Kalavu – Movie Review

Kalavu is a racy, gripping thriller along the lines of Dhuruvangal 16.

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It’s clear from the opening scene where Kalavu draws its inspiration from. As one of the lead characters stumbles from a dilapidated restroom into the theatre hall, a voice-over from Raghuman reveals that the movie playing in the background is Dhuruvangal 16, one of the finest crime thrillers in Tamil cinema. Despite setting itself such a lofty target, Kalavu doesn’t disappoint and keeps you glued throughout the movie.

Debutant director Murali Karthick deserves a lot of credit for conceiving a brilliant plot with several interwoven storylines. A trio of “innocent” friends get caught in a web of escalating lies after an unfortunate case of mistaken identity lands them in trouble for chain-snatching. The victim is someone who has committed adultery, unbeknownst to her husband. There is an elderly watchman who is the only witness to the crime. As these seemingly random characters collide, the stakes keep mounting before all the different strands are neatly tied up in a riveting finale.

Every single character is brilliantly fleshed out, with some shades of grey. The four friends, led by Kalaiarasan, churn out extremely realistic portrayals and are very much relatable. Karunakaran impresses in one of his more serious outings, while Venkat Prabu has a whale of a time playing the lead cop in the investigation. Even though you want to root for all the characters – from Kalaiarasan and his friends to the debt-ridden watchman to the spurned husband – the characters are caught in a vicious circle. If one character is to come out of this messy situation, it can only be at the expense of another.

Its non-linear storytelling at its finest as Murali Karthick keeps us unwittingly in the dark. We are handed pieces of the puzzle only to realize later that it was only a part of a bigger piece. I loved how the BGM is reduced to a combination of a ticking clock and a beating heart for the most gripping moments of the movie.

In addition to the D16 tribute in the opening scene, there are other nods to Tamil pop culture as well. While the movie commendably disregards the need for a romance arc and traditional songs, I enjoyed how old Tamil songs were played in line with the mood or situation in the movie. Black Pulsars are prevalent in the movie, quite possibly as a tribute to Vettrimaran’s Poladhavan.

There is precious little to complain about in the entire movie. Even when you come at it with a logic stick, it holds firm and true. There is the odd coincidence problem, but that is common even in quality thrillers. It’s really baffling as to why Kalavu couldn’t get a theatrical release. But thanks to Zee5’s intervention, we aren’t robbed of a racy, gripping thriller along the lines of Dhuruvangal 16.

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KGF – Movie Review

KGF delivers grandiose storytelling reminiscent of Rajamouli’s pre-Bahubali movies

KGF

Director Prashant Neel has your attention right at the start when the narrative pans across the Parliament House, the eponymous gold mine in Karnataka, the Cold War and the slums of Mumbai. The birth of our protagonist Rocky coincides with the discovery of gold in Kolar in almost prophetic fashion. After 20 minutes of relentless hype, we are finally introduced to Yash’s Rocky as he singlehandedly bashes a platoon of goons.

Even before this glorified hero introduction, the movie throws a dozen names at you before you have any time to recover. Though it is muddling, it doesn’t matter much since a few characters are being saved for Chapter 2. However, one character who wasn’t needed at all was the love interest played by Srinidhi Shetty. It’s a love arc devoid of logic and born out of a forced need to fit in the heroine somehow.

Most of the movie is narrated through an interview with an author who has written a book about KGF, chilling titled as El Dorado. While this serves as a great narrative device, the movie sometimes gets bogged down with incessant exposition. There were instances when it was an Inception of exposition. The author narrates about a character, who is narrating about Rocky’s invincibility. Add to it, Rocky’s own penchant for proclaiming his valor at every opportunity. It was rather disappointing that the makers had to “tell” us everything rather than “showing”. The dialogues were also bland, but it’s most likely down to the bad dubbing.

As we journey to the dreaded Kolar Gold Fields in the second half, I was impressed with the uncompromising depiction of the way of life. But it starts falling into usual clichés with stereotypical villains committing barbaric acts. I would have been more interested in Rocky’s plan to breach KGF’s impregnable defenses. We are made to wait a good while, two inhuman episodes to be precise, for Rocky’s transformation from detached bystander to revered savior. The movie ends on an uplifting note as our larger-than-life hero fights for the oppressed and emerges triumphant.

