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.

Kattappava Kaanom Review: Missing Fish, Missing Plot

Kattappava Kaanom Review – Starring Sibiraj & Aishwarya Rajesh. Directed by Mani Seiyon.

Aishwarya Rajesh is intense. Powerful roles suit her. They don’t really bring out the colour in her eyes, but boy, she thrives. She owns the role in which she emotes – especially if the film is all about her. With a script like Kaaka Muttai, which is as much about the children’s mother as it is about the children themselves, Aishwarya was admirable as the frustrated mother who couldn’t provide for her kids. Frustrated, protective, kind. It was a delight to watch her, and her tough love that the sons never tired of.

In Kattappava Kaanom, she eclipses Sibiraj, who just doesn’t have that nasal edge to his voice that his father had and used so brilliantly. That was Sathyaraj’s USP. In hindsight, almost every hero of the ’80s and ’90s had a distinguishable voice. Kamal, Rajini, Sathyaraj, Vijayakanth, Karthik – even Visu.

Visu was inimitable.

Now though, I cannot tell Sibiraj from Siva Karthikeyan.

That I cannot recall Sibi’s voice right after watching Kattappavan Kanom – in which he plays husband to Aishwarya Rajesh – is a tragedy. Not that he keeps to himself, but Aishwarya as Meena overshadows him – in a role that doesn’t do much for her.

She makes me laugh, though. When Pandian’s (Sibiraj) astrologer father frowns at her birth chart, and declares that the name of his son’s bride would begin with the alphabet ‘C’ – Meena, without batting an eyelid, says he’s free to call her ‘Chilk’ Meena.

***

That aside, Kattappava Kaanom is pretty boring for a movie about a fish called Kattappa (mostly computer-generated imagery). Sibiraj’s only claim to fame – Naaigal Jaakirathai – at least had a tangible presence on screen.

A live dog.

When Kattappava Kaanom begins, there’s a shot of those daily astrological predictions on TV. Tuned into the programme is none other than the astrologer himself, who is enjoying the sight of his pretty self announcing the forecast. That’s probably the most memorable instance in Kattappava Kaanom. That, and a couple of scenes featuring Aishwarya Rajesh.

The plot just doesn’t inspire interest. Any interest. A few scenes lazily slapped together to try and recreate the magic of Naaigal Jaakirathai. Why would I care about a missing fish – and a little girl who thinks it lucky – really? From that perspective, director Vijay’s Saivam – even though it expounded on teary, family sentiments, the Suryavamsam of the 2010s – did something right. It brought to heart the love the little girl had for the rooster.

Here though, the owner is creepily attached to the fish – probably meant as a comic routine, in the director’s defense. He even kisses it goodbye over his wife’s head.

***

Other than that, what the movie has is a well of boyhood fantasies – ending in double-entendres. And a story that is so contrived that beyond the first few moments, there’s nothing of note in the script. Much like Finding Dory, which had a likeable fish even adults could warm up to, but was otherwise only tolerable – and left behind fidgety children in 3D glasses.

Needless to say, Kattappava Kaanom is definitely not one for children.

*****

The Kattappava Kaanom 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.

Maanagaram Review: Life In A Metro

I quite love the new wave of cinema. If Karthik Subbaraj, Nalan Kumarasamy and their ilk of filmmakers had made an impression with their mid-budget films a few years ago – thrillers full of lovely middle-class suburbs and uncensored rusticity that film festivals adore – a slew of debutant directors are now emerging with a different genre of thrillers. Adhe Kangal and Dhruvangal Pathinaaru both dealt with fantastical crime, and they succeeded at it. They were all about sharp cuts, pacy editing – rapidly changing frames within seconds – surprises that you actually come to expect, and new faces. A whole lot of them. It’s probably the only grouse that I have, and still do. These directors are all for wild experiments though. Despite the onslaught of new faces, despite the rapid frames… the movies engage, with none of the tropes of regular cinema. Regular, because, these releases can become commercially successful too – the theatre I watch Maanagaram in is small, with the telltale debutant-director-late-afternoon-slot, while Si-3 – only a month ago – had a dream opening with several shows, all for Suriya’s machismo, and some sharp focus on his reverse handlebar moustache.

Though if I were a theatre, I’d be cautious, too.

Maanagaram is well within the league of inspired cinema. No songs, no really lovely heroines who become the target of offensive humour, no offensive humour, just a you’d-never-believe-what-just happened tale that has firm targets. Slice-of-life stories all of them, it begins with a young man from a small town getting to know the big bad city. He gets into brawls, gets hit, gets hurt, picks himself up again – and finally, becomes the city himself. The movie opens in a bar. Different tables, different people, different conversations, but somehow, they all come together – like several acts in a well-orchestrated play. It is pure theatre. The scenes move quick, in rapid succession – sometimes chaotic, and sometimes downright opaque, director Lokesh Kanagaraj visibly strains to tie everything together. Sri wants to make his fortune in the city, but can’t gets past its dark underbelly, Sundeep Kishan is a throrough city-bred, unemployed, pining after the love of his life; Charlie is a good-hearted driver employed with a cab service; and then, a bunch of gangsters who engage with just about everyone. The movie is about earning a living, whatever the means. There are snatches from those detestable ‘software firms’ (can’t quite fathom the hate) while the gangsters have a new arrival in their midst: Ramdoss as a bumbling misfit, and the source of much humour.

Maangaram could well be about people, too – of human emotions, just as inscrutable as in real life – random acts of kindness, and finally, an idealistic small town man who is forced to tread the path of moral ambiguity in the city, only to embrace the place as his own.

The best part? I never get to know his name – or the others’.

*****

The Maanagaram 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.

Kuttram 23 Review: Activism Done Wrong

What do you write about a movie in which dinner-table conversations are largely about a couple who hasn’t had a child? Not the kind of nice, helpful commentary, mind. Kuttram 23 makes this a normal occurrence, and weaves an unkind picture out of it. It opens with a shot of a family at breakfast. Two women serve the men at the table; one of them – presumably the matriarch of the family – harbours a grouse. Her son and daughter-in-law haven’t had a baby, yet. She makes some pointed remarks; daughter-in-law exits in tears, the son blithely continues to shovel more idli into his mouth.

Arun Vijay as Vetrimaaran is a stylish cop, muscle and sinew straining against his well-tailored shirt. And as cop-heroes go, he has a wee moustache. He’s investigating a series of murders; the victims are all pregnant women. He also meets a girl (Mahima Nambiar as Thendral) during the course of his work. She’s quite perfect in every way; teaches at a play school, is great with kids, helps with his investigations, and even spurns his advances. That’s the cue a Tamil hero needs. Her father is irate; he objects. Who will marry my daughter, he questions, if she’s constantly pursued by the police for investigations? Vetrimaaran has his opening right there. I will, he says. Theatre erupts in applause. Girl coyly bats an eyelid at him, and that’s that.

