Monday, 1 July 2019

Thamaasha’ celebrates imperfections and that is no laughing matter

There is no stopping Vinay Fort in this entertainer twhich opens the career of Ashraf Hamza and has its heart in the right place

By Mythily Ramachandran

Remakes come with the burden of living upto the original. Comparisons are inevitable between the two and many a time, remakes fall short of expectations. 

Malayalam film ‘Thamaasha’ wins hearts with its adaptation of Kannada film, ‘Ondu Motteya Kathe’ that was directed by Raj B Shetty. 
Written and directed by debutant Ashraf Hamza, ‘Thamaasha’ surpasses the original with its seamless narration and lifted high by terrific acting. As curtains come down, jokes apart, ‘Thamaasha’ works its magic on the audience.

‘Thamaasha’ follows Srinivasan (Vinay Fort)- a Malayalam language professor- who at 31 years is still looking out for a bride but is rejected on account of his baldness.  Quite frustrated with his family’s concern, he decides not to go the traditional way of matrimony alliances anymore. Instead he wants to try his luck by bonding with three women he meets -  his colleague Babita (Divya Prabha); Safiya (Grace Antony) who comes into his life through a chance encounter and Chinnu, (Chinnu Chandini), a young woman very much comfortable in her Plus size. 

Grace Antony as Safiya 

Ashraf Hamza’s writing is too good. Creating every character with utmost care he makes them distinct and real. What I loved is his sketch of the three women-Babita, Safiya and Chinnu and giving enough space to each. They may have their human failings yet bring in an air of positivity to their scenes. Of course Chinnu who demonstrates her ability to take in her stride the body shaming ridicule she encounters makes viewers reflect on the lens through which society views and accepts us. It is Chinnu who nudges Sreenivasan to rethink. 

Divyaprabha's Babita teacher is a picture of poise

Hamza’s narration is seamless unlike in ‘Ondu Motteya Kathe’ where the narration staggered with Rajkumar’s songs that were played in to reflect the protagonist Janardhan’s state of mind. Hindering the flow further were dialogues that denoted Janardhan’s loud thinking. It was a wise decision to do away with these two aspects in ‘Thamaasha.’

Vinay Fort with Chinnu Chandini 

In ‘Ondu Motteya Kathe’ the characters appeared more cinematic but in ‘Thamaasha,’ every actor brought alive his character with an unmatched spontaneity. Vinay Fort clearly carries the film on his shoulders. As Sreenivasan, he is completely believable and his body language, bring out Sreenivasan’s insecurities perfectly. Raj B Shetty’s Janardhan was timid and unsure of himself unlike Sreenivasan, who is more spirited. Playing the perfect tango opposite Fort is Chinnu Chandini, while Divya Prabha and Grace Antony match steps very well. 

‘Thamaasha’s other strength is the friendship between Sreenivasan and Rahim (Navas Vallikkunnu)-a sub-staff at his college. There is more depth to this friendship than in the Kannada story. Hamza has given Rahim more space and Vallikkunnu is spot on every time.  

Anil Kurian who plays Sreenivasan’s younger brother cannot be forgotten either. While remaining in the background, his role is one to reckon with.

‘Thamaasha’ with its clean humour keeps you chuckling and will make you ponder too.

‘Unda’ brings back the Mammootty we adore

By Mythily Ramachandran

What is the fate of a contingent of Kerala policemen who have been deployed to Chattisgarh (Madhya Pradesh)-a Maoist dominated area- to assist the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) during election time?

Director Khalid Rahman who won hearts on debut with ‘Anuraga Karikkin Vellam’ returns with his sophomore film, ‘Unda,’ (Bullet). Loaded with good humour ‘Unda’ fires a couple of shots at the Indian political system and its police department while entertaining with its slice of life moments.

Mammootty has played several policeman roles, but his Sub-Inspector Manikandan in ‘Unda’ is an antithesis to all the earlier characters. Mani, the leader of the unit is more real. Neither is he burdened with a larger than life image. Don’t miss Mammootty’s introduction scene-there is no loud music though!

 If Mani and his group of policemen had set out on this assignment with pride and the feel of a picnic outing, they confront a different  ground reality at Chattisgarh.  They soon realize how ill-equipped they were-bullets that can be counted and poor safety gear-to tackle a Maoist ambush. From their polling booth located in the wilderness with underground mines hidden, ensuring a fair election was no easy task. Despite being in the police force, many of them had never handled a rifle or even fired one. Mani who gives instructions to his subordinates on how to shoot, confesses that he has never tracked a thief or caught a murderer.

Mani sends word to his office in Kerala for reinforcement of bullets.  Will the ‘unda’ arrive in time before the elections? That is the big question.

There are no romantic moments in ‘Unda,’ yet many moments touch you while it explores personal stories through some characters. