Traffic (2011) Film Review – the start of Malayalam New Wave Cinema

Rajesh Pillai‘s Malayam film Traffic (2011) is a hyperlink movie.  We get small glimpses into the lives of several characters, and learn over the course of the film how they are all connected to each other.  DontCallitBollywood has a great discussion of what hyperlink movies are, and analysis of this film.  Because of her writeup, I decided to check out this movie, that was also recommended many times on the Quora post.

Traffic was also evidently a seminal movie in the New Wave Cinema or Next Generation movement in Malayalam cinema because of its urban setting, vs. the traditional rural village, and young fresh faces outside of the star system.

Traffic most reminds me of the hyperlink Hollywood film Crash, which also touched on serious urban themes and issues.

 

Traffic, as you can imagine, starts with a traffic accident, and then backs up the narrative a bit to fill us in on the characters involved.  We have a young man who is starting his first day on the job as a journalist off to interview a big movie star.  A young woman being followed by some rowdies on motorbikes.  The victim of the crash goes into a coma, and the doctors bring up a young thirteen year old girl, who desperately needs a heart transplant.  And that’s the hook of the film.  Getting that heart on a two hour drive through various towns and urban populated areas.

We flashback and learn about a police officer who has been disgraced by a bribe.  He volunteers to drive the heart to try to redeem himself in the eyes of his family and neighbors.  There’s the police commander who thinks it just can’t be done, and then coordinates all the road closures necessary from a command center.  And most importantly we learn about a movie star on the day of his premiere — it turns out to be his daughter who is very ill.  The young journalist  is set to interview this star, and he has a romance with a young divorced woman.

It’s quite unusual to see a young divorcee in Indian films, and that is one of the key plot points that signifies this film as New Wave.  The filmmakers set out to make a quite different film.

I loved the glimpses into the life of the Malayalam movie star.  We see flashbacks of him being too busy for his family, and my favorite scene of the whole movie is when he is being interviewed on the radio while his daughter and wife roll their eyes at his answers.  The daughter hands the interviewer a paper with some questions — “What is the name of my daughter’s favorite teacher?  Who is her best friend?”  And so on because she knows that will trip him up.

The second half of the movie is mostly taken up with the action of  driving that police car at 100 kph or whatever it was to get the heart to the girl on time.  And the action scenes were great.  There’s a big twist right at the interval that had me gasp out loud.  It really shocked me what one character did when he heard some awful news.  And what he’s going to do next sets up much of the tension and conflict.

As Margaret points out in her take on Traffic, this is a movie about detours and second chances for many of the characters.  It has a very interesting script, unlike most Indian films, and the action towards the end is very well done.

But my problem with the film is that since there are so many characters, I couldn’t really connect emotionally with any of them.  And I really thought afterwards about why this film seemed to have such a strong reaction in Kerala, but I didn’t feel the same way about it.  And part of it may be that just about every actor in the film I have never seen before.  Only the young journalist, I had seen in Ohm Shanti Oshana.

Hyperlink movies in Hollywood like the silly He’s Just Not That Into You or Valentine’s Day have a bevy of stars and some new actors thrown in.

 

When you have Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck and Bradley Cooper in a movie, you know these actors.  There’s a shorthand to their characters, and an instant rapport with the audience.

And I didn’t have that with the actors in the Malayalam Traffic that maybe the Mayali audience did.  So, I give it three and a half stars out of five.  I admire the film, but I didn’t love it.  Rajesh Pillai also directed the Malayalam film Mili, which I also admired for being so female centric, but didn’t love.  Bangalore Days and the Malayalam films that came after Traffic owe a debt to Traffic, but Bangalore Days is the superior film.  Fewer characters, and you get emotionally drawn in to their stories much more.

