Kaaki Sattai: Sivakarthikeyan’s Baby Step Towards Stardom

Kaaki Sattai; R.S Durai Senthil Kumar, Sivakarthikeyan, Sri Divya, Prabhu, Vijay Raaz, Imman Annachi, Nagineedu, Manobala, Vidyullekha Raman

DINZ8819

In what could’ve been a scene originally written for a star hero, Sivakarthikeyan storms into a police station (in slow motion) as inspector Mathimaran and threatens some thugs who’re creating nuisance. He delivers a lengthy sermon about the sections under which he can book them. And just when you start to realize the seriousness of the scene, you’re in for a twist. Mathimaran is not an inspector, but just a constable, who was daydreaming.

In Kaaki Sattai, Siva, who has mostly featured in a string of successful comedies, takes his first baby step towards becoming a mass hero, sans conviction. You can sense the lack of confidence and seriousness right from the first scene. Initially, Siva is unsure if he’s cutout to be an action hero, which explains why the opening scene turns out to be a mockery of his own screen image. As the film progresses, Siva does transform into the kind of the hero, who treats a bullet shot like a needle prick, but you can still feel that he treads the chosen path carefully. For instance, Siva is aware of the fact that an action hero is required to fight, which he does, but restricts himself to just one scene. Also, he dons khaki in just a few scenes. Because more the number of scenes a hero is seen in police khaki, more action is expected, which Siva duly avoids by reminding himself he’s just taking baby steps towards stardom, and by doing so, he looks like he’s been projected in a larger-than-life role he doesn’t quite fit despite the earnest performance.

Kaaki Sattai is very much a Sivakarthikeyan film featuring all the elements – comedy, romance and drama – his fans usually look forward to in his films. The action angle merely presents the actor in a new dimension, designed to re-brand his onscreen image as a mass hero. But for those who’ve always considered Siva to be a great entertainer, the good news is, he entertains and that’s what really matters. He still delivers lines with ease and shines in comedy, which has always remained his forte and it will continue to be for a long time. Agreed he looks a little out-of-space in the songs and is not great at dancing, but does any of this really matter when you’ve decided to take stardom head on.

Having closely worked with Siva in Ethir Neechal earlier, director Durai Senthil Kumar extracts the best from the actor. Even with a predictable story about organ donation, Durai throws the spotlight on poor migrant workers from north India in Chennai, and how they’re robbed off their livelihood, and in this case, of their organs. At least somebody finally cares about this migrant population.

By now, it’s clear that Siva is in no mood to discard his comedy tag. And with his brief stint with action in this outing, he might even become the next action-comedy star of Tamil cinema. When you see Kaaki Sattai as a film where a hardcore entertainer dons khaki for the first time, I think it works very well.

Three stars

Leave a Comment

Filed under Action, Comedy, Tamil

Pisachi: This Ghost Wins Hearts

Pisachi; Mysskin, Naga, Prayaga Martin, Radha Ravi, Harish Uthaman 

Pisachi

With filmmakers on the lines of Mysskin, so aware of their technique and what they can add to an ordinary story or a genre that’s crying for reinvention, films like Pisachi end up feeling such personal products that the flaws don’t seem to matter much. It breaks a few stereotypes and also follows some. The background score as natural and organic as the sequence unfolds. But, the ghost still is mischievous with her occasionally loud quirks. Pisachi is often that, some tinkering with the preset patterns and still bearing a resemblance. As a film, it works just about fine, but there are too many elements embedded for us to look at it beyond a surface level-cinema.

Mostly shot in the indoors with the frames consistently embracing a yellow tinge, Pisachi settles for the easier thrills initially before the introduction of the heavily indulgent strokes. The protagonist comes across as a violinist to the likes of Ilayaraja. After witnessing an accident that shakes him internally, he goes astray in a recording studio. Amidst a subway, he empathizes for the destitute, the blind, some beggars and a strayed girl. Just like the victim in an accident who didn’t find any takers, he has a soft spot for them and then, his life undergoes a drastic change. However, in his house, a spirit has some other ideas.

Unlike the average horror-comedy film, like the recent Chandrakala or a Geetanjali, where ghosts are merely threatening objects, here the spirit is of a very pretty face. In fact, the protagonist who feels tormented, looks drearier of the two. He has long-hair and an unkempt beard. The early part of Pisachi has the director paying a tribute to an Exorcist-alike sequence. He later introduces us to an interesting character, though vague in sketch, who finds ways to lend money from people and gives him a superb sequence to toy with. He brings us to a role of a specially-abled child with equal poise.

Later, we see some confidence from the maker, like Ram Gopal Varma in his heydays of filmmaking, put together a delicious mix of horror, philosophy and dark humour. Although, Aamir Khan’s Talaash was better in approaching this model of a narrative, there’s a lot to appreciate in Pisachi for its underplaying mystery that accommodates enough space for some soul and intelligence too. The production values leave a lot to be desired, but the film is a director’s baby. Spare some thought for the near-supernatural sprinkling he does, the non-news-making cast, the colour-play and how he assembles his strengths, we won’t quite mind the scale (or the lack of it) or the friendly ghost! Oops, did I give the plot away? But, does it matter?

