Archive for the ‘film reviews’ category

Kaatru Veliyidai

April 12, 2017

“The toxic romance that is Kaatru Veliyidai” screamed one review. “Emotional abuse is not love!” grimaced another. A third claimed it was pure poetry and a fourth was gushing about Mani Ratnam embracing fifty and more shades of gray. Bewildered by all this noise, the underwhelming trailer and the overwhelming PR, I was considering giving this movie a miss until better sense prevailed. So I made a day out of it and watched the film on the big screen all by myself. I mean that literally as I was the only one in the movie hall, which therefore enhanced the movie watching experience a thousand fold.

(Spoilers are scattered freely in this review, so if you’ve managed to avoid hearing them so far and want to keep up the good work, please listen to Nallai Allai instead and have an enjoyable day ahead. Otherwise..)

Kaatru Veliyidai is the story of a Mani Ratnam heroine and a Mani Ratnam hero, streaked with gray. This time around, it is the story of Leela, the lovable doctor and VC, the dashing pilot. The first hour of Kaatru Veliyidai is perhaps almost flawless in its introduction of its leads to each other and to us. Leela, the incurable romantic watching the snow flakes descend from the skies as she enters Srinagar while the refrain of Vaan varuvaan wafts in the background. VC, sporting sunglasses and a girlfriend, recklessly and thrillingly driving his automobile, setting the stage for a terrific crash and a meet (which is sort of cute) with Leela, as she gazes into his eyeballs and shines a torch-light into them in the hospital to check if they are responsive.

The hilarious scene with VC (played superbly by Karthi) hobbling out of the hospital quoting Bharathi to his angry girlfriend, as he ditches her while literally using her as a crutch is easily the most well written character revelation scene in the entire movie. Unfortunately, this promising beginning of an enjoyable gray in VC’s character later turns into big blotches of black  and white. (It is interesting and a little disappointing to note that no such attempt has been made to make Mani Ratnam’s heroines less adorable or more complex.)

The course of love initially runs smoothly as the couple euphorically float in the air (in a plane), whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears (again, it’s beautiful to see Mani Ratnam showcase this literally) and transition from referring to each other in third person to using the pronoun “You” (“What does VC think?” “How does Leela feel?” Or maybe I’m reading too much into this and there was simply a secret Malayali script writer lurking in the background). This is the part of the movie where you sit with a big smile on your face, which simply refuses to go away.

The warning bells start ringing when Leela and VC are near a snowstorm and VC does not take kindly to Leela behaving like a five year old and threatens her, instead of treating her like an equal (which in his defence, is a bit hard to do). And things start going from bad to worse on the grim side, and good to great on the nice side. One moment, VC is adorably twirling Leela all around the house going “I can’t hear you say I love you!” and the other moment, he’s twisting her arms condescendingly saying “Women, my dear ..” (you know that sentence can never end well). This is excellent material on paper, but on screen, the idealistic moments shine through but the darker moments are *told* rather than shown to us. For instance, we are informed repeatedly by RJ Balaji that VC is an asshole, and by others that VC only likes himself (On a side note, my biggest grouse with this movie is the casting of RJ Balaji and the amount of screen time his character gets)

The songs are superb and superbly used, but Nallai Allai is my pick of the album and also the best *placed* in the movie. Mani Ratnam uses it as a serenading song sung by VC to woo Leela back after an argument and a clash. VC stands on his car, towering over Leela and passionately announces that she is in fact so much bigger than him. Some exquisite staging there!

Aditi Rao Hydari as Leela is a lovely fit and the dubbing is delectable. Who dubbed for her, I wonder ? Karthi, apart from a pained smirk one too many, is debonair and dashing when he is good and moody and manic when he isn’t. R J Balaji should not have been in the movie, nor his character. KPAC Lalitha as the Nurse and Delhi Ganesh as Leela’s grandfather are wasted in their minuscule roles, though it does feel good to see them on screen (watch out for a lovely photo of Delhi Ganesh in one of the frames). Everyone and everything looks gorgeous, the scenery breath taking, though I wish Aditi had worn more layers of warm clothing.