Kuttram 23 wants to be a lot of things. It wants to be a fast-paced cop-thriller, it wants to be a medical drama, and one of those teary ‘family-entertainers’. It also wants to be the one with the most psychotic psycho killers. And at the heart of it, it wants Arun Vijay; as the playful brother-in-law, the righteous cop, the one-man army who floors a bunch of thugs – and also, as the muscly, sinewy alpha-male police-officer who betrays a romantic vein. It would have worked, and it almost does – who wouldn’t want to sit through a movie, laugh, cry, get entertained, walk out, and never think about it again? Kuttram 23 has that lovely attribute. Only, it wants to do some activism as well. Ill-informed activism. It has Arun Vijay rendering a sermon about treating a woman right, but it also has him hitting Thendral over a perceived slight. It calls out fertility clinics for preying on childless couples, but it also normalises, and reinforces the societal ridicule and pressure that a childless woman experiences. And that’s where the trouble begins.

*****

The Kuttram 23 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.

Kanavu Variyam Review: Well-Intentioned At Best

Director Arun Chidambaram has a thing for analogies. His movie, Kanavu Variyam is ‘powered by’ Arun Chidambaram. When intermission in announced, it’s a ‘power-cut’. The logo is a ticking electricity meter, and the movie is produced by ‘Aanazhagan’ Dr A Chidambaram – not an analogy, obviously, but something that just needs to be said.

I’m touched by the earnestness – that of trying to stay relevant to the theme, the unabashed hinting everywhere – the logo, the credits, and even jokes that go “EB office la vandhu current kaekaranga!” I did laugh, by the way.

But then, you sense.

You sense that these aren’t seasoned actors, and that the jokes – though well rehearsed – aren’t staged to be spontaneous. You sense that these actors are probably wondering what the audience’s reaction is going to be when uttering a dialogue. That shows, and how – but strangely, I’m moved by the effort, and so is the rest of the theatre. They laugh hard.

In Kanavu Variyam, a school drop-out with a penchant for science, is branded a misfit in a not-so-idyllic village. Ezhil has quit school – to learn. When his teacher fails to tell him how a radio works, he learns all about it at a repair store.

A carefully-engineered screenplay here serves as some kind of a herald to what the director has in mind. The teacher is allowed a say, too. When someone questions his credentials, he says that a teacher learns things only after he becomes a teacher.

Ezhil is soon made a hero out of – the misunderstood science genius everyone despises, but who is really working towards the betterment of the society. Then, there are those little characters that are so layered. His mother, who balks when Ezhil re-fashions the container in which she stores condiments, into a working model of a wind-mill. To her, he’s a failure – she’s constantly talked down to by her husband, and just cannot understand her son’s ‘genius’. Ungalayum ennayum thavira veetla ellathayum aaraichi panna eduthukuttan, she says.

The librarian (finally!) who mentors Ezhil, generous with books and advice – and also hands out free books (with sweets) to children in the hope of getting them to read: ‘Inippum padippum‘. Then, someone (Yog Japee) who quits his well-paying corporate job for agriculture, arriving in the village backpack in tow; he’s all about getting back to conventional methods of farming. The farmers dissuade him, there’s no water, they say; he persists.

This wounded pride is perhaps what sells at film festivals (remember Kaaka Muttai?). That, the rustic setting, the under-the-tree schools, a village with massive power deficit, simple village folk, a vaithiyar who cures his patient with soda – and, the songs. Certain novelty. One with kids, one with the heroine, an inspirational number – and, Tamil Thaai Vaazhthu which plays right when the movie begins. Thankfully, there isn’t a code of conduct for that one, yet.

*****

The Kanavu Variyam 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.

Pagadi Aattam Review: Social Commentary With Skewed Ideals

If Pagadi Aattam does something right, it shows a woman (Gawrri Nandha) – someone who’s literate, but just enough – being the breadwinner of her family. A family that consists of her mother, and her sister. There is no abusive drunkard husband in the picture, or little children to feed – just a sister whom the woman wishes to educate. And, to do that, she drives an auto, pawns everything to pay her sister’s college fees, watches with a mix of pride and admiration as she fills out a course application. I’m fascinated by this woman, and the lovely arc that her tale takes. She’s obviously unmarried; there’re no questions raised (or implied) about her marital status – not even a passing taunt that scriptwriters sometimes sneak in – just to get the drama going. Indrani is quite simply what she is. A woman who lives, and earns for her sister – and, for their aged mother who simply dotes on her daughters. And when the sister on whom she had pinned all her hopes dies, Indrani doesn’t cry or raise a lament; eyes intense, she lives through the death, performs the last rites, stoic to the end. That really is all we get to see of her grief. That, and her cold, calculated revenge.

Indrani is quite obviously the product of feel-good plot work. A character who was meant to impress, surprise, and completely catch you off-guard. And even while I sense the real intent, I begin to appreciate the earnest effort that has gone into creating those little imperfections, those little flaws that just add more character. Of course, she has to have something that ticked people off’ that ticked the audience off – were those deliberate? I would like to think so. When Indrani discovers that her sister is seeing someone in college, she discreetly hands her a pack of condoms.

As a reproach.

Later, when the sister has had her lesson, Indrani flushes the pack – serenely – down the toilet.

For the most part, Pagadi Aattam fails to live up to its ideals. Much as it tries to prop up Indrani as its poster-woman, it also reduces her sister to a victim of virginhood. Life after premarital sex simply doesn’t exist, for the woman at least. It veers between a quick suicide, and a painful trial by the society; and soon enough, Rahman – in yet another cop-act – does some moral-policing. He hauls in young women, he hauls in young men, and launches into a passionate speech about everything that is wrong with them. He judges, and he names. And, in probably the most knee-jerk, insanely impulsive top-cop decisions ever, he destroys vital evidence to a case in righteous indignation. It feels good, it really does – but it just doesn’t feel right.

*****

The Pagadi Aattam 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.

Si 3 Review: Formulaic; Little Scope For Much Else

If Si 3 is anything to go by, the previous installments in the Singam franchise would have certainly been …chaotic. And, tedious. That really is why the movie series is brilliant – watch one of them, in a random order – and you really don’t have to bother with the rest. For instance, armed with little to negligible information about Singam‘s prequels, I still knew that:

a) Suriya is a righteous police officer with a menacing stare and a reverse-handlebar moustache.
b) He has punches (both verbal and fisty) for the men, and brotherly Thalapathi-like advice for the women.
c) He’s the eponymous pasichcha mattum thingara Singam (thanks to the trailer that has been playing just about everywhere).

Also, director Hari is quite meticulous that way; he fills the screenplay in Si 3 with a number of references to Singam I and II, in case – just in case – I need some.

I don’t.

Because, after all the footnotes to previous Singams, I come to know that:

a) Suriya is a righteous police officer with a menacing stare and a reverse-handlebar moustache.
b) He has punches for the men, and brotherly Thalapathi-like advice for the women.
c) He’s the eponymous Singam with fists of iron (ongi adicha ondra ton weight da!)

The other running theme?

Noise.

*****

Durai Singam is on yet another rescue mission to save the country in Si 3. A few children die, a woman is molested (almost), a man is killed. All the tragedy, muscle-power and loud violence notwithstanding, there are some rapid cuts. Mute the background score, and you’d still be able to feel the pace – high on energy, and very…spirited? As if that wasn’t enough, the screen splits into two – there’s mind-numbing action on either side of the screen. When Durai Singam version 3 isn’t screaming himself hoarse at villains – along with knock-out verbal punches, he’s shooting everyone in sight.