Three stars

Review by Srivathsan N

Leave a Comment

Filed under Horror, Telugu

Kingsman: The Secret Service: Kick-Ass meets James Bond on Drugs

Kingsman; Matthew Vaughn, Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine

832da0d4-2c6c-47c5-8d01-ce28ba80b5f6

In Kingsman, a pug is named J.B, as in not James Bond or Jason Bourne, but the initials stand for Jack Bauer (the lead character from television series 24). The film is Matthew Vaughn’s royal homage to the secret agent genre in Kick-Ass meets James Bond on drugs style of action. It finds the right balance between absurdity and hilarity and succeeds in producing, in literal meta fashion, not just an ordinary spy tale.

In one of his interviews, Vaughn described the film as a modern-day love letter to all the spy films he grew up on. In fact, it visually quotes from the spy movies that came before it and plays with audience’s memories and nostalgia. Kingsman is all that a Bond or Bourne film can’t be. There’s certain amount of seriousness you associate with most secret agent films which you won’t find here. It isn’t too funny like the Austin Powers franchise either. But there are some genuinely funny moments till the end credits.

All the tropes of a classic spy film have been dealt with some mischief in Kingsman. Beyond the improbable gadgets, far-fetched plot, a crazy villain’s plan for world domination and bloody elaborate fight scenes, there’s something instantly likable about the film. Samuel Jackson for instance plays a villain with a pronunciation lisp, dresses up like a hip-hop star and can’t fathom violence in front of his eyes. He’s cerebral. He leaves all the physical intimidation and killing to his henchwoman, with deadly blades as legs. He actually wants to save the world from itself and also wants to take out a good deal of the population in the process. Another likable aspect is that the relationship between the hero and the lead female character is mostly platonic for a change. And there’s extremely funny reference to My Fair Lady.

What’s really cool about Kingsman is the action! It’s mostly tacky and gory to the finest detail but it somehow goes with the mood of the film. Had it been your regular spy film featuring Daniel Craig, you may have had problems digesting what you see on screen. But who gives a damn about Colin Firth playing Harry Hart, a secret agent of a covert international group that acts outside of any government control. But what works in favour of Kingsman is the casting of popular actors in roles against their type. An action scene in a church featuring Firth will leave you giggling and squirming at the same time in your seat. Caine is surprisingly given a shade of grey which he portrays fittingly.

The film acknowledges all of those stupid spy clichés and then it ditches them all. The best example of this I can give is in the opening sequence of the film -there is a glass of whisky, a lot of people die and there isn’t a drop of the whiskey spilt. The film successfully reinvents just about every stereotype imaginable in a spy film.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is weirdly entertaining without being disrespectful to the genre. You may love it for all the weird reasons.

Four stars

Leave a Comment

Filed under Action, Comedy, English

Candidly Gautham: Gautham Vasudev Menon Interview

Filmmaker Gautham Vasudev Menon on the success of his latest outing Yennai Arindhaal, plans on its sequel and his desire to make a woman-centric flick

Gautham Menon on the sets of Yennai Arindhaal

It has been two weeks since Yennai Arindhaal released. Are you happy with the response?

Absolutely. But when I was making the film, we didn’t think about all this. Ajith was very helpful right till the end and if at all there was pressure, he took it off me. He’d encourage me to do the kind of cinema I’m known for and not let me indulge even slightly to satisfy his screen image. I didn’t treat Ajith like a superstar and that’s what he wanted. I treated him like an actor. Having said that, I really wish we had little more time in the post-production, but I’m glad the film got released and is doing well. I usually switch off post the release of my film. I didn’t read the reviews, but I kept getting feedback from my producer Rathnam, and he’s very happy. The thing with my films is, the industry doesn’t say nice things. My films take a while till they are accepted as good and I think Yennai Arindhaal too will go through that phase.

Why do you think the industry doesn’t warm up to your films?

I could talk to you for 15 hours about that. Here, the appreciation comes rarely and trying to put down someone’s film is what always happens. I don’t conform to these kinds of things. For instance, Anegan released on Feb 13 and our film released a week earlier, which meant that we could get most of the theatres only till 13. Now, I never wished or conformed to the idea that Anegan shouldn’t do well because Dhanush is someone I like and I’m hoping his film does well too. I don’t know why other people don’t wish the same for my film.

Now that Yennai Arindhaal has been adjudged a hit, what are your plans on the sequel?

I think right from the word go, there was always a plan that in case the film does really well and people like Ajith’s character, we could get into a sequel and take this journey forward. Satyadev is no longer a police officer, so the story can be devoid of all the police activities. I would like to take up this story and I’m sure Ajith will also be interested if I convince him with a good screenplay.

Do you feel the film would’ve been equally successful or even more with a different actor?

I think so. The problem here is the mass image of Ajith, if at all you consider it one. The initial response was that the film didn’t have all the quintessential commercial elements, though I consider it as my most commercial venture. The film would’ve done really well with somebody without an image but it’s just a hypothetical situation because I knew Ajith was going to be my hero and I always try to keep the image of an actor out of my screenplay.

But going by the response to the film, despite the mixed reviews, you admit stars still control the box-office?

If Ajith sir wasn’t part of the film, I don’t know if the film would’ve collected so much. You need stars to create the buzz and bring audiences to the cinemas. I know we’ve pulled off a big film like Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa sans the commercial elements, but it worked due to the combination of Rahman and Simbu. The three of us made it work. And the film became a hit through word-of-mouth. But when you have a superstar on-board, everything is automatically taken care of.

