechdel Wallace test easily, would also perhaps set a new benchmark for further evaluation of gender consciousness in works of art and literature:

1. Two or more women
2. who talk to each other
3. about the (abusive) men in their lives, and ask for help

The three women – Gomu, Rani (Bhanupriya) and Subbu (Saranya Ponvannan) have individual story-lines that have a singular focus: Instant involvement. Rani’s household drudgery that verges on abuse, her husband who treats her with contempt, but uses her to further his political aspirations, a son who follows his father’s footsteps, and her life among the pots and pans resonate powerfully with reality. Subbu, meanwhile, juggles her job as a beautician, a drunkard husband, and an ailing mother-in-law whom she cares for despite her verbal abuse. A beautiful moment in the movie follows Subbu as she wraps up an ad shoot for her salon, rolls back a glossy cabinet of cosmetics, to reveal a starkly different surrounding behind it – that of sickness and mold. She neither acknowledges the grumbling, bed-ridden mother-in-law, nor her drunkard husband.

*****

Much of the movie is devoted to the exploits of the characters’ younger selves – Gomu, Subbu and Rani are portrayed as the trouble-makers in a strict convent, who get sent home for their seemingly unruly behaviour. They are much the same when they meet 40 years later, perhaps a little subdued after all the life-altering wisdom they have gleaned over the years. The women reminisce about their love – each with a darkly comical ending – share their stories, and embark on a road trip with Prabha at the helm.

Bramma is wise enough to not slip into the ideals that he tries to uphold; there’s none of that knee-jerk reactionary impulses to be his characters’ deliverance. For instance, none of the women divorce, despite audibly and inaudibly grumbling about their husbands. But Bramma does deliver a lesson on gender sensitivity through Rani’s son, who goes in search of his mother (whisked away by Prabha and Co) only to end up in an army camp of women officers. Here, the director physically and metaphorically binds the irreverent son, and in a crowd-pleasing moment, has the chief officer (also a woman) deliver a sound lesson to him. He also inserts a subtle element or two in well-scripted sequences to add to the education. During one instance, he shows blood on the clothes of a woman in labour, and later, inserts the disrespectful, foul-mouthed son of Rani in the same frame as the evolved husband (Madhavan) of Prabha – in a brilliant show of contrast.

Magalir Mattum is sometimes as unreal as only cinema can be – the lessons in women empowerment that it tries to impart might raise eyebrows – “a woman is liberated only when she can choose whom she wants to marry” – and the character whom it tries to paint as liberated succumbs to the popular trope of feminism, but all that can be forgiven for its larger aspirations.

Towards the end, in yet another crowd-pleasing instance, the friends are called to unload their sorrows on a punching bag. In what seems to be a fitting attack on the horrendous WhatsApp jokes, they unleash their frustrations on the hapless bag, which unsurprisingly takes the form of their husbands.

*****

The Magalir Mattum review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Thupparivalan Review: Sherlock Holmes For The Tamil Audience

In Mysskin’s Thupparivalan, the attributions are precise and gloriously pedantic. The kind that deserve an indulgent smile. A card announces dedications to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other Baker Street fans, just as the screen lights up to the face of a woman, awash in the soft glow of candles. She brings up a birthday cake for her husband in the terrace. A few moments later, a bolt of lightning strikes the terrace, and both her husband and son fall to the floor, charred stiff. The woman screams.

It’s a Mysskin film, one that seeks to scare; the obvious contempt and irreverence for mundane, feel-good beginnings is plain to see. Nor does Mysskin care about all the killing – even that of a child — in the first few moments; he establishes a swift, relatable connect – that of a young family engaged in quiet celebration in tellingly moody tones – and rips it apart just as quick. It’s fascinatingly morbid.

If a Mysskin-dressed Vishal is anything to go by, Sherlock Holmes, in his fitted clothing, and a stylish, slanted beret is quite a sight. His home-office is a tastefully-decorated sprawling apartment, with a handsome floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, filled with tomes of all shapes and sizes. Next to it, in precise detail, is a quaint library-ladder – one that comes with a platform. So thoughtful. Mysskin’s introduction to his Holmes though, is mildly unappealing. The camera acts as a body-double for Vishal, who runs amok around the apartment in a show of frustration. “Someone give me a case to solve!” he yells. Holmes in Thupparivalan, is portrayed as quite the eccentric, disagreeable man, who sits with a book upturned on his head – seriously meditating on a case, or getting antsy in the absence of one. Vishal broods on the couch, the library-ladder, book in hand, and when seized with a hunch, dashes across, Dr Watson (Prasanna as Prabhakaran ) in tow. The moments when Vishal does truly seem to channel Holmes’ spirit are when he’s still, his dark shades rendering an air of mystery, contemplating the finer points of a case. He also seems to possess Holmes’ innate ability to tell a person’s history from their appearance, but rarely does he explain how he arrived at the inference.

It doesn’t help that Mysskin’s Holmes is abusive, as well – and the director capitalises on what seems to be the current trend of employing brilliant-but-eccentric-and-arrogant male characters as leads, with curious bursts of morality. Kaniyan, who is well-muscled, and adept at flooring several Moriartys at once, rescues a woman from a pitiful existence; but when she seeks his help to earn a living, he unceremoniously pushes her inside the apartment, and hands her a mop. He yells, abuses, and is at his disrespectful best when addressing her, and yet strangely, she grows more adulatory of him, eventually becoming his romantic interest. A direct contrast to Holmes’ admiration and love for Irene Adler, the only woman, the only person to have ever outwitted him in the series, his arch-rival Moriarty notwithstanding.

*****

Several scenes in Thupparivalan are eerily reminiscent of Pisaasu. In a particular frame, Mysskin plays with positions, employing abrupt jump cuts for visual drama. Vishal, still brooding, appears and disappears at will within the frame. During an instance, he’s seen at the far end of screen, and in the next, he is ‘jumped’ up front.

Mysskin’s love for empty spaces is something that he channels in Thupparivalan as well, with shots that build suspense and skim intimately over surfaces – which even when irrelevant – make for good cinema. In a particular instance, the camera – positioned at a low angle – drifts slowly over the number plate of a car, which seems to be a subject of interest, until it comes to rest on someone crouching next to it.

The tale as such, is a web of intrigue which gets thicker and thicker until it becomes difficult to ascertain where it all ties together. When a little boy approaches Kaniyan Poonguntran to trace the person who murdered his dog, little does Kaniyan suspect that it would lead him on a completely different trail of interwoven conspiracies. Mysskin renders a distinctly pulpy flavour to the film by inventing a fantastical subplot, and trying to base it in ‘criminal science’ – something that Tamil writers had come up with decades ago. Indeed, in another show of attribution, Mysskin names his influences – in a wink at himself and the unassuming audience. He makes his characters introduce themselves as Stanley Kubrick, Shankarlal and Karl Marx, in well-spaced sequences.

Mysskin also seems to live vicariously through Vishal; he makes him consult thick tomes from his towering bookshelf – which often appears in sharp relief, a character on its own – and, imbues him and others with traits characteristic of his films. In its final moments, as Holmes emerges victorious once again after a prolonged case of whodunit, Mysskin’s Moriarty – all unintended hilarity in what is propped up to be an emotionally-charged scene – apologises to the little boy for killing his dog. But then, he is not Moriarty; he’s ‘devil’, and his rival isn’t Holmes, but Kaniyan Poonguntran.

*****

The Thupparivalan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Emmy Special: Championing The Crown’s Cause

One of the most powerful moments in The Crown – a biographical drama of the British royal family, especially of Queen Elizabeth – arrives in episode 7. Winston Churchill (John Lithgrow), in an audience with the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth (a brilliant Claire Foy), talks world politics. He tells her that he’s just received confirmation about the Soviets testing the H-Bomb in the Kazhakh desert. Amidst some preening (“I’m the person everyone would want in the room with Stalin”) and foisting his opinions on the young – and yet unschooled in affairs of the world — Queen, Churchill forcefully declares that Britain must spearhead the efforts to secure peace, lest Eisenhower beats them to it. Elizabeth is lost, and Churchill, sensing that, presses his advantage. And when says that he’d shortly dispatch the Foreign Secretary (Jeremy Northam as Anthony Eden) to Washington to secure a meeting with Eisenhower, Elizabeth swiftly pounces on something that she has sure knowledge of. Is he up to it, she asks, momentarily stumping the very verbose Churchill — “I’ve heard he is a very sick man. I would hate to think that the country wasn’t in safe hands.”

The Crown, Netflix’s home production and its most expensive series to date, is made of many such coming-of-age moments in the life of the young Queen Elizabeth II. When it begins, The Crown seems like an organic extension of The King’s Speech, a 2010 movie that was set around King George VI’s ascension to the throne, with particular focus on the King overcoming his speech disorder, with the help of a therapist found by his wife and queen-consort, Lady Elizabeth, later the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Having already won two Emmys – one for production design and for period costumes – The Crown’s nomination for the Best Drama Series, is not without merit. The series, while drawing largely on its principal character, also delves intimately into the psyche of several others. It explores the quandary that the Queen feels when torn between her sister’s happiness, and duty to the Church; the camera passes, as if in stealth, over many moments of love between Margaret and Captain Peter Townsend, and in a particular frame, the Princess – engaged in one of her wild parties — tellingly closes the door on us, as Alan ‘Tommy’ Lascelles (Pip Torrens), the Queen’s Private Secretary (and the unofficial party pooper) looks on chagrined.

Churchill, brought to life perfectly by Lithgrow (also nominated for Best Supporting Actor), is also deconstructed, episode by episode – the man who shields his frailty from the world, and the Queen, and who gets distraught and burns a portrait that shows his likeness – as that of a hunched, elderly man.

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in the BBC mini-series, ‘Wolf Hall’. Pic: funkymbtifiction.tumblr.com

If there’s something that The Crown does particularly well, it is the brilliant casting. Claire Foy, who had previously played Anne Boleyn in the BBC mini-series Wolf Hall, slips into the very vintage gowns of the Queen Elizabeth, and perfectly mirrors her young self, right down to the enunciation, and the subtle inflections in her voice. Foy, as a demure, naive Queen is particularly striking after her role as the powerful, authoritative and raw Anne Boleyn, so open with her emotions, and who had exerted a great influence over Henry VIII, and was instrumental in his fallout with the Papacy.

Season one of The Crown traverses the first decade of the Queen’s reign, at the end of which the initially restrained and shy Foy, who only looks from underneath her lashes, is seen with a steely glint in her eye as she stamps out the flames of romance between her sister and Captain Peter Townsend. Vanessa Kirby as the wild and impulsive Princess Margaret, who veers between sorrow and joy, her emotions heavily riding on her sister’s decisions, is right out a picture book of the Windsors. Also sneaked in there is a rather soulful portrait of Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, and who, reviled by the rest of the royal family, becomes something of an advisor and confidante to the Queen. Alex Jennings, who essays the role of Edward VIII, effectively conveys the divisive emotions that course through him – as a former King who had to renounce all for love, and who still harbours a little something for the throne.

At the heart of the season, is the little family that the Queen tries to make for herself; a dissatisfied, and a perennially pouty husband who, just like Edward VIII, had to give up his titles, deal with snooty royalty, have his whims sanctioned by the Cabinet, and perhaps the most prickly of all, bend the knee to his wife. Philip, as portrayed by Matt Smith, is a fascinating piece of work, who constantly tries to influence his wife’s decisions, only to be told off by the Cabinet, or his wife herself – the woman who has now grown to fit the shoes of her father.

Indeed, towards the end of the season, after a gentle push from her tutor (“they are English, upper class and male, a good dressing down from Nanny is what they need the most in life”) she calls Churchill in, and admonishes him. She tells him that it’s a betrayal of trust, especially that of the institutions that they both represent, for not having told her about his sickness. The camera here, stares at Elizabeth from the perspective of Churchill. It looks down at her, in quiet surprise. She picks up her handbook of the constitution, the one from her childhood, reads out the lines. And when she questions her Prime Minister – the one who led Britain through the World War II – and tells him to consider his response, “in light of the respect that her rank and office deserve and not that which her age and gender might suggest,” Lithgrow as Churchill – in a moment of superb enactment – having worn two ‘blobs’ on his back teeth to render the Churchill jowls, cowers visibly. 

That perhaps, is what I’d call perfectly dramatic and entirely uplifting.

*****

Featured image: Wired.com

Arjun Reddy: In Love With The Idea Of Being In Love

Arjun Reddy’s ideas about female sexuality and everlasting romantic love are far less tolerable than its portrayal of misplaced masculinity – at least, the latter is steeped in reality

In early 1981, when revolutionary republicanism was still an inaudible grumble, and Britain was in the throes of royal fever, its citizens were speculating the nature of relationship between whom it considered the most eligible bachelor in the country, and a young kindergarten teacher. Somewhere in London, perhaps the press room of the Buckingham Palace, the said couple was announcing their engagement to a set of TV cameras. Lady Diana Spencer (who would later step out in a beautiful LBD on the night that her husband was to admit to his affair on air), in a prim blue suit, arm-in-arm with Prince Charles, took questions from the press.

BBC Correspondent: “…and I suppose, in love?”

In what would become the most publicised and controversial statement ever, Charles, gallantly let his fiancée answer first (a coy “of course”), before coming up with a response that quite stumped everyone at that time. “Whatever ‘in love’ means,” he’d said, to an awkward pause. While several writers have since dissected the statement, it would continue to be held against him decades later, for the calamity it had portended. While not a pristine analogy, this perhaps best describes the general feeling when Arjun Reddy ends. What does ‘in love’ mean, really? ‘Falling’ for someone at first sight? Sex and pizza? Making decisions for your girlfriend? Arjun Reddy, with a female lead who is far less nuanced and layered than the male, succumbs to popular notions of everlasting romantic love, and a puritanical view of female sexuality. 

*****

A moment that occurs towards the end of Arjun Reddy could be right out of a real conversation happening between a travel agent and a woman traveller. Something that had prompted several articles of outrage not a long while ago. Women in India were asked for an NOC from their spouse or their father to travel abroad. In Arjun Reddy, the conversation happens between the eponymous hero and his friend. Arjun (Vijay Deverakonda) wants to reunite with his now married ex-girlfriend. The friend offers up a… friendly warning. You had to seek her father’s permission to wed her last time, now you may have to get her husband’s, he says. The friend chuckles – and, the theatre responds, all full-throated laughter. Arjun then retorts that he doesn’t need the husband’s permission; and just as a fleeting thought occurs that this perhaps is the most progressive line ever in the movie, it’s quickly replaced with the realisation for what it is. Arjun Reddy wants to be the one in control.

The movie props him up to be a brilliant surgeon; brilliant and flawed; brilliant and perpetually angry; brilliant and a misogynist prick. In an earlier scene, he warns almost everyone in the medical college to stay away from his object of interest, for that’s what Shalini Pandey, who plays the meek Preethi Shetty, is. She submits to his advances easily, doesn’t resist when Reddy, in a show of possession, kisses her when they have just met. The campus snickers, but Reddy doesn’t care. You almost admire his nerve, the… brash confidence that there just wouldn’t be any resistance from the woman. When not a flicker of emotion passes over Preethi’s face, there’s a little hope that perhaps there would be a character arc yet unexplored. That perhaps Preethi would be just as brash and brilliant, or more assertive than she is. But Preethi is almost in awe of his cleverness and respect that he commands in the campus, and falls hook, line and sinker for him.

A sick aftertaste lingers when, during an instance, Arjun drags Preethi to meet his rival who has molested her. He doesn’t beat the guy to pulp as he’s wont to do, but drops down to his knees and begs him to leave her alone. In the scene which is infused with questionable intensity, he declares his love for Preethi to the molester, when ironically, she’s right beside him. It’s propped up to be a sweet moment for the couple in love.

All that is fine, really. If Arjun Reddy wants Arjun Reddy to be an arrogant, misogynist twerp with an inflated ego, and an exaggerated sense of self-worth, so be it – it does make for dramatic characterisation, with a certain …appeal that, even if not socially righteous, would charm the masses as any psychotic but brilliant – and hot – male lead would. Those well-placed shots of Deverakonda’s abs are quite effective that way. What gets you puzzled though are his sudden bursts of social consciousness – in between shouting down his domestic help, and an unsuspecting patient, and trying to force himself on a friend, he tells someone off for ‘objectifying women’. Then, he talks, almost lovingly, about caring for a menstruating woman.

This curious behavior was perfectly dictionarised in an article published in The Wire, about the male lead [Karthi as Varun] in Kaatru Veliyidai, who, like Arjun Reddy, was shown to have a sense of misplaced masculinity:

“The troubling bit about Varun is not his anger and arrogance, but their origins, stemming from a warped notion of masculinity. And yet, he’s the film’s hero. When Leela gets upset with him, he breaks into a song, apologising for his behaviour, saying, “I’ll love you till the end of time”, adding, “this is not an equal relationship; I’m beneath you” and “I’ll love you even if you don’t.” At one moment, he’s angry, unreasonable and domineering, at another he’s sweet and quasi-patronising, calling Leela, “My gorgeous, my angry, my headstrong girl.” It’s difficult to understand this guy, and you often wonder, “Does he really mean what he says?” And that’s when it really hits you – that men like Varun are all around. They’re sophisticated and polite, confident and charming. They like single malt. They’re multilingual and well travelled. They dance well and flirt with ease. They claim to love and respect their women. And yet, deep within, they’re insecure and scared – not that they’re aware of it.

And that’s precisely the most notable achievement of Kaatru Veliyidai – that it takes a regular upper-middle class guy, makes him the film’s hero, and then lays bare his latent toxic masculinity, bit by bit, scene by scene. Kaatru Veliyidai isn’t centred on sexual harassment; it is, in fact, a love story, and that makes the film even more unsettling, for it shows how sexism and patriarchy are deeply internalised in Indian men.”

Much like Kaatru Veliyidai, there’s a degree of unrest all through Arjun Reddy, largely thanks to the protagonist. If he’s not kicking up a storm on the football field, he’s harassing someone. Or eyeing a woman he can potentially have sex with. But that’s alright, really – when an actress agrees to his conditional, purely physical relationship – I applaud. Soon enough though, she falls in ‘love’ with him, and Reddy storms out in disgust. But he’s also brilliant, so he’s indulged to an extent that when the movie opens, he’s seen trying to force himself on a woman. He holds a knife to her to make her take her pajamas off. And later, when he meets Preethi, he’s surprisingly delicate – he grooms her as he would a child, chooses friends for her, and degrades plus-sized women in the process (“’fat chicks’ and pretty girls make good friends.”). It’s almost disconcerting to watch. Even after Preethi’s arrival, it’s all about him – but that shouldn’t really be a surprise. While he has mindless sex when he learns of Preethi’s wedding, she, on the other hand, reveals tearfully that she hadn’t let her husband touch even her ‘used clothes’. Beginning to end, between professions of love, sex and pizza, the artful beachside frames of them in bed, the smart manipulation of camera axes to show drug-induced euphoria, and some very intense, infantilising romance, Preethi is seen pleading with him. If earlier it was about letting her stay with him for a few more days, much later, when they are married, she’s heard berating him – against a beautiful backdrop of the sea – for choosing a beachside holiday with a baby in tow.

*****

The audience is generally sympathetic to a heartbroken man; Arjun Reddy draws heavily on the sentiment. It’s willing to befriend, trail and share his travails, not unlike the very faithful friend that Reddy has in Shiva who indulges his whims, and leaves a subtle hint for the audience. The film also subscribes to the trope that any and all love is best bookended with a wedding. A surprise, considering the poetic cadence that Arjun Reddy infuses into its first few scenes – delightfully abstract, the voice-over that slips between shots of raw, untouched nature, and a couple in bed, calls out intensely in the end to pursue and re-unite with love. It passes over the same intimate (and lovely) shot of a couple, but this time, the woman plucks a baby out of nowhere, holds her high for the world to see. It almost feels like betrayal, this gradual slip into convention, and declarations of ‘love’ – but that’s something that Arjun Reddy prepares you well for.

*****

Kathanayagan Review: How Not To Make A Hero 101

In a recent interview, Vishnu Vishal had declared that Kathanayagan [Hero] – another home production – would feature him as a “hero in the true sense”. It just serves to drive home the fact that ‘a hero’ could mean different things to different people. To Vishnu Vishal, it is all about muscle-power and defending the weak, and in this case, the girlfriend’s (Catherine Tresa) father, from a bunch of goons. A hero could have well been about questioning long-held beliefs and convictions, and societal wrongs, but Vishal chooses to turn it into winning a drunken brawl with rivals, and flooring a dozen villains at once.

Much of Kathanayagan is devoted to the long-standing friendship between Vishal (Thambi Thurai) and Soori (Anna Thurai), who, we are told, are childhood friends. They bump into each other years later, so that Anna Thurai can aid in the larger scheme of things – which is to get a dreary love story moving. Vishal falls in love with a neighbour, but her father doesn’t agree to the match.

Much before all this though, we are shown an exaggerated tale about Vishal’s reluctance to step up and ‘be a man’ when the need arises. He runs away from a bunch of goons who terrorise an elderly man; he runs away when he’s sought out to help kill a snake. And what a coincidence when the man whom Vishal doesn’t help turns out to be the girlfriend’s father? He stoutly refuses to marry his daughter to someone who won’t stay and fight. And thus begins the character overhaul – that of adding a pinch of this and that to a pot that bubbles away, which later explodes to reveal the hero that the formerly ‘weak’ Thambi Thurai has become.

If it conjures images of the theme of PowerPuff Girls, it isn’t far off the mark. But Vishal can never be as cool as the PowerPuff Girls. In his quest to herodom, he supports societal evils that are considered a crime. Otherwise, how can he flex those muscles? When a potential suitor for his sister’s hand demands a ton of dowry, the wannabe hero tries to sell a kidney for Rs 50 lakhs. It’s incredible, yet true. There just aren’t any voices of dissent, just meek acceptance, and the pressing need to collect enough money for the dowry. To make it more plausible, Thambi Thurai also gets wrongly diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, which obviously would make him volunteer to sell a kidney to support his sister’s marriage, founded on a social evil. The makings of a hero. Get the irony?

The only relief perhaps, Soori’s hit-and-miss comedy aside, is Vijay Sethupathi who makes a brief appearance as the chief doctor who ‘breaks’ the news about Thambi Thurai’s ‘disease’ to him. Despite Soori’s presence and Vishal’s strenuous effort to be the hero, Sethupathi easily walks into a welcome that Vishal would be envious of, and cracks jokes that would put Soori to shame. In a particular scene, surrounded by junior doctors, Sethupathi vacates his chair to stretch his legs, when a couple of his colleagues try to trail him. He quickly looks back, motions them to sit, tells them that he’s just walking up to the window which is a few metres away. All done with quick, easy hand gestures, and dialogue that is much better than most one-liners. And when he begins quoting Osho, the theatre erupts in appreciative laughter – the hero seems to have arrived, but it is not Vishal.

*****

The Kathanayagan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Kurangu Bommai Review: A Thriller With A Quirk

There’s something wonderfully comforting about seeing everyday imagery on screen. In Kurangu Bommai, a film about extraordinary coincidences like Maanagaram, a woman slides a few seeds of mustard in the pan, and as they crackle, she tosses in some beans. All around her are distinctly middle-class props. Nothing is polished or touched up, the walls are in need of fresh paint, and her young daughter prances about the room in schoolgirl plaits, and a nightdress. That’s the intent, of course, but there’s a discreet charm to such homely visuals. When the woman’s husband hints at giving up his potentially dangerous job, she expresses her thanks to a picture of Lord Muruga – on the jar of a condiment. And when he’s heard to say that he won’t, she slaps it in disgust.

A few minutes into Kurangu Bommai, a cutpurse (thoughtfully named Sindhanai) plops himself in front of a roadside astrologer. He wants his future read. A little earlier, a local godfather is seen murdering a cop. Soon, the movie cuts to the family of four. The father (Bharathiraja in a restrained role) assists the godfather in his business of moving… porul (things of suspicious nature), and the godfather in turn, provides for the family. The wife berates him for the association; the son refuses to accept any financial assistance from him. And, just when it looks things might implode, the son – in the same breath as berating his father – declares that he’s off to see the godfather. He wants money to buy some underwear. The whole sequence, built with tense moments, craftily lends itself to humour during the last few minutes. The lines may not be brilliant, but the timing is. Kurangu Bommai is full of such unexpected bursts of humour when the proceedings turn serious. But you don’t mind the grim stuff at all, for the background score is so jaunty and deceptively breezy that it feels like a musical gone awry. Moreover, even when the kind of ‘coincidence’ is predictable, you are gladly willing to be misled. As Vidharth (who plays a cab driver) tells a passenger, there’s pleasure in being cheated by a beggar whose arm is in a pseudo-cast. Kurangu Bommai invokes the same emotions, but without the hyperbole. The cutpurse in the movie is so refreshingly unscrupulous, that he’s almost endearing. After having tried to use his wiles to cheat Kathiresan (Vidharth) out of his money, he ends up helping him trace his father. Just when you think these two will enter the territory of sappy friendship, the thief turns tail and runs with all his might.

Elango Kumaravel as ‘Watercan Sekar’ is perhaps the only character who isn’t grey. He’s the villain of the piece; someone who plays cricket by day and turns murderer at noon. He’s sinister, this Sekar – and the movie sets him up brilliantly. Bharathiraja as the naïve Sundaram performs without saying much, and just when we think his naivete is going to be the end of him, he proves to possess a sense of foresight and courage – a revelation of sorts.

The romance is incidental – Vidharth sees girl and family, gets into a scuffle with the father, girl eventually falls for him. Thankfully though, there aren’t any songs, or exaggerated sequences – just a few cute moments of courtship.

*****

Kurangu Bommai is woven around the trail of a duffel bag that goes missing. While it derives its name from the picture of a monkey on the bag, and seeks to reinforce the variable moods of people, it perhaps best describes the cutpurse. He’s gloriously unprincipled and fickle, with sudden fits of kindness, that he’s a lovely little tale by himself. Vidharth may play the understated lead to perfection, but Sindhanai has all my love.

*****

The Kurangu Bommai review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Sathura Adi 3500 Review: A Movie That Doesn’t Know What It Wants To Show

The best thing about Sathura Adi 3500, is perhaps its title. You’d never really guess this is horror. When a police officer is handed a file about a death, the file snaps at him, drawing blood. The officer who hands it over, gasps. Another time, a glass shatters in a glorious display of computer graphics. And all through the movie, an apparition is seen at odd places. Its appearance set to a dramatic piece of music. The apparition isn’t scary at all; not as horrific as the background score makes it out to be, anyway. It’s the spirit of a man – Stephen – who wanders restlessly across the path of the cop, who is investigating his death.

Probably the most …inspired scene in the movie is that of Stephen handing a bottle of water to a woman in a car. She screams; he scrambles. Later, he’s seen atop the building, appearing and disappearing at will. You want to believe in this …spirit, just for the earnest effort of the director, who turns up the volume on the score to make up for the scare that never comes. But, it’s been a long time since swinging doors, oonjals, and rocking chairs inspired fear.

Manobala is the psychiatrist who has bought his degree in psychiatry with a bunch of vazhaikkas. He looks the part, and the funniest scene in the movie, which doesn’t offer many funny moments – not the tasteful ones, anyway – belongs to him. When the Sub-Inspector visits his clinic to investigate the ghostly sightings, Manobala welcomes him as he would a patient. In fact, Manobala takes him for a patient impersonating a police man.

Kovai Sarala is on a downward curve, having transitioned into what the industry has deemed the ‘age-appropriate’ role. Once a leading comedienne, who had starred alongside Kamal Haasan, it’s interesting to chart her career trajectory. She’s now seen opposite MS Bhaskar, portraying a sleazy role that she has now become known for.

Meanwhile, it transpires Sathura Adi 3500 is not about a haunting at all.

The cop seems to have had a brainwave: which spirit wears a siluvai, anyway? The movie tries to turn this into one of its best moments.

You want to believe that this perhaps is why the horror was not frightening enough; that, it was all, in some way, a deliberate attempt to mislead the viewer. But then, the songs happen, two romantic tracks happen, an item number happens, and an ending that really seems to feature a spirit. Then, you realise, it’s just a badly written film, not worthy of more thought.

*****

The Sathura Adi 3500 review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

‘Nibunan’ Review: A Pacy Quest For An Underwhelming Killer

Nibunan does one thing effectively – it engages. Never mind the off-the-mark humour (Prasanna does a rhyme that goes ‘Achamillai achamillai achamenbadhillaye, biryani endhan urimaye’), a psychotic killer who is a serious letdown, and a plot that bears a strange yet striking resemblance to the Talwar murder.

This movie keeps you hooked.

For a while, the theatre hangs on Arjun’s every word. He’s heading a team of officers – Prasanna as Joseph and Varalaxmi as Vandhana – who have been appointed to investigate a disappearance, and subsequently, a murder. They’re being thwarted by the killer at every turn.

A killer who is on a murdering spree, exhibits all signs of being a maniac, and leaves obscure, yet seemingly interconnected clues about his next target.

*****

Early on, Nibunan establishes the kind of specialist DSP Ranjit Kalidoss is. Emerging from a high-octane gun fight in an abandoned building – the opening scene of the movie – three officers share a light moment on the road-side. The DSP casually wonders if the woman officer’s earrings are new. ‘Kazhugu kannu’, she says Next, he wins a game at a party, nimbly fixes up a dismantled gun well before his younger colleagues can.

DSP Ranjith Kalidoss, Nibunan tells us, is quick of mind and eye, and deft with weapons. So, it wouldn’t really take him long to establish motive for the series of murders that has everyone puzzled. A social activist, a woman doctor who had seemingly done nothing to warrant the brutal torture that she was subjected to, and a lawyer.

*****

The only laugh out loud moment in Nibunan also belongs to Prasanna. He’s investigating at the site of the murder when he’s seized by a sudden suspicion.

Officer Joseph brings back the witness he was interrogating, asks him what he was doing there in the middle of the night. I work shifts, the witness says, and audibly mutters something about inefficient constables. Officer Jo is incensed, and the DSP chides the witness for calling him a constable, perhaps to the ire of real constables in the audience.

Kolai senjavungula vitturunga, the witness mutters again.

*****

Nibunan, which stars Suhasini Mani Ratnam in a cameo, draws quite a bit on the 2008 Aarush Talwar murder. It features a set of busy and worldly parents who give their child everything, except their time. The teenager, starved for affection, engages in an illicit relationship with the domestic help. The father deals with the situation by picking up one of his golf clubs, the weapon of choice, which is later recovered from the golf course.

Journalist Avirook Sen, in his book titled Aarushi, explains the kind of societal judgment that the parents of the slain girl – perceived to be high-society dentists – were subjected to, even by the cops.

Sen notes in his book that the police found it strange that the mother remained dry-eyed on the day of the murder, and that her responses to the police were clipped. The couple’s marriage and their relationships were called into question. Allegations were slapped against them. All because their lifestyle was one the cops did not understand.

Nibunan switches out the dentists for architects, but leaves the details intact. It points to a consensual relationship between the teenager and the help, and subsequently retells the murder with its own theories.

The parents arrive home from a cancelled party, only to walk in on their daughter and the help. The mother, while on her way up to check on her daughter, is heard remarking that the evening hadn’t been a complete waste, after all – they got to drive around in their new car.

That’s the trope that Nibunan subscribes to.

*****

The movie’s script reaches out to please the masses, while also being inclusive of the filmmaker’s tastes. There’s fast-paced action, mystery, romance that infantilises the woman, an affliction that the hero needs to overcome, quirks – Arjun’s, Varalaxmi’s, the killer’s – and the psychotic killer himself, who is the disappointment.

For all the haunting music, and the zodiac codes that he deals in, Kreshna in blacks and a hood, driving a Scorpio with a scorpion for a dashboard toy is completely underwhelming. You expect to see someone you don’t: an old woman perhaps, who doesn’t have an obvious motive, or a lovely little twist akin to Adhe Kangal, or a nurse-turned-murderer that one of those Kurt Wallander novels features.

But all that Nibunan serves up in the end, is Kreshna, trying his best to be psychotic.

For someone who masks his victims with the zodiac head of the next, you’d at least expect to see a string of odd gems around his neck – à la Vijay Sethupathi in Vikram Vedha.

Whatever happened to god-fearing villains, anyway?

*****

The Nibunan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Vikram Vedha Review: A Slick Thriller With Picture-Perfect Casting

When Vedha is introduced in Vikram Vedha, Vijay Sethupathi looms large in the lens. For a few moments, it’s just Vedha, his hulking frame, the salt and pepper hair. He stalks towards the police headquarters as the camera trails behind in reverence. It just adores Vedha. That’s the introduction scene the movie bestows on Vijay Sethupathi who seems to tower over everyone else in the picture. It could just be the reserved-for-heroes low-angle shot, or his height, one can never tell. But, Vikram Vedha’s obvious admiration for its antagonist is something that isn’t camouflaged. It lets Vedha stalk down the columns of cops – a head above them all – readying for an encounter, oblivious to the fact that their target is walking past them. The camera watches his stride, matches pace, gazes at the sea of cops lost in their own world. The whole sequence meets with thunderous applause, appreciative hoots.

Sam CS rises to the occasion, and employs a musical refrain to serve up Vijay Sethupathi all through the movie. He also skillfully manipulates the intensity of notes to suit the scene. During an instance, which is terrifying and brilliant at the same time, the phrase is accented, and the notes are on a high. It’s almost worthy of a horror movie.

And Sam CS, I come to know, has indeed scored for a couple of them.

When Madhavan as Vikram, is introduced a good few minutes before Vijay Sethupathi, he receives half as much warmth.

He’s cheered, but while Vijay Sethupathi is made much of, not unlike Rajini in Thalapathi. He’s the Arjun of Vikram Vedha. A tough, law-abiding, stickler for rules police-man, who, as Vedha declares, doesn’t see the grey. He’s impulsive, petulant, shoots at the drop of the hat. But, he is a cop. A cop who literally draws a line, places the good on one side, and bad on the other.

*****

Funnily enough, Vikram Vedha begins with the health advisory. It is a prelude of sorts to the two-hour long affair. Madhavan issues the advisory in English; Vijay Sethupathi does it in Tamil. Unintended perhaps, but the casting decision is explained away there, and Pushkar-Gayathri, whatever their reasons, seem to hint that Madhavan, who embodies everything ‘good’ and VS, who signifies the ‘bad’ are perhaps advocating the same thing – in different languages. This is a good realisation. Vedha, with whom the camera and the crew are obviously in love, imparts some serious life lessons to Vikram. And, he begins with a tale. It probably wouldn’t be a surprise if ‘oru kadhai sollata saar’ becomes the stuff of memes, or is heard years later like those Thalapathi dialogues.

If anything, Vikram Vedha satisfactorily explores the grey in just about everything it touches upon. Inter and intra-personal relationships, integrity, and also, the situation of a couple who find themselves on opposite sides of a case. Vikram, who is interrogating Vedha, is interrupted by a knock on the door. Vikram’s wife (Shraddha Srinath), the lawyer representing Vedha, has come to bail him out. It’s perhaps one of the most clever plot tricks in the film.

It’s not hard to understand what Vikram Vedha means to achieve. When the movie begins, an animated sequence featuring Vikramadityan and the famous Vetalam, which has inspired many a Tamil saying – an especial favourite involving the Vetalam and a moringa tree – serves as another prelude. It ends with Vetalam having Vikramaditya by his neck.

*****

Pushkar-Gayathri’s casting is almost too perfect.

Madhavan is the well-spoken, slick, smart police-man, Vikram. Vijay Sethupathi as gangster Vedha has a rich local flavour.

It’s a shame that they didn’t swap roles. I would have loved to see Madhavan play a local gangster, for one. And, lovely, roguish Vijay Sethupathi as the honest-for-the-world-to-see cop. 

 *****

The Vikram Vedha review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Pandigai Review: An Engaging Thriller Despite The Romance & Sentiment

Pandigai may have a celebratory ring to it, if you walk into the movie blind. Even if it doesn’t, it’d certainly bring to mind something cheerful. A rural romance, perhaps, or something a la Appuchi Gramam and Kanavu Vaariyam. And, that’s the first round of victory for director Feroz. He begins the movie with a cricket match on television, and pans across audiences behind the screen.. There’s the den of a rich, villainous overlord, a bar with a cheering crowd, and the very homely living room of a middle-aged man, whose pregnant wife berates him for gluing himself to the television. Just when you think these are regular audiences, with regular lives, the man at the bar cheers India’s loss, while the father-to-be tears up. His lips quiver comically, and it’s all so absurdly funny till his wife yells. He had gambled his house away on the match. Pandigai has that kind of lovely, dark comedy.

Meanwhile, the man in the bar, who had bet on England’s victory, is cheerful; he tips the bartender (Kreshna) generously, even as the latter watches him with accusing eyes. So call me anti-nationalist, the man says, I just made a little money on a game that is the country’s largest money-spinner.

The rich overlord, on the other hand, is impassive; it was as if he knew what was about to happen.

Pic: Newretrowave.com

*****

Director Feroz could be a 90s video-game junkie. A poster of Pandigai is eerily similar to that of the bruised face of William Blazkowicz from the popular first-person shooter video game, Wolfenstein 3D, originally released for MS-DOS in 1992. The dark, sinister corridors that the protagonists navigate in the film, while escaping a bunch of hardened criminals, are familiar as well. Nothing compares to those jerky, digital movements of old, though. Or a ‘Nazi’ taking aim just as you turn a corner, greedily collecting all the ammo and the ‘lives’. The similarities stop with the poster, of course, and perhaps the overall setup. And when Feroz makes one of his protagonists own a local video game parlour, you can’t help wonder if that’s some kind of a hidden tribute to the director’s inspirations.

The other poster looks delightfully pulpy. The kind you snatch off a peg from the book-store for a long journey. There’s Kreshna, uniformly bloody and bruised in both posters, and there’s Anandhi, who takes on the mantle of Indian cinema’s favourite trope for heroines. The two-wheeler riding, very annoying, trying-to-be-cute-but-failing girlfriend. She has Kreshna buy her a frothy beer, (for washing hair, she insists), gets drunk, and calls him up for a hangover remedy. Kreshna, after some mild flirtation, and a song, forgets about her. The movie does, too – which perhaps isn’t an entirely bad thing.

Kreshna as Velu, who works as a bartender at a luxury hotel, comes with an unenviable past. Just as he’s looking to make a quick buck to fund his travel abroad, a chance encounter with a man who owns a local video-game parlour, introduces him to ‘pandigai‘ – a series of late-night, unauthorised wrestling matches that take place in an old theatre. Velu is soon entangled in a web of deception and crime, plans a heist, and gets caught. The music – by RH Vikram – is new and nuanced in these sequences; nothing about the score would reveal that the movie is, in fact, a thriller. Even when on an intense chase, Vikram doesn’t slip into those banal thriller notes. He’s so reminiscent of Santhosh Narayanan of the old.

Pandigai, as a canvas, is a splash of red. Not a minute passes by without a bloodied face or eye. The script is pacy, and there’s enough intrigue, but nothing prompts an …investment. When Velu struggles for a job, and gets beaten in the ring, the movie tries to show him in a sympathetic light. But you are content staying a distant spectator; and not even the sequence with the heavily pregnant woman – an obvious emotional cue – works up enough sympathy. The clumsily-orchestrated sequence though, reveals a desperate intent: to blatantly sentimentalize an engaging script in an effort to get the audience to root for the protagonists. And, there lies the tragedy.

*****

The Pandigai review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

 

Ivan Thanthiran Review: Well Intentioned But Unrealistic Take on Engineering College Extortion

There’s a moment in Ivan Thanthiran that makes for a perfect picture. A close-up of Gautham Karthik’s face bang in the middle of the screen, framed in rain. It’s just so right on axis, that it’s strangely therapeutic. Or perhaps it’s the wonderfully-synchronized movement of rain against something still. Whatever it is, the effect is beautiful. Nothing against Gautham Karthik, of course – he’s a pretty boy, I grant you that, slipping right into the role of a genius engineer after a momentary lapse. There’s no fanfare around his introduction on screen – just a blunt cut to his bruised face. He’s being battered to death by a bunch of goons.

R Kannan seems to have some pent-up angst against engineering colleges; he gets RJ Balaji to deliver a lengthy monologue deriding the plight of engineering graduates. Yet, as the film progresses, he sympathizes with them, calling out the rising tuition fee and absurd rules of the colleges. In the same breath, he also gets RJ Balaji to deliver another lengthy monologue defending the profession as a whole.

This love-hate relationship notwithstanding, his hero (Gautham Karthik as Sakthi) is a brilliant college dropout who designs hardware. He’s made a savior of, his brilliance reiterated every few seconds. In one instance, he ransoms his way out of the police station after fixing a woman cop’s computer. And that merits him a victory lap in the form of song. The sort that you watch with one eye.

*****

The sets of Ivan Thanthiran are beautiful, even if a little bizarre. Shraddha Srinath (as Asha) is given a lovely place to live in. It’s almost picturesque except for the conical flasks and beakers replete with colourful liquids that take centre-stage in the living room. Just as I think that the lady’s profession could have been portrayed better, a flask breaks, and out gushes Nitrous Oxide. Then, I realise, the whole thing had just been an elaborate setup for comedy. The actors laugh uncontrollably, because it’s ‘laughing gas’ – which is generally used as an analgesic and anaesthetic during medical procedures, and is only called so because of the mild euphoric feeling it induces.

One of the film’s better moments take place when Sakthi tells Asha that he is in love. Asha turns him down gently; Sakthis takes it in his stride. There are no sad songs, and the hero doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He quietly accepts what she says, drops her back home, and they go separate ways. That was perhaps the most decently thought-out ‘love-failure’ scene ever, I think, but Asha shows up a while later under the most absurdly convenient circumstances, with the most ridiculous dialogue that has to be heard to be believed.

