Soorarai Pottru (2020 Amazon Original): From Mani’s Ratnam’s Guru to Sudha’s Mara

There has been a slew of biopics in Hindi cinema in the last few years, but most of them have been hagiographies. Biopics as a trend has not picked up in the southern cinema. Even when Bollywood has chosen a South Indian for a biopic, they have transported the protagonist to North India like Padman. Soorarai Pottru takes inspiration from the life of Captain Gopinath and his quest to start the no-frills airplane in India.Continue reading “Soorarai Pottru (2020 Amazon Original): From Mani’s Ratnam’s Guru to Sudha’s Mara”

Mookuthi Amman (2020 -Disney Hotstar) The Goddess And Religion

Amman Padam (Mythology film) was a rage in the 90s in Tamil cinema which had a sample template of a believer suffering and her problems being solved by her favourite deity. The template died a slow death thanks to the rise of cable tv and the primary audience shifted from theatres to home.

Continue reading “Mookuthi Amman (2020 -Disney Hotstar) The Goddess And Religion”

Kadhalan (1994): The Beginning of Shankar’ Extravaganza

The second film of every director is special, considering it is a make or break situation for most of them. Kadhalan came right after Gentleman made a splash at the box office counters of Tamil Nadu & the rest of South India. The film was remade in Telugu with megastar Chiranjeevi donning the lead role. The soundtrack of Gentleman was super popular and thus everyone was looking forward to seeing what the director will make after this solid debut. This was before Brahmandam (grandeur) and Shankar became synonymous. Continue reading “Kadhalan (1994): The Beginning of Shankar’ Extravaganza”

Abhay/Aalavandhan (2001): Twenty years of Kamal Haasan’s Magic Realism

There are some films which you miss, despite they hype and your eagerness to watch it. I remember Abhay/Aalavandhan was one of the most awaited films but it meet with mixed reactions when released. But it is a film which always comes up in discussion with cinephiles.Continue reading “Abhay/Aalavandhan (2001): Twenty years of Kamal Haasan’s Magic Realism”

V (2020) Telugu Movie Review: Bullets Misfired

In films from southern India, especially Tamil and Telugu industry, the film revolves around the lead actor. So whenever a film is announced without a title, the film is generally referred by the name of the lead actor and the forthcoming number of his (as per his filmography). Actors pay an important attention to milestone films likes their 25th or 50th  and so on. Continue reading “V (2020) Telugu Movie Review: Bullets Misfired”

Krishna and His Leela movie review: Love me Two!

Telugu, 2020

Cast:  Sidhu Jonnalegadda, Shradda Srinath, Shalini Vadnikatti, Seerat Kapoor , Jhansi and Sampath Raj

Directed by Ravikanth Perepu

Music by Sricharan Pakala

Streaming now on Netflix

 

Krishna and his Leela, the latest Telugu OTT offering, presented by Rana Daggubati,  is a breezy rom com that is a essentially an update on the age-old ‘one guy-two women’ staple . Though there is certainly no reinventing of the wheel here, director Ravikanth Perepu does put in a neat little job of giving some relatability and rootedness to the whole tricky subject.

Sidhu Jonnalegadda, who is also a co-writer on the film, is introduced in one of those typical cinematic ‘jilted lover boy’ fashions – with the trademark unshaven beard, pondering over life in some picturesque corners of the country. And knowing Telugu cinema, we may easily write offthe rest of the film as one suffering from the Arjun Reddy hangover. But breaking the fourth wall, Sidhu’s character Krishna assures us this could be lighter by asking us not to laugh at his emotional tales. And we pretty get the mood of the film from thereon.

Krishna does not waste time and gets to the heartbreak instantly. We are immediately told how his girlfriend Satya dumps him when she believes the relationship is not going anywhere. The breakup leaves Krishna completely broken, spending the rest of the days crying and sobbing away. It takes a few good time before he decides he is over all these girls and relationship dramas.

But Krishna cannot be kept away from his Leelas for long, and it is no surprise when he ends up immediately falling head over heels over a junior he meets at college, Radha.

As Radha claims, Krishna does not tick off any of her boyfriend material lists. But she still ends up liking the guy and Krishna would believe everything is finally smooth sailing in his love life.  However then comes the hurdle, with a job offering in Bangalore. Having to move out from Vizag, he assures an unsure Radha that they will get this long-distance working.

But things take an interesting turn when in Bangalore, where he runs into his ex-girlfriend Satya. If that is not spice enough, add an attractive roommate (Seerat Kapoor) to the mix. And you know you are getting a perfect recipe for trouble in Sidhu’s paradise.  The rest of the film has Sidhu trying to figure out the Dos and Donts of relationships. The only question is will it be too late by the time he does the figuring out.