Overall, KGF’s glossy packaging manages to paper over some glaring cracks in the movie. This reminded me of Rajamouli’s pre-Bahubali movies, when the acclaimed director hadn’t yet found his stride. So, even though KGF may have fallen short in its aspirations to be the next Baahubali, there is still hope for the next chapter to raise the bar higher.

Andhadhun – Movie Review

Andhadhun is a wildly thrilling ride that will leave you on the very edge of your seat.

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I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus when it comes to Bollywood movies. With Andhadhun getting universal acclaim, I finally decided to break my rut. My only regret after the movie was not watching it sooner. If ever there was a movie that was worth the hype, it’s this movie. Even for a voracious consumer of thrillers like myself, Andhadhun proved to be a delicious setup.

A “blind” pianist is the sole witness to a murder. When this premise comes wrapped under so many succulent layers, it was enough to sate even my inflated expectations. The first act flows like a soothing melody. You assume (wrongly) that it’s slowing leading to a crescendo, when suddenly out of nowhere, *BAM* you see a dead body lying innocuously in the periphery of the screen. It’s one of the many pulsating scenes in the movie that will leave you speechless. As Ayushmann’s protagonist gets more and more tangled in a web of lies, the stakes also keep mounting.

Ayushmann shines as the conflicted and gifted artist embroiled in a series of escalating events. But the real screen-stealer is Tabu, who does a stupendous job of portraying a forceful, yet vulnerable character.  She exudes an aura of authority as she owns every scene she is in. Radhika Apte is the “normal” love interest amidst all the madness.

The greed and deceit prevalent in the movie reminded me of Guy Ritchie’s brilliant Snatch, where it was every man for himself. Despite the ulterior motives and personal agendas, you want to root for every motley character, from the deranged doctor to the femme fatale herself. It might be nitpicking, but there were times when you had to jog your memory to keep track of each character arc.

The movie is laid out as a cat and mouse game, teeming with unpredictable twists and turns. The best scene in the movie, a confrontation between Tabu and Ayushmann at the latter’s house, was pure popcorn bliss. I also loved how all the loose ends are neatly tied up at the end. Andhadhun is the closest I’ve come to experiencing a cozy thriller novel on the big screen. It is a wildly thrilling ride that will leave you on the very edge of your seat.

Alita: Battle Angel – Movie Review

Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious attempt at recreating an iconic manga that works better than most other live-action anime films.

Alita

Alita: Battle Angel, based on acclaimed manga series Gunnm, has a standard dystopian premise. A cyborg (Alita) is discovered at a scrap yard by a kindly doctor, who brings her back to life. Alita awakes with no memory of who or what she is. As she is given the tour of Iron World, we are also introduced to a dystopian world that we have seen so many times. It is ruled by a bunch of oppressive overlords who live in a utopian floating city. I can think of Elysium, Hunger Games, and Red Rising off the top of my head that fit this profile.

The world building is solid, if not spectacular. But as befitting a movie James Cameron was closely associated with, we are treated to some truly spectacular shots. Director Robert Rodriguez deserves credit for some of the most inventive action sequences in recent times. Watching Alita pirouetting into a battle stance before scything conventional bad guys with an iconic blade was pure comicbook bliss. Rosa Salazar, who plays the role of the eponymous Alita, gives a phenomenal performance, complimented nicely by a star cast that includes Christopher Waltz, Mahershala Ali and Jenniffer Connelly.

While I haven’t read the source material myself, I felt the movie had crammed in a lot of content that sometimes seemed superfluous. Over the course of the movie, Alita comes to grips with a new world, becomes a bounty hunter, falls in love, competes in Motorball, a deadly cyborg sport with seemingly random rules, and fights a LOT of bad guys (and girls), but unfortunately doesn’t have time to dig deeper into her past. The Motorball arc, which initially held promise, was surprisingly sidelined towards the end. The romance arc was tiresome and unoriginal. There was a scene where she quite literally offers her heart. I would have been a lot more interested in learning more about Zalem and Alita’s mysterious past.