Of course I exaggerate, but you get the gist.

A car hits a truck, truck hits something else, everything explodes. Singam chases, veers stylishly in front of an airplane on the runway, intercepts it. He goes after villains, who in turn chase down Singam’s family. He’s married now, by the way, but still can’t seem to shake off all the female-fan following. Shruti Haasan (as Agni) stalks him – and Durai Singam lives the perfect Tamil-boy fantasy. He has all the money in the world (courtesy of father-in-law who’d rather bequeath his wealth on him than his daughter) but still chooses to work for the force. Of course, everything Singam does is not without those strong undercurrents of lamentable Tamil pride. For instance, nothing gets a Tamil’s blood up than seeing a woman molested, so the villain grabs a woman’s neck, threatens – he’d grab something else if Singam doesn’t give in. He doesn’t say what.

Because, villain’s probably Tamil too, you see.

*****

Singam calls his wife Puli, morphs into a golden lion on screen amidst intense action. He also insults all the wolves and kangaroos in the world, because the villain is Australian. Right there is another popular theme in Tamil cinema. The fixation with big cats. There’s Puli, Paayum Puli, Singam, Mapla Singam – and all those references to singams in songs. Even when the song in question is part of a film called Murattu Kaalai.

But that, I can completely forgive.

*****

The Si 3 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.

Bogan Review: A Distinct Sense Of Déjà Vu

There’s something quite underwhelming about chase sequences. Especially the ones that open a movie – without context. Just a blur of bodies, cars and some really insane acrobatics. Whom do you root for? The one chasing or the ones being chased? Not that it matters really, for Tamil cinema is fairly transparent that way – villains are quickly distinguishable – and so are heroes –  but I’d still like a preamble to all the action.

Bogan opens with Arvind Swamy as Adithya; a flashy car, a robbery, a bevy of women (most of them white) – he has it all, says a voice-over. Cut to Jayam Ravi (as Vikram) who chases a bunch of goons through the town, getting fisty at a construction site. He’s a cop – quite unlike the one I loved in Adhe Kangal – someone who would jump over the railing than take the stairs; he roughs them up, earns praise from boss, dances a celebratory number. Or was the dance before all the roughing-up? It wouldn’t quite matter anyway. For, there’s something more underwhelming than a non-contextual chase scene and the perfunctory dance number. And, that’s seeing a suitcase / duffel bag / car boot / sack of thousand-rupee notes on screen. Framed to impress, of course – but really, haha.

Anyhow, Vikram seems to have it all too – and his parents match him up with a girl (Hansika Motwani as Mahalakshmi) – who immediately becomes his wallpaper. Mahalakshmi is buying alcohol when she’s being introduced – and obviously, that is made much of. The director laughs at his own little joke, so does the audience. Mahalakshmi gets sloshed, drives, is caught by the police – and mother of all surprises, the cop is Vikram. Some sickly sweet romance right there; girl swears – baby-talks – that she got drunk only to ward off potential groom – Vikram smiles. Mahalakshmis don’t drink without a really good reason, no?

Jayam Ravi and Aravind Swami in Bogan
Jayam Ravi and Aravind Swami in Bogan Movie Stills

Another song follows, the third in an hour.

There’s a whiff of director Hari about Bogan – though not as …flamboyant. Cars don’t fly, but the loud, thumping score and the explosion of khakhi are enough to give you pause. Arvind Swamy and Jayam Ravi have done this before in Thani Oruvan, and that perhaps would explain the distinct sense of déjà vu. This time though, it’s old hat – and not even Swamy’s grey-tinted lenses could do anything but make his eyes look grey – the crazy-murderous villain grey which I’m really partial to. The rest is pure question-me-not fantasy.

*****

The Bogan 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.

Adhe Kangal: An Engaging Mystery Where Nothing Is What It Seems To Be

If AC Tirulokchandar’s Adhe Kangal (1967) is anything to go by, Rohin Venkatesan’s 2017 version is quite simply, a mystery. Not that of murders, though. A few minutes into this CV Kumar production, there’s a sense of disappointment. A visually-challenged chef (Kalaiyarasan as Varun), a journalist (Janani Iyer as Sadhana) who writes about him. Some light banter, there. Journalist likes chef, but it remains unrequited. Chef has a unique way of identifying people – by their smell. So when Deepa (Shivada Nair) – styled well in contrast to the flirtatious Sadhana – revisits the restaurant requesting food for the homeless, chef identifies her by her deodorant. Nivea thaane? Creepy, but Deepa is thrilled that the chef is able to tell. And right there, I’m quite taken by the unique treatment of Varun as a visually-challenged person – there’s no Mysskin-like (think Pisaasu) poignant score; Varun is as self-reliant as can be – and that quirk of his probably exists to drive home his super-human sense of perception – which is not uncommon among the blind. Varun is not treated as a hero – a character with disability – rather, he’s a character with a disability that is enabling. When his mother despairs that he’s difficult to live with – in the way that mothers often do – I sit up, interested. This really isn’t how a character with disability is usually treated; they’re revered, doted on, with the background score on a set scale – sad, sympathetic, or a mixture of both.

When several of Varun’s customers shoot a video of him chopping vegetables, resigned and expressionless – to make one of those viral clips – I actually laugh.

Soon, Varun and Deepa are in love. But this cannot be, I think. Deepa – too prim for her own good, and ridden with those cloyingly sweet traits of a Tamil heroine just cannot be a CV Kumar lead. But she is. Debt-ridden, she graciously accepts Varun’s offer to bail her out. And then, Varun meets with an accident. He regains his vision – but not in the get-hit-on-the-head-and-gain-memory kind of filmy occurrence; there is a plausible explanation offered for blindness, and subsequent recovery. Varun is distraught that he couldn’t help Deepa, looks for her in vain, and eventually decides to marry Sadhana (who’s just totally cool).

And when Deepa’s father appears out of the blue, right before the wedding, I wonder for the second time that afternoon: where’s the …offbeat-ness that I’ve come to associate with Thirukumaran Entertainment? As if in answer, the tale begins in earnest when Varun spots a news item about Deepa’s father. The trail soon leads him to a blind artist with a mystery girlfriend. A mystery girlfriend who was debt-ridden. A mystery girlfriend who seems to have vanished without a trace. Director Rohin Venkatesan had just lulled the audience into a false sense of complacency. His typical characterizations were a ruse. All of a sudden, nobody in the movie is what they seem – save the leads. The transition as smooth and abrupt as can be – enough to give pause, to revisit those too-regular-to-be-true moments. Deepa is a CV Kumar heroine, after all. So is Sadhana, who totally owns her role; a lovely, well-written one at that. Drop the act, she says breezily, when Varun, in a show of chivalry during their courtship, pulls out a chair for her. He had, after all, been quite rude to her in the past, to the point of calling her a ‘room-freshener’. What’s with the heightened olfactory sensitivity, anyway?

Much later, I wonder why this little quirk of Varun’s is never satisfactorily engaged to be a part of the tale. In hindsight though, that would have been a little too pulpy – and a little too regular for CV Kumar.

*****

The Adhe Kangal 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.