Push and pull, pull and push. The film swings as Leela sways towards and away from VC, almost losing her balance in the dance of Life. But then she realizes that explanations, rationales, reasons, opinions, fears ….don’t matter. At the end of the day, she needs to ask herself and VC just one question. “Yes or no?”  It takes seven years and a journey across seven hills and seas (and a prison break) for VC to give her his answer. But Kaatru Veliyidai leaves you with the question that it never finished answering. What do you say to Love if it is not tempered with Respect ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June 16, 2015

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Sandy Welch is one of the best screen play writers there is to turn great books into greater movies. BBC’s North and South is one example. Emma (2009), also a BBC production, is yet another example.

Emma is not my most favourite Austen book, but it is also not my least favourite Austen book. So there is some attachment and some apprehension watching adaptations on screen. But Welch’s screenplay is spectacular. It softens Austen’s sharp words, rounds her caricatures into characters, shades them with complexities and yet stays true to the book.

Emma, while reading the book, may come across as an exasperating character. She is admittedly that, quite a few times. But the movie version brings out a vulnerability and a wistfulness, which is not exactly the spoilt poor little rich girl image I was expecting to see.

The most wonderful surprise was Mr Woodhouse, the perennial worrier, terrified about cake, draughts, chills, and everything else. He still gets his chance to forbid the children from eating cakes, and forlornly hoping that terrible things like marriages might never happen again, but you also see him tender and protective of his daughters, only to an extreme.

“Fear is something you will only truly know after you have a child of your own”

The class consciousness, the whole sub plot line about Harriet Smith not being worthy because of her possible illegitimate birth and her general ignorance and silliness gets turned on its head in a brilliant argument between Emma and Mr Knightley. Compare Austen’s words

“You are a very warm friend to Mr. Martin; but, as I said before, are unjust to Harriet. Harriet’s claims to marry well are not so contemptible as you represent them. She is not a clever girl, but she has better sense than you are aware of, and does not deserve to have her understanding spoken of so slightingly. Waiving that point, however, and supposing her to be, as you describe her, only pretty and good-natured, let me tell you, that in the degree she possesses them, they are not trivial recommendations to the world in general, for she is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so by ninety-nine people out of an hundred; and till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of chusing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice. Her good-nature, too, is not so very slight a claim, comprehending, as it does, real, thorough sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with other people. I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess.”

And what Sandy Welch makes her Emma retort in great anger to Mr Knightley who’s clearly at a loss for words.

Emma : “Well, then. Let us, as you say, live in the real world. Where men of course always reject a girl with a pretty face in favour of one with a well informed mind. 

Mr Knightley (spluttering) : “What ?!”

Emma : “Oh no no no ! I bow to your superior knowledge. You must know best ! Harriet, with her good looks and easy temperament will be right at the back of the queue with your sex when it comes to choosing a mate“

Austen’s Emma in this scene is trying to be playful. Whilst Welch’s Emma is clearly worked up and well, so much better for it. Isn’t it genius ?

And compare that again to Mr Knightley, more in sorrow than in anger rebuking Emma after her ridiculing of Miss Bates at the picnic spot. Welch leaves Austen’s words almost untouched

“Badly done, Emma. Badly done indeed !”

I could go on and on. It is a four part series and these are liberally sprinkled with brilliant moments. And the casting is almost perfect. Only Jonny Lee Miller is too handsome to be Austen’s Mr Knightley. But that seems to be a running fault in all of Welch’s leading men (Richard Armitage *cough* Thornton)

By the way, the screen caps above are of Jane Fairfax and Emma. One, dark haired, leaving home, all alone, bravely smiling. Another, blonde, hand held, looking on wonderingly at the world from the confines of her home. Two images. And a story told.

Link : And here is an interview with Sandy Welch on adapting Emma for the screen

OK Kanmani

May 27, 2015

(Spoilers alert and er.. long post ahead)

I finally got around to watching OK Kanmani. With no great expectations, but with no apprehensions either. It’s a very comfortable feeling, when you *know* that the movie you’re about to watch is going to be … pleasant.

You’ve got a charming couple, who meet, then meet up and then move in together and into the house of another charming older couple. You have PC Sreeram’s Bombay for scenic background, ARR’s frothy and light soundtrack, and all the goodness of past Mani Ratnam’s romantic scenes put through the blender and refreshingly served. All this, the trailers tell you. What they don’t spell out is the wistfulness in Tara’s smile and the catch in Adi’s voice.