*****

Director Kannan has good intentions. He wants to pull the rug from under these extortion camps that are engineering colleges, call out their mode of operation. To do that, he conceives the most idealist scheme ever, one that makes an overnight celebrity of a small-time entrepreneur. His thugs are black and menacing with large involvement in politics, while his heroes are just that: heroes with no blemish whatsoever. They elicit sympathy, trick the goons into a trap and watch as they drown in a hell specially designed for them. The mother of all passive-aggressive action.

Not surprisingly, the big theatre assigned to the movie, is almost full, supporting every dialogue about struggling engineering graduates with applause.

Gautham Karthik, on the other hand, is celebrating a first of sorts. An ad card for his previous release – Rangoon – flashes on one of the screens as I walk out.

*****

The Ivan Thanthiran review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Anbanavan Asaradhavan Adangadhavan Review: Crass And Vulgar, This Film Combines The Worst Of STR And Adhik Ravichandran

If Achcham Enbadhu Madamayada had featured a Silambarasan who’d reined in his roguish heroness, Anbanavan Asaradhavan Adangadhavan seems to have done a complete factory reset on the actor. This obviously couldn’t have come as a surprise given the title – full points to the one who came up with that rhyme. STR not only lives up to it, he also goes the extra mile as he’s wont to do. He also contradicts himself every now and then, but that’s the least of my worries.

In AAA, Simbu channelises the traits of every Tamil hero. He wants to do a Rajinikanth, so he picks up his mannerisms, gives them a STR twist; he wants to do a Kamal, picks up his lines, tweaks them to his heart’s content; he wants to be Parthiban, so he tries to induce an …offbeat plot element which just ends up being extremely bizarre. Needless to say, none of them work.

The script is also liberally referenced to self. During an instance, Shriya  Saran and Simbu sit in a theatre watching … a T Rajendar film. Shriya, full of admiration, says: His son is wonderful. STR tries to look modest, fails. It’s good fodder for some self-deprecatory humour, but STR would rather take it (and himself) a little too seriously.  Also, just in case we forget, there are pointers to his other movies: an essential bridal qualification that STR deems fit is that the woman like Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya. He also rehashes Thalli Pogadhey and the ensuing accident into a parody of sorts featuring Rajendran and Kovai Sarala.

When YG Mahendran, who plays father to Shriya is forced into an anti-comical role, you begin to wonder why these actors – all accomplished in their own right – would want to associate themselves with such an excuse for a script. They all play their parts, though – for better for worse, for richer for poorer. Then, Tamannaah appears – all chirpy, bubbly and more adjectives of that kind. STR, who by now, is a much-feared don, and in his early 50s, sits up and takes note. She calls him ‘thatha‘, but he doesn’t feel very grandfatherly towards her. And before we could wrap our heads around this relationship, there are declarations of love, betrayal, and revenge.

Meanwhile, Kasthuri flits in and out of the screen as a special agent appointed to nab the ‘don’ who does nothing but cavort with women in different locations. There’s absolutely nothing by way of story. STR is a don that barely engages in any crime, but wants to turn a new leaf; he doesn’t. He wants to marry Shriya; he doesn’t. He tries to be the one with the heart of gold; he fails. He protects a woman’s ‘honour’, but later threatens dire consequences as a jilted lover. He takes unseemly digs at Vishal and Dhanush, engages in drunken revelry, pokes fun at the warning, takes great pleasure in being juvenile, employs double entendres – some of which sail right over my head – and, offers lessons to the men who were ‘cheated’ in love.

All this notwithstanding, GV Prakash appears in a cameo, to counsel STR, as the wise drunken friend who nudges the hero over the cliff. At that, GVP is successful. A crazy Madurai Michael, as credits roll, is promising retribution in part two.

But, that’s a worry for later.

*****

The Anbanavan Asaradhavan Adangathavan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Peechankai Review: Mildly Engaging Comedy, Not Much Else

Peechankai could have been infinitely better, if not for its confusing ideals. The premise – a man whose hand does not listen to him – had a lot of scope for humour. Debutant director Ashok, though, chooses slapstick. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but that really is all what he sets up his scenes for.

There are double entendres, references to sex, and some helpful background score to help us understand that we are in adult-humour territory. Who scores this cue, anyway? Is it a template that an editor picks off his library? Uniform across all movies, this …piece of music, often featuring a woman moaning, is right out of the 90s. And, so cringe-worthy. Surely, there isn’t need for a musical nudge when there are obvious verbal hints? A politician dances with a skimpily-clad woman, another watches videos of himself and his wife, while someone else makes a covert reference to masturbation – that just had to be there, well in theme, you see.

The adolescent humour though, isn’t what I signed up for, or expected, after a promising start.

Peechankai’s lead is named a name that is time-worn, and an entirely corrupt version of his original name. A pick-pocket well known in police circles, S. Muthu, with that descriptive period between his name and initials, is fondly called ‘Smudhu’ by the police. That sticks. He’s no longer S. Muthu even among his group of thugs. He’s Smudhu everywhere.

After this lovely beginning though, the script veers between needless romantic sequences, and an over-the-top gangster trajectory. Smudhu also suffers a sudden change of heart when he hears that he’s robbed the money meant for a wedding, develops a conscience, falls in love, gets dumped, and becomes a thug again.

Actor RS Karthik as Smudhu, is particularly noteworthy as a man whose hand develops a mind of its own. Director Ashok doesn’t care much for technicality, he bestows a name upon the condition, calls in a ‘neurologist’ to dole out some dubious explanation.

Meanwhile, Smudhu joins a group of henchmen for hire, and somehow, becomes a target himself. There are genuinely funny instances, of course – well into the second half, but the humour rarely veers from slapstick. When it does though, it’s a laugh riot – and in these moments, I see the kind of film that Peechankai could have been.

Continue reading “Peechankai Review: Mildly Engaging Comedy, Not Much Else”

Sathriyan Review: A Tedious Gangster Romance With Nice Music

If anything, movies like Sathriyan – where gang wars are a way of life – come with their own (degenerating) vocabulary. For one, you have to know that when some one on screen says “போடட்டுமா?”, he or she isn’t playing catch, they are screaming murder. Even if you don’t get what they are saying, rarely do men with rippling moustaches and menacing expressions deign to play catch. You are bound to notice something ominous, especially in the odd choice of words. Likewise, the more popular “செஞ்சுருவேன்”, thanks to Dhanush’s Maari, doesn’t translate to doing something mundane, but is euphemism for murder. More colloquially, doing someone in. But then, for these gangs, as the movies would have us believe, murder is mundane. Not a minute passes by on screen when someone isn’t being killed, or chased down dark alleys, aruvaa and adiyaal in tow. It’s tedious this routine, especially for the audience glued to the seat for three hours if not for the people involved in hot pursuit.

In Sathriyan, Vikram Prabhu as Guna, is a gangster, the only fair-skinned one of the lot. Obviously, he is also the best, so to do him in, his rival sends every henchman he could muster. They surround him, shovels and sickles in hand, beat him up, throw him in the darkling Cauvery.

Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music is splendid at such times, announcing a sinister something without resorting to dramatics. There’s no rising crescendo, but a tempo that climbs and falls subtly, in a single wave, with a distinct crest and trough. It’s faintly reminiscent of his father.

*****

Sharath Lohithashwa is the villain of choice these days. In last week’s release, Bongu, Lohitashwa played Pandian, a Madurai don with a thing for cars. An equally evil-looking Rolls Royce, stashed away in his garage, was part of his daily worship. While this quirk of his was not satisfactorily explored in the movie, Sathriyan, even though featuring him only for a brief while, uses him to great effect. When Samuthran (Lohithashwa as the reigning don in Trichy) is shot straight at the heart, he grins maniacally. He doesn’t fall, but stands rooted to the spot – dead – still grinning.

*****

Sathriyan has a bunch of masculinists who engage in some revolting activism. They make merry of women getting stalked, groped and molested, retaliate when the victim fights. This ‘taming of the shrew’ obviously culminates in marriage, the woman all coy smiles after she’s been slapped for questioning the intrusion of her personal space – an abhorrently masculine idea of romance.

Meanwhile, Niranjana (Manjima Mohan), the daughter of the slain Samudran, complains to her mother that she’s being stalked.

The mother is amused. Later, the two women laugh about it.

*****

Guna survives.

With a token bruise, and a sling. He is in love with the slain Samudran’s daughter, Niranjana (Manjima Mohan), mulls over his gangsterhood, chases down a few rivals, elopes with girlfriend. By now, Sathriyan has lapsed into relatively lighter territory – with a starkly different, but no less polluted vocabulary. Women giggle, men ogle, and “ஆளு” no longer means a stranger on the road, but a specific person of interest. A grievance that I just had to air.