Koditta Idangalai Nirappuga Review: Filled With Perversions, But Still A Blank

What happens when something risque is masqueraded as arthouse? 

Parthiban’s Koditta Idangalai Nirappuga is not risque in the traditional sense, though. There’s no real obscenity that you’d find, nothing on the face, anyway – even the sole sex scene in the movie is vetted for the family audience, the camera politely rising above the bodies to focus on rippling water, with a Kathakali sequence to follow – but there’s quite some titillation vaguely reminiscent of an SJ Suryah movie.

Come to think of it, Parthiban and Suryah perhaps inspire each other – they like to think that they aren’t boxed in but they oh so woefully are. In a kind of perverse filmmaking, which, while definitely not run-of-the-mill, is hardly watchable either.

In Koditta… Parthiban (Rangaraj) is an on call driver  married to woman (Parvathy Nair) much younger than he is and she is beautiful as he’s not. What happens when Raj invites a potential client (Shanthanu Bhagyaraj) to board up at the apartment where he works with his wife?

A client who is young, handsome and everything that he isn’t? The script goes out of its way to set them up – and when they are finally together (which takes an awful lot of time) we have to listen to their moral quandary. That takes some significant screen time by itself; that and a dramatic Kathakali sequence when they have sex, set to some bassy music.

Finally, when we really get to know the truth behind all this, there’s some genuine amusement. But those final minutes still aren’t reason enough to sit through a movie that just cannot make up its mind about what it really wants to be: romance, comedy, romcom or just something risque masquerading as arthouse.

*****

The Koditta Idangalai Nirappuga 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.

Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru Review: A Rapid Mystery Where Every Scene Counts

There’s this distinctive quality to simulated rain. It pounds relentlessly on screen – a concerted effort to get all the actors really wet – large, determined drops that are actually visible. It pounds on the nearest prop – usually the windshield of a car, wipers sloshing about furiously. No wind, nothing. Of course, those natural monsoon showers that are visible one second and invisible the next are hard to achieve with a simulator, no matter how clinically you place those rain towers. And, I’m somewhat averse to the kind of full-bodied faux-rain that we see on screen – because, let’s be honest, I don’t want to be reminded that I’m watching cinema when I’m watching cinema. Isn’t that what a filmmaker would like, after all? Also, when there’s so much rain in sight, much of what happens otherwise is obscured – and I’m beginning to suspect that is probably why rain is used unabashedly in genres like crime and mystery. It makes for a diligent accomplice.

Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, which stars a rather nice-on-the-eye Rahman as a cop, opens to the sounds of a steady patter. A car, an apartment, a killer, and a couple who is getting engaged. All against a dark backdrop of rain that just won’t cease. Then, the camera focuses on a window – the shadow of a window which lights up between flashes of lightning. A gun appears within, a shot is heard.

The director is young, it would seem – but I like his youth.

The couple is dead, I think – they are the victims, surely? The scene switches to the present. There’s only a vague sense of time that I can sense in Dhuruvangal… despite those labels; the past isn’t really done yet, and the present has already begun. A visibly aged Rahman limps along his garden when he receives a call, apparently from a colleague. Can he convince his colleague’s son to not join the police force? Rahman agrees. A young man appears. The tale begins. And, the scene switches to the past – or more precisely, where it all began. Car, apartment, killer – no scratch that – killers. There are new characters in the latest version of the past. The scene of crime is revisited quite a number of times through the movie – in the guise of different theories, but I can never look past the mad sheet of rain, and a blurry tangle of limbs. It does get a little overwhelming at a point – Kris? Rajeev? Mano who is Kris, but is also Mano? The new faces don’t help either. One hour down, I cannot tell apart Kris and Rajeev.

*****

There are also those moments in Dhuruvangal… that quite make something out of nothing. In the thick of the mystery – Rahman goes home. He meets an old neighbour who tells him that a man had been lurking outside his apartment for a long time. He walks inside his apartment, grabs something from the fridge, and finally settles with a cup of noodles – while the audience is on edge, waiting for something to happen. A loud something that could shatter the deafening silence, for it’s definitely too abnormally normal, and those crafty switches between long shots and close-ups don’t help either. But the loud moment that the director braces the audience for, just never comes. A lovely bit of filmmaking right there. A snatch of personal space, colourful paraphernalia, muted background score, an expectant hush – and absolutely nothing. A nice deception.

Dhuruvangal… scores on other fronts, too – at an hour-and-forty-five-minutes, it is as brief as it is rapid, and has no songs. Rahman as a cop – with just a touch of pride and immense authority is a delight to watch. There’s something of note in every scene, a chain of events that you’d miss if you blink – and there’s the mystery itself. One too many suspects, deception, and the malignant twist at the end. The sea of unfamiliar faces is probably one of the few things that compounds the movie-watching experience. That, and the rape. And the allusion to the woman’s ’emotional reaction to her stalker’ that the director makes at the end – heard over a picture-perfect Ooty landscape.

*****

The Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru 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.

Balle Vellaiya Thevaa Review: Another Tiresome Rural Drama

Balle Vellaiya Theva does one thing effectively: turning Kovai Sarala into the new-age Manorama. This has been coming for a few movies now – she owns a comedy track, gets teary-eyed if needed, and is the loud-mouthed benevolent old woman whom the village loves (or hates when convenient). She can make the most dreary jokes, laugh, cry, and cook up drama at will – it really wouldn’t be amiss.

And that perhaps is her most powerful weapon.

Kovai Sarala is not someone you’d take seriously – and she makes it work in her favour. When a director wants to mock that statutory warning against smoking and alcohol consumption, he enlists the help of Sarala’s unique nasal drawl.

She can no longer be one of the main leads as in Sathi Leelavathi, but Sarala has eased herself into several other roles: whether its the widow with a hotheaded son (Komban) or the really unfunny spirit that appears in a song in Kadavul Irukaan Kumaru. In Balle Vellaiya Thevaa, she’s Kaathaayi, the childless matriarch (yes!) of the village with a penchant for selfies and a whole lot of drama. Sarala doesn’t care when something isn’t funny. She ploughs on earnestly with an instinctive belief that someone, somewhere, would laugh.

They do.

Even when over half the theatre stays silent during an unfunny routine, there’s always the polite chuckle from a distant corner. And, I forgive her quickly – just for her intense comedy. She would definitely make for a fascinating interview subject sometime – as would all comediennes in Tamil cinema. You can’t help but wonder – what makes them tick, really?

***

Sasikumar fondly hopes for another Subramaniapuram, and it is on this quest that he flits between villages, one hopeless rural script at a time. In Vetrivel, he was Vetrivel – who wooed a woman with some creepy stalking. In Balle Vellaiya Thevaa, he’s Sakthivel – who woos a woman with some really creepy stalking.

That’s all the difference there is. The latest Sasikumar film is just another version of Vetrivel with romance that feels as wrong and baseless as the other running theme in the movie: a feud between a village lord and Sakthivel over a DTH service.

It need not have been all that bad, though. The ending is nicer than Subramaniapuram’s, similar but without the violence, and on a comic vein. But it isn’t as potent, and it doesn’t justify the near two-hour drama preceding it. And the moment you hear the notes of a popular song from Subramaniapuram, the illusion that this movie has anything to go on is dispelled. There’s nothing here save the past glory of its lead.