There’s really very little drama in this young couple’s lives imposed on by others. Sure, you’ve got the dramatic and very rich mother of the bride who knows the police commissioner, you’ve got the scene with the show-down between Adi’s sister in law and Tara. Hell, Adi and Tara in fact meet across platforms when Tara is threatening to jump in front of an incoming train. But then you realize these moments are of absolutely no significance.

Instead the couple build up the drama all by themselves. Adi, literally, for he is a video game developer. Anyway, for a pair of romantics stifled under masks of cynicism waiting to see who rips the mask off first, this is certainly not a tall order.

There are several beautiful moments as their relationship blossoms. When early on, Tara goes outside her office to meet a waiting Adi to go to a coffee house, he hops on to his bike and waits for her to get on. She hesitates a bit, taken aback. He smiles and asks “Should I walk alongside with you with the bike then ?”. She laughs and climbs on. And the camera zips to the next scene, where they are having coffee. The big deal is not the bike ride, the big deal is making that decision to take a bike ride. With a stranger.

The scene in Ahmedabad when she opens up to Adi about her childhood. Apart from Nithya Menen being simply spectacular (and she is), the scene is a marvel because it shows us why Tara does not want to feel vulnerable, ever, whilst showing us how she is slowly becoming vulnerable !

The train ride when Adi wants to leave Tara in her hostel before he has a change of heart. When he says so, she teasingly repeatedly asks “And then what” and draws  out a .. well, gets him to say a few words before he uses humour to disguise his feelings.

When they watch Ganapathy Uncle tell Bhavani Aunty that she has Alzheimer’s through the almost closed door. Bhavani asks her silent husband “One day, will I forget you also Ganapathy ?”. Adi, distraught, walks away from the scene while Tara looks on wonderingly, hearing perhaps herself in Bhavani’s question.

The conversation Tara and Adi have with their eyes in the party celebrating Adi’s US job offer. Well, not really a conversation, but just a “We both know that this is coming to an end” realization, before they go their separate ways, Adi to the US to become the next big thing in the video gaming world, Tara to Paris to her architecture school.

They make a pact, saying they will not let these last days they have together be drowned in tears or farewells, but simply race through them, sleepless amidst rollicking laughter. The crescendo builds as they build meaningless castles in the air to the tune of Threera .. trying hard not to see the elephant in the room. But this plaster of temporary happiness develops cracks through which the angst about parting creeps in.

We see them querulous, angry, and angsty (the dialogues are so reminiscent of the Madhavan-Simran car scene in Kannathil Muthamittal when they are searching for their daughter who has run away) And it all comes to a boil when Bhavani Aunty wanders away in the rain one evening. The couple, while anxiously searching for her, finally confront their own feelings and the movie ends with one beautiful proposal by Adi (Dulquer just stole all the hearts there)

Really, the only fault I find is with the usage of songs. Brilliantly shot in themselves,  they don’t however really fit into the movie as well as they should have. And Chitra’s “Malargal Kaeten” which just resounds with wistfulness, the beginning of which is … thrown away in a scene early on. Not at all what I had imagined in my mind. However it gets beautifully used later on between Ganapathy and Bhavani,  And also you have the delicious Bhavamulona floating around Adi and Tara in the streets of Bombay. Big win.

Sure, it is a light weight movie. But it is one enjoyable light weight movie. With amazing actors.

Andaz

April 2, 2015

(Spoilers ahead) What a train wreck of what started out to be a really decent movie. Aaaaah. What a waste of some really nice performances and well written characters except for the last fifteen or so minutes.

Andaz tries to explore what happens when a bond which ties two people together looks different at either end. Dilip and Nina (Dilip and Nargis) meet when Nina’s horse is behaving a tad unreasonably. Though it doesn’t end all that well for the horse, the two strike up a camaraderie which blossoms into a trusting friendship for one and tender love for the other.

Joined by her friend Sheela (a lovely Cuckoo!), the trio have a very pleasant time singing songs, playing tennis and enjoying life. Nina’s father, made uneasy by her easy friendship and implicit trust in someone essentially a stranger, cautions her to be a little more … guarded. Lest she send out wrong signals to Dilip and to the society at large.

