Category Archives: Movies

VIP2: Where pray is that magic of the original?

I remember walking into the theatre showing Velai Illa Pattadhari with little expectation and leaving with some kind of inner craving satiated.

They were cute things to relish in the movie — Amla Paul, the moped owned by Raghuvaran (Dhanush), the relationship between the two brothers, their parents played by Samuthirakani and Saranya Ponvannan and, not the least, the kuthupattu on the house terrace.

vip.jpgEven though VIP2 reprises much of this cuteness, it rings hollow and untrue this time around.

I hoped the movie will be enjoyable, especially because Soundarya Rajinikanth was directing it. But the film had none of the verve and flair of the first part. The climax, especially, was a letdown. It seems as if the director wanted to hitch her bandwagon to a successful franchise only to criminally deprive it of her own touch.

The story and the dialogues, for the most part, do not work and blame must be laid at Dhanush’s door for this. The job of the hero is central to the movie’s theme and the actor does little to deal with its intricacies. There is no layering in the script, and this would be all right if only the commercial elements really kicked in. When neither happens, part two becomes an empty shell of its original self.

As an actor, Dhanush keeps playing to the gallery and this is ingratiating, especially when his mimics his real-life father-in-law Rajinikanth. It’s like they retreaded the popular features of the first part without adding anything of much significance other than Kajol’s character.

Kajol seems to know enough to keep her villainy subtle and this is a relief even as the sequences around her fall apart. The actress isn’t helped much by the fact that her character is reduced into a caricature, leaving her with no scope to breathe life into it. The sequences in which Vasundhara clashes with Raghuvaran, which are pivotal for the success of the movie, don’t really work. He is an angel without wings and she is too egoistic for her own good. On this canvas, there seem to be no grey areas.

The parts that do work are the throwaway sequences in the first half when Samuthirakani’s character comes up with cliched ideas for his son Raghuvaran to floor his wife (Amla Paul). All of them backfire leading to some hilarity. Comedian Vivek does justice to his screentime, but the ‘Thangapushpam angle’ is not really reworked, but spread too thin.

Amla Paul, Samuthirakani and Saranya Ponvannan do credible jobs. But their characters, as written by Velraj, were more interesting. Soundarya is unable to rescue any of them from becoming stereotypes.

The Chennai floods, which is a part of the climax, fails to make any impact. Not much screentime is devoted to it, save for a dialogue from Raghuvaran pointing to the obvious fact that it was great leveller. The drama of the floods, which many witnessed first hand, could not have been more diluted.

The movie seems to be cynically targeted at unemployed engineers in the state. Their sentiments are shamelessly exploited and they may very well end up as the mob cheering from the front seat. Mind you, I have nothing against engineers; only that they could spent their time productively elsewhere.

Bahubali – of biceps and banal film-making

The movie begins with a shot of Ramya Krishnan struggling to save a child. A waterfall, probably bigger than the Niagara, looms large into the frame. I will not tell you what happens next. But be prepared for a twist, of which there are many in Bahubali. Let me warn you, this movie doesn’t end. There is a second part.

Bahubali is a kind of movie that seeks to skirt criticism and directly woo the audience. Critics I read, more on less, gave the movie a thumbs-up. It is already been tagged as the most expensive movie ever made in India. I found the special effects to be woefully lacking. But sometimes you can’t make out sets from paintings and graphics. Kudos to Sabu Cyril and cinematographer KK Senthil Kumar.

There is a war scene at the end, which is mounted on the scale of LOTR. The kingdom is attacked by barbarians; much like Gladiator, where Maximus’ army takes on the horde.

The music reminds me, in certain parts, of Couching Tiger Hidden Dragon. And it doesn’t fit in. I have never been a fan of Maragatha Mani, but I always thought of him as a dignified composer. His image may be tarnished if he lifts the music from a lot of places.

Director SS Rajamouli

Director SS Rajamouli

There is a plum role for Sathyaraj, who nails it. As the narrator of the mandatory flashback sequence, and the guardian of the throne, the actor is excellent. He is organic in a movie, which is largely plastic.

But the performances in the movie are uneven. Tamannaah, especially, displays her lack of histrionics. But she has a navel, which the camera keeps cutting to, during a duet. Well, all of us have one, don’t we? As if this is not enough, there is an item number, too.

I will be there for Bahubali, The Conclusion. Not just to watch, but to criticize it too.

Papanasam: Small budget, taut thriller

In the 1990s, when Kamal Haasan was so successful as an actor, producer and director, I yearned for him to act in a small budget movie. A movie, which would showcase his acting skills, and not distract us with elaborate set scenes. That’s happened now after all these years with Papanasam. I haven’t seen Dhrishyum, the Mohan Lal starrer in Malayalam, and so this taut thriller kept me interested till the last scene, which is superbly done.

Hey Ram, Virumandi, and the latest Uthama Villain are essentially vanity projects in which the star is showcased. Compared to that string of movies – and I don’t want to take anything away from the actor – Papanasam has Kamal giving the star in him a rest and this gets us to look forward to the actor in him.

When I first heard of Dhrishyum – my Malayali friends were in considerable awe of it – I had it pegged as an art film. So the commercial elements in Papanasam surprised me. I am also surprised that Kamal chose this project. But admirably he has and it shows his penchant for new material, which he often writes himself.

But Papanasam has Kamal working in what is essentially a Jithu Joseph project. Kamal, for a change, hasn’t written or produced the movie. And, because the material is so refreshing, we are on the edge of our seats till the end.

Kamal is very good till the climax when his dialogues become an incoherent mumble. But we are in awe of the actor and are willing to let this one pass. Gauthami, Kamal’s real life partner, plays the role of the wife to perfection. And in a particular scene late in the movie, I was reminded of the attempted rape scene in Kuruthipunal.

picture

Niveda Thomas as Kamal Haasan’s daughter in Papanasam

The first 20 minutes leading up the disastrous nature club tour are leisurely paced typical of the town it is set in. I was left wondering when the movie would start. But once it does, it propels on in high speed. Kalabhavan Mani is a brilliant actor and his villainy is admirably characterized in this movie. His corrupt cop is at loggerheads with Kamal’s villager right from the beginning, when he mentions the hero’s powder smell.

Kamal’s family life is brilliantly evoked. He plays Suyambu Lingam, a school dropout, who runs a successful business as a cable TV operator and farmer. His transformation from rustic villager to shrewd father and husband who needs to keep his family protected from the police is well evoked.

But the movie doesn’t capture your complete attention till the final 20 minutes. The slow-paced first half can get on your nerves. But one has to admire the way the characterization is done. I like the tea shop owner played by MS Baskar.

I also thought the cinematographer Sujith Vasudev was brilliant. His work becomes a part of the movie without standing out. It takes brilliance to do that. Gibhran’s music could have been better. The songs were forgettable, but the background score stood out.

Since this review is written a day after release, I will refrain from writing about the plot.

Malayan: Film review

A persuasive case has been made that there exists, in Tamil cinema, a ‘new wave’ of film-making. Malayan, starring Karan, is a movie that borrows liberally all the symbols of the new wave, but none of its substance. And if you are the sort of person, who can’t be bothered about the existence or the absence of the new wave, a persuasive case can be made out why you should avoid Malayan.

Continue reading

Reviewing for Rediff

It began not so spectacularly on September 10, 2007. I have done 10 reviews so far. Here are the movies: The first one was Seena Thaana 001. I travelled all the way to Mayajaal outside the city to review this movie. Wasn’t worth it. Actor Prasanna was to have a much better year in 2008.

I actually liked Satham Podathey. Not many people did. The movie flopped. Vague questions about my reviewing skills popped into my head and really tore me apart after I watched Thavam. I did not know what to write after watching a movie so depressing. For once, I had writer’s block.

ATM is one of those movies which is really bad, but is still fun to watch. Fans preparing to scream were so put off, I heard groans and yawns all through this movie. Kept me awake. The final monologue by Shreya on karpu was a new low for Tamil cinema last year.

Kannamoochi Enada was the only movie I did not pay to watch. Meaning, I saw it in a preview theatre. Was so elated that I gave it a big thumbs up. Became a sleeper hit in multiplexes but flopped elsewhere.

I did like Oram Po. Pretty good effort, but lacked focus.

Billa sucked to me. But I tempered my review so that Ajith fans don’t call me names like Vijay fans had for ATM. But still name calling is a big past time for many online commentators.

Pirivom Sandhippom was a fairly good effort, if it had been a documentary. Realism is often more dramatic and magical than melodrama. Though the director kept the movie real, it was a turn off as nothing dramatic ever happened.

Anjathe was probably the best of the movies I reviewed. Apart from a few scenes, which I am ready to forgive Mysskin for, the movie was fantastic. But too long.

Thotta was the worst movie and came close to Thavam in its ability to depress. I crawled out and typed off the top of my head.

5 years back, if anyone told me that a big website would pay me to watch movies and write my opinion about them, I would have scoffed at them. That’s exactly what is happened today.

The best part about writing online is you have no word limit. And a career which should have begun with Kireedam (I fell ill that day), is blossoming today. I hope to give it a quite burial soon.

Raw talent on display in violent Anjathe

anjaadhe.jpg

Mysskin rides the new wave of Tamil films with this effective police procedural, buddy movie and gut wrenching emotional drama rolled into one. Must watch movie. 

Anjathe, Mysskin’s new movie about two friends, one who becomes a cop and one who should have been a cop, is a cocktail mix of explosive action, thrilling sequences and gut wrenching emotions.

This is the year’s best Tamil movie so far and will remain among its best. This is also the work of an ambitious and stridently commercial director, who is at the peak of his game.

The movie, earlier titled Aruvathu Sinam, begins with a deceptively simple, but innovatively shot stunt staged in a corporation park. Right from the first low-angle shot of a blue sky into which thugs walk in, Mysskin waves his talent like a red flag. Ten minutes into the movie, he has managed to grab you by the collar and pull you headlong into the narrative.

Naren (Chitiram Pesuthadi, Pallikoodam) and debutante Ajmal Ameer play the two friends, and much of the movie revolves around the intertwined fates of the two, as they are pitted in a cat-and-mouse game. Classmates Sathya (Naren) and Kiruba are both sons of cops and live opposite to each other in a police colony. When the movie begins, Sathya is a rowdy and Kiruba is studying hard to be a sub-inspector.

In a quirky twist of fate, Sathya becomes the cop and his friend, who believes that he lost despite his hard work to his friend’s street-smart ways, turns his bitter rival. Many of the early sequences are earthy and simple in sharp contrast to the post-interval manic speed.

Naren plays Sathya as an inarticulate, angry young man with a penchant for violence. This hides his naivety and soft underbelly that can’t stomach his new life as a policeman. On his first day at work, a man who walks into a police station carrying the head of his cheating wife in a bag, sends our hero straight to bed. His father, the head constable, advises his son while polishing his shoes to keep his eyes open to horror. “The policeman lives with murder,” he tells his son.

Ajmal’s breakthrough performance as Kiruba is of a man who slowly, but unwittingly enters a life of crime. His face is often a canvas for the director to the show man in moral dilemma.

As a trainee cop, Sathya is soon on the trail of a gang of kidnappers, which abduct girls of rich families for ransom. The screenplay unfolds like a game of poker in the hands of a devilishly clever player. It is quite sometime before Mysskin has assembled the cards, but once he does, he plays it right.

Prasanna, in a marked departure from his usual chocolate boy role, plays a serial rapist and the kingpin of the kidnapping gang. Prasanna’s histrionic talents may just fall short of portraying implacable evil, but this is a boisterous and courageous performance from the actor. Much of time, his character Daya has to hide his morbid desire to abuse underage girls behind his long hair.

Prasanna provokes just the right amount of disgust and stealthily enters the movie only to retain a vice-like grip on the proceedings towards the climax. Daya’s desperate inventiveness in the face of the police hunt provides many of the movie’s thrills.

Some of the action sequences are brilliant. Naren’s first battle as a lone cop standing in the way of masked killers in a hospital is heroic. But it is also a study of a cop in an unfamiliar crisis. Having to face killers, Sathya discovers that he, indeed, is a hero.

The director also displays remarkable acumen in rooting this crime thriller in a compelling and realistic sociological background. Many of his criminals are victims of life. A flower seller, who helps Sathya rescue a dying man, has a nylon cover wrapped around a leg wound. Such details fill Mysskin’s canvas. Even when wanting to entertain, he isn’t insular to being sensitive.

Sundar C. Babu scores the music, which keeps pace with the editing, often providing the viewer with aural clues. But the songs, particularly a dream sequence and the mandatory post-interval item number, are weak links. Mysskin cans them like a director in a hurry to hide his compromises.

The filmmaker also reveals a penchant for slow motion montage (influence of Eisenstein?), which he uses often with devastating impact. A ransom payoff sequence is shot like a visual counterpart to a symphony, and sometimes in the midst of the trippy editing, it’s hard to locate the characters zipping past one another.

In these sequences, cinematographer Mahesh Muthuswamy displays his variety. His camera, which remains largely functional, turns flamboyant at command. In one superbly realised sequence, the story is told in one long, low-angle shot of the characters entering and leaving a house. All through this sequence, only the feet of the actors are shown. In fact, the movie is realised as a series of long shots, each one signaling a new twist in the screenplay. A sugarcane forest where the kidnappers take refuge during the film’s climax is beautifully evoked.

Actor Pandiarajan, superbly cast against type as one of the kidnappers, delivers a performance that virtually reintroduces the actor to movie audiences. Even if you saw Aan Pavam and Anjathe back to back, you will be hard put to identify the actor in both the movies.