And no matter what previous hits Balle Vellaiya Thevaa draws on, a pair of eyes is just not enough to make sense of it. For instance, who is the Vellaiya Thevan here, really?

*****

The Balle Vellaiya Thevaa 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.

Veera Sivaji Review: Illogical Plot, Insipid Romance And a Hero Who Is Past His Promise

If Veera Sivaji is anything to go by, Vikram Prabhu is well-past that lovely, promising Kumki period. He was quite unknown then, save for some indistinct resemblance to his father, but that really did not matter. Bomman was earnest as the elephant-boy, living and breathing pachyderms.

Four years later, a slightly more popular Vikram Prabhu draws on his grandfather’s legacy to bring in the audience. Veera Sivaji stars Vikram Prabhu as the eponymous hero – Sivaji – who is out to make a hero of himself. And for this, he employs another age-old tactic of the Nadigar Thilagam: emotions that tug, pull, and totally sever the heart-strings. He does laugh at the ensuing drama when it gets too teary, but the moment is all too fleeting. Sivaji is an orphan with a heart-of-gold, has ‘family’ who are not related to him by blood, and tries everything to save said cash-strapped family from impending doom. He allies with thugs, enters shady deals and does all in his power to circumvent logic. In short, anything that is good movie-fodder.

An insipid romance with Shamili (as Anjali, what else) follows. Here are two actors – with familial ties to cinema – starring in a script that quite manages to rob them of their past. Anjali appears and disappears in a cloud of pink or lilac, wears the most outrageous costumes in the most scenic locales, and falls in love with Sivaji who tries to rob her blind. Quite the extraordinary male fantasy, this.

The Veera Sivaji 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.

Saithaan Review: A Distinctly Filmy Adaptation of a Classic Sujatha Book

aah-sujathaWhen Sujatha’s Aah – a 1990 Tamil novella – begins, there’s quite a preamble. There’s some talk about life in general, a pretty grim sketch if you would; matter-of-fact, a little morbid, but nothing out of the ordinary. A distinctly third person voice, or so it seems until you read further. A few sentences down, the author unveils his plot.

And, his protagonist. That’s when I realise it’s a first person narration. Dinesh Kumar is an engineer, IIT-educated, the sort who flips a phone directory to find himself, finds himself, and his other namesake(s), and wonders if they are all perhaps the same person. Nutty. Nice. This …wackiness is what Saithaan – inspired by the novella – fails to instill in its protagonist. When Saithaan begins, Dinesh Kumar (Vijay Antony) is already with the shrink. He’s on a plush recliner – a cross between a dentist’s chair and a La Z Boy – introducing himself, recounting his life for the benefit of the audience. He types away on his computer in a huge office, has a wife who flits between the bed and the kitchen, and has a mother who flits between the kitchen and aah3god-knows-where. That really is all his world is made of; that and those voices in his head. Not quite demonic, not quite human – simply robotic and non-threatening sounding out from those huge speakers, surround sound systems.

I’m disappointed. This isn’t why I braved cyclone Nada and a bunch of very tardy Uber Pool riders; at least Nada was somewhat true to its name – it’s no longer a cyclone, just a deep depression that has managed to make the city prettily wet. I actually shot a picture, smelling wet smells that even the cab’s synthetic fruity perfume couldn’t mask. The effect isn’t thanks to any filter by the way. Just the cab’s artfully slashed blind.

*****

What I would have loved in Saithaan? The book’s introduction translated on screen, even if it seemed a little too prosaic; a series of disjointed images with minimal score – a lovely bleak picture, and then, Dinesh Kumar in casual conversation with one of his voices. Human voices. Disembodied, or with a form that he can recognise. Something similar to Soodhu Kavvum‘s Shalu, but creepily relatable. I would also never learn why the movie was called Saithaan – when it really had nothing to do with demons, only a bunch of rowdy voices that are never lent a satisfactory explanation once the movie veers into themes of reincarnation and past-life regression. There are human villains too – and right there, I get to see glimpses of almost all movies that have been inspired by Tamil novellas – a mixture of faux science and the paranormal. Sujatha’s Aah was written more than two decades ago, it was novel then, and adapting that to screen in 2016 called for a good look at the present. Perhaps that really was what director Pradeep Krishnamoorthy tried when he tried to create a hero out of Vijay Antony; Dinesh is about to kill his wife, whom, he believes is his past-life tormentor. He’s almost there when she tells him she’s …pregnant.

*****

I’d probably pick Andrew Miller’s Pure for the horror screen. A 2011 book, at the heart of which is an engineer tasked with exhuming a cemetery and demolishing a church in Paris. The cemetery is bursting at the seams with all the corpses and the mass graves it holds while a foul odour permeates the food and breath of all those who live nearby. The novel is set in pre-revolutionary France, and Miller’s writing is visually rich and chilling. A dog pees on a vase in the room where the engineer waits to attend an interview, and right there, Miller makes a point for bleakness.

*****

There seem to have been several writers for Saithaan – Sahithya Academy Award winner Joe D’Cruz among them. But I would never know who imbued the script with this distinct filmy quality: Ravi, Dinesh’s colleague rescues him as he tries to kill himself, and as they sit talking about it, Dinesh’s wife brings them coffee. Ravi takes a sip, gags: Is this why you tried killing yourself?

The theatre erupts. We have such amusing notions of chivalry after all, thoughtfully switching seats with a lady friend as soon as a woman takes the neighbouring seat.

Meanwhile, Joe D’Cruz’s Korkai – a 1174-page historical novel that traces the life of a coastal community – languishes on my bookshelf.

*****

The Saithaan 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.

Kadavul Irukan Kumaru Review: Two Hours of Whatsapp Humour

It’s quite disconcerting to watch GV Prakash Kumar in Kadavul Irukaan Kumaaru. Not just because he shows all signs of becoming the Ilaya Thalapathy minus a decade, also because of his abject indifference to gender-sensitivity. Come to think of it, that’s probably what drives GV Prakash Kumar and his ilk of ‘men’ who just refuse to be classified as adults. They’d rather make offensive jokes, play at being the man-child they had idolised while growing up, turn up a collar or two, and ‘follow’ ponnunga. A screen-sport by itself where the women almost always turn them down, and these ‘men-children’ begin a lament of sad duets and extremely derogatory dialogue. Precisely why I have a healthy fear of what’s now being called a ‘romantic-comedy’ – neither romantic nor comical, they are filled with racy, sexist humour amplified a million times on screen. What’s worse, the actors are young; young enough to influence their wide-eyed, clapping and whooping audience who watch in avid fascination (http://series.fountainink.in/lurking-in-the-shadows/ – a chilling account that just needs to be read). Also young enough to rage against everything that they have made a movie about, to join a revolution already in place. But, they don’t, choosing instead to languish in a hormonal, pubescent space devoid of sane reasoning and social sensitivity. They follow, not knowing that off the sets, stalking is neither cute or desirable, nor does it yield to a scripted-win as they believe in their pretty, little heads. Though even if they did, would they really care? The answer to that is something that I worry about.

Or perhaps, I already know.