Interestingly, when I was looking up links for this version of Traffic, I discovered that the same director made a Hindi version of Traffic that is going to be released May 6th!  And here, we have Jimmy Shergill as the police commander and Manoj Bajpayee as the police officer who volunteers to make the drive to redeem himself.  See, I’m instantly in!  Because these actors I already have a relationship with from many, many movies.  The film has the exact same plot, but with action “enhancements” which I’m very curious about.  Same director, Rajesh Pillai, who tragically died earlier this year, so this is his last film.  Instead of driving to Chennai, as in the real life case the movie is based on, the drive is from Pune to Mumbai.

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Southside With You Trailer – Barack and Michelle’s First Date

 

I saw the premiere of Southside With You at Sundance, and the trailer has just come out.  This is a really sweet movie about one day — the first date of Barack (then Barry) Obama and Michelle Robinson. Michelle was Barack’s mentor advisor at this summer associate law firm, Sidley Austin, in Chicago. Barack had been trying to ask her out for a month, but she resists as she doesn’t feel it is appropriate as she is his mentor. He asks her to attend a community meeting, and throughout she says “This is not a date” until it becomes one.

I think both actors, Parker Sawyer as Barack and Tika Sumpter as Michelle, do a fantastic job of NOT doing an impression of these two. During the Q&A, Parker Sawyer told the story of sending in a horrible first audition tape, that was an impression of Commander in Chief Barack, and having to do it over again as a young man just trying to get the girl.

Barack has a horrible bucket of bolts car, complete with a rusted out hole in the floor. He chain smokes. He’s human.

It thought it was all very well done, but my only quibble is that if it was filmed all in Chicago, it didn’t always look it. There’s only one establishing shot on the lake shore. Most of the street scenes could have been Toronto, for all I could tell.  This film, produced by John Legend, has an August 19 release date.

Song of the Day – History Never Repeats by Split Enz

Who says History Never Repeats?  My phone shuffled its way back to the 80’s today.  Split Enz!!

Neil Finn is coming to Chicago this summer at Ravinia.  Yeah, everyone else wants to hear Don’t Dream It’s Over from when he was in Crowded House or the theme song from The Hobbit.  But I would want some old Split Enz tunes!

 

 

Melissa McCarthy is a Comedy Goddess, and Spy is a laugh riot

When Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy team up, comedy magic happens.  Bridesmaids was comedy gold.  And they’ve even brought back Rose Byrne as Melissa’s foil in Spy, as Rahna Boyanov.

The fun begins with the opening credits which spoof every James Bond film, both in look and in the music.  Melissa plays Susan Cooper, who works in the CIA basement as the the voice in the ear of super spy Bradley Fine, played by Jude Law.  The film works so well, because it has great action scenes spiked with incredibly funny laughs.  So, Susan is the ultimate Miss MoneyPenny, in love with her Bradley Fine, of course, working as his analyst as well as picking up his dry cleaning.  She hears him get shot by Rahna who gloats over killing Fine.

Rahna also boasts that she knows all the identities of the top CIA spies, so Alison Janney, the CIA director takes up Susan Cooper’s offer to go track Rahna down.  And this meeting is our introduction to Jason Statham as a hilarious parody of every action hero he’s ever played.  “I’ve swallowed enough microchips to shit a computer!”  He can’t believe that Alison Janney is sending Susan into the field and not him.

I loved, loved, loved Susan’s relationship with her best friend at work, the hilarious British actress Miranda Hart.

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Really, that was one of the key strengths of this movie.  All the relationships between the women.  Once Susan goes undercover, in one embarrassing cat lady type get up after another, she worms her way into Rahna’s company by claiming to be a bodyguard Rahna’s father hired.  And then Susan and Rahna trade insults at each other for the rest of the movie, but in a very affectionate joking way.  It was wonderful.  (Rahna’s hair is so big it’s almost a credited cast member by itself.)

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Of course Jason Statham doesn’t trust Susan to be competent, and follows her, but this again is another brilliant move by writer/directer Paul Feig.  Susan is extremely competent.  The male spies, one by one, screw up, and she saves the day at every turn.  There’s a big twist towards the end that I won’t spoiler.  It’s just a wonderful blend of great action with even better comedy.  All the actors involved looked like they had just a blast making this movie.  Highly recommend.  Four out of five stars.