Nina finds her father’s warning a trifle ridiculous and is very sure there can be no possible misinterpretations of her feelings and actions. There is a very beautiful scene between father and daughter capturing the naivety and innocence of Nina, and the tender regard her father has for her, when he gives in to her wishes and invites Dilip to her birthday bash.

Circumstances throw Dilip and Nina even closer to each other in a very short span of time, till there comes a point when she depends on him completely. It is he who sort of brings her to life again after the death of her father. And she goes as far as making him a partner in running her father’s business. Meanwhile, Dilip has fallen completely in love with Nina. He has, in his thoughts, linked his future with Nina and completely gives up any plans of his own and falls in line with Nina’s suggestions and stays on in her town.

Enter Rajan, Nina’s beau and love of her life, away previously for sometime in London. Obviously this comes as a shock to Dilip, owning to the fact that Nina never tells him of Rajan’s existence. However Rajan knows all about Dilip. Which is extremely natural, I think. Dilip, being a man in love has ignored/misread any passing reference to Rajan. And as Nina says laughingly on being questioned by Dilip “Are you my girlfriend that I moon over and tell you about my love life”. Probably she never thought how close to her Dilip would become.

Rajan and Nina get married very soon after Rajan comes back to town. Dilip, in a daze, feigns headaches for some time and then decides to go away once and for all. And when Nina cross-questions him, he reveals his love. She is upset, tries to get him to take back his words and when he refuses, storms back inside, her head swirling in fear of what people might say at Dilip’s sudden departure and how Rajan might react. One who didn’t give a damn of what people might think of her, is now suddenly crushingly aware of the power of a few poisonous words. (Dilip, being a gentleman decides to stay on and forlornly sings love songs and refuses to marry Sheela.)

More than everything else, she seems to fear her own feelings. She imagines a stern Dilip needling her to peruse her unconscious feelings for him, and has nightmares of her husband and Dilip shooting each other while she watches on mutely.

Rajan, needless to say is a little worried by Nina’s jumpy behavior and her refusal to go back to the city. She has made him move to a smaller town and stay there. And he is a little perturbed about Dilip’s refusal to marry Sheela and that little nagging question turns up in the corner of his mind. However life goes on, and Rajan and Nina are blessed with a baby daughter. Time flies and the couple  moves back to the city with their toddler.

And Dilip meets a reluctant Nina at her child’s birthday party, wanting to tell her that he’s really going away for good this time. A nervous and highly strung Nina becomes even more so, when the power fails and in the darkness pleads with Dilip to not bother her anymore or disrupt her peaceful life with Rajan and her baby.

The lights come back on and she sees Dilip at the other end of the room. *Gasp*, she has just told all to Rajan, who’s hurt, angry and very very suspicious. What will happen ? How will it all end ?

Not very well, I’m afraid. Remember Nina’s nightmare about the two men in her life shooting each other ? Probably that might have been a nicer ending than what the movie has in store.

The movie’s solution is to make Rajan hit Dilip in the head and turn him from a decent reasonable and thoroughly dependable man into someone deranged and insane and to get Nina to kill him when he ..er confronts her and even tries to attack. (By the way, Nina seems to have zero feelings for Dilip after her husband nearly kills him. She seems to mainly want him to live so that he can clear her name and reunite her with her husband. Poor Dilip) Then Nina, after giving a speech which seems to boil down to saying “Women, it’s all your fault for being so free and smiling at every man who comes around” is hung to death. Bleagh.

Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi

December 23, 2014

[An extremely long review with spoilers.]

This movie is like a beautiful painting painted by an artist, who at the very end seems to have lost his patience and his mind and dabbed maudlin black all over the delicately and painstakingly coloured canvas.

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Jagriti is a newspaper founded by a honest and good man and now run by his elder daughter Amita (Mala Sinha) who reveres his memory. She is capable, confident, runs the paper and a happy home where she keeps a watchful eye over her frothy but delightful sister Sunita (Tanuja) who’s still known to everyone by her pet-name Baabli. Amita’s properties are mortgaged in the drive to expand her paper’s business and scale, yet she manages to not get bogged down or cower under pressure, financial or otherwise. And she is capably assisted by Verma (a charming understated performance by Rehman) , a dependable background figure with a steady head on his shoulders.