Few present women like the way you do in your films. Have you thought about making a full-length woman-centric film?

I don’t consider it a big deal. When I portray them respectfully in stronger roles, the reason it gets highlighted is because women are not shown in good light and they’re merely used as objects of glamour and somebody’s lust in majority of our films. I don’t think you have to pull out a director and say you’ve portrayed women in your film very well. It’s the only way I like to portray heroines in my films. Even if they were to essay a negative character, I’d show them in a certain way people would still appreciate. With woman as a central character, I’d love to do a film and I also have a few ideas.

Not many directors would dare to put their film on hold and start a new project. You did with Simbu’s project to start Yennai Arindhaal. What gave you the confidence?

I think the fact that Simbu being a good friend said that I need to go ahead and do this big project. Things were not good when Suriya project (Dhruva Natchathiram) got shelved and which is why we started Simbu’s film and even shot for about 30 days. Moreover, I didn’t want to let go of an opportunity to work with Ajith because I’ve always wished to team up with him and you might not know, but it could also lead to so many other things. So there was a motive and a plan but strangely, it ended up being a good friendship with someone I really admire.

Any plans of reviving Dhruva Natchathiram with Suriya?

I don’t know. Right now, it looks very unlikely because he’s also busy doing multiple projects and I’m going to resume work on Simbu’s film and probably work on another film, which will be soon announced. I don’t think it’ll ever happen

Are you and Suriya on talking terms?
No, we’re not.

After Dhruva Natchathiram got shelved, you went through a tough phase. You almost hit rock bottom of your career before starting Yennai Arindhaal. Any learning from this whole experience?

At that point, I didn’t have the financial stability and I ended up working with the wrong people who turned against me and filed all these crazy cases. And somebody whom I thought was a friend, Suriya, who completely recognised that I’d be able to pull off something with the script, didn’t actually come forward and give his nod to the script I wanted him to be in. It (the script) would’ve been something very new-age and different. Those were the only rock-bottom points and there was never anything else. Even when the Simbu project was being planned, something had come up with Vijay Sethupathi. But I picked Simbu because I knew I’d be really comfortable with him. Through Yennai Arindhaal, I discovered a commercial side to me and realised that I can venture into these areas as well. What was really nice about this whole experience was Ajith believing in me and encouraging me to do the kind of films I’ve been doing.

As a producer, you’ve been producing some small and offbeat films. Do you do that because you can’t afford to make such films with non-stars?

We did want to get into the bigger league, but people don’t easily come forward and offer you films. If you approach a big actor and show interest in producing his next film with some other director, they’re not so forthcoming with the idea. No big director would like to work with a production company that has another big director at the helm of affairs. I produce these small films because I liked the narrations when I heard them and I thought as a viewer, I’d like to see this film in a theatre. Both Thanga Meengal and Tamilselvanum Thaniyaar Anjalum happened like that.

When do you resume work on Simbu’s project?

We’ve already started working on the music with Rahman sir. We resume shooting from Feb 21. It was initially titled Sattendru Maraathu Vaanilai, but we had some issues with it as somebody had already registered it. I want to see if I can take the title from them but they’re really not interested and also it’s not right to take away the title from someone who has already censored their film. Currently, it’s not yet titled.

In the past, you had expressed interest to work with Mohanlal and Mahesh Babu. Any plans of teaming up?

I always think of working with Lal sir, but somehow it has never materialised. I’ve even met him with a story, but I don’t think he liked what I narrated. Hopefully, something should happen in the future. The same applies for Mahesh as well.

Any other actors you would like to work with?

My wishlist still has something with Amitabh Bachchan. I’d also like to work with Kamal sir (already worked once) and Rajinikanth sir. And after having worked with Ajith now, I’m dying to work with him again.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Interviews

Flirting with Stardom: Sivakarthikeyan Interview

From a television show host to one of the most bankable stars of Tamil cinema, actor Sivakarthikeyan has come a long way with four back-to-back hits. In a long conversation, he opens up on the dream run, being a true-blue entertainer and on comparisons with Rajinikanth, no less

DINZ8819

In a short time, you’ve achieved so much with four back-to-back hits. What’s the secret to your success?

I think audiences gave me these hits and not the other way around. I never claim my films will be loved by viewers one hundred percent, but as the percentage increases, so does the success ratio of my films and it goes from a hit to a blockbuster. My last four films reached their target audience and that has worked in my favour. The teams I’ve worked with need to be credited for this. And when I refer to teams, it automatically includes a good script. When I team up with Anirudh or Imman, thanks to their tunes, audiences come to watch my films. Similarly, a good cinematographer ensures I look good on screen. I think success of any film boils down to a good team. Moreover, I do simple films of the kind audiences can sit back and enjoy.

Your films are high on comedy content. Do you consciously choose such films because they’re a safe bet?

I admit my films are high on comedy, but the percentage varies from film to film. If you take Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga, the last 15 minutes are highly emotional. In Ethir Neechal, the second half shifts gears and tries to inspire audiences, while Varutha Padatha Valibar Sangam is an out-and-out entertainer. After these three films, audiences expected me to something more colorful and stylish. They wanted to see me dance in exotic locations and that’s why I did Maan Karate. I came from television to cinema with the comedy tag, and therefore, I had to be conscious about the kind of films I chose to do. I wanted to check if audiences accept me as the guy who entertained them on television when I entered films. My next film Kaaki Sattai is more serious than all my previous films, but it’s laced with comedy too. I want my transition to other kind of roles to be very gradual.

