Tamil Reviews

Bangalore Naatkal Review: Miscast And Poorly Written

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Bangalore Naatkal (a remake of the Malayalam original Bangalore Days by Anjali Menon) uses the city as a metaphor for youthful freedom; for living life on one’s own terms; with its high-rises and swank new offices standing silent witness to hugs and pecks, to the rapid falling in and out of love.

It is here that the three cousins who headline the film go, their dreams shattered by fear of failure and parental pressure, to try and rebuild their lives. Divya (Sri Divya), Kutty (Bobby Simha) and Arjun (Arya), cling to their roots and to each other, as life around them seems to fall apart.

This is the promising outline that director Bommarillu Bhaskar proceeds to systematically ruin, aided ably by a leaden (mis)cast and a script that piles one boring sequence on top of another, burying the premise under a mountain of inane dialogue.

*****

Parvathi Menon in Bangalore Naatkal Movie Stills
Parvathi Menon in Bangalore Naatkal Movie Stills

In an early sequence, the recently graduated Divya, who harbours dreams of an MBA, agrees to get married because an astrologer (who doubles as a clown while moonlighting as a 19th century chauvinist) uses solid anecdotal evidence to convince her parents that all college-going girls will get fucked by boys who attend said college. Armed with this instruction, her parents tell her to get married. She needs approximately one second to bury her MBA dreams. The night before the wedding, Arjun and Kutty (whose primary job is whining about the greatness of his hometown) break into her room and… play cards. Arjun talks about not being constrained by society. Kutty talks. Divya talks. When I woke up, they had fallen asleep.

Realisation strikes Divya about what’s about to happen to her life, and she develops cold feet about the wedding. By now, we have almost stopped caring.

This is no isolated scene. The urge to dumb things down and the needless use of comedy are running themes, watering down the impact of the story. Arya’s Arjun, who hints about a troubled childhood, is a rebel. He rebels by… taking selfies everywhere. And sometimes fixing dirt bikes. Because rebels do bikes. It doesn’t help that Arya can barely emote, his eyes sporting the same expression, whether he’s courting a woman or hailing a taxi. Some directors, like Magizh Thirumeni, can mask these limitations artfully. Bhaskar, with his penchant for melodrama, cannot. The scene where Arjun takes his friend – the paraplegic Sara (played beautifully by Parvati) to show her a picture he drew of her could have been so much better with a better actor. “What if I hadn’t come to see this?” she asks him with longing, and he deadpans, “Then it would have remained unseen.” Arya’s delivery is stilted, the line is a millisecond too late for it to have any impact. And there is no Raja in the background, waving his arms and playing those magic violins that make ordinary performers good.

Instead we have Gopi Sunder, who tries gamely, but with limited success. Except for the vibrant Thodakkkam Mangalyam – mildly reminiscent of Ramesh Vinayakam’s Pukkam Porandham from Nala Damayanthi – there is nothing distinctive about the rest of the songs and the background score.

*****

Rana Daggubati and Sri Divya in Bangalore Naatkal Movie Stills
Rana Daggubati and Sri Divya in Bangalore Naatkal Movie Stills

The writing is distinctly ordinary. If the reasons behind Shiva (Rana Daggubati) agreeing to marry Divya without having gotten over his ex-girlfriend are poorly established, the charade that follows is laughable. The dramatic pulling out of a MacBook on their wedding night, a mysterious locked room that may or may not house a shrine to said former girlfriend.

Rana Daggubati is from the Abhishek Bachchan school of acting: a stubble combined with artful staring helps him pull off brooding intensity well, but that’s about it. Sri Divya, who has a role with the most screentime, is competent. With co-stars who barely challenge her, it’s too much to expect a better performance. Bobby Simha, while adequate, lacks the spark that Nivin Pauly brought to the Malayalam original.

Parvathi, as the paraplegic RJ Sarah, puts in the best performance of the movie. Saranya Ponvannan shines as Simha’s overbearing mother who sees her son as her ticket to a better life. But like everything else in the movie, she lapses into the cartoon-mom who asks her son to eat pizza, while playing rummy with her friends. Her portions are fun when viewed on their own, but dilute the overall premise.

Samantha Prabhu, in a brief guest role, wins another round in her running bi-lingual battle with Shruti Haasan, for who can play the most airheaded character. Here, after a song-and-dance routine, she eggs her boyfriend on to run a red light. Darwin wins.

*****

The Malayalam original managed to paper over its cracks with a fresh cast who were stars in their own right. After several casting failures (Siddharth, Naga Chaitanya, Bharath were all considered at one point), the Tamil version had to settle for a cast that lacks both star power and acting prowess. No cracks, we can report, were papered over.

*****

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