Vijayalakshmi plays Kiruba’s sister, who is in a quite, fierce and blindly trusting love with Sathya. In the little screen time she has, the actress does a commendable job.

With Chitiram Pesuthadi, Mysskin announced his arrival as a name to reckon with. Anjathe is a tastier second course from the director.

 

A Mighty Heart

jolie1.jpg

For years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Hollywood hesitated to make a movie based on the dramatic and tragic events of that day. Such a movie, it was feared, would hurt the sentiments of the families of the victims as well as fail at the box office. Only five years after the attacks, did Oliver Stone release his World Trade Centre and Paul Greengrass make the superior United 93, the story of the one plane that didn’t hit its target after passengers overpowered the hijackers. The connection between 9/11 and A Mighty Heart, is more elliptical than the aforementioned two movies. The movie is based on the memoirs of the same name by Marianne Pearl, the wife of Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded by militants in Afghanistan in 2002. The movie, bankrolled by Paramount, will undoubtedly be seen by some as the ability of a country to make money out of one of its worst tragedies.

Pearl, who is called Danny by everyone in the movie, is the South Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal and is based in Mumbai. He arrives in Karachi, a day after 9/11, and stays back to investigate the hidden links between the Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. The bustling port of Karachi, the “frontier against the war on terror”, as Marianne describes it in one media interview shown in the movie, is one of the protagonists of movie.

Director Michael Winterbottom (an unfortunate name, really) plunges his camera into the densely populated streets of the Pakistani port, recording its sounds and turning its atmosphere into an inevitable part of the movie.

Angelina Jolie, one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, stars as Marianne Pearl. Her husband, actor Brad Pitt, is one of the movie’s producers. It’s ironic that serious reportage of current world events like say, the Iraq war, often take backstage because of the coverage of Brangelina, a fact that many in the audience will not miss.

Jolie plays Marianne as a white woman even though in reality the latter was a French-speaking African American. The murder of Daniel Pearl was one of the biggest media stories post 9/11 and served to illustrate the dangers journalists faced while covering terror. The kidnappers use of the Internet to make their demands, show photos of Daniel on his knees a gun cocked to his head, and even allege that he was a CIA spy was probably the first time that the cyberspace was tainted in such a fashion.

Daniel is not kidnapped because the militants fear that his stories might bring them harm. According to the film, he is kidnapped just because he is an American. As Marianne mentions in her memoir, 230 other journalists were killed during the Iraq war, which followed the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. This is partly because of their risky work and partly because they are targeted by terrorists.

The movie, which is tightly edited and shot in pseudo-documentary style, plunges into the narrative right from shot one. After a few file shots of the offensive against the Taliban, the film shows Marianne and Daniel Pearl, adequately played by Dan Futterman, covering the events after the war.

While showing the day of the kidnapping, Winterbottom cuts between the two main characters, Daniel and his wife. The sequence when the couple is travelling in two separate cars to different destinations is an example of how to take a perfectly ordinary scene and cut it in such a fashion that it creates maximum tension.

Even though Jolie is one of the biggest pin-up stars in the world, her acting skills aren’t far behind her looks. Ironically, it’s the good looks that stand in the way of her performance as Marianne Pearl from becoming truly outstanding. Winterbottom uses close-ups sparingly and even in those it’s impossible not to detect the actress beneath her façade. She plays Marianne as being a levelheaded wife who does her best to improve her husband’s chances of being freed. “Totally silly,” she chides herself after bursting into tears upon hearing that the militants are alleging that her husband is a CIA agent. Though the movie plays out with like a thrilling police procedural, it works best when it’s a politically charged drama. It’s also in many ways a love story. The movie shows Daniel deeply in love with his wife and ending every phone call to her with the words, ‘I love you’.

Unlike the earlier 9/11 movies, this one comes with the acknowledgment that terror is often linked to poverty. The elevation of the Daniel Pearl story into a tragedy is a testimonial to Winterbottom’s abilities.

There is no shortage of Indian actors in the movie. Irrfan Khan plays the head of the Pakistan counterintelligence unit; Archie Punjabi is another Wall Street Journal reporter, whose house virtually becomes the war room in the search for Daniel; and Aly Khan plays Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man responsible for the kidnapping and beheading. The latter two have it easy. It’s Irrfan, in the plum role of the character called Captain, who stands out. His acting is a true delight to watch.

Much of the violence is not shown in the movie. Daniel’s beheading and the way his body was cut into10 pieces is not shown. We only get to see the shocked reactions of the persons watching the videotape of the beheading. In fact, after his kidnapping Daniel is never shown as if he has gone into another dimension, never to return.

They say journalism is about facts and art is about truth. A Mighty Heart tries to go beyond the facts and access the truth.