Movie Review – Dhanush’s VIP 2 with Kajol!

 

A month or so ago, I saw the teaser for the Tamil film VIP 2 with Dhanush and I was super excited that he was doing a film with Kajol.  This is her first return to Tamil films in 20 years, and it was great to see a woman in the kind of antagonist role that usually goes to a man in Indian cinema, like Sonu Sood et al.

Commenters on Youtube urged me to see the first film VIP before going to the sequel, and I’m so glad I did.

 

VIP 2, unlike many Indian sequels, does indeed carry on the story of the unemployed graduate played by Dhanush.  Pretty much all the main characters and actors from the first film are back, Dhanush still living with his father and brother, and his now wife played by Amala Paul.  I was a little annoyed that the film kind of made Amala’s character into a harpy, but the marital discord has real underpinnings in Dhanush’s characters drinking (an issue in the first film as well), and Amala’s unhappiness at giving up her job to tru live up to Dhanush’s sainted mother’s housekeeping.  At least the film showed that she regained happiness when she goes back to work when the family is in financial crisis — the title says after all that he’s an unemployed graduate!

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Something happens near the end of the film which I won’t spoil that was the perfect way to bring Dhanush and Kajol’s characters together, and to make them resolve their differences.  It was very specific to the place of the film.  Dhanush himself wrote the script and dialogues, and his sister-in-law Soundarya (daughter of Rajnikanth) directed the film.

There are a couple of great dance numbers in the first half of the film, one very modern, and the other a more traditional style.

You can see and enjoy this film without seeing the first, but I’m glad I had seen VIP first because there are many references to the first film.

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Pardesi – Launching my new YouTube Channel!

 

I have just launched my new YouTube Channel Pardesi with Kartik of Bollyfools.  He first interviewed me right after that very first IMAX showing of Baahubali 2, and we struck up a frienship.  After I did Indian Cinema reviews for the Bollyfools Youtube channel for the last few months, we’ve decided to strike out on our own with this new Pardesi Channel.  We decided on Pardesi because I’m a foreigner reviewing Indian Cinema, and Kartik is an ex-pat in America.

I’ll be doing movie reviews for the most part in the four main Indian Cinema:  Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam.  I’m going to try trailer reactions and song reactions.  In fact I just did one for the first song Boom Boom from Mahesh Babu’s Spyder.  I had to take the Picture in Picture and audio out from the song because I got dinged right away.  I think I look ridiculous bobbing my head to silence but I have to know — why is there the word Hogwarts in a Spyder song??!!  It’s so strange!

 

I hope if you follow me here, you’ll subscribe to my new Youtube Channel Pardesi.

Dhanush is Excellent in VIP

In anticipation of Dhahush’s upcoming VIP 2, I took the first VIP movie with me on my recent vacation to watch.  Dhanush is such a good actor!   The title VIP is shortened from Velaiilla Pattadhari (English: Unemployed Graduate)

 

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I am really impressed with Dhanush.  I had previously only seen his Hindi film Raanjhanaa with Sonam Kapoor.  He was very good in that, but his role was kind of stalkerish.

11In VIP, Dhanush plays a young man who has a civil engineering degree, and has been looking for the right job for 4 long years.  His father is frustrated with him.  Dhanush’s younger brother has a good job.  He applies and applies and can’t catch a break.  He belongs to a Facebook group of other unemployed young graduates.  I had no idea this was such an issue in India.

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There’s an adorable romance with Amala Paul who moves in to the house next door.  She sees a lot to admire in this unemployed young man, and can’t help but be witness to all his struggles next door, and family drama.  They have great chemistry together.

Dhanush is fantastic in the couple of action scenes, and a really good dancer.  I also really loved this montage love song:

 

After a family tragedy, a coincidence leads to him getting a break, and getting a construction project.  The second half of the film deals with his struggles with an arrogant young rich developer.  He calls on his extended network of other unemployed graduates to help him out, and it was very moving.

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I’m really excited to see VIP 2 now.  I don’t know if it will be a continuation of the story, or another retelling of a similar unemployed graduate tale.  The key is that it has Kajol! Not sure if she will be his boss or nemesis or what.

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New Trailers for Allu Arjun, Dhanush and Rana!

For Bollyfools, I watched a few of the new Regional trailers, which unfortunately have no subtitles!  Super frustrating.

 

I have only seen Allu Arjun in Rudhramadevi and he was amazing in that, even though he was not the lead.  I watched both the Rom Com feeling teaser, and then the full trailer, neither of which have subs.  Anyone that speaks Telugu, help me out as to what’s going on.  Is it a double role?  The action looks cool, and even though I’m not a Pooja Hegde  (ugh, Mohenjo Daro) fan, the rom com aspect looks adorable.