Jitendra (Dharmendra, whose real name by the way is Jitendra) is the idealistic and hence slightly impractical and hotheaded reporter who is in trouble for having published an article maligning the very investors who keep Amita’s paper afloat for exploiting the hapless coal mine workers and the terrible conditions in which the latter live. He warns Amita that disaster will strike unless the newspaper brings this to the public eye. Words ensue, and Amita fires Jitendra when he refuses to toe the line.

While everyone else is worried about inflation and rising prices and  the job market, our hero is sure that the spring is sure to return one day . In the train when he is cheering everyone else up, he meets and saves Baabli who is about to jump from the train !

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Baabli, (happily reading  the Jokebook of Bachelors earlier in the afternoon) has been driven to this because her friend Bikram (Deven Verma) has tricked her into thinking she has failed her exams. The night proceeds with the pair getting off the train whilst leaving poor Chuni Lal (Johnny Walker, the faithful sidekick photographer of Jitendra) asleep inside, getting caught in the rain, mock-fighting and being taken for a couple by the kind people who provide them shelter. Ideal weather to fall in love.

Morning dawns and Baabli wakes up to the happy news that she has passed her exams ! ( Second division. Side note : Is this the first time a hero/heroine has NOT passed first class, and is still happy about it?). She “borrows” some money from her still sound asleep companion’s wallet [which in reality belongs to his poor friend whom he has abandoned in the train!], is a little sorrowful to learn that he is cursed with a name like “Chuni Lal” and makes a move.

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Meanwhile, Jitendra’s dire predictions about the coal-mines come true and a lot of lives are lost in the disaster. Amita is guilt and doubt-ridden about what the newspaper is coming to and whether she is really keeping her father’s dreams alive

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And she offers Jitendra his job back and slowly falls in love with this principled, well spoken and quite charming young man. So there you have it, the love triangle (with Jitendra beautifully serenading Baabli while Amita thinks the song is meant for her), but with a bond between the ladies (more motherly than sisterly perhaps) which is stronger than the romance which binds them to the man maybe.

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The characters have been chiseled with great care. We get a glimpse of Amita’s loneliness amidst her busy work life and her longing to sometimes go back to being the carefree school girl she once probably was and be rid of all her responsibilities. Baabli on the other hand is young, charmingly naive, happy go lucky and ever cheerful (even more so after finding out that her beloved is not called Chuni Lal).

And everything starts unraveling once Amita finds out that her sister and Jitendra are in love and tries, oh so hard, to let life go by retaining its normalcy. One beautiful scene is when Jitendra pays a visit to their house (after coming back from reporting at the war front) and Baabli is so excited on seeing him return safe and sound that she greets him ecstatically forgetting that she hasn’t told her sister about her love affair yet ! And Amita watches the scene play out as her sister innocently tries to deceive her and fix a meeting time with Jitendra.

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Meanwhile the board of directors (formed of corrupt investors) want Jitendra out of the newspaper as he goes about publishing more and more scandalous and unwanted truths. But Amita is adamant and won’t fire Jitendra though it is clear that if she holds out, her job will soon be on the line. Only Verma guesses the truth behind why Amita appears this attached to Jitendra, but when he confronts Amita with his guess, Baabli overhears it and is astounded and shocked …. and goes into martyr mode.

And then the film completely loses it. Baabli walks out of the house, bidding a cold goodbye to her distraught and extremely bewildered sister after informing the latter that she’s marrying her friend Bikram who’s also Verma’s brother. She then goes to Jitendra’s house and laughingly (while her eyes shine with unshed tears) tells him that all romance doth not lead to marriage and casually slips him the news that she’s getting married the next day but not to him. She finally proceeds to Verma’s house and proposes to Bikram, who is thrilled and wants to elope “Hollywood style” immediately . Verma is the only sane guy amidst all this emotional mess and sternly tries to knock some sense into Baabli while he sorts this out with Amita

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And then in a beautiful scene, without him speaking a word, we are told what we should have guessed long back, which Baabli knows now after seeing a picture of her sister on his table.

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Meanwhile Amita has spent a sleepless night wondering where Baabli is, after suffering what looks like a mini-heart attack. She looks and is a terrible mess

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And when Verma who’s landed up at her doorstep to find out what all this hue and cry is about, with his usual impeccable sound sense deduces the reason behind Baabli’s madness, Amita seems to become unhinged  herself.