*****

The Sathriyan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Bongu Review: Nothing Clever About This Uninspiring Heist Film

With Bongu, Natarajan Subramanian had perhaps hoped to recreate Sathuranga Vettai, the 2014 heist featuring Natty as a brilliant, remorseless conman. A thriller, the script had a wildly engaging Natty who took to a life of crime with gay abandon; he just did not pause to think about his victims, or the consequences of his fraud. In this one though, Natty develops a conscience. And, that’s the sad part. He robs a car, but takes in the security guard who was fired in the process, the dialogue explaining his actions set to sympathetic notes. But Bongu is just not there at all; the script is anything but appealing.

Natty wants to be seen as this cool, unassuming conman that he was in Sathuranga Vettai, but that was all thanks to director H Vinoth’s quick-wit. The movie didn’t really star a comedian, but the humour was laugh-out-loud, nonetheless. Ramadoss, the comedian of few movies, makes an appearance in Bongu, just to do his drunken bumbling fool act all over again. It’s more than mildly annoying, and just not funny. He worships Natty for giving him a job, and becomes the butt of the most ridiculous jokes and contemptuous humour. He had potential, though. During an instance, he rambles drunkenly, but turns menacing when he talks about his former boss – the dangerous Madurai Pandian. It gives everyone pause; surely, this guy is no fool. But the moment is fleeting, and the director lets that pass, settling for more uninspired comedy.

As if to make up for all fallacies, the music is loud. Natty doesn’t really show star power, but the notes don’t give up on the punch. He tackles several henchmen at once, and the movie would have us believe in his wit, but Natty the conman with a forgettable name (Sathuranga Vettai scores there as well; his name was Gandhi Babu) isn’t the clever clogs he’s touted to be.

In the climax, when he challenges Madurai Pandi that he’d rob his car the next day, there’s an expectant hush. But all that Natty and company do, with huge guns that look straight out of a prop store, is to jump in dramatically amidst Pandi and henchmen, and fire what looks like tear gas.

Natty quickly clarifies, though. It’s …சாம்பிராணி

That’s not all. There’s Atul Kulkarni as the special officer who’s brought in to solve the ‘case’. He sits and broods in a dark office replete with computers and other related paraphernalia, and smokes away to glory. But Kulkarni has the most unintentionally hilarious dialogues of all, which perhaps wouldn’t be amiss in a genuinely clever movie: A பலசாலி can be fooled, he says as Natty vanquishes his enemy who was created just to be unceremoniously vanquished, but not a புத்திசாலி.

But then, genuinely clever movies rarely make such proclamations. 

*****

Read: Sathuranga Vettai 2 is in the works; to star Arvind Swami and Trisha.

Also Read: The brilliance that was Sathuranga Vettai.

*****

The Bongu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Brindhavanam Review: Lest We Forget Vivek

Early last year, the Government of Tamil Nadu, on a public interest drive, had come out with several commercials featuring stars (Sivakumar, Karthi and Vijay Sethupathi among others) to create awareness about dengue. Vivek, too, had starred in an advert –  one in which he educates his aide, Cell Murugan – playing the role of his ‘illiterate’ driver – about dengue. It is quite theatrical, this commercial. A few seconds later, in characteristic style, Vivek instructs the ‘thaaimargal‘ on dengue prevention. He also sneaks in a jibe about women …to break the ice.

The Government of Tamil Nadu is …offbeat with its public interest commercials. Played in theatres during intermission, a recent one about safe road gear involved poking fun at woman drivers who covered their heads with scarves and talked on cellphones – all set to catchy music. Needless to say, much mirth was had in the theatre. No male driver was ever in the picture.

Vivek, meanwhile, in the same breath, invokes the late maanbumigu mudhalamaichar Amma in the dengue commercial, and ends with another characteristic punch.

In Radha Mohan’s Brindhavanam, Vivek is a lead. The movie seems to have been scripted for him, line for line, word for word. It allows room for his punches, one-liners, and quite a few ‘jokes’ that the actor has had on reserve. It may not star him the way Naan Thaan Bala or Palakkaatu Madhavan might have, but he is the star nevertheless. Arulnithi, Tanya and Cell Murugan make themselves conducive for his humour to take effect. Hell, Arulnithi is mute for the better part of the movie; Vivek talks for him. And, even if you didn’t know the comedian in his heyday, that’s quickly remedied. There are references to Run, Dhool, Thirumalai…

Arulnithi plays his fan.

Much later, Vivek cannily weaves in the reason too, part deprecatory, his sly speech names ‘comedians like Yogi Babu who have made use of  his absence’. But of course, Vivek quickly says, I was planting trees, not being the cinema-kaaran I was supposed to be.

*****

Arulnithi (Kannan) is deaf-mute (“Pera ketta sweater pinra?”), has a tragic past, and unsurprisingly, is the darling of his society. MS Bhaskar, reprises his Mozhi role, sad tale intact, save for the insanity. Arulnithi, meanwhile, takes a few lessons from Jyothika. He is pleasing most of the time, but is prone to violent bursts of temper – a trait which seems to come with the territory in Tamil cinema. He works in a salon as a hairdresser and doesn’t want to marry the woman (Tanya as Sandhya) he likes. She pursues him, anyway – for a long, long time. Vivek, on the other hand, turns mentor, and has a tragic tale to tell, too. And, as if to make up for sea of sentiment, ‘jokes’ come in from all quarters. The movie is set in Ooty, so Arulnithi’s sidekick is called Varkey, someone compares kaadhal to a haircut, and women become the subject of much banter. Vivek also makes an enormous effort to wisecrack.

It shows.

Vazhakkai nera vettina bajji, he says, ana kurukka vettina chips!

*****

The Brindhavanam review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Saravanan Irukka Bayamaen Review: Udhayanidhi Manages To Undo All His Good Work From Manidhan

Just over a year ago, Udhayanidhi Stalin’s Manithan – an entertaining court drama that featured the actor as a struggling lawyer – was a defining moment in his career. Stalin had to shed his Nanbenda-ness for the role, and the director had subtly, ever so cleverly, put his flaws to work so that they actually seemed quite in character. And for those who took their seats with trepidation given his past record, Udhayanidhi had in store a pleasant surprise. The Legislative Assembly elections were just around the corner then, and Manithan seemed like a smart campaign.

Saravanan of Saravanan Irukka Bayamaen, though, is of a different breed. Someone who well manages to undo all the good that Sakhthivel of Manithan had brought. Udhay Stalin is back where he wouldn’t really want to belong if he knows his audience. There’s nothing remarkable about him here, he doesn’t even try. Saravanan heads a political party, but exhibits little ambition. His party works on campaigns that deliberately go awry, but manages to amass a number of followers nonetheless. But when Saravanan chances upon a childhood friend-rival-cousin-playmate (yes, everything) whom he hasn’t met in years, politics and party are cast away, forgotten. The only moment that seems promising – when Thenmozhi’s arrival is announced – is quite fleeting. Just when I expect to see flattering profile shots of the heroine, music on cue, an angry little girl bursts in on the scene.

*****

There’s Mansoor Ali Khan, with his tiger-claw pendant, a classic motif that Tamil cinema bestows upon its villains. Moneyed, powerful villains. Incidentally, it’s called puligoru. Pinterest has some interesting collection, if you want to look, but all very characterless when compared to the menacing, thick-chained, gaudy jewellery favoured by the bad men. Pair it with spotless whites, a handle-bar moustache, a thigh-slappingly ribald joke or two, and you have a 90s Tamil villain right there. Mansoor Ali Khan, meanwhile, plays the father of the son who pays court to Thenmozhi (Regina Cassandra). Soori, who has been bitterly upstaged by Saravanan in the party, plans revenge. Thenmozhi joins in. And thus, Saravanan, surrounded by rivals, invokes a spirit of a dead friend to help him. Spirit, though, cannot decide whether it wants to scare. There are hilariously-sinister warnings of something to come, but nothing does. Horror is now the new normal for Tamil cinema even when it has no business being there. But then, you realise none of the stuff in Saravanan Irukka Bayamaen deserves place in mainstream cinema.

More baffling is Udhay Stalin’s declaration in his latest interview with Firstpost, published this morning. The article, headlined “Udhay Stalin: I Try To Avoid Sexism In Films”, features the actor’s opinion on the subject:

[“Personally, I think we should avoid sexism in films. Good films have been made without it. But unfortunately, the masses expect glamour in a film. That’s the conundrum for filmmakers I guess. I’m trying to avoid it in my films.”]

