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Yuganiki Okkadu (Aayirathil Oruvan) February 12, 2010

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Tamil, Telugu.
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In production for almost two years, Selvaraghavan’s magnum opus is finally out. To be honest, though I had high expectations from this film I kinda figured out it might in the end turn out be that great – given the track record of modern “period fantasies” in Indian cinema. I couldn’t have been more wrong – Yuganiki Okkadu totally blew me away! It’s bold, it’s original and most importantly – absolutely engrossing till the very last frame. The latter aspect could also be attributed to the fact that almost 40 minutes of footage from the original Tamil version were chopped off for Telugu audiences.

Yuganiki Okkadu begins as a rescue mission to an unknown place find the whereabouts about an archaeologist who had gone missing in search of a lost Chola Kingdom. I cannot give away anymore of the plot without major spoilers. Selvaraghavan (who also wrote the film) beautifully blends adventure, historical fiction and the supernatural – and it is precisely this expert plotting that mostly earns the film its brownie points. It is also very humorous in some of the most unexpected places. This is also a film where the elaborate set-pieces and VFX seem so much a part of the film – rather that stand out as the lone USPs in plotless blockbusters. But then this isn’t a film for a casual viewer or someone whose idea of a film is a “family entertainer”. There is uninhibited blood, gore and raw sexuality which is sure to alienate a considerable number of people.

The casting is again spot on. Karthi (his second film after three years), Reemma Sen and Andrea are the naughtiest trio you’ll see on screen for a very long time – especially the risque moments between them are a hoot. Parthiban excels in a major supporting role. G.V Prakash again comes up with a great score. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a Telugu movie so much in recent years and I can be pretty sure no one is going to bring out a movie like this in the future unless Selvaraghavan tries being even more awesome.

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Veedokkade (Ayan) May 4, 2009

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Tamil, Telugu.
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I had seen the promos of the Tamil version during its release a couple of months back and I wasn’t impressed at all – especially with Surya S/o Krishnan still fresh in my mind. However the release of the Telugu version had me excited quite a bit given the glowing reviews and box office success which “Ayan” garnered.

Veedokkade turned out be a mixed bag but still making me wonder why the original ended up being such a huge hit. I found this one to be a better and well-packaged version of the beaten-to-death Telugu action film but apart from that there wasn’t anything to look out for. Director K.V Anand tries to fill in a bit of everything for everyone the result being a product which cannot completely satisfy anyone. Among the everythings the one being talked about most is the action – the much touted “Yamakasi” sequence is the highpoint of the enterprise. Actually, I didn’t know what it was before so for those of you who are wondering about what it might be – well it is the technical name for those awesome foot chase sequences you have seen in the last Bourne and Bond flicks. In this film too it has been wonderfully done and part of the reason I did not like this movie a lot was the result of heightened expectations at the end of this scene.

The most boring parts are the romance (on the brighter side, great to see Tamannaah return to normalcy after Ananda Thandavam) and the surprisingly insipid music by Harris Jayaraj. The background score was quite good nevertheless. This is Surya’s film all the way – from pirating DVDs to smuggling Blood Diamonds, from foot chases in Africa to car chases in Malaysia he seems be having a blast. Prabhu is also impressive in a meaty supporting role. The cinematography is also worthy of mention – especially in the foreign locales.

Veedokkade could have been a smart action flick had K.V Anand concentrated all his energies on the main plot – excising out some of the unnecessary parts would also have achieved that effect to an extent. It still is a pretty good watch provided you do not have lofty expectations.

Ananda Thandavam April 14, 2009

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Tamil, Telugu.
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Now that I’ve seen the movie, I think I might have figured out atleast to some extent the basic idea of what the original source material was all about. That’s probably the best compliment Ananda Thandavam can receive from me. A good number of folks who were in the audience with me can’t even say this because they didn’t even bother to hang on till the end.

Most of the times when highly anticipated films go horribly wrong; it is almost always because a concept which sounded good on paper doesn’t translate to the screen as expected. But this one is an exception. Here is an acclaimed director who sets about the task to translate an acclaimed writer’s most popular work on screen and the resulting film seems more as if the filmmaker wanted to get back at the (now dead) writer to settle a past lingering grudge. I seriously cannot find a better explanation than this.

I won’t speak about the plot because it might give you an much better impression of the film than it actually is. Coming to what went wrong the crappy screenplay comes instantly to my mind. However, even more vexing are the characters and the way they actually behave. Topping the list is that of Tamannaah. The intent of the filmmaker seems to be to project her thoughts and actions as childish but at the end of it she comes across more like a retarded slut. In fact there is a scene in the movie when the hero’s dad casts doubts on Tamannaah’s behaviour especially given that her parents are unusually eager to get her married to a guy they hardly know and much lower in social standing. At that point of time I guessed there really was some issue with the girl which would take the film in a new direction. Later I realized that was just the beginning of my disappointments.