But do you think you can do a film sans comedy?

I really need to think if I can do a film without comedy. But I think Kaaki Sattai will offer audiences a different experience, quite contrary to my previous films. Except Ethir Neechal, I’ve played an unemployed wastrel in all my other films, but all that has changed with Kaaki Sattai. I’ve attempted something new in my career. The elements audiences associate with my films, say songs, romance and comedy, has also been packed in it to make it a wholesome entertainer. The response to this film will decide the kind of films I can do next.

You had said earlier you never saw yourself as an action hero. Is that why you’re more comfortable doing comedy?

My initial perception about myself before I started acting was limited to comic roles and playing hero’s friend. I even did films such as Marina, 3 and Manam Kothi Paravai with that perception. I never wished to see myself in any particular role and assumed it’d be safe if I play a hero’s friend as I’d get to feature throughout a film. Incidentally, audiences, directors and producers gave me a different path to chose and entrusted me with the opportunity to play lead characters in Ethir Neechal and Maan Karate. The response to the trailer of Kaaki Sattai, which is high on action, has given me a lot of confidence. I think how you portray a hero in an action role makes a lot of difference. When we decided to do Kaaki Sattai, we tried to address two questions – whether this will be a satire on police story and as an action hero, how much of action I’m allowed to do because audiences have only seen me in comic roles. We tried to strike a balance and I think it has worked, going by the positive buzz the trailer has created.

You wanted to be a police officer in real life like your father. Were you emotional when you did Kaaki Sattai?

My folks always wished to see me in khaki. When the film was initially offered to me, I should agree I was little skeptical. I couldn’t accept the offer instantaneously and took my time to give the nod. 20 days into the film’s shooting, I had to don the khaki. And that moment was very emotional and it really seemed like I was taking charge as a cop. It brought back memories of my father and I wished he was there to see me play this role.

Do you agree police roles undeniably give heroes the kind of stardom not many other roles offer?

Unlike other roles, police characters provide respect to actors on screen. Right from the film’s title to wearing the uniform, there’s a sense of pride in playing a policeman. When we titled our film Kaaki Sattai, we were worried if audience will mistake it as a remake of Kamal Haasan’s classic. But given the story, we felt the title was relevant and it created some kind of force one can associate with. Police roles also create a sense of curiosity among the audience. If I’m going to be seen as a cop, audiences are curious to know how have I looked and performed in the role. And when cop stories become successful, the actor who played the titular role is celebrated. Look what Kaakha Kaakha did to Suriya and Saamy to Vikram.

With multiple hits in your kitty, have you reached a point where you suggest changes in the scripts you come across?

I strongly believe in the team I choose to work with. With Kaaki Sattai and my next film Rajini Murugan, I’ve teamed up with directors I’d already worked, so they’ve taken up the responsibility to raise the bar. They know very well what will work and what won’t for me. I let my directors know much in advance about things I’m uncomfortable with doing on screen, say smoking or lip-lock sequence. And directors who’ve already worked with me are aware and they’d never force me to do all this. When these things are taken care of and if I like the script, we go ahead and start shooting.

Let’s talk about your friendship with Dhanush and Anirudh. What makes you guys tick?

It was the film 3 that brought us together. On the sets, I always distanced myself from Dhanush sir, but he’d call and make me sit next to him. We’d talk for hours and eventually that strengthened our friendship. With Anirudh, I share a stronger bond because we kind of started our careers together. We both debuted in 3, and Ethir Neechal gave us our first major hit. The three of us are the kind of guys you can find in your neighborhood. We discuss about everything that happens around us like any group of friends. Our friendship goes beyond cinema and the industry. Both Anirudh and I have immense respect for Dhanush, because he gave us our first break. I still refer him as ‘sir’ because I consider him my senior. More than friendship, it’s the understanding that we have for each other brought us together. Dhanush sir is the producer of Kaaki Sattai, and he still doesn’t know the story of the film. We had decided to work together after Ethir Neechal, and it happened and he came on-board as the producer. Anirudh and I have a similar equation when we work together.

And you guys have maintained a relationship without ever feeling greedy about each other’s success…

Anirudh and I have always maintained some respect for Dhanush sir. Our success is always associated with our films. As an actor, I feel he’s much better and quite senior and I always place him above me. I’m crystal clear about this fact and it has allowed us to enjoy a very healthy relationship. He’s involved in my growth as an actor and I can never forget it. Despite being an actor, he launched me in a lead role in Ethir Neechal. Anirudh and I never discuss about who’s responsible for the success in each other’s lives. I believe one of the reasons of my films’ success is his tunes and he thinks otherwise. When we openly discuss like this, there’s no room for ego or greed in our friendship. Even when we came together for a song in Ethir Neechal, nothing was planned in advance. Dhanush sir felt it’d be nice if we danced together in a song. He brought Nayantara on board and everything else just fell in place.

Going back to your days in television, how did that experience help you grow as an actor?

I’m used to talking and sharing the screen with a lot of people in the shows I’ve hosted. This has made me very comfortable to work with other actors in my films and not worry about losing screen presence. For instance, I’ve never worried about working alongside Soori throughout a film because it all boils down to its success and doesn’t matter if the spotlight is not on me. I also need to credit the television experience for the spontaneity with which I act.