Despite the awesome, but thoroughly flagrant buildup for a sequel, the ending felt a bit abrupt. Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious attempt at recreating an iconic manga. While it may have fallen short of such a lofty goal, it delivers a rollerblades-powered thrill ride through some eye-popping cyberpunk spectacle. And, I have to admit that I am really intrigued for the second installation, particularly after the big reveal at the end, courtesy of a surprising and gratifying cameo.

Viswasam – Movie Review

Viswasam represents another wasted opportunity from the Ajith-Siva combo to explore something new.

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The Ajith-Siva collaboration began exactly 5 years back with the release of Veeram. After a run of mixed results, the pair is back with their fourth collaboration, Viswasam (Loyalty). The movie’s title is rather ironic because Siva doesn’t seem to have repaid Ajith’s longstanding faith in him.

Viswasam crawls at a snail’s pace, albeit with a lot of yelling, singing, and other insufferable whatnots. It takes more than an hour to set up a very simple premise – an urban doctor (Nayantara) falls in love with Thookudorai (Ajith), a village rice mill owner with a penchant for violence. I had braced myself for hero glorification, but nothing could have prepared me for the shameless, over-the-top version Viswasam has in store. The first half is rampant with scenes reeking of blatant excessiveness. Everyone we meet on screen seems obliged to hype up Thookudorai and it starts to get annoying after a point.

The second half paves the way for some cringe-worthy comedy, courtesy of Vivek and Kovai Sarala. The movie offers precious little scope for Ajith the actor, as he is reduced to a brawny hooligan. It doesn’t matter much since the goons he faces off in the movie have a combined IQ of a potato. I was interested in Jagapathi Babu’s real-estate tycoon villain, if only to figure out how bizarre and illogical his motive for killing a teenager was going to be. I wasn’t disappointed.

For all its faults, Viswasam has an intriguing premise – what happens when the all-conquering hero’s actions put his loved ones in danger? It’s a theme that hasn’t been explored much in Tamil cinema. A fierce and independent Nayantara drives the point home when she condones Ajith’s actions and leaves to Mumbai with their daughter. It’s unfortunate that the father-daughter relationship between Ajith and Baby Anikha, so integral to the movie, appears forced and lacks the emotional connection the duo had in Yennai Arindhal.

Ultimately, Viswasam is a letdown for most non-Thala fans as it is another wasted opportunity from the Ajith-Siva combo to explore something new. One person who would have been reasonably pleased with Viswasam is director Amudhan (of Tamizh Padam fame). If he had been hoping to make a third installment, Viswasam would have given him enough fodder for a few spoofs. But to Siva’s credit, he seems to have justified Viswasam’s billing as a ‘family rural entertainer’, if the Box Office collections are of any indication.

Petta – Movie Review

While Petta brings back the vintage Rajni, it falls just short of being a truly great Rajni-ism movie like Baasha and Padayappa.

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Petta, as heavily advertised, is a tribute to Rajni from Karthik Subburaj, and it doesn’t disappoint. From the iconic name crawl of R-A-J-N-I in the opening credits, it’s quite clear that it’s going to be a treat for the fans from the director, a self-confessed fanboy himself. With the last decade being largely forgettable for Rajni, it’s a delight to watch him embrace his stylish superstar swagger wholeheartedly for the first time since Padayappa.

Rajni (Kaali / Petta) is a hostel warden at a nondescript convent in Darjeeling, but it’s quite evident he has a past flashback. Rajni breezes through his scenes as the hostel warden charming Simran, pranking Ramdoss, acting as a guardian angel for the students and putting the college bullies in their place. While Petta teases you with a few gratifying moments, the movie doesn’t really get going until late in the first half when the action kicks in. A MISA branded on his arms adds to the build-up and hints at something bigger at play. As the story unwinds, we are introduced to the other major players in the story, leading to a frenzy of activity just before the interval block.

Once the obligatory flashback is done and dusted, Karthik Subburaj wastes no time in assembling his main pieces in Uttar Pradesh for the final act. Rajni is pitted against a sea of saffron for the second straight movie, this time led by right-wing politician, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and his aide Vijay Sethupathy. It makes for a compelling, action-laden, punch-dialogue-heavy second half. Karthik Subburaj has a penchant for turning a story right on its head. In Pizza, he transformed a horror story into a heist in the blink of an eye, while Jigarthanda was quite literally a reversal of fortunes. He throws a curveball at us in Petta as well, a brilliant twist which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Petta is a concoction of the Rajni movies we loved and grew up with. The pop culture references I remember from the movie are the snake joke (Padayappa), Ulle Po (Basha), and the legendary cigarette toss seen in numerous movies. It wasn’t just these delightful little easter eggs, but even some portions of the main plot that make you reminisce of earlier Rajni movies. They were intended to give us a nostalgic rush and it works like a charm, primarily because Karthik Subburaj truly understands what the fans (himself included) really want to see from their larger-than-life star.