 

Dhanush has VIP 2 which will also have KAJOL!!  So excited to see her in a new film.  I don’t speak Tamil, and I’ve not seen VIP 1, so I have no idea what’s going on in this trailer.  That ending flying kick looks super cool.   Any translation help would be most appreciated!

 

Kartik from Bollyfools translated Rana’s new teaser for me.  The title means I am the King and I am the Minister.  Rana will be opposite Kajal for the first time, and I’m really excited to see that.  When he’s on the scaffolding with the noose, Rana says, “I will decide when I die, and I will decide when you die!”  I love that shot with him as the prisoner about a foot taller than all the guards behind him.

Podcast with Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood!

 

How we met through her masters thesis project, and how we both started watching Indian films!

Kaatru Veliyidai – Mani Ratnam’s latest romantic film with complex characters

Screen-Shot-2017-03-15-at-4.04.28-PMA new Mani Ratnam film is an Event with a capital “E”.  He is one of the top Indian film directors and an auteur.  He makes the films he wants to make, and doesn’t just try to chase commercial success.  I’m lucky in that there is a theater five minutes from my house that shows Tamil and Telugu films.  I was able to catch a matinee of Ratnam’s latest film, Kaatru Veliyidai today – the title translates to something like “Breezy Expanse.”  I haven’t seen tons of Tamil films, but the ones I’ve sought out are mostly Mani Ratnam films, Roja to OK Kanmani.  He is the master.

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Kaatru Veliyidai is a romantic drama set around the Kargil War.  Karthi plays Varun or “VC”, a cocky fighter pilot, and Aditi Rao Hydari is Dr. Leela Abraham.  I have never seen Karthi in a film before, but I could tell he is a STAR and quite a good actor.

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I looked him up when I got home, and he’s the younger brother of Tamil Superstar Surya, who I really enjoyed in 24.

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Aditi I did not realize I’d seen before in a small role in the Hindi film Khoobsurat.  She is just luminously beautiful in this film, especially the way Ratnam films her.  She’s quite a good actress as well.

The film opens with VC flying his jet in a mission somewhere in Kashmir.  His plane is hit and he is forced to parachute, leading to his capture by the Pakistanis.  The film is a series of flashbacks from his time in prison to how he meets Leela and falls in love.  He gets in a car accident, and she tends to his injuries on her first day as a doctor in the general hospital in Kashmir.  There are some amazing feats of cinematography in these hospital sequences as VC goes in and out of consciousness and we see Dr. Leela reflected in his dilated eye.  He sneaks out of the hospital once he awakes, and Leela doesn’t meet him again until the Air Force ball, which is gorgeous tango dance sequence.  VC is so cocky in his attitude — his whole demeanor made me think of the film Top Gun.  He’s shocked when Leela stands him up to his invitation for a flight over the Himalayas.

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At first their relationship seems to follow a familiar path, but VC’s cockiness is also an arrogance and self absorption.  The relationship has some dark tones to it.  VC can be cruel and thoughtless.  Leela wonders why she keeps going back to VC again and again.  One scene struck me particularly when he gets her back and proclaims to his buddies in front of her, “I told you I’d bring her back.  She’s MY girl!  You owe me a whisky!”  Was it all for a bet?  Or can he really not live without her?  They have such a volatile passionate relationship, it’s really an open question if they should be together.  It reminded me in some ways of Rani and Abishek in Yuva.

Just at the moment that I was worried that Leela was turning into a dishrag at a critical juncture, she takes her life in her own hands.  And while there is one of those key “confrontation with the girl’s parents” scenes, it’s key that while they are NOT pleased with Mr. Varun Chakrapani, they don’t scream and yell.  It’s Leela who asks him to leave.  She is an adult, and she makes her own decision as to the direction of her life.  Mani Ratnam writes such great roles for women.  Both of these characters in this romance are wonderfully complex, but especially Kartihi’s VC character.

As we flash back to the prison scenes, his goal is to escape and to get back to Leela to prove he is a better man.  That leads to some gripping action scenes in the second half of the film.

I don’t think this is Mani Ratnam’s greatest film, but he truly excels at complex relationship films.  I left thinking about Roja, and Dil Se.  This is not a film about terrorism, but it does return to the theme of Kashmir.

The score is by A. R. Rahman and has some stand out songs — Rahman saves his best for Tamil cinema, and his very best for Mani Ratnam.  Ratnam has a really clever way to include the most commercial song, Azhagiye.