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The biggest strength of the movie undoubtedly lies in its restrained writing. At several instances, there is an opportunity to go too melodramatic or score some each cheap laughs, except for a few initial portions involving Viva Harsha. But the writing holds back and avoids falling into the usual easy trappings of Telegu commercial cinema. The characters are certainly well written, especially the women and therefore keeps the proceedings refreshingly relatable and real.

Performances also immensely helps here. After all, it is vital that the audience needs to develop a rooting interest in the characters for this set up to work. And to the credit of the writing team and the trio of Sidhu, Shradda and Shalini, the manage to nail that factor.Even the fourth wall breaking which may seem gimmicky at first, works well in opening  frank one way conversation between the audience and the main character.

Lead man Sidhu masterfully steers his complicated character convincingly through the whole messy deal. Shradda as usual impresses effortlessly, while Shalini Vadnikatti though good, finds herself a little short when it comes to the emotionally heavy sequences.  Seerat Kapoor chips in just fine with Rukhsar, a very interestingly written character that in my opinion, deserved a little more space and voice in the screenplay. Sampath and Jhansi plays the roles of Sidhu’s parents in graceful, convincing manner, with a delicately written scene showing their dynamics in a mature, no-frills manner. It was also an appreciable gesture of having the dubbing artists names alongside the actresses in the title credits.

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The movie just about loses steam even with its mere 120-minute mark as the screenplay goes back and forth between the Leelas of this Krishna’s life, constantly shuffling between Vizag and Bangalore with a little Coorg detour. But Ravikanth keeps things light and constantly moving. And though the performance manages to sell the lead character’s predicament, the final speech disappointingly falls flat sticking out like a weak excuse. And also time writers realise that this lazy act of transforming their characters into overnight authors is getting a little too stale.

But these are minor quibbles in what is essentially a welcome addition to an otherwise ‘done-to-death’ romcom formula. Refreshing and sure-footed, it is worth spending a couple of hours checking out Krishna and his Leela, for an easy OTT watch.

– Joxily John

KAPPELA movie review: Couple Trouble!

Malayalam , 2020

Cast:     Anna Ben, Roshan Mathews, Sreentha Bhasi, Sudhi Koppa,

Music    Sushin Shyam

Written and directed by Muhammed Musthafa

 streaming on NETFLIX

 

Continuing the golden run in recent years, Malayalam movie industry dived into 2020 with a bang!  Right up in January the thriller Anjaam Pathira took the box-office by storm, and the next month saw the arrival of the widely appreciated Ayyapanum Koshiyum. And in the month of March, a small little film titled Kappela quietly came to the big screens and instantly impressed audiences. It was unfortunate though that the movie did not get its due cause of the immediate lockdown measures put in place.

Kappela (meaning Chapel) is a neatly packaged movie from actor Muhammed Musthafa who is making his directorial debut with this venture. Musthafa, who over a decade has become a familiar face in Malayalam movies shows that he has some tricks up his sleeve when it comes to writing as well. Because his sharp and creative screenplay is what works for this, otherwise simple looking film.

Much of the credit goes to the smart casting and leading from the front is Anna Ben. This actress after the highly impressive roles in Kumbalangi Nights and Helen, once again charms literally carrying the entire movie on her petite shoulders.  In Kappela, she plays Jessy, a a simple naive girl from an orthodox Christian, residing in a high range village in Wayanad, Kerala. Having flunked her exams, she really haven’t any high ambitions set for herself in life, and goes about her routine life, with rather modest desires. Like something as simple as a visit to a beach.

Jessy’s life gets interesting when she ends up dialing a wrong number one day. The voice at the other end belongs to a Vishnu (Roshan Mathews), an autorickshaw driver.  Soon it leads to more calls between the two, and before you know it, a romantic relationship brews between the duo over these regular phone calls.

The two decide eventually to meet each other in the city of Kozhikode. But what should have been a simple rendezvous gets complicated when in walks a third character, Roy (Sreenath Bhasi) into the equation and the lives of this couple will never remain the same.

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Telling anything more would be spoilers because the strength is in the screenplay taking you places which you do not expect it to and Musthafa the writer makes the job easy for the director in him. He shows how an ordinary tale can be spun to effective results, without going all flashy or in-your-face. It also holds back from being preachy or taking any moralistic high stand when it comes to dealing with its characters and situations. For a minute, you would even think this is going the way of last year’s Shane Nigam starrer Ishq and we are going to get yet another round of the clash of male egos.

 

Sreenath Bhasi and Roshan Mathews does a good job in their respective roles, going at each other’s throats. Having to walk on this fine thin line of characterization, the two pulls it off with aplomb. But as mentioned the real heart and soul is Anna Ben and she emerges extremely confident in her craft, adding this one too as yet another feather to her short but impressive filmography. She gives the needed relatability to the character of Jessy, grounding her in earnestness. Able support also comes from the rest of the cast that includes Sudhi Koppa, James Elia, Nisha Sarang and Tanvi Ram.

Sushin Shyam’s delightfully wonderful score and Jimshi Khalid’s captivating frames enhances the movie, enriching the experience, supporting Mustafa’s vision.

With a refreshing take that toys with one’s perspectives, Kapella is another small yet impressive work that once again shows that the Malayalam industry is indeed in promising hands. And this gives us a prime example, how boundaries of storytelling are constantly being pushed despite all the seeming limitations.

 

– Joxily John

 

PENGUIN movie review: Flightless!

Tamil, 2020

 Cast :  Keerthy Suresh, Lingaa, Master Advaith, Madhampatty Rangaraja, Mathi, Nithya Kirupa

Written and Directed by Eashvar Karthic

Music by Santosh Narayanan

 

Another week, and yet another disappointing fare that makes it to the OTT platform as an exclusive prime release. And what you learn from these movies, which follows the earlier tamil release PONMAGAL VANDHAL is that hill stations are no good for children.  Here again, while the setting shifts from Ooty to Kodaikanal, the situation remains the same. Kids are being kidnapped from their mothers.

In the movie oddly titled PENGUIN, Keerthy Suresh plays a mother in search of her child.  Sticking to the trend of odd naming, she is named Rhythm, that gets sweetly shortened to Ritu on occasions. When we are introduced to Rhythm aka Ritu, she is an expecting mother, seven months pregnant. But she is also one suffering from the trauma of losing her child six years ago. All she has is the crumbles of the past…. the kidnapping of her little son supposedly by a man with a Charlie Chaplin mask and an umbrella. The images keep haunting her to this day.

However, one night, the ghosts of her past reappear. Not only she sees the mystery man, but also out of nowhere, her long-lost son mysteriously reappears.

Where had he been all these years? Who was behind the kidnapping and why?  Rhythm finds only more questions as she tries to puzzle it all together, but answers come none whatsoever.

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Like all serial killer flicks, the central plot is about the mystery figure behind the scenes of the crime and the clueless protagonist furiously trying to unearth and solve the puzzle. And in such movies, the mood is critical.  Technically, debutant director Eeshvar Karthic realizes this and has his finger on that pulse creating the atmosphere fitting for the thriller ride. Skillfully supporting him in this task is music composer Santosh Narayanan and cinematography by Palani Karthik.

But therein ends the good things. Because the writing on this again by Eeshvar is painfully a letdown. I am still not sure exactly what about the writing impressed a filmmaker like Karthik Subbaraj to back a project like this.  In fact, I wonder how the writer in Eeshvar was able to convince himself that the ridiculous climax and the motives were good enough to fuel this story.

Even if you leave the final climax aside, the preceding screenplay comes with its share of problems. It seems unsure what it wants to be for most of its running time. Does it want to be an out and out serial killer movie. Or does it seek to be an emotional tale of a mother. Or does it want to be spookier and chiller than it all.  The film seems to be eternally stuck in this confusion.

For starters Rhythm ends up losing the things she is to take care of, quite easily. Almost like a habit. You see the scenes play out and you can predict how exactly the scene is going to play out. And again, the screenplay is not exactly rooted in logic. Cops are literally useless. A pregnant woman is left to do all the sleuth work with a trusted dog as partner. The guys are always missing. Too many expositions, chunky dialogues, and cringeworthy acting from the rest of the cast makes this hardly the tense thriller that it seeks to be.

Also, couldn’t help but notice the heavy influence of the Nolan-Batman movies in the way certain things are treated. Like the fear of buzzing insects, or the climax where the lead protagonist must choose between two options on which to save. Or coming to think of it, even the interrogation scene. Not that any of them is pulled off effectively.

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Keerthy Suresh surprisingly does well.  After spending an eternity being just a prop in most superstar vehicles, and getting that award-winning turn in Mahanati, she certainly seems determined to make the best of her new stature. In Penguin, she does a solid grounded act. The abysmal show from the rest of the cast helps, because it makes her indeed look the Award-winning actress. The cast was so disappointing that literally a dog outshines the rest of the cast here, in both characterization and performance. When you have a dog showing more brains than the humans, you know something is off.

Penguin plods and waddles before falling face down. Barring a sincere Keerthy and a few technical notches as mentioned above, the rest of the film fails to do what it sets out to. Instead the movie is at the receiving end of the cruelest cut of them all – some ridiculous writing.  Certainly avoidable!

