Movie Review: Ajith in Vivegam

 

vivegam-800x450Ajith Kumar’s Vivegam is a pure action film by Siva, the same director as Vedalam. And that’s my issue with the film.  It’s trying to be something like a Bond film or a Mission Impossible type of movie.  Spies and double crosses and missing nuclear codes and so on.  But it doesn’t have heart.  It doesn’t have a story between all the great action set pieces to keep you interested in the story.

kajal-1Kajal plays Ajith’s wife in the film, and there is no romance track.  She becomes a woman in peril, as you would expect in a film like this.

There are some wild action scenes and nearly the entire movie is set in Serbia.  If you want to see Ajith doing amazing motorcycle chase sequences and fight a samurai sword wielding warrior woman with nun-chucks.   Then this is the movie for you.

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I was hoping since it was the same director, Siva, as Vedalam, that it would be a similar experience.  It was more Hollywood influenced.  Maybe that’s what the Tamil audience wants, but the NRIs I saw the film with were also disappointed.  I talked to two different groups in the lobby to see if it was just my negative reaction.  It wasn’t just me.

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But, it was a roller coaster ride of action.  I’ll give them that.  And Vivek Oberoi was a good villain.

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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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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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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.

Vettai – The Madhavan/Arya Brother Cop Movie I Didn’t Even Know I Wanted

My neighbor brought me back a stack of Tamil DVD’s from her trip to Chennai and I’m slowly making my way through them.  I was looking for a lighter movie and took a chance on Vettai (The Hunt), a 2012  Tamil action comedy.  Arya AND Maddie in a movie together?  I’m in!  This movie just made me smile for so many reasons.

Vettai establishes the dynamic between the brothers with a scene from their childhood.  The older brother is actually timid and scared of everything.  When a bully hits him, the two years younger brother comes to the rescue.  Their father is a policeman, who then beats the younger son for getting in a fight.  He stoically takes the blows silently while the older brother weeps and wails even though not a single blow touches him.

That dynamic continues to the present day.  Madhavan who is physically large and imposing plays a very timid adult.  He’s scared of violence and confrontation.  His younger brother (Arya) is a rowdie, and quick to fight and intimidate anyone who threatens Maddie.  Their policeman father suddenly dies, and by family tradition, Madhavan as the oldest son should take his father’s place.  Arya convinces Madhavan that he should take their father’s job, the same one that their grandfather held.  Maddie tries to get Arya to do it instead, but he has 4 charges against him.

At first Madhavan enjoys the stature his uniform gives him, but he doesn’t know what to do when a young girl is kidnapped by the local goons.  He calls his brother Arya, who comes to the rescue.

  

Never underestimate the powers of disguise in a hoodie or a rain coat!

Madhavan gets the hero accolades, while Arya acts as his secret enforcer behind the scenes.

Interspersed with the action scenes, we have the romantic storyline.  Arya meets a very assertive young woman (Sameera Reddy) when he accidentally knocks over her motor scooter.  She turns out to be the young woman that their uncle wants to arrange a marriage with for Maddie.  It was a nice fake out.  Arya then is attracted to the younger shy sister (Amala Paul).  The romantic scenes give a lot of comedy and sweetness to the movie, and some nice music numbers.  I loved when Sameera’s character forces Arya to change his view of his brother, “Are you the older brother?  You don’t even have a job.  Don’t you think you should address him with respect?”

Things come to a head when Madhavan is badly beaten by the goon gang.  As you can probably guess, Arya teaches him to release his inner lion.  Cue training montage and action scenes.

This isn’t the greatest movie in the world, but it was entertaining and I loved the chemistry of Arya and Madhavan together as brothers.  Madhavan was really, really great in all the scenes where he is the gentle timid sensitive giant.  He has a great comic touch.  In his native Tamil, I think he has an even greater comfort in playing comedy.  I haven’t seen as many Arya movies.  I’ve seen his action film Urumi, and I’ve seen his sweet romantic roles like Raja Rani and Size Zero.   He carries most of the water in the romantic scenes in Vettai, and there’s a funny subplot with an NRI that is supposed to marry the sister Arya loves.