While Petta boasts an impressive ensemble cast, it was rather disappointing that nobody was allowed to steal the center stage from Rajni, barring Vijay Sethupathy, whose growing myth continues to soar. Sasikumar, Trisha, Simran, and Bobby Simha are reduced to background actors. Vijay Sethupathy impresses as a South Indian playing a North Indian, but Nawazuddin Siddiqui struggles while doing the exact opposite. As the movie’s main antagonist, Singaar Singh was no match for Mark Antony or Neelambari. The movie has other issues as well. With a 171-minute runtime, it certainly feels overlong at times. I also felt Karthik Subburaj could have perhaps milked the Rajni-ism moments even better.

Rajnikanth is one of those enigmas that pervades logic. You cannot confine his movies to the usual barometers for judging a film. It was movies like Annamalai, Baasha, Muthu, Arunachalam, and Padayappa that spawned an era of “mass” movies. Petta is also a throwback to a much simpler time when Rajni movies were meant to bring unbridled entertainment for people of all ages. While Petta brings back the vintage Rajni, it doesn’t do enough to join the pantheon of truly great “Rajni-ism” movies like Baasha and Padayappa.

Kanaa – Movie Review

Kanaa makes you want to root for Aishwarya Rajesh’s Koushi, even if her team lets her down a bit after the interval.

Kanaa

Like Chak De and Dangal, Kanaa follows the usual template of an underdog beating all odds to emerge triumphant. It’s off to a promising start with an engaging first half. Koushi is drawn to cricket from a very young age thanks to her father’s (Sathyaraj) obsession with the game. The scenes portraying her initiation into the local cricket team, bonding with the players (Anand, Sathya and Peter annas), and her mastery of off-spin through sheer hard work and determination are some of the highlights of the movie. The father-daughter bond is another major component that works in the movie’s favor. The first half ends on a strong note, culminating in a rousing rendition by Sathyaraj attacking the stereotype, prevalent even to this day, that women belong only in the kitchen.

While Koushi is pursuing her dreams of representing India, there is a parallel narrative on the issues faced by farmers, which starts taking up equal screen time as the movie progresses. The second half is rife with melodrama and meanders away from its core message. It also feels needlessly stretched, with some of the scenes belying logic. I’d been hoping that the introduction of Siva Karthikeyan (Dhileep) early in the second half would have been the spark the movie desperately needed. While he does impress in fits and starts and uses his newfound star power to good effect, it still leaves you wanting for more. When you are coaching a fictional underdog women’s team, it’s hard not to draw parallels with Kabir Khan (Chak De), and Dhileep falls woefully short. The bonding of the national team players doesn’t even hold up to the rapport shared by Koushi and her local team. Despite these problems, debutant director Arunraja Kamaraj nails the all-important semifinal match against Australia. It’s not easy to script a match, particularly in a sports movie where the underdog has to win, but the director manages to make it both thrilling and authentic.

While Sathyaraj impresses as a doting father and helpless farmer, there is no question on who deserves the man of the match. Aishwarya Rajesh has thrown heart and soul into the portrayal of a village girl with big aspirations (movie title). There were actually a few places, where it was abundantly clear that the movie couldn’t keep up with her brilliant performance. Whenever I found myself questioning the movie (and it was often in the second half), I looked at Aishwarya Ramesh acting her heart out and I started believing again.

Watching Kanaa felt like re-watching an old cricket match that is memorable only because of Sachin’s sparkling century. You have a fair idea of how the match pans out, you know that there will be some low points which you must grudgingly endure, but you still want to watch it for Sachin. In Kanaa, you want to root for Aishwarya Rajesh’s Koushi, even if her team lets her down a bit after the interval. The movie is well worth a watch if only to see her truly stellar performance.