The hero’s IQ also seems to be just one point more than that of our leading lady. In the midst of this there is one more guy – the philandering rich bald guy who everyone is supposed to hate; even here the director gets it wrong for the only thing you want to hate about him is his fake bald patch – tell me one instance in your life when you saw a brown skinned guy with a balding scalp painted in “white”. In spite of these and other umpteen causes I was still kinda interested know how this craziness would continue all the way till the end. A.R. Gandhi Krishna doesn’t disappoint in that aspect – the consistent imbecility delivered in each frame is really impressive. Even the talented G.V Prakash Kumar fails to impress except for the final song which is beautifully choreographed as well. I wouldn’t really blame the actors for their performances for I don’t see how they could have done more justice to their roles.

Ananda Thandavam is unarguably an instant “so-bad-it’s-good” flick but I think we might need to invent a new category for this – something on the lines of “I-actually-made-it-through-this” flick. Watch it if reading this piece has actually aroused your curiosity – I can’t offer any reason otherwise why you might subject yourself to this. Sujatha surely must be rolling in his grave.

Nenu Devudni (Naan Kadavul) February 9, 2009

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Probably the only true auteur of Indian Cinema, Bala returns after a hiatus of 5 years with his latest work. It is rare for a film to be hailed as a masterpiece even before its release which only shows the effect his films have on people. If you thought Sethu or Pithamagan were bleak and depressing then Nenu Devudni/Naan Kadavul takes it to a new level altogether. For those who haven’t seen the film yet, it might seem to be an exploration about the life and practices of the Aghora cult (now popular in Telugu due to the recent success of Arundhati). But actually it only acts as a backdrop – the significance of which will only be clear towards the end of the film.

On the suggestion of an astrologer that he is a bad omen, Rudra (Arya) is abandoned as a child in Varanasi by his father. When his father goes in search of him after 15 years he finds to his astonishment that Rudra has become an Aghori – someone who considers himself to have attained to power to stop the endless cycle of rebirths by blessing the ashes of dead people who he thinks deserve that boon. On his father’s plea, Rudra’s guru allows him one final visit to his village. Once back there he shocks everyone who comes in contact with him. The main plot however is that involving the inhuman business of “begging”. If you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire then be warned – the few sequences you’ve seen in that movie regarding the same issue would seem like kiddie stuff. Anyways, what happens from thereon is better seen than told.

Whether you subscribe to it or not, Bala has the ability to drag the viewer into his bleak merciless world and this film is far successful in doing that than any previous work of his. I don’t think I can get those visuals out of my mind for a long time and I bet you would have a tough time doing the same. However, as usual with Bala’s films the visceral experience comes in lieu of a coherent screenplay. What I actually found very disturbing is the seeming glorification of the protagonist and his cult. There is a huge difference between certain characters in the film revering Rudra and the film itself projecting him as a hero; and somewhere down the line the distinction seemed lost. What can seem acceptable or even justified as a sad state of affairs cannot really become an ideal. Thanks to a couple of irritating guys in the audience who were constantly whistling whenever Arya came on screen – my perspective about the film’s convictions might be a little skewed but I’d like to hear from others what they concluded about the movie.

Arya undergoes an amazing physical (rather facial) transformation for this role. He is really scary in that look but apart from a standard routine which he seems to perform in most of the film, there isn’t nothing much he is required to do. Pooja is also very good as the blind girl. The real heroes are the supporting cast comprising of real Sadhus and physically disabled people – again better seen than told. The guy who plays the main villain is also extremely formidable. The film is shot beautifully (Arthur Wilson) – right from the opening frame on the banks of the Ganges, the foreboding mood of the film is captured consistently. Ilaiyaraja’s score also enhances the film to a great level.

For all the bleakness in the movie, it must be mentioned that there isn’t any boring moment and uxexpectedly there is ample humor which goes a long way in lightening the proceedings. For all its faults, Nenu Devudni/Naan Kadavul is a testament to the power of the visual medium and Bala’s command over it – and that itself qualifies it to be a masterpiece. A word of caution – don’t venture in if you are not used to disturbing imagery and avoid taking children.

Surya S/o Krishnan (Vaaranam Aayiram) November 16, 2008

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Apart from being a Gautham Menon-Surya film, this one was in the news during its launch for all the wrong reasons. In the first place this was announced out of the blue only after a couple of films (with the same combination) supposed to begin shooting got scrapped. Also, there were major changes in the casting of the female leads. It’s only very recently I came to know that this was intended to be a personal tribute from Gautham Menon to his father.

Following the death of his father Krishnan (Surya), Surya (Surya) – an army major currently on a rescue mission reminisces his whole life and the relationship he shared with his father; who we get to know turns out to be his inspiration and support at every point in his life. Surya recalls his mom Malini (Simran) telling him how his father “swept me off my feet” in college – through a wonderful flashback sequence. We then move through Surya’s teenage years and college life following which he falls in love with Meghna (Sameera Reddy) and decides to pursue her to the US where she is studying. I can’t say more about what happens from thereon because that would involve giving away major spoilers. Needless to say, every major step Surya takes in his life is inspired by “how my dad would have done it”.

Gautham’s film is uninhibitedly personal and absolutely honest. Apart from including some action episodes for commercial reasons he never really strays from what he is trying to convey. The result is somewhat a self-indulgent effort which is just over 3 hours long but once I was sucked into the director’s vision and the actors’ performances I totally fell in love with it. After the initial wooing sequence between Krishnan and Malini I knew there was no way I am not going to like this one. And it just keeps getting better (for most part). The film actually spans a period of about 30 years and it is so rare to see how much careful thought has been put into the visual detailing of different periods – be it the actors’ costumes or the the surrounding props (vehicles, buildings, billboards etc..). Even the sequences in the US are quite refreshing in terms of the locations. The dialogue is quite contemporary and urban (with the liberal use of English) – however I felt there was a voice-over overdose which was definitely not needed for each and every scene. Harris Jayaraj – in his last collaboration with Menon belts out another hit soundtrack but it is the way he’s experimented with the background score which really stands out.

And now the best part of the movie – Surya. Though he has had great performances to boast of before, I think he’s been quite unlucky when it comes his talent being recognized. Sometimes those films haven’t done well and if they indeed have done well it was overshadowed by a much bigger actor/film. I can only pray that it doesn’t happen this time. For if this film doesn’t do well, not doubt one of the most memorable performances you’ll ever see would go down the drain. Surya gets to play a range or characters right from a teenager to an old man (in a sense he actually does more than that for even the father’s character goes through the same cycle). Be it the body language or the styling, he is just so convincing in each and every frame. And that believability is brought about without the use of any prosthetic make-up whatsoever. He has lost/gained weight (even got a six-pack) as each character demands and by changing his look (hair/beard/moustache) appropriately for each role he plays.

In the past, whenever an actor has gotten to play multiple roles (or even a single “different” standout role) the temptation for some self-serving over-the-top histrionics has always marred the outcome a bit (though that’s precisely the reason they receive accolades). Here, more than anything else Surya’s nuanced, understated delivery for each character is the real stuff you’ve got to give credit for. He is however most comfortable doing his winsome routine chasing Sameera Reddy (check out the Visa Interview scene). Simran is wonderful as the mother. I think she should seriously think of taking up these kind of roles rather than making futile attempts at making a comeback as a leading lady. Sameera and Divya/Ramya look gorgeous (Sameera especially) and they are very impressive. Deepa Narendran – who plays Surya’s sister also makes a mark (don’t recall exactly where I’ve seen her before – probably a TV personality). To sum it up, all actors can easily cite this film for now when asked about their career best performance.

Though the film ends on a happy note, a strong feeling of poignancy took over me as I left the theatre. This is a film which will stay with me for a long time. I don’t know whether I can call it a great flick but Surya S/o Krishnan is unlike any other film you’ll get to see which makes it something you can’t afford to miss.

P.S: Initially I was planning to watch Dostana this weekend but I had to go for this one because I couldn’t get tickets for the former. Now, I am glad I didn’t.

Kathanayakudu August 4, 2008

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Telugu.
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It was hard to screw up a film like Chandramukhi no matter how hard one tried – the plot of that flick was attractive enough to hide the filmmaker’s incompetence. And to his advantage P. Vasu had already helmed the Kannada version before. However, this time he isn’t so lucky and what you see is the merciless slaughter of another Malayalam blockbuster “Katha Parayumbol”.

Agreed – a lot of people knew beforehand that Rajnikanth wasn’t the main lead (notwithstanding the deceptive promotional campaign) but nobody would have expected his role to be restricted to a couple of monologues, a couple of songs and some fleeting glimpses. But that could have been completely forgiven if the rest of the film had something interesting to say. Nothing of that sort happens either. The original flick was supposed to be about this poor barber and his family and how his life changes after the arrival of a “superstar” in the village since this “superstar” happened to be the childhood friend of the barber. From what I’ve read it was also supposed to be a satirical take on “Star Worship”. What you get in this remake is a cringingly good barber (reminds me of those protagonists in “Super Good Films” features) and a pathetic comedy track which never seems to end. Also, the supposed satire on “Star Worship” almost turns into a justification of the whole phenomenon.

The somewhat emotional climactic reels are one of the few redeeming factors. Another one being G.V. Prakash Kumar’s score. The songs come in as a welcome relief and the “Cinema Cinema” song especially gels very nicely with the situation. If there is one thing which prevents this film from being unwatchable it is Jagapathi Babu. Despite being saddled with an overly melodramatic role he still makes you root for him with his earnest portrayal. I hope this film would revive his career again. Meena, who is back in a Telugu film after a long time does a fine job too.

I only hope Priyadarshan’s remake Billoo Barber with Irrfan and Shahrukh would do justice to the Malayalam original. Watch Kathanayakudu if you have to only for Jagapathi Babu. As for Rajni fans, I’d suggest that they wait for Shankar’s Robot next year.