 

VC sends Leela a videotape (VHS! It’s 1999!) with a Marry Me song filmed with his air force buddies.  It’s sounds like the a cappella groups like Penn Masala.   It reminded me of all those amateur Youtube videos of  soldiers or sailors lip syncing and dancing.  Brilliant!

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There’s a family wedding setting for another great song, Saarattu Vandiyila.  That shot with the red powder!  Breathtakingly beautiful!

The ending left me satisfied, but yet wishing there’d been a little more.  I do like to see my rogue heroes grovel quite a bit to earn their HEA.  I’ll definitely be seeking out more films with both of the stars, especially Karthi.  Dear Reader, if you have any to recommend I watch first, let me know in the comments.

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Kabali – There’s more depth to this Rajnikanth gangster flick than I first thought

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Kabali is my second Rajnikanth Tamil film.  I previously watched Enthiran (Robot) which I really enjoyed.  You can tell right away that Rajnikanth is a Star with a capital ‘S’.  My South Indian neighbor told me that Rajnikanth modeled himself on Clint Eastwood.  He wants that kind of “Make My Day” iconic style.  It has been two years since the last Rajnikanth film, and since 1994’s Baasha that he has played a Don role.  If you have any doubt what an event a Rajnikanth film is, they marketed Kabali by painting a plane!

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I saw Kabali twice this week.  The first time was a late night show that didn’t get out until 1:30 a.m.  I was tired going in and bleary which wasn’t good.  And I didn’t have the raucous whistling crowd that I hear is more typical for a Rajnikanth film experience.  I thought it was a decent gangster don comeback story, and appreciated Rajnikanth’s style and flair.  But I didn’t really get what the movie was trying to show me until I read Margaret Redlich’s analysis and review on Don’t Call It Bollywood.

I knew zero about the Tamil community in Malayasia, the setting for the film and their history of oppression.  What Margaret pointed out is that this film is telling you a story of an oppressed people between the lines, skirting the censors (in Malayasia they were required to add a crime doesn’t pay disclaimer.)

On the surface, this is a story like many we’ve seen before.  A gangster Don is released from prison after 25 years, and takes revenge on the rival gang that killed his pregnant wife and his mentor, and who framed him for fomenting a massacre.  The Tamil speaking policeman warns him to mend his ways when he gets out, and not to disgrace the Tamil people.

His loyal aide Ameer picks him up from prison, and shows him how Kuala Lumpur has changed and how the opposing gang 43 has taken over.  Kabali directs Ameer to take him to the secret hangout of the gang, in the back of a pet shop.  And this starts the Kabali Rajnikanth signature moves.  Kabali is always dressed well in a suit jacket.  And when he confronts one of the leaders of the rival gang he makes a point to sit in front of them in a relaxed manner with crossed legs.  It’s show of nonchalance, and that he demands respect.

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Kabali fights with swift moves and hidden pipes in his sleeves and objects he picks up around him.  He strategizes  and is a step ahead of his rivals.  The action fight scenes are fun and inventive.  Pretty bloody at times.

Ameer then shows Kabali the school that he and Kabali’s followers have created to save kids from gangs and other charitable foundations.  Kabali finds he feels connection to a young drug addict girl student named Meena.  “She’s about the age that my son or daughter would have been.”  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the dark side of youth drug use as presented like this in an Indian film before.  It’s also really interesting that Meena is shown as a redeemable character, and that our hero wants to adopt a drug addict.

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There are two really great strong women characters in this film.  As Kabali addresses the graduating class of the school, we flashback to his backstory with his wife, played by Radhika Apte, who I had only previously seen in Badlapur.  I absolutely loved their relationship of equals.  They meet as field workers, and she encourages him as he rises from labor organizer to the protege of the TamilNesan leader played by Nasser.  And then, there’s Kabali’s daughter:

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Dhansika was all kinds of kick-ass awesome as the assassin for hire Yogi.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work.

I enjoyed the personal journey of Kabali, as he tries to find his lost family more than the action gangster portions.

The reason I went to see the movie again was because I really didn’t get the underlying political message that the filmmaker was showing us, trying to slide it past the censors.  After I read Margaret’s great analysis of the film, I went back to see it again and all the song lyrics about oppression and slavery lept out at me.  I saw that the Tamil cop who had warned Kabali to be good in the jail collaborated with Kabali to bring down the Chinese gangster Tony Lee, but after that plotted Kabali’s downfall.  It seems if you rise too high, you will be chopped down again.