Too early days, people have started comparing you to Rajinikanth, no less.

I don’t even appreciate being compared with my contemporaries. I’ve chosen a path not many would choose to enter cinema. I started as a mimicry artist on television and then went on host shows, dance in competitions and finally started my career in films by playing the hero’s friend and eventually emerged successful as a solo lead. It’s unfair to compare me with legends like Rajini sir. I’ve heard comments that I resemble him in some posters and I can only feel happy about it. But I’ve never tried to take his position or consider myself his successor. It’s like comparing Virat Kohli with Sachin Tendulkar. No matter how well any player plays, nobody can replace Sachin, and we all know that. I also feel you can’t compare me with, say Ajith sir or Vijay sir, because they’ve been around for nearly two decades and I’m just three years old. I compete with myself and try to raise the bar with each film.

All eyes are now on Kaaki Sattai…

As we have already discussed, this role gave me the opportunity to change so much about myself. I’m used to playing comic roles but to suddenly play a cop came with a lot of challenges. The challenges were as simple as standing erect and making eye contact. This is the first time I’ve done action in my films and it was decided right in the beginning that it will be portrayed realistically. The most challenging part about doing action, especially as a cop, was delivering the required look. I struggled to carry the body language required for a policeman. Kaaki Sattai will be a tribute to all the cops who passed away while on duty and their families.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Interviews

St. Vincent: Celebrating Imperfectness

St. Vincent; Theodore Melfi, Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Terrence Howard, Kimberley Quinn

St Vincent

As part of classroom project at St. Patrick, school children, including young Oliver, are asked to research about a saint they know of in real life. According to biblical definition, saints are human beings we celebrate for their commitment and dedication to other human beings. For the project, Oliver chooses his neighbor, war veteran, Vincent (Murray), who used to babysit him while his mother worked late and the two eventually struck up an unlikely friendship. On the surface, as Oliver points out, Vince is the least likely candidate for sainthood.

When you’re introduced to Vince, in the beginning, he sure doesn’t feature any qualities of a saint. He’s broke, abuses a bank teller merely for doing her job, finds an opportunity and cons his neighbor into paying for his broken fence. He’s not a happy person. He doesn’t like people and not many like him too. He’s grumpy, mad at the world and full of regrets. He drinks, smokes, gambles, lies and cheats. He spends most of his time with a hooker, Daka, played by Naomi Watts. These are things you see about Vince at first glance.

Through the eyes of, say a 10-year old Oliver, director Theodore Melfi gives us an opportunity to celebrate the imperfectness of Vince, a man beyond his faults. As a growing up kid, Vince learned all the things kids aren’t supposed to know – fighting, cursing and gambling. He teaches exactly the same things to Oliver, and by learning, Oliver is wary of it. In a scene, when Vince sees Oliver getting bullied by his peers, he teaches him to fight and the next time when he gets bullied, he breaks the nose of his bully, earning both detentions for fighting. In the process, Oliver and his bully get to know each other and eventually become good friends. By teaching Oliver things he’s not suppose to learn at his age, Vince, in a weird way, helps the young boy embrace the imperfectness around him. He embraces his imperfect bully friend, his imperfect mother (who’s mostly busy working in a hospital), and in a touching scene, when Maggie (Melissa), Oliver’s mother inquires about the fight her son got into at school but never told her, Vince says she’s not around mostly for him to even discuss.

A selling point for any comedy is the ability to make the viewer really laugh. Not giggle, not smile from the film’s cleverness, but an erupting, uncontrollable laughter that captures your mind in bliss. Time after time, St. Vincent made me laugh out loud. It runs the gambit over all methods of comedy: physical gags, one-liners, banter between actors, situational comedy, and awkward moments.

Murray is at his best and there are moments he makes you laugh as well as cry. If the script had a bit more heft, he could’ve probably garnered some Oscar consideration. In a departure from her regular obnoxiously funny roles, McCarthy deserves notice for her performance as a hapless single mother on the brink of losing custody of her child.

Agreed the film is flawed like Vincent’s character and quite slow, but you never lose interest thanks to Murray.  Despite the imperfections, St. Vincent is a lovable film that grows on you with every passing minute. It could easily be one of the underrated films you may have missed last year.

We may not be perfect but this makes us realize that our flaws make us, in other words, a saint.

Three stars

Leave a Comment

Filed under Comedy, Drama, English

Tamiluku En Ondrai Azhuthavum: A Social Thriller with Great Comedy

Tamiluku En Ondrai Azhuthavum; Ramprakash Rayappa, Dinesh, Nakul Jaidev, Bindu Madhavi, Aishwarya Dutta, Sathish, Manobala, Urvashi

TEOA

Right in the beginning of “Tamiluku En Ondrai Azhuthavum” (TEOA), we’re told (in the voice of actor Aadi Pinisetty) what we are going to witness unfold on the screen over the next 140 minutes. The premise is interesting – at a construction site, the life of a young woman, Simi (Bindu), is hanging by a few iron strings and a crane, while somewhere else (in nearby vicinity) many innocent lives could possibly be at stake. Agreed it’s a little disappointing to learn about the suspense quite early on, but the buildup to it is worth sitting through.