He hasn’t, though. There’s sexism, there’s ‘glamour for the masses’, and just about everything that you wouldn’t want in a 2017 film. The comedians – Robo Shankar, Soori, Yogi Babu and Manobala – don’t have much up their sleeve save some unfunny routines and double entendres, so the best joke that the film could muster ends up a few miles short of humour. Yet, it’s quite telling of Saravanan and company.

Senior Party Leader to Soori: There’s 30,000 C in this suitcase, all for you.

Soori: [opens case in wonder]

SPL: C is for caps. For all our party workers.

To think, Manithan had Udhayanidhi almost changed.

*****

The Saravanan Irukka Bayamaen review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Pa Paandi Review: Unnecessary Sentiment Ruins This Otherwise Engaging Tale

In these times of uncertain parentage, and bolt-out-of-the-blue paternity suits, a card that appears right before Pa Paandi (Dhanush’s directorial debut) begins, announces a curious dedication: to the writer’s mother and father. I don’t give the tribute much thought, this is a movie about finding love in the 60s, after all. The trailer had lovely shots of Rajkiran and Revathy in shy smiles and sweet companionship, and several of Rajkiran in heavy biker jackets. Surely, this is a tale about all of that?

It is.

But it is also about the seemingly-uncaring, worldly, expensive car owning, suit-wearing (what’s with Dhanush and people in suits, anyway?) callous adult-children who have little to less time to spend with their parents. When Power Paandi (Rajkiran who is particularly at home playing doting grandfather) switches on the TV, his son (Prasanna) and daughter-in-law storm out of their room to berate him. When Power Paandi files a complaint with the police against drug-dealers in the area, the son talks down to him. Why do you care, he snaps. He’s unfeeling, this son – he’s super-rich and works in an IT park, so he must be. Soon, a scene of a sad Rajkiran being consoled by his grandchildren is set to an equally melancholic score.

This plays in an infinite loop.

Son insults father -> father looks downcast -> gloomy music

Dhanush, it would seem, is just setting context for what is to follow. Obviously, it takes an unhappy elder to seek companionship outside. But first,

Uncaring children -> unhappy elder

It is that kind of a tale. Dhanush plays to the gallery, and as a result, Rajkiran suffers heavily from the Indian Parent Syndrome, reinforcing archaic, misplaced sentiments of parenthood. During an instance, Paandi says – I wanted to have more children, because even if one doesn’t care for me, the other would. But alas, he just has one son. An unfeeling, disrespectful son who is forever typing away on his computer, moustache bristling at everything his father does. It’s almost funny, but it isn’t.

Amidst all this though, there is laugh-out-loud humour; and Dhanush gently pulls the strings when it gets too teary. When Paandi finally traces Thendral – his “first love” whom he had lost contact with – he knocks on her door in the middle of the night. Thendral shushes him; her granddaughter is sleeping inside. They finally meet in the terrace – in stealth. Later, he’s seen texting her in bed, his phone glowing under the blanket.

*****

Pa Paandi is very ’90s in structure. Rajkiran gets a superhero introduction, vaguely reminiscent of a Rajini movie. The film opens to a bevy of people on a made-to-seem-routine-but-deliberately-crowded-for-shot street. They make random small-talk to the camera.

Camera -> Power Paandi

Random person 1: Paandi, come have tea with us!

Paandi voice-over: Not until I finish jogging. Then, arugampul juice!

Random person 1, 2, 3 (in admiration): Ohhhhh

<continues to run>

Good-natured Paati selling idlis: Paandi, have some idlis!

Paandi voice-over: Not now, Paati

<pants heavily>

Random policeman: Paandi, you are awesome – you are the reason we still hold our jobs!

Paandi: (modest smile) (now on camera)

Paandi gets home, picks up juice, switches on television… 

What’s otherwise amazing about Pa Paandi is that Dhanush draws from a setting quite familiar to him. Power Paandi is a retired stunt director, hence that lovely name. He idles at home, befriends the geeky iPad-owning youth next door, berates him for his obsession with the gadget, and generally gets on everyone’s nerves except his grand-children’s. The role is something Rajkiran had perfected over the years, sans the humour, of course. Something that began circa:

Dhanush, the younger Power Paandi of the flashback sequences, has a personality of his own. He is very …Dhanush, all brash, massy appeal while the older Power Paandi is very Rajkiran, subdued, victimized, the doting grandfather. Dhanush just cannot be super-imposed on Rajkiran, much as Madonna Sebastian cannot pass for a younger Revathi.

Sepia + splashes of red + Madonna Sebastian in plaits + smattering of English ≠ Young Revathi

Veshti + Dhanush and his distinct swagger + punches + indistinct rural dialect ≠ Young Rajkiran

The flashback romance sequence in Paa Paandi is also a thing of the past. Rajini and Sundar C clearly wield enormous influence over the debutant director as he conjures a snake to propel Thendral into the younger Paandi’s arms.

Thankfully though, no trace of Thalaimurai remains in the older couple.

*****

Also read: There’s Something Very Familiar About Power Paandi’s Trailer

*****

The Pa Paandi review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Kaatru Veliyidai Review: The Pretty Pictures Do Little To Mask The Romanticization Of Abuse And Violence

There’s no obvious misogyny in Kaatru Veliyidai. Nothing that isn’t camouflaged underneath lovely locales, beautiful clothes, and all the Amrapali jewellery, anyway. Or those random bursts of poetry. When Karthi as VC the fighter-pilot – with aviators and without moustache – shoves Leela about in a gathering, there’s an expectant hush. The wait is interminable: for the break-up that never comes. Instead, Leela picks herself up, in a rustle of skirts – and a beautiful stole – and stalks away. Not cool, VC, his mates say – but VC, if anything, is even more disgruntled. He follows her home, serenades her, tells her he cannot live without her, apologises a thousand times. And, Leela relents. That’s the vicious cycle Kaatru Veliyidai finds itself in. An unforgivable act, repentance, and romance – when there isn’t place for any. And this, especially, is disturbing – the blatant romanticization of violence and abuse.

*****

I’d envisioned Kaatru Veliyidai to be something of the taming of Karthi. Not very unlike Simbu’s makeover in Vinnaithaandi…surely, all that sophistication must work in his favour? Ratnam, though, hadn’t fancied a change. Karthi is just what he’d intended for his script. Brash, full of that misplaced conceit; also, a well-wrought character that makes you want to throw something at him. In that, the director succeeds quite well. For an hour into the movie, you begin to wonder – in earnest – what Leela sees in VC. He’s arrogant, abusive, overbearing, an unapologetic chauvinist – almost all adjectives that you wouldn’t want to describe a 2017 hero with. He’s not the shrew that gets tamed, either.

RJ Balaji, though, is the chosen one this time. His jokes, if any, are subdued – and his Gandhian glasses only serve to make him look more mournful.

*****

Early in Kaatru Veliyidai, VC guns a jeep down steep, picturesque roads, a woman by his side. The woman is in love, VC isn’t. When are we getting married, she asks. After a child, he says. This, perhaps, is the sole seemingly -progressive thought that the director harnesses all through the movie. It’s everywhere. A pregnant bride in the cursory wedding-song-that-just-has-to-be-there, then, a pregnant Leela… these are not matter-of-fact occurrences, though – there’s always a ‘joke’ to cushion possible backlashes.

*****

There are sheer drapes in the hospital where Leela works.

Silk? Whatever the fabric, they billow out about the beds; one on which VC is almost comatose. It’s a pretty ward, tinted in sepia. Leela tends to him. She’s a doctor. In the passing.

The moments in which she’s actually at work are fleeting. In one instance, VC calls her at the hospital, for a joy-ride in the airplane. I can’t, she says. VC shows up at the hospital, anyway. Soon enough, they are in the air. “The cardiac, and acute appendicitis cases” all but forgotten. In another instance, VC and Leela – in a postcard location – outrage over nothing; let’s leave he says, there’s a snowstorm coming. She vows to brave the storm, and what-do-you-know, it’s soon upon them. Only when they cozy up inside the car amid howling winds, the snow falling prettily on Ravi Varman’s camera – the modern visual metaphor for sex – is the intent made known.

*****

Kaatru Veliyidai could have been awesomely psychotic the way it is – if Leela had fought. She cries, though. Begs, pleads, forgives, but just doesn’t walk away. If she had though, the credits would have rolled in 30 minutes. Sometimes, there are just too many expectations from …massy cinema.

*****

The Kaatru Veliyidai review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.