Three and a half stars out of five.   Nice entertaining light action romantic comedy.  Plus Arya and Madhavan dancing together!  Who can ask for more than that?

Pizza – A Seriously Creepy Tamil Horror Film with a Disarming Title

I am not really a horror movie person.  I rented the  Tamil Horror thriller Pizza (2012), which was recommended over and over on the Quora post.  It’s the debut feature film of writer/director Karthik Subbaraj.

It was SO intense that I had to take a break in the middle of watching it.  I am really impressed the level of scariness and creepiness the director was able to achieve with a guy running around an empty modern house with the lights out and carrying a shaky flashlight.

It’s called Pizza because the main character is a young pizza delivery guy.  Michael (Vijay Sethupathi) and his girlfriend Anu  (Remya Nambeesan) live together.  Anu is writing a ghost story novel, and doing research by watching lots of horror films.  Anu finds out she’s pregnant, and that causes a crisis in their relationship as Michael doesn’t think he’s ready to be married.  He’s not earning enough working at the pizza shop.   Michael and Anu don’t seem to have any family.  They patch things up, and we get a very sweet love song sequence.

Michael makes a pizza delivery to a house, and then gets locked in when the woman who had answered the door goes up to get change.  The lights have gone out, and that’s when things get super creepy and weird.  Pizza was the first Tamil film to use surround sound, and the soundscape of the film is part of what makes it such an effective thriller.  About an hour in, I was so affected that I had to stop the film for a bit.  It’s that good and intense.  Realize that I’m a scaredy cat and I don’t usually watch many horror films at all.

In the last 20 minutes or so of the film there is a great twist, and then a final double twist at the very end.  Part of what makes the film so good is the performance of the lead Michael,  Vijay Sethupathi.  He was great.

Not my usual choice of flick but I’m glad I saw it.  These scrappy low budget filmmakers have to be so inventive.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing Karthik Subbaraj’s other films when he has a bigger budget to work with.

Some recommended films from around India

For my Hindi pick, Paheli is certainly not one of SRK’s biggest films but I love it.  Fantasy films seem to be unusual in Hindi cinema, and in this film Shahrukh Khan plays a number counting merchant husband, and a Ghost or spirit (sort of a genie, really) who takes his place.  Rani Mukerji is the bride who captivates the Ghost, with Amitabh as a wise shepherd in a cameo.  It’s a fable that is also about women’s empowerment, and the scene where SRK tells Rani he’s a ghost is one of my all-time favorites.

And the soundtrack!!

   

My Tamil pick is Mani Ratman’s 2015 film OK Kanmani, with music by A. R. Rahman.  A young couple (the charming Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menon) wants to live together because they are cynical about marriage.  They learn about true love from an older married couple.  Prakash Raj (who we’re used to see as a villain in Hindi films) plays a devoted husband to his wife with Alzheimer’s.  If you live in the US, it is on Netflix streaming, and I highly recommend this wonderful film.  I sought out this film after hearing the song Mental Manadhil at an A. R. Rahman concert.  So glad I did!

Dulquer Salmaan from OK Kanmani is usually in Malayalam films, and that’s what brought me to watch the Malayalam film Bangalore Days.  This is my number one pick of Malayalam films I’ve seen so far.  It’s a wonderful coming of age tale about three cousins and has a great ensemble of young Malayalam actors in it.  Ohm Shanti Oshana is also a great woman centered film (with the same lead actress above), but Bangalore Days, Bangalore Days, Bangalore Days!

For Telugu films, there can be only one — Baahubali!  I was so blown away by this film, I watched it four times in the theater!  This film is available dubbed in Hindi, but you can readily rent the Telugu version on Youtube.  Prabhas plays a dual role, Shivuvu and Baahubali.  It is EPIC.  It’s a fantasy with stunning visuals.  S. S. Rajamouli cannot be matched for his imagination in film (have you seen Eega where the hero is a FLY?)   The battle scenes rival films like Gladiator, and there are several kick-ass women characters.  Mirchi is my second favorite Telugu film I’ve seen so far, also starring Prabhas with Sathyaraj (Kattappa in Baahubali).  It’s so long to wait till 2017 for part 2 of Baahubali!!