Charlie – Dulquer Salmaan’s and Parvathy’s quirky Malayalam film

Thanks to Midukki (iheartcinema) for the Gif set.

I saw Charlie back in January when it came to one theater in Chicago.  My first Malayalam film on the big screen.  I give it three and a half stars out of five.  But definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan of Parvathy or Dulquer.

This is possibly the most quirky Indian film I’ve seen yet. I didn’t love Charlie. I’ll admit it. It was like Dulquer Salmaan was the ultimate manic pixie dream guy. That the heroine searches for the whole movie, and doesn’t actually meet until the last five-ten minutes. So, I went in wanting the big romance, and it was — in a way. I appreciate the role reversal, because I’ve seen this movie, and read this book the other way many a time.

She rents a room and the previous tenant has left all his very, very weird artsy stuff. She finds a portion of a graphic novel he drew, and has to find out what happened next. She looks for all the people that he drew in the pictures he left, and asks them about what happened next, and where he is. And she discovers a string of stories of this character do-gooding, and him not being able to stay in one place longer than a day, it seems. But she is also a free spirit — on the run from an arranged marriage to the brother of her brother’s fiance.

I think it was another example of me going in with expectations of Bangalore Days or OK Kanmani, and it is quite a different kettle of fish altogether. It’s a good movie, but not great. Very quirky by Indian movie standards. I felt like we didn’t really get to know Charlie, he really stayed a mystery up until the end. There was one absolutely incredible fantasy song sequence (he left a Polaroid selfie of himself in the apartment) .

The subtitles of the song basically were that he is like a mirage. I enjoyed Dulquer in the pirate get up and the flowing mundu skirt!

One of the final scenes was filmed at some real life festival (Find me in the crowd!) with these two rows of elephants facing each other and enormous crowds. It was a real WOW moment.

Evidently, Charlie’s a big hit in Kerala, and Dhanush has already bought the Tamil remake rights. This is a film I could totally see Ranveer doing if it was remade in Hindi.

Here’s the trailer:

Song of the Day – Palat Tero Hero Idhar Hai

 

Happy Birthday Varun!

Margaret on Don’tCallItBollywood has done a great post on why Varun could be the next Shahrukh.  I completely agree.

He proved he has the drama chops with Badlapur, and he’s a great dancer.  But what I love most about him is that he has that same zany lovable rogue persona that SRK did in his early films.  Humpty Sharma was an updated Raj from DDLJ (the character even cries watching the movie!) and this, my favorite number from the delightful film Main Tera Hero is called even Palat after my all time favorite scene in DDLJ!

1: Nenokkadine – My first Mahesh Babu Telugu film

Prior to 1: Nenokkadine, my Telugu film watching has pretty much been limited to everything  starring Prabhas I could get my hands on (post Baahubali!) and anything by S. S. Rajamouli (Eega, Maghadeera, etc.) I could get my hands on.

1:  Nenokkadine (1:  Alone) opens with a young boy running through a forest being chased and shot at by gun-toting goons.  (I learned later the young boy is lead actor Mahesh Babu’s son.) He runs into a road and into the arms of the police but someone explains it away –  “Oh, he has mental problems.  He imagines his parents were killed and he’s being chased by the killers.”  This is the first of many psych outs in this thriller.

1:  Nenokkadine is my first Mahesh Babu film, and from the opening number, I could tell Mahesh is a STAR.   He plays Gautham, a rock star.

Mahesh has charisma.  He has screen presence.  Not the most notable dance talent, at least from what I saw in this movie, but he makes up for that by looking exceptionally cool in all the action scenes.  And this movie has a LOT of action scenes.

After the Who Are You rock number above, Gautham thinks he sees one of the killers from his dreams/visions in the audience and runs after him.  He believes he ends an elaborate motorcycle chase and fist fight by killing the man.  But then – PSYCH – Sameera ( Kriti Sanon, in her debut) has videoed the whole thing, and there wasn’t anyone else there at all!  There is no body because he was fighting air.