  Joxily John

 

 

 

PONMAGAL VANDHAL movie review: Swing and a Miss…

Jyothika’s latest starrer Ponmaghal Vandhal has been a much talked about movie in the recent weeks. Afterall, here is a A-lister tamil movie where the producer Suriya showed some spine going against the threats of exhibitors to bring a film directly to the streaming platform. Praiseworthy indeed but, on a closer look, one must admit that it also seems more of a smarter business choice.

Because truth be told Ponmaghal Vandhal, despite the stars associated, comes off like a TV movie rather than one aimed at the box office. This directorial feature from JJ Frederick is content in pushing the message strongly and this unfortunately comes at the cost of effective screenplay and story telling techniques. The end result is a well-intentioned, but an immensely preachy message driven movie.

The film opens in a misty Ooty setting where we see a witness’ visuals of a crime that takes place. A woman shooting down two men. The media and the police investigations dub her a psycho serial killer named Jothi, who has been targeting children in the vicinity. We are told about the case, the investigations, the witnesses and also the eventual death of the woman in police operations, all as the titles and credits roll out.

Cut to fifteen years later, where present day, we find a novice lawyer Venba (Joythika) deciding to reopen the case. Initial visual cues reveal itself that this is not just a mere publicity grabbing opportunity for this rookie lawyer, but something more personal and attached.

However, the reopening of the case is enough to get people around visibly concerned, most notable of that being a well-known businessman philanthropist, Vardharajan (Thiagrarajan) whose son happens to be one of the victims of this case. He is swift to rope in a hot shot lawyer Rajarathnam (Parthiban) into the case to avoid further damages to his repute.

What follows is Venba’s struggles to expose the truth behind the events of fifteen years ago.

Jyothika not only stars as Venba but also gets flash back portions where she portrays the lady ‘Jothi’. Though as Venba she fails to hit the right note, relying on a trademark smug or weepie face to get her across the line, she gets more scope to perform as Jothi, flexing her acting skills to more dramatic range. But the makers could have avoided that pointless star-entrance shot of hers on a bike – the constant snag in Tamil movies that keeps makers from unadulterated story telling. Even Frederick can’t hep but throw in nods by introducing veterans like Bhagyaraj and Prathap Pothen with their respective songs. However as much as it is a pleasure to watch them on screen, they along with Pandiarajan and Thyagarajan plays disappointingly one note characters.  Nowhere the kind of magic I expected when I heard the union of five directors in this ensemble cast.

Parthiban comes in as the rival lawyer and honestly, his brand of Parthiban-ism is what keep me engaged through the movie. But again at times even the makers ended up throwing too much star focus at times. Especially in a visually interesting investigation scene that incorporates the ‘time freeze’ shot. Though the scene is a reveal of a gruesome murder scene, the director ends up throwing attention on Parthiban’s presence than the importance or gravity of the situation.

Such odd choices make the direction inconsistent and some scenes play out rather silly or a little too in the face. Even the shot selections, especially where a sexual crime with a child is involved, should have been handled more sensitively. Frederick relies heaving on reaction cuts in many of the scenes to amplify the emotions because evidently the writing and the performances were not achieving the results.

Technically nothing much to write home about. Cinematography was overall good, but what really stood out was Govind Vasantha’s background score in some portions. He literally makes that violin of his convey that pain.

The intentions, as remarked earlier, are all good. No argument there. The makers here are indeed e focusing on the message rather than exploiting the message. To its credit, it never comes off as a mere star vehicle under the guise of socially relevant subject. There is no ‘The Great Father’ or a vigilante ‘Mom’ in here like we have been getting in the recent few years. This is much more focused on the victims and the survivors of sexual crimes.

But you really wish they would have worked harder to get the cinematic pulses right. As a court room drama, it keeps repeatedly falling on its face. As a thriller, it just fails to excite with twists that you can see from miles away.  Even the makers decide an unnecessary final twist to untwist the interval reveal, but it really does not help the cause much.

Years after cases of Nirbhaya and Asifa, sexual crimes in India are still on a rise. Victims are getting younger, and shockingly so are the perpetrator of such crimes. Certainly a relevant a topic that needs to be addressed, discussed. Therefore it is noteworthy that stars like Suriya and Joythika are stepping up to address these issues in mainstream media.  And, hopefully all the attention that the movie has generated in the OTT vs Exhibitors struggle will help in getting more eyeballs to this movie in these times of lockdown.

But if only we had a strong and powerful movie to go along with it. Unfortunately, Ponmaghal Vandhal is too predictable a fare and is a case of missed opportunity to make the kind of impression it needed to.

Cast: Jyothika, Bhagyaraj, Thyagarajan, Prathap Pothen, Pandiaraajan and Parthibhan

Music Govind Vasantha

Directed by J.J. Fredrick

Streaming now on AMAZON PRIME