Why I Love Indian Cinema

A few weeks ago, I answered a question on Quora, “Does anyone besides Indians watch Indian movies?”  This post is adapted from the answer I gave.  At first I gave a brief answer, but then people commented and wanted to know WHY?  Why would a non-Indian love Indian films?  Many commenters were at first incredulous, but then thanked me for showing them an outsider’s view of their cinema.   As of this writing, the answer has garnered over 170,000 views, and made me a Most Viewed Writer about Bollywood on Quora.  (Which still blows my mind.)

Netflix in the US has over 80 Hindi films at anyone time.  Because of the kind of films I enjoy, Netflix recommended I watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge about 2 years ago.  Since I fell in love with Bollywood, I’ve seen over 200 Indian films.  I’m lucky that in my area new release films play in a few local theaters.  I was able to see Kapoor and Sons just last night and I absolutely loved it.

I’m not the only non-Desi in America to love Bollywood movies, but I wouldn’t say it’s very common.

My father’s church has a monthly movie night, and he asked me to show a Bollywood movie last week.  I chose Dil Se, and showed it to 15 people, including my parents, who had never before seen a Bollywood film.  They all loved it!

Editing to add my answer from the comments below, WHY I love Indian films:

I also love old Hollywood musicals like Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly films.  Hollywood does not make them anymore.  I love the singing and the dancing in Indian cinema, but also the earnest love stories are not the kind of films that Hollywood makes either.  Rom Coms are becoming rarer and rarer in American films which tend to be more cynical.  The emotions in Bollywood films are something that is rare to see in Hollywood or English films.  People joke about how much Shahrukh Khan cries in his films, but I really respond to the emotions shown in Indian cinema.  Also, the colors on screen!  Bhansali’s film Ram-Leela is an example of this.

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I listen to Bollywood music all the time, as well.

Indian films just give me things I cannot get from Hollywood or other Western cinema.  Plus Shahrukh Khan.  I’ve watched 47 of his films alone (which doesn’t count the countless times I’ve watched DDLJ.)  🙂

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I do love South Indian films as well, and I have seen a little over 30 South Indian films.  I fell in love with Prabhas after watching Baahubali last year (four times in the theater!).  I now own many of his Telugu films on DVD.

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Recently, I’ve been watching quite a few Malayalam films, especially recent ones with Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan.  I have watched fewer Tamil films, but I asked my neighbor to bring me back some DVD’s from her recent trip to Chennai, and have been working through the dozen films she brought me.  Last week, I watched Raja Rani, and liked it.

For those interested, I keep track of all the Bolllywood films I’ve watched on Letterboxd.com, and here’s my list of Regional films I’ve seen, up to 32 now after watching the Malayalam film Classmates last night.

I asked for commenters to recommend their favorite Indian films — and oh boy, did they.  I’ve created a Letterboxd list now of all the films recommended there in the comments that I have not already seen.  Now up to 372 (!!) films in several Indian languages:  Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, etc.  The question now is will I live long enough to watch even half of them!

My first Bollywood film ever was Lagaan, back almost 15 years ago when it was nominated for the Foreign language Oscar.  That was back when you could only rent Netflix movies via DVD in the mail.  I then watched Dil Chahta Hai, because that also had Aamir Khan.  But it was not so easy back then for a non-Hindi speaker to find out about other Bollywood films.  The internet has helped so much, and Netflix’s recommendation engine is the reason I fell in love with Bollywood 2 years ago.  DDLJ was recommended to me, then I was able to watch Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi right after that.  I texted my Indian next door neighbor for other suggestions, and she loves Hrithik Roshan and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was also streaming on Netflix and I was off to the races with my new obsession.

I have been mentored by two other non-Desi lovers of Bollywood who then suggested many other films for me to try, and in some cases pushed the DVD’s into my hand saying, “YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS!”

Kathy Gibson of AccessBollywood.net  and Margaret of DontCallItBollywood

Shout out also to the gang at Bollywhat forum!