*****

Kadavul Irukan Kumaru features GV Prakash with exaggerated mannerisms. He’s brash, uncouth and foul-mouthed with a misplaced sense of self-righteousness. There’s also the lamentable arrogance of youth; the thigh-slapping, expletive-ridden vocabulary – fashionably in tune with the new wave of actors vying to be the mass hero. All those negative adjectives notwithstanding, GVP as Kumaru also sees himself as quite the comedian; but poker-faced humour isn’t something he can pull off without insulting a person or two – and for this, he enlists the help of RJ Balaji, who sometimes is genuinely funny when not offensive. And yet again, director M Rajesh and Kumar fall into a well of their boyhood fantasies – a fairytale which they seem to thoroughly enjoy. One woman to love, one woman to hate – they fight over the hero all the same;  a shoddily-written plot involving religion – so reminiscent of Thirumanam Enum Nikkah – that makes you really wonder about the censoring exercise, and a chase sequence that gets you nowhere. Amidst all this, Prakash Raj in his night-robe, cavorting drunkenly with a woman, who is called Amy Jackson because she’s white.

Deemed ‘universal’ by the censors for all the world to watch.

*****

The Kadavul Irukan Kumaru 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.

Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada Review: STR Impresses Out Of Uniform In This Signature Gautham Menon Cop Thriller

Gautham Menon is fastidious about a lot of things. In Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada, he devotes a frame to attribute his inspirations. A moment from The Godfather, no less. A haze of Maharashtra landscape, saffron-clad politicians, a mental asylum, and a snatch of violence later, STR is introduced amidst an adolescent brawl. If Mike Corleone was a decorated war hero who just wanted to stay away from the ‘family business’, AYM‘s STR seems right out of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaya, pat down to the house he lives in. It’s bewildering, this sudden change of …mood(?) but Menon quickly makes his intent known. He is just establishing character. That of someone unlikely enough to chase down a bunch of goons; an average someone who is offended by the rolls of fat he sees on himself. Someone who smooths down his hair before entering a scene of crime, or more precisely, making a scene of crime.

It’s futile to draw similarities, though, and I really wouldn’t want to unless they establish something conclusive. But Menon’s scenes – some of them obviously influenced by The Godfather – segue quite admirably into the narrative that the director has woven, rich with native elements – that they deserve mention. Multiple shots of a deserted hospital corridor set to an ominous background score, the generous use of a tongue foreign to the local audience – Menon devotes another frame to explain his use of language – and the narrative itself, a coming-of-age tale at the centre of which is an actor who is at once brash and romantic. Menon also bestows a worthy name on his hero which he reveals after the interval. Such a nice tale, that one.

It seems right out of a movie.

*****

For someone who has been tirelessly showcasing cop heroes on screen, you’d think the director would exercise some caution this time around – but Menon’s love for the force is all-consuming, so is his penchant for the cool, calculating, ruthlessly honest and honestly ruthless cop that Suriya, Kamal and Ajith were in their own GVM scripts. In Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada though, STR is not born a cop; he’s made into one. By a series of events – fortunate and unfortunate – that unfold. One brings him love, and the next, a few drawn guns. But the cop act doesn’t call for much from STR who has been doing that swagger for a living; he makes quite the impression when he isn’t one, hands visibly shaking when holding a gun, admirably alternating between naked terror and bravery.

Leela (Manjima Mohan) is a revelation. Menon is realistic with his heroine; he chooses a newcomer with careful thought – someone who doesn’t come with the trappings of a star. She’s not unhealthily thin, and seems to like what she eats. Leela also borrows one of Vito Corleone’s unspoken rules: never hit a police officer – but I never get to know why. Though, like all GVM heroines, she is always on the verge of brutal death. Some signature material, this.

*****

AR Rahman’s chords are as delicate as the script is violent, and the movie sometimes seems as musical as its title. Thalli Pogathey is brilliantly positioned, with the most unlikely score ever. A near-fatal highway accident and its resulting chaos are wonderfully woven into a series of cuts – the typical GVM fade-in-and-fade-out – set to some unreal music. Neither sinister, nor cheerful, you never know whether they live or die, for everything becomes a part of the bloody song. Leela is artfully thrown from the bike, hair splayed out against the rich, green landscape while STR is hurled onto an oncoming bus with as much grace as a seemingly-unconscious man can muster.

Only, STR isn’t unconscious, I soon find out. Merely eloquent – professing undying love when dying. He tells it in Tamil, he tells it in English, and soon, you wish the talking would end – one way or the other.

*****

The Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada 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.

Kaashmora Review: An Untidy Mishmash Of Genres, But The Comedy Is A Saving Grace

When things get a little too serious in Kaashmora – a movie that claims to be darkly fantastical – I almost expect some comic relief: there has to be a joke sometime now. Blame Vivekh, Karthi, or those fashionably-there horromedy movies that get made every month, an expectant hush falls over the theatre during those tense moments – a rising crescendo that drums on yours ears, at the end of which Vivek bursts in with a one-liner. Or, Karthi. Or, the actress who plays his sister. The audience knows that it just cannot be all (that) frightening. And, the director knows that the audience knows; so he alternates horror and humour with some telling background score (Santhosh Narayanan), unleashing a vengeful spirit now, and Vivekh and company later. One of the funnier instances in the film is when Karthi – the-exorcist-who-isn’t – encounters a set of ‘real’ spirits inside an old, haunted bungalow.

So droll, yet it works.

****

If trailers are anything to go by – I always watch them after the movie – Kaashmora‘s two-minute long affair would have you thinking Baahubali thoughts, horror aside. But what you do end up watching is a medley of different genres thrown together in a muddled heap. Karthi as Kaashmora is a conman who feeds off the society’s fear of the supernatural, and does roaring business as an exorcist. Until he meets a set of real spirits, who are all quite …dated. There’s Chandramukhi and Baahubali‘s villains fused into one, a piece of elaborate architecture that is reminiscent of Aayirathil Oruvan, a king and his kingdom, a princess (Nayanthara) and her lover, an infallible rival suitor, and those godforsaken CGI apparitions, red-eyed and smoky – all set against varying shades of grey and black.

Sri Divya – with a forgettable screen name – is mild distraction at best; her appearance too fleeting to be convincing, but that probably isn’t her fault. She appears and disappears at the director’s will, and seems to be around only so that Kaashmora could swat at her. Nayanthara, though, looks a dream in those period costumes …and appears to have stepped right out of someone’s fantasy. She does an Avanthika with a sword – only, her opponents have those telltale CGI contours.

Nobody quite cares, though. The props are all old, but they scare all the same. The humour is characteristically Vivekh, and brash when it’s Karthi, and the theatre explodes with laughter. There are prophecies written on leaves, a child goddess with an unconvincing story… sometimes, seeming right out of Tamil television, with its penchant for everything supernatural and over-the-top dramatics. Only, this isn’t television. It isn’t a cheeky commentary on recent cinema either; the Thamizh Padam of 2016 – now that would have been brilliant, no?

****

The Kaashmora 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.