The story then shifts to a few days earlier and in a middle class household, a young kid is playing with what appears like a remote-controlled motorbike. Here, we’re introduced to Vasanth (Nakul), a tech geek, who makes a living out of designing projects for engineering college students. He’s otherwise unemployed and this irks his brother. Vasanth’s mother, played by Urvashi, is a fifth-class dropout but her knowledge of science will scare the living daylights out of a college student. And it does in one scene, and when she’s asked how, she nonchalantly says she learnt it from her son. Vasanth is your regular youngster but with extreme liking for science. Even when he gets kissed by his girlfriend, he’s somehow more interested in measuring the rise in body temperature.

Ramprakash Rayappa as a director is quite wary of the pulse of Tamil cinema audience. Knowing it’s almost impossible to appeal to the masses with a story devoid of comedy and romance, he uses the plots involving Dinesh and Sathish to entertain viewers. Of the two plots, Dinesh’s story – about a conniving real estate broker, who falls head over heels with his counsellor, is a tad boring and offers nothing new to the whole experience. Ever since he played a blind role in “Cuckoo”, there’s something so disturbing about his eyes, and maybe that’s why he’s mostly seen wearing shades in the film. And there’s also a funny scene where he’s mistaken for a salesman of glasses.

The plot involving Sathish – about a call-taxi driver in search of a prospective life partner, will leave you in splits. This plot has its share of thrills too, but it’s mostly the rib-tickling moments that we cheer for. There’s a sub-plot about a small-time thief and his scenes with Satish are equally funny. In one of the best stretches, the thief flirts with Satish’s girlfriend while on a conference call.

It’s probably the first Tamil film where a perfect balance is struck between science, romance and comedy interspersed with some fresh thrills. And the science angle, to be honest, is quite easy to follow if your basic knowledge of the subject is strong. For instance, there’s a scene where Urvashi explains to her daughter-in-law about how a potato can operate as an electromagnetic cell to power an LED clock, which could be used in the kitchen. In another scene, she goes on to explain about the types of electrical cables while drying her clothes on it. Vasanth drives a solar bike, which initially felt totally unnecessary and seemed like the director was overselling the protagonist’s geeky side, but it comes to great use in the end.  And these details, though minute, make the director stand out from his contemporaries.

The writing is fresh and it’s evident from the way the director manages to make the parallely running stories converge at the end. The director’s taste of comedy is of some standard and unlike others, he keeps the humour situational. When Harini (Aishwarya Dutta) and her friend discuss about Vasanth being a sucker for romance and physical intimacy, there’s a lovely scene where Vasanth says, in science – smaller the size, greater the power. And the director openly takes a dig at engineering college students and their management.

The flaws in TEOA stick out but they’re negligible, given the effort the team has put in to produce a solid social thriller. Among the actors, Nakul and Sathish chip in with great performances. Urvashi is a delight to watch and it’s a shame she’s seldom used in Tamil cinema.

Three and a half stars

Leave a Comment

Filed under Comedy, Drama, Tamil, Thriller

Yennai Arindhaal: Been There, Done That

Yennai Arindhaal; Gautham Vasudev Menon, Ajith Kumar, Trisha Krishnan, Anushka Shetty, Arun Vijay, Parvathy Nair, Stunt Silva 

Yennai Arindhaal

This one scene tells you a lot about this movie.

On learning that his daughter has been kidnapped, super cop Satyadev rushes to the spot and finds that his men have been killed. Even as his mind tries to make sense of the situation, his first reaction is, “I should not have sent her to school, even though she insisted.”

That’s Gautam Vasudev Menon’s lead character for you – a shrewd cop who wears his emotions on his sleeves. One who is willing to take risks and is also brave enough to accept his follies and regrets. He loves his work but not more than his family, so much that does not mind leaving the coveted job to spend time with them.  He does not think twice before falling in love and is not commitment phobic.  It is perhaps this characteristic that differentiates Yennai Arindhaal’s Satyadev IPS (Ajith Kumar) from Kaakha Kaakha’s Anbuselvan or even Vettaiyaadu Vilayadu’s Raghavan – the human face behind the tough act.

The biggest challenge was to make a film that caters to the larger-than-life image of Thala aka Ajith and still keep the movie grounded.  You have to commend both the director and the actor for maintaining the balance.  The sensitivity with which Satyadev’s journey from a young braveheart cop to a seasoned police officer is captured tells you why Menon is an ace at this game.  The maturity goes much beyond the salt and pepper hair, it reflects in the character’s dialogues, his expressions and reaction to situations.  It is transition from being his father’s son to being his daughter’s father.  And Ajith waltz through the role like a dream.  He brings Satyadev to life with his high energy yet poised performance. His bond with his daughter Isha (Baby Anika) is heart rendering and depicts a relationship which hasn’t been explored much in our films.  Though Harris Jayaraj’s music for the film otherwise brings a sense of déjà vu but his “Unnakku Enna Vennum Sollu” provides the perfect melody to bring out the father-daughter love.

The director uses the same rose-tinted glasses to show you the subtle romance between Satyadev and Hemanika (Trisha looking drop-dead gorgeous as the charming and talented Bharatanatyam exponent).  He falls for her, pursues her and even proposes marriage, in scenes that looked right out of a fairy tale book.  The scene where he requests Hemanika’s daughter Isha to convince her mom to marry him surely would garner many heavy sighs. Trisha does justice to her short yet substantial role. She owes a lot to the director for giving her a much-needed image change, be it as Jessi (Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya) or as Hemanika.