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She calls up Baabli who tearfully decides to run away and get married immediately to Bikram lest her sister come over and stop her. Sadly…

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Meanwhile Amita has completely lost it (she feels she has let down everyone – her sister, her father, her paper. And she is mortified that her sister knows that she loves Jitendra too) And so Mala Sinha has a whale of a time gnashing her teeth, glinting madly at the camera screaming “Nahiiiin” amidst maniacal laughter and pathetic sobs. Oh dear.

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So you know this is not going to end well. She locks herself up in her father’s old press and when finally the rest of them knock the door down, it is too late. And Amita dies in Jitendra’s arms, though she thinks it is Verma she is speaking her last words to, asking him to make Jitendra run her father’s press and never reveal her love for Jitendra.

 

 

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And, like Hardy’s Marty South, Verma stands lonely in his grief for his love which he never revealed nor sought any attention for.

 

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For a movie that was going so well, the last twenty minutes or so make it a train-wreck and destroys all the subtlety that the film had built before it. Oh well..

In any case, this man deserves a round of applause for an amazing soundtrack. Every song is a masterpiece !

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Some thoughts on Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum

December 19, 2014

[Spoilers here and there. And this post is a remarkably disjointed collection of thoughts which flitted through my mind whilst watching the movie]

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum was on my Telugu film watch list right after I found out that the man behind the camera was Krish, the director of Vedam, a film which I really liked. But after some questionable choices of movies featuring (too many) heroes and villains screaming “Champestaanu raa!” in mellifluous duets to each other, I decided to take a break and in the process, forgot all about this movie, until now.

For a movie with the tiresome standard masala premise (hero thirsting for the blood of incredibly ruthless rich villain who has also killed hero’s parents), it makes for a quite an interesting watch because of the clever juxtaposition and usage of  stage drama and mythology with the film narrative.

For instance, the plot line mirrors the story of Sishupala and Krishna for the villain is later revealed to be the maternal uncle of the hero (Rana as the alliteratively annotated BTech Babu). Babu’s grandfather insists early on in the movie that he play Krishna in this play on stage. The significance of this request escapes the exasperated Babu only to hit him hard later on when he finds out the story of his past.

The parallel run with mythology continues till the end, when during the climax of the movie, Rana plays Narasimha on stage (complete with lion’s face and long nails)  and literally tries to rip the villain apart, making the long drawn fight quite gripping.

Two exceptionally brilliant scenes stood out for me.

The one right below, simply for its sheer wordplay.

In Telugu, the word for “dream” and “art” sound very similar (kala). Kota Srinivasa Rao (Babu’s grandfather) who plays an aged thespian in the movie delivers an impassioned plea ringing with the righteous anger of the true artist to his grandson who is all set to leave the unfulfilling life of a stage artist and move to more alluring pastures. When Babu protests that he has his own dreams (from the dialogues before, it is clear that by dreams he means a comfortable life), Kota Srinivasa Rao thunders

Adhi kala, nidhralo kanedhi. Idhi kaḷa, nidhara lepedhi

(That is a dream, which is seen in sleep. This is Art, which wakens you from sleep).

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The other really beautiful scene is when Babu realizes that art is not merely imitating life, rather his art is a slice of his life. The moment when he realizes that his grandfather whilst scripting the drama has in reality penned his life is the moment he truly respects his art. The characters he had earlier enacted so unconcernedly and the dialogues he had mouthed so casually now frighten him with their weighty meaning. And there is a very poetic explanation of what God is, amidst all this… “Devudu ante sahayam

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The film is not by any stretch perfect or anywhere near it, but by  simply running along side an ancient and oft-heard mythological story, it elevates itself from a ludicrous and tiresome masala movie to something more enjoyable, at least for me. Possibly because I’m a sucker for any nicely drawn analogy.

Kaaviya Thalaivan

December 2, 2014

I am not sure where the film fails. It has everything going for it on paper. Rahman’s music, Prithviraj in a role as gray it can get and yet still palatable, Siddharth as the hero, Nasser, a character actor who never disappoints. The setting is sort of novel too when compared to every other recently released film’s milieu. A drama troupe in Tamil Nadu in the pre-independence era of India. But it just … fails to deliver, which is a real tragedy because it should have worked. It really should have.

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[Spoilers ahead]

This film is about Gomathi (Prithviraj), a boy offered to Saami (literally meaning God), the guru of a prestigious drama school played by a white wigged Nasser. Gomathi is left to be reared and bred into a great artiste and grows up in the drama school as one of its pupils, alongside Kaali (Siddharth) a beggar child spotted by Saami  on a train.

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In a voice over, Gomathi flatly tells us about how he stopped the other kids from picking on Kaali and how from then on, Kaali calls(and regards him) as his anna (elder brother). Years roll by and Gomathi and Kaali are the upcoming youngsters in the drama school, which also boasts of Bhairavanthe lead actor who comes away with accolades for every role he dons and whom Gomathi aspires to emulate and maybe become, one day. Kaali holds Bhairavan’s talent in contempt and tells Gomathi that he aspires to be an actor like his Saami . No applause from the audience can convey that to him. He will just know when one day he manages to achieve that level of art.

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Kaali hangs around with his other friends and has drunken hilarious conversations with the other bit actors whilst Gomathi presses his guru’s feet. Gomathi is disciplined while Kaali fritters around. While acting out the lead part in the absence of Bhairavan, Gomathi manages to capture each and every movement that Bhairavan would have made. Kaali simply innovates and blows his teacher away and wins the lead role.
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The frustration that Gomathi experiences while Kaali beats him in little things grows and takes on monstrous proportions, flaming Gomathi’s insecurities into a raging fire. Saami does nothing to help and simply tells Gomathi to stop wasting his time and talent in such unworthy thoughts when the latter opens up to him. This story of Kaali and Gomathi continues, whilst things around them change, but the underlying equation between them never does. And this is what Vasantha Balan tries to tell us.

 

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Prithviraj is an ideal choice for Gomathi (despite the malayalam accent) and there are some stand out scenes where he lets Gomathi’s insecurities show. When Saami is so pleased with Kaali’s interpretation of a drama verse and admonishes the other bit actors to learn their parts properly and not just memorize them, Gomathi feels the rebuke is intended for him and him alone. He writhes and the hurt shows in his eyes. When Gomathi is the head of a drama company and all the world is praising him, he enquires of the drama manager in Madurai who has hired him, first of Bhairavan and then very quietly of Kaali. You can see the relief in his eyes when the drama manager looks puzzled and says he has never heard of any Kaali.

Yet another brilliant scene is when Gomathi’s drama company is being outshone by Kaali’s troupe and Gomathi is beside himself with rage. He thunders “Let the whole world go to him. I, Gomathi, depend on no one, need no one. I will act all by myself, even if there is no one else” but his voice quivers and you can hear the plea in his voice, for approval, for acknowledgement which his own insecurity denies him ! Gomathi’s character is a complex tangle. He is exasperated with Kaali’s success but equally frustrated with himself for being so affected by it. He hates Kaali but cannot justify his dislike which drives him restless and to mean and despicable acts. At the end, he tells Kaali “After you go, whether I live or die, I will finally be at peace with myself and only then”

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Siddharth is quite good too, as Kaali and surprisingly the scenes where he cries (literally) are brilliant. I did not expect that.

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His love story arc with the Zameendar princess is quite effective too driving the story forward. Sadly, the main love triangle and one of the driving reasons for Gomathi’s envy and fury just doesn’t work because the film just doesn’t show why the heroine (Vedhika) prefers Kaali  , who doesn’t seem to be interested in her at all. Her devotion to him is just .. puzzling and her anger at Gomathi, even more so.

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Nasser … for once is not very likable, but maybe the character is meant to be so.

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The music by Rahman, no complaints, but it just seems..more modern than the period in which the film is set in. And the lyrics of the songs are too colloquial ! Naa Bhaama-vuku thaan da maama ?! By Vaali, that too, maybe his last song ? Perhaps I’m missing something here..

But really, where the movie falters is when the director decides to shift the story from Gomathi to the independence movement. Suddenly we are thrown into a swadesi movement, vande maataram cries, bhagat singh roles and a righteous Kaali up against the police. Complete chaos.

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And then suddenly in the climax, we are back to Gomathi and Kaali. This takes away all the intensity that we expect from Gomathi’s story (and from an actor like Prithvi) and spoils the beautiful tangled story the film is trying to weave. Sigh..


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(Screencaps from the official trailer)