Manithan Review: Perfectly Timed Legal Drama

There’s an instance in Manithan when Udhayanidhi Stalin walks towards the camera in a slow-mo shot, just as a flock of birds take flight. He’s just won round one against famous criminal lawyer Adiseshan (Prakash Raj in a dramatically loud role) having just fought for justice for the underprivileged. And boy, does he emote. There’s a subtle, understated smile – neither smug nor victorious – only some quiet triumph. He also cries without the telltale red tint, works up enough anger for some impassioned speech, and manages just the right amount of trepidation to pass as a struggling lawyer. He might not have polished his skills to shine, but those little ruffled edges only add to his character, for Udhayanidhi is Sakthi is a lawyer fresh from school, who still has trouble spelling ‘appeal’.

Manithan, a remake of Jolly LLB, the Hindi court-room dramedy, couldn’t have come at a better time. The age-old political strategy of invoking a mass hero to pull all the right strings is a lovely little campaign right there. The best part? Udhayanidhi isn’t your all-white hero. He gets excited enough about making a quick buck off a deal on the sly as much as being the messiah of the masses later. What I loved about it was the lack of fanfare; granted there’s some celebration and shoulder-riding towards the end, but there are no other trappings that come with the movie of a mass hero. Or a movie that wants to make a mass hero of its actor. With a number of young stars in line to be the next Rajinikanth, Udhayanidhi instinctively does it without much ado. Or perhaps, it’s just the script – I might never know.

A hit-and-run case involving platform dwellers and a high-profile accused is what Manithan (and Jolly LLB) is all about. Adi Seshan is the corrupt defense attorney while Udhayanidhi is the lawyer-on-the-road, looking for a ‘case’ to make ends meet. Just when he’s looking to make it big (and please his girlfriend), Sakthi encounters Adi Seshan and his passionately loud arguments to defend his high-profile clients.

And just like that, Sakthi picks up the case, braves a few murder attempts, collects evidence and a few tears, and emerges victorious. With adoring masses at his back.

Quite the new-age MGR.

*****

Aishwarya Rajesh would have made an impact as Sakthi’s betrothed, if Kaaka Muttai is anything to go by. Who else would you cast as the woman who urges her corrupt lawyer-boyfriend to defend the underprivileged than the actress who was so visually eloquent as the mother to two sooty urchins? But Hansika gets the role, and the romance remains superficial. Aishwarya Rajesh, on the other hand, is the journalist reporting on the case. A character that called for the coolly detached Hansika Motwani.

Vivek’s humour – laugh out loud sometimes – is not without the occasional poke at someone’s physique, and a lingering 90s after-taste. Prakash Raj spews passionate – and loud – arguments, matched only by the sagely Radha Ravi as the judge who offers humorous counsel, ringing for tea when inappropriate, and making some hilarious court room commentary. Santhosh Narayan’s music nudges the proceedings with lovely retro-flavoured score that respects – and allows silence(s) as much as it allows music.

And that makes all the difference.

*****

The Manithan 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.

Vetrivel Review: (Melo)dramatic

Prabhu is making all the right noises the past few years. It’s probably what you’d call …organic. He’s well past his Andhiyile Vanam days, and not capable of such merry moves either.

And so, the actor is slowly slipping into a now familiar role: that of filling the vast vacuum his father left behind. He’s either the burly inspector in a fleeting guest role or the stoic naatamai, the caste-loving oor thalaivar, the venerable panchayat leader …you get the drift. He might not quite be his father in miniature, but the signs are all there. Prabhu knows where he’s headed: the Thevar Magan Sivaji with a disappointing child or two, a love affair that he must frown upon, a family feud that would eventually kill him, and the accompanying emotions that must flit across his face. In Vetrivel, which is pretty much an unsophisticated copy of Thevar Magan with a few changes, Prabhu is all that, and more. Never mind the old tale, the tiring rural subjects, or the horrible roles which are a few decades old, the actor functions quite well as the slighted, victimised village chief.

*****

Sasikumar is the eponymous hero of Vetrivel, in love with Janani, a Malayalee woman (Mia George) who has to have that distinct accent, and a streak of sandal for emphasis. He doesn’t believe in education, but wants Janani – a research scholar – to fall in love with him. He woos her with some creepy staring, and by setting up an organic grocery store overnight (she works at an agricultural research institute, you see). He also ruins this nice Ilaiyaraaja song in the process by making it his ringtone.

Naturally, Janani falls hard for him.

Enter Vetrivel’s brother who needs his help to marry the love of his life. What Vetri does next would surprise you.

Or not. He stages a kidnapping so that the brother can marry his girl, kidnaps the wrong girl, forgoes his love and marries her so that her honour isn’t besmirched, fights his wife’s former fiance and mother-in-law (who also happens to be the village chief’s evil step-sister), and finally emerges victorious – Malayalee girl and his ringtone all forgotten.

So finally, when his wife sings as the end credits roll – to the tunes of D Imman –

Onnapola oruthana na paarthathey illa… (I’ve never seen someone quite like you)

– in a nice, glorious melody, we can’t help but agree with her.

 

*****

The Vetrivel 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.

Experiencing Theri: As a Woman

The neighbour’s up early today. Earlier than usual. The patch of floor right in front of her apartment is covered in big, colourful loops. The patterns snake and zigzag in a very unkolam-like fashion; probably one of Auntie’s radical designs I think – before quickly realising that she has attempted to write a New Year wish. In Tamil.

I sleepwalk to the door, and let her in. She hands me some very hot kesari dunked in ghee, sneaks a furtive glance at the kitchen.

“Bad night?” she asks.

“No.”

Then, it hits her.

“New Year release aa?”

I nod.

Auntie giggles. “Heh. What a nice job you have! No cooking on festivals!”

After a careful description of the location where the mess serving onion-and-garlic free meals is, she departs.

“Don’t forget to get me a jar of their sambar podi!”

*****

There are only a few directors who are truly reformist. Gautam Menon is one. If he wants to expound on an ideology, he does it thoroughly. Never mind the flamboyance, or the tale that has been retold a few times over; he thrives in the details. His heroines are just as stylish before their wedding, and after; they don’t suddenly turn chaste when they’re married – wrapped in billowing kurtas or saris, and sporting a few other gear to reiterate their marital status.

There’s nothing wrong with kurtas or saris, mind. I love them both. Just that Gautam Menon, and a few other directors of his ilk take care of these subtle influences. There’s a single look for their leading ladies through out a movie; no abrupt switch of style and costumes – except, perhaps during the wedding. That’s what I call truly socially conscious. In Theri, for instance – and in other films of like-minded directors, there’s a load of waffle about social issues, but none of them get to the heart of the matter; these filmmakers don’t realise that they cannot get away with just expounding on a cause, declaring it evil and achieve some kind of vicarious revenge through their movies. Having a rapist’s genitals ripped off and his body mutilated might sound like fitting punishment, but how would that help, really? It’s a typical testosterone-fuelled reaction; a knee-jerk reflex that they just cannot seem to help. Wouldn’t a more responsible (and sedate) approach incorporate social (and sex) education for the offenders – limbs and penises intact? Gautam Menon roughs up too, but he doesn’t bump off a thug by levitating him from a bridge – without sufficient reason. And, he’s gender-conscious. That, for me, is the stuff great directors are made of. Not trapped within the confines of archaic, ill-defined culture – fleshed-out thoughts, moments and scenes, and attentiveness to influences as subtle as clothing.