Gautam Menon has a knack for creating individualistic personas for his heroine and manages to gives them an equal footing. It is no different in this film either.  Though Anushka’s role as Thenmozhi is pretty much about playing the victim, and be protected and rescued, she gets the strongest introduction than anyone else in the film. The first half an hour of the film pretty much belongs to her.

If there is anyone else whose performance deserves a special mention, it is Arun Vijay.  He is definitely the find of the film, or a re-discovery rather. He gives a fitting competition to Satyadev as Victor. He is fit as a fiddle and his physique stands out especially, given that fitness is not Ajith’s plus point. He brings in the required dramatics to the role, though his reasons for seeking revenge are not too convincing.  His telephone conversation with Satyadev in the end is a class act.

In the end, it is the storyline that leaves you asking for more. Be it the cunning, loud villain playing mind games, falling for a divorced woman with a kid, the personal tragedy or the race in the end to save the loved one, it is the same old beaten track. May be the director lacked new ideas or, perhaps, it was intentional, but the film takes you back to his previous cop hits in way too many instances.  But there was something in his earlier films that completely lacks in this one – the suspense factor.  You are pretty much able to gauge where the scene is headed to, leaving nothing to anticipation.

What makes the film watchable despite a weak story is Ajith (who has given his best performance in recent times) and his romance with Trisha, and all that little emotional moments that Gautam Menon manages to pack into this three-hour long trench.

Three and half stars

Review by Mangala Ramamoorthy

Leave a Comment

Filed under Action, Drama, Tamil

Temper: Jr. NTR Saves a Regular Puri Jagganadh Film

Temper; Puri Jagganadh, Jr NTR, Kajal Aggarwal, Prakash Raj, Posani Krishna Murali, Jayaprakash Reddy, Ali, Saptagiri, Kovai Sarla and Rama Prabha

Temper

Puri Jagannadh’s heroes are eccentric with shades of grey. They’re highly romantic and occasionally patriotic too. Puri likes to highlight the eccentricity in his heroes, say a Mahesh Babu in “Pokkiri” and “Businessman” or Pawan Kalyan in “Cameraman Ganga Tho Rambabu” with a purpose, and that has worked in his favour in all his stories, including in his latest outing “Temper”, about a bad policeman who gets transformed over an incident.

NTR plays Daya, an orphan, who grows up to become a police officer because he believes it’s the only legitimate job in which he can make as much money as he wants and nobody will ask him questions. He considers himself an animal, which he is, because he’s heartless (he introduces himself as a man with no sympathy) when he forces the owner of a property (worth Rs.5 crore) to sell it at a much lower price and tells a heartbroken mother that her daughter might have eloped when she comes to file a missing person complaint.

Daya is accompanied by an honest and self righteous police constable Murthy, played fittingly by Posani Krishna Murali, and this character reminds us of his inner conscience. If Daya had an inner voice, it’d be like Murthy, who wouldn’t salute him because of his bad deeds and wishes for a tsunami (a metaphor) to come and sweep him away.

Although Puri’s stories are cliched, his characters offer viewers something different in all his films. In one of the best scenes in the film, a young Daya is told by his caretaker that the only difference between them (small-time crooks) and a bad policeman is the khaki. And when Daya eventually becomes a policeman, he avoids wearing the uniform because deep down, he still respects it but not the job so much, not the system and people who control it. The only time he wears the khaki in the entire film is after he’s transformed for good.

There are some good as well bad moments in the film. In a touching scene, when Daya gets the old man his property back, he feels sorry because he never had anyone in his life to show him right from wrong. He goes on to tell him that as a growing up orphan he was always bothered about merely living than ever concerned about how to live. These subtle touches by Puri strike the right chords and make you root for the antihero.

NTR is at his best in “Temper” and his performance is nothing short of spectacular as Daya. While the transformation doesn’t come as a surprise, the variation he brings to his character through the dialogues, attitude and mannerism, is outstanding. Prakash Raj is no longer the villain you once loved. He’s been reduced to a comic villain and he’s starting to get stereotyped in these roles. He’s no longer the villain who strikes fear in the hearts of the viewers but he’s just the bad guy, who’ll end up making you laugh at his weaknesses.

Some of Puri’s lines are unmatchable and give you a high when delivered by NTR. It’s his stories that don’t excite much as they’re mostly recycled.

“Temper” turns out to be a regular Puri Jagannadh film salvaged by NTR’s terrific performance.

Three stars

Leave a Comment

Filed under Action, Telugu

Spoilt for Choice: Kajal Aggarwal Interview

Actress Kajal Aggarwal on her career, link-ups, stardom, her secret wish to do meaningful roles and marriage

Kajal 2

When you look back at your career now, what do you think has been the most exciting part?

I started my career very young. I did my first Hindi film, Kyun! Ho Gaya Na when I was ninth grade, and my Telugu debut happened in final year of college. The most exciting part has been the love and encouragement I’ve got from people across all the industries I’ve worked in. Sometimes you’re well received in one industry but not so much in the other. But that hasn’t happened in my case. I’ve been unanimously accepted everywhere I go.

You are on top of your game, but how much is the pressure factor?

Expectations are very high and you’re expected not to spoil it with the choice of films. When I choose a film, which I do instinctively, I’m not hundred percent sure it’s going work or not. But people expect you to be always right and choose films that’ll strike a chord with them and I think it’s almost impossible.

Is there something you regret about being an actor?