Kabali’s wife has a key speech where she tells him he needs to always dress well to garner respect.  She gives up her family to marry our lower caste hero.  He always dresses in a suit coat.  And his lounging cross-legged before each villain in his suit is a political message in itself.  I belong to sit here with you.  I am not your supplicant and my caste shouldn’t matter.

There’s also a message in how Kabali’s wife is a domestic servant who is shuttled from family to family and country to country with no say in where she can live.  And that Kabali returns to Chennai, the first in his family since his grandfather left for Malayalsia.   The villain is Tony Lee, and the fact that he is of Chinese heritage has a meaning. too.  I read that Prakash Raj was originally supposed to be the villain and that would have given a completely different meaning.

I think the recent Malayalam film Kammattipaadam did a better job conveying the injustice done to an oppressed people (the Dalit) through a gangster narrative.  Until I read Margaret’s piece, I didn’t fully understand what the director was trying to convey.  But then, Pa. Ranjith was working at trying to convey a message past the censors in Malaysia.    Kudos to Rajnikanth for making this film for his fans in Malaysia.  It’s enjoyable just for the surface action story alone, but look deeper.  There’s more there than first meets the eye.

Three and a half stars out of five.  (Kabali was released in Tamil and Telugu.  I saw the Tamil version.)

I wasn’t a huge fan of the rock/rap thrumming electric guitar songs that make up most of the soundtrack, but I did really like this love song:

24 – A Tamil Sci-Fi Time Travel Movie with a Great Triple Role

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Sci-fi films are not that common in Indian Cinema at all.  (I still haven’t seen Rajnikanth’s Robot which is sitting in my DVD pile.)  24 was a really interesting film, because it used some of the conventions of sci-fi films I’m used to from the West, but added in the family and mythic elements of Indian cinema.  The film stars Suriya in a triple role.  This is my first Suriya film.  Looking him up later, he is famous for originating the role of the cop in Singam (which Ajay Devgn remade into the Hindi Singham).

In the picture above Suriya plays the inventor dad who makes an almost steam punkesque time machine watch.  It can only go backwards a maximum of 24 hours, thus the movie title.  The middle character is the evil brother of the inventor — very Indian!

Then the left is the 26 year old son of the inventor, present day 2016 Mani.  Nithya Menon of OK Kanmani has a brief role as Priya, wife of inventor, mother of Mani.  Samantha Prabhu played the love interest for Mani and was just okay.

Suriya was impressive.  He is a talented actor because he really, really pulled off three separate characters with the three roles.  And there are scenes of him being one character and pretending to be another which is hard to do, and he totally nailed it.

There’s a whole plot with baby Mani being entrusted to a young girl who raises him on her own as a single mother.  I’m thinking there’s a whole Mahabharata story I’m missing that it ties to that would be obvious to the Tamil audience.   (Asked a friend and the foster mother is supposed to be Yashoda who raised Krishna.)  There’s also elements of karma and fate as the time travel machine watch and a key find their way to Mani.

What was great about the film is that when Mani gets the time travel machine watch to work (he’s a watch repair man, fortuitously!), he first uses it to romance the girl.  He’s almost like a young superhero geeking out over his new found super powers.  Those scenes were really fun.  He can also freeze time, and uses that to take a selfie with Dhoni in the middle of a cricket match.  Watching him explore the powers of the time travel machine, explains what it can do, and how the time travel is going to work (and its limits) to the audience in a clever way.

I really love time travel movies, especially when they are used in romantic films.  Outlander is hot right now, but who can forget Christopher Reeve in Somewhere In Time?  He had no time machine, just hypnosis and the power of his love!

There have been several adaptations of H. G. Wells novel The Time Machine, notably the 2002 The Time Machine directed by Simon Wells, great-grandson of the author and starring Guy Pearce.

In The Time Machine, Wells or his avatar finds love with a primitive girl as civilization has collapsed in the distant future.  Yeah, there’s none of that kind of nonsense in 24, thankfully.  It’s a story of personal revenge in one family.  But while Suriya was great as the villain, hell bent to get the time machine watch to try to cure himself — it was never explained why he hated his inventor twin so much.  I wish a little less time had been spent on the romance plot towards the end, and some time had been given to the back story of the twin brothers.  Of course, the filmmakers have left it open to a prequel or a sequel.

I thought the CGi and special effects were good, and the music was by A.R. Rahman.  Not his best score ever, and I’m not running out to download the songs, but good.  I would hesitate to bring very young children to the film as one character gets his hand cut off.  Overall, an enjoyable action film, especially for the performance of Suriya in the three roles.  Four stars out of five.

24 is out in Tamil, and a dubbed Telugu version.  My theater had both.