I have also never quite understood the need to complete a family. That rosy, happy Tamilian ideal: when the mother dies, conjure a maternal figure out of nowhere; that perfect, well-rounded sample of humanity to finish the portrait. Theri would have worked just fine without an Amy Jackson. Or Mallu teachers who can be potential step-mothers.

And, what’s with making mothers out of wives, anyway?

I blame SJ Suryah.

*****

Atlee might have good ideas and his execution is sometimes top-notch. A spark of brilliance that I didn’t quite expect in Theri, is when a classroom is used to teach a bunch of goons what education was all about. I loved the jokes, not the rhyme, mind, but the jokes. They might have been predictable, even a little corny, but I have never quite enjoyed slapstick humour just as much as I did in that particular scene. And, all that I could only think of later, was – what if the rapists and the sex-offenders had been dealt with in the same way?

*****

Vijay is cast perfectly. I might not agree with him on several counts (sorry, Rowling) or forgive him for his past, but he does have style – even without wayfarers. In Theri, he has shorn himself off a lot of things: dialogues aimed at women for instance. And boy, he can joke. He still has a lot of that elder-brotherly air even as a father, but it does work after a while.

And then, the heroics. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; the hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see: Not quite Muhammad Ali, but very …theri.

*****

I’ve always had a problem with child actors who are made to utter dialogues thrice their age; in Theri not only does the daughter try and set her father up with her teacher, children are used (effectively) to embellish Vijay’s heroics. There also has to be an end to the typical villain act: that of threatening the safety of the family – especially that of kids – to get even with the hero.

It’s way below the belt.

And, rule number one of handling a child artiste as young as a one-year-old: never splash the baby. Ever. Even for cinematic purposes. I have a hardened heart muscle (strengthened over weeks of reviewing movies) that doesn’t quite twitch at these obvious ploys to get me teary, but I nearly skipped a beat when the baby in the tub received a face-full of water, and momentarily gasped for air.

That, really, isn’t done.

*****

The Theri feature 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.

Jungle Book Review: What If

I had a disquietingly funny thought half way through Jungle Book. Something that involved a Tamil director at the helm of a movie like this: It happened right at the moment when I thought danger was temporarily at bay; Shere Khan had just come to know that the ‘man cub’ is no longer among the wolf pack, Akela having told him so.

Shere Khan must retreat satisfied, surely?

In answer, the massive Royal Bengal had sprung forward, and in a swift, fluid motion, ripped apart the old Akela. I flinched. The guy next to me reared as if struck. A child wailed.

These ‘jump-out-at-you’ scenes took me by surprise – even inspired fear as they were obviously meant to, but I loved them.

And right there, I was seized by a thought. A strange one involving a few Tamil directors, and these jungle-vaasis.

What if; what would happen if these animals were to be directed by a few of our folk?

The stoic Bagheera would have pools of unshed tears in his eyes – much like an elderly Sivaji. Akela’s death would have brought about a mad killing spree (from which everyone would have escaped unhurt, of course). Raksha – the beloved mother wolf – would stuff her knuckles (paws, if you will) in her mouth and throw herself on a ledge of rock to weep in peace.

Shere Khan, on the other hand, would live in the most opulent cave, ever – rippling whiskers and all.

For Mowgli though, I could only think of this especial song.

(Of course, it had to have Rajini in it)

****

Disquieting thoughts aside, this version of Jungle Book is a far, (wild) cry from the warm, friendly animals that we have been acquainted with in the previous versions. The indulgence in the past was quite justified, of course. The target audience were children, and a harmless python that wrapped its coils lovingly around little Mowgli, so that he can count its teeth – was not only looked on fondly, but encouraged. The Jon Favreau version, though, speaks to the same audience. Only, it knows they are no longer children. And so, Jungle Book has grown – along times, and right along its first set of cheerleaders.

Lupita Nyong’o as the wildly gentle and gently fierce Raksha, Ben Kingsley as the seemingly aloof (and dispassionate) Bagheera, Idris Elba (he’d make a terrific James Bond, by the way) as the malevolent Shere Khan, Bill Murray, the affable, business-like Baloo, Neel Sethi as Mowgli …and Rudyard Kipling himself somewhere along the tale. Much as his autobigraphy – Something of Myself – would tell you, he was, somewhere, some time when he lived – a Mowgli – removed against his will from the place of his birth, and transported to a land that he barely knew, vernacular idiom still on tongue. The Ruskin Bond of an earlier century:

[excerpt]

“Once, I passed the edge of a huge ravine a foot deep, where a winged monster as big as myself attacked me, and I fled and wept. My Father drew for me a picture of the tragedy with a
rhyme beneath:

There was a small boy in Bombay
Who once from a hen ran away.
When they said: ‘You’re a baby,’
He replied: ‘Well, I may be:
But I don’t like these hens of Bombay.’

This consoled me. I have thought well of hens ever since.”

*****

I’d loved a particular tale as a child – one of the many in Kipling’s Jungle Book. I don’t quite remember everything, just a hazy sketch involving a pet mongoose that saves his family from a nesting cobra and its mate. Rikki Tikki Tavi and a slew of other tales by Kipling were huge favourites.

And that’s perhaps the only grouse I have with these several adaptations of Jungle Book.

There’s Mowgli, there’s Bagheera, and there’s Baloo. That’s really all we get to see.

What if we had one with Rikki? What if Toomai, the elephant boy were to be seen on film again? What about a tale wound around Her Majesty’s Servants? Or a nice little anthology of Kipling’s lesser known works?

All on film?

*****

The Jungle Book 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.

Hello Naan Pei Pesuren Review: What Women (Don’t) Want

A few things overlap across most Sundar C directorials. Hello Naan Pei Pesuren is a Sundar C production, but that doesn’t make it any less apparent that the director was somehow involved in the making of the film. He still doesn’t seem to have had enough of horror, for one; with loud, screaming banshees in Dolby Atmos who make you long for a pair of ear muffs. My decibel threshold is quite low, I admit, but these spirits – banshees really – aren’t a pleasant sight either. Pale and golden, they quite know how to dress for the evening – even in death. And, Sundar’s heroines – banshee or no – have their pasts firmly rooted in the North. Even if they aren’t, he finds a thin thread to tie it all together. In Hello Naan Pei Pesuren (telling as it is), actress Aishwarya Rajesh plays Kavitha – a typically insipid Sundar C woman who falls for a guy who harasses her. He calls her ‘mysore-pak‘ and ‘seth‘ – just because she works at a pawn-broker’s – and literally woos her into submission, with a few sexual innuendos thrown in for good measure. Oviya, who plays the banshee, is seth herself.

A banshee seth that abuses in fluent Hindi.

*****

There’s something that Shankar, Sundar C and their ilk of directors must learn. To step away from the 90s. And, to run their scripts by a woman. Do women really think what these men think women think?

The banshee in HNPP pleads (with the godman-exorcist) for a night with her now married ex-boyfriend. The boyfriend’s wife, looking in on the scene, feels sorry for the ghost and gives in to the request. The reasoning?

Peiya irundhaalum penn thaane?

Bloody hilarious.

*****

The Hello Naan Pei Pesuren 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.