Ever since I started I’ve been very clear about what I want to do. Thankfully, I had the guts to put my foot down and say if I’m not comfortable with something I’m asked to do. Whether people have liked it or not and it might have rubbed them the wrong way, I’ve stood by my morals and ethics. I’m not judging others on what they do but everyone has their own threshold and I have mine too but I’ve not crossed it. No regrets at all, because I’ve done everything consciously.

But has stardom snatched away the little joys, say like a stroll in the park or walking into a movie hall without going incognito?

I admit most of us go incognito, but I don’t understand why. See, we work so hard to be recognised and then why cover our face. When people actually start recognising you and you’ve reached that level where you have a large fan base, why do you want to hide your face? I walk into a movie hall whenever I feel like, but I agree I can’t go alone but that’s not going to stop me from doing normal things. Maybe, I agree, taking a walk in the park is too public. But even if you wish to walk alone, the worst thing that could happen is people coming and requesting for a photograph. I think it’s perfectly normal.

You’re nearing thirties. Do you feel there’s a certain age for actresses to get married and settle down?

I’m a strong believer in the institution of marriage. My parents are in love and they’re still together. Seeing them I’ve realised marriage is very important in everyone’s life. And I think the right time to get married is when you find the right person. I agree people are of the opinion that you should get married early in life and it makes sense because you grow old with your partner. That being said, I’ve been very busy for the last nine years and didn’t find the time to invest in any relationship because I haven’t found anyone yet. Most importantly, I’m deeply in love with what I do and my priority has always been my work. But my younger sister, Nisha, found someone and eventually got married. But that was her personal choice. I think career and marriage should not be mixed. Some heroes get married at 25 and continue to work and even go on to become superstars. It’s stupid to think marriage and career is interconnected. Why can’t actress’s career be treated like a corporate job? Women in corporates get married but they continue working, don’t they? I’m so happy some of the young actresses have gotten married and still continue working. Amala Paul, my friend, is the best example.

Going back to your films. You’ve worked with most of your heroes, say like Ram Charan, Vijay and Prabhas more than once. Were you ever conscious that this might lead to controversies and linkups?

I was conscious but then I asked myself how many actors can I be linked with? You need to understand there are only a certain number of star heroes and heroines. And we make so many films in a year. So it’s obvious that these actors have to be circulated in the big-budget films. Also, if a director feels a particular heroine is most suitable for his story, it doesn’t matter who you’re co-star is, you do it if you like it. I admit I’ve worked with some heroes thrice but my relationship with all my actors has always been very professional. For instance, Ram Charan and I are great friends, but I also know his wife really well because they’ve been dating since Magadheera.

Since you have climbed the commercial cinema peak, do you feel it’s time for you to experiment with parallel cinema?

I’d like to experiment with independent cinema and filmmakers. I want to take up strong and well-written characters. But for all that to happen I need to come across a convincing script and it should just feel right. But it’s very important to striking a balance. I wouldn’t want to avoid commercial films. I could do two commercial and two independent films in a year. But I’m waiting to get a script to bowl me over so much that I shouldn’t mind missing a big film. But having reached a certain position in my career, I can choose what I want now.

What about woman-centric films? In 2014, Bollywood produced some remarkable films like Queen and Mardaani. Why don’t we see such films in South?

I disagree because I feel our industry is opening up to woman-centric films. In the last few years, the trend is catching up. I think Malayalam industry makes great films with pivotal roles for women to play. We should be proud of films like Arundhati, which completely changed the perspective of woman-centric films at the box office. People are ready to watch such films and financiers are ready to bet on them.

You seem to have high respect for Malayalam industry. How come you still haven’t worked in it or Kannada for that matter?

I’ve been offered lot of films in these industries but I’ve been so busy with one project or the other. I’m always open to working but I need to find time to accommodate offers. What’s annoying is that most of the times you’re offered a better film just after you signed a film. But once I’ve accepted a film, it becomes my commitment. And I don’t like to go back on my word. Signing a film is like falling in love for me. I sign a project only if I love the script.

Is it true that you chose NTR’s Temper over Sudhir Mishra’s film?

I had let to go of Sudhir’s film for certain reasons in the script. The plan was to do Temper and Sudhir’s film simultaneously and I had given my dates accordingly. I was really looking forward to Sudhir’s film, but like I said before I have my personal boundaries and I don’t like to cross them for anybody. I’ll soon start working in a Hindi film with Randeep Hooda. It’s an intense drama love story and we start shooting from March.

Let’s talk about Maari in which you have teamed up with Dhanush.

It’s shaping up really well. It’s helped me get rid of one of my worst fears. There are a lot of birds in our film and I’m really scared of them, especially pigeons. But thanks to the experience of holding pigeons in my hand, I’ve successfully overcome the fear. What’s even more exciting is that Balaji Mohan is one of the youngest directors I’ve worked with. He’s so focused and driven by passion for his craft that I really enjoy working with him. I really like working with people with fresh ideas, concepts and a different perspective towards cinema. With Dhanush on the other hand, the experience has been amazing. He’s undoubtedly one of the most talented actors I’ve collaborated. When you’re working with somebody of very high calibre, you automatically raise the bar. Dhanush and I were supposed to work together for Polladhavan. We even did a photo-shoot together, but I had to choose between this film and Chandamama in Telugu because of the dates. We were again supposed to work together, but things didn’t materialise.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Interviews