WTF?  From this point, you realize nothing you see can you rely on to be real.  Because our hero has mental issues.  Is he schizophrenic and seeing hallucinations?  My subtitles didn’t tell me, but he has missing brain cells or something on a scan, as a doctor tries to explain to the journalist Sameera in the hospital after the imaginary fight.  Why is the doctor telling all this to a journalist?  (I really don’t understand health privacy laws in India, I’m just saying.)

Gautham decides to go to Goa for some R&R, but who appears on his yacht but that dogged journalist, Sameera.  She then proceeds to Gaslight poor Gautham by approaching him multiple times in the same situations so that he isn’t sure what is real and what is not in their relationship.  I read later that this was Kriti’s first film, and I’m sorry, but it shows.  Yes, she’s pretty enough, but I was not buying the instant love between the characters.  And I really couldn’t get past the plot point that she was milking his mental illness for her own ends.  How did Gautham get past that so quickly?  Don’t question, it’s luuuurve.  I didn’t find her funny, and this was the comic relief segment of the movie.  I just didn’t think she had good chemistry with Manesh.  Manesh was also not really that charismatic in the rom com portion.  I reserve judgement if he can pull that off and will try some other movies of his, hopefully where he is paired with a better co-star actress with some sparkle to her.

(Loved Mahesh in the glasses look, though)

So, at this point, the plot becomes very convoluted.  We’re not sure if killers are after Gautham or after Sameera, or both.  Gautham is convinced Sameera is in danger, and unfortunately beats up a bunch of her friends who were planning a surprise birthday party.

The action moves to London, and there are some fantastic action set pieces.  One really intense scene has Gautham killing someone in a public bathroom because he thinks it’s a hallucination that he just wants to go away.  But it was real.  There are so many twists and turns, and because of Gautham’s condition, and his loss of childhood memories, we as the audience never know what to believe.  I’m not sure the logic of the whole movie really works out if you analyze it afterwards, but it’s an exhilarating roller coaster ride of a movie. I was watching most of it on a plane on my iPad with headphones on, and I probably amused my seatmate by gasping out loud at several points.  The ending scenes when Gautham regains his childhood memories were really emotionally touching.

I really liked the catchy soundtrack, too.  Just try to get the London Babu item song out of your head.  I wish I could find this with subs as the lyrics were pretty funny:

I watched this movie becauses it was recommended over and over on my Quora post about why I love Indian cinema as a Telugu movie to try.  Prabhas is still my first love Telugu star, but I will definitely be checking out more Mahesh Babu movies.  This guy just oozes cool, like a much taller Jason Statham kind of action guy.

Four stars out of 5.  Worth a rentMal!  (I rented it on Google Play which had English subs, of a fashion at least.)

Margaret loved this movie!  Check out her review on Don’t Call It Bollywood.  She can thank me for turning her on to Mahesh Babu.

Watch the trailer below with no subs, but it’s mainly action sequences anyway:

Irudhi Suttru/Salaa Khadoos – I loved Maddhavan in this female boxing movie

Irudhi-Suttru

I watched Madhavan’s recent boxing movie, Irudhi Suttru (The Snob) in Tamil.  It was released and filmed at the same time as the Hindi Salaa Khadoos.  I watched it in the original Tamil because that was the version available on Google Play, and I wanted to download it to watch on a flight.

Irudhi Suttru had a woman writer/director, Sudha Kongara, which I don’t think I knew going in.  I learned from Wikipedia that she was an assistant director to Mani Ratman for 7 years.  Maddy was really good, and it’s so great for him to come back with a dramatic role like this.  The newcomer Ritika Singh, the young woman boxer was also great.  It got a bit trite in the dialogue in the second half, but was still quite good.

Madhavan’s character Prabhu had been a talented boxer, but his temper and lack of finesse with the politics of the boxing federation has left him sent to the backwater of Chennai to train women boxers.  Our introduction to Prabhu has him kicking out a married woman he’s having a sexual affair with out of his bed.  We learn that his wife has left him, and he has had a string of these affairs.

After he arrives in Chennai, he watches and assesses the talent of the young women being trained by the local coach (played by Nasser), when he spots the sister of one of the boxers attacking and punching to the ground the boxing judges she feels didn’t give her sister a fair shake.

Prabhu tracks down Madhi at the fish market because he is much more interested in training her, than the sister Luxmi who has been already been training for years.  He offeres her money to come train every day with him, to replace the family income she would lose by giving up her day job.

This causes jealousy with the older sister Luxmi, and at one point Luxmi does something that injures Madhi before an important fight.  We’ve seen the journey, setbacks and comeback fights in boxing movies before, but here we have a young female boxer who gets a huge crush on her coach, who she calls, “Master.”  He shuts that down immediately, not in an unkind way, but a matter of fact, “it happens” kind of way.

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The setup first half of the film was very good, but the dialogue in the second half got a bit predictable and trite.  The songs were okay, but not outstanding.  My favorite was probably this one with the two sisters celebrating having some spending money for once:

 

I don’t know what to think about the ending.  The writer/director left it ambiguous as when the young woman wins her final bout, she runs to her coach and flings herself at him and wraps her arms and legs around him.  Is this still just a coach/student relationship?  You can view it both ways.

When Prabhu gives up his position in the boxing federation so that she can fight, Madhi says to Prabhu, “Is that not love?”

And then when she jumps in his arms at the end, but he doesn’t initially put his arms around her.  I think he awkwardly sort of hugs her back, but it could be left for either interpretation.  If you want to think, since she had gone back to always calling him, “Master” that it was just a student/coach relationship, you can think that.  If you want to think it had gone beyond, you could read that in, too.

And I don’t know what I want it to be.  I guess I lean towards the coach/ student bond.

The one scene that bothered me, was when he thought she threw the national finals fight (when her sister broke her hand) and he throws her to the ground, and then kicks her.  I know Prabhu’s supposed to be this volatile character, but the kick really bothered me.  The yelling I could deal with, even though he was really harsh.  He’s supposed to lose it.  A friend told me she viewed it that it showed how he viewed the girl just as he would have a male boxer, and treated her just the same.

I loved that the actress playing Madhi was so athletic.  I learned later that she is a MMA star in India, and had never even acted before.  I think that was smart of the filmmaker to choose someone so believable in the training and fight sequences.  I can’t believe she didn’t know Tamil and learned all those lines phonectically!  She was great!  Now I’m sort of wondering if she was more natural in the Hindi version of the film.   I haven’t seen Mary Kom yet, so I can’t compare this film to Priyanka’s performance.

But Maddy!  Oh my gosh, it was great to see Madhavan be a bad ass bad boy at the beginning especially.  And then I loved how he was this great coach, and just dealt with her crush — hey, it happens, don’t worry about it, now go put on your track suit and let’s get to work.  He is a flawed character.  I contrast it to SRK in Chak De! who seemed more saintly than this.

And he looked AMAZING!  I wasn’t sure about that whole longish hair and beard when I first saw the trailer, but man, did I love it.  He was so big and buff!!

With a plot like this, you can’t help but think a lot about the Clint Eastwood film Million Dollar Baby.  Now obviously, Clint Eastwood is a million years old in that film.  But it’s also a boxing coach relationship with a young woman, and how intimate and close it is, even if it’s not sexual at all.  Maddy wasn’t QUITE old enough to be fatherly.  At least not in an Indian film world.  (And thank god he didn’t have to kill her in the end!)

I give three and a half stars out of five.  Definitely worth a watch.

On a complete side note I feel like I have been seeing the actor Nasser EVERYWHERE recently.  He was the Dad in Jeans which I recently watched.

And then he was a supporting coach in Irudhi Suttru
Then he was the villain in the Telugu movie I just watched!
In looking up his name, I discovered he was in Baahubali!!  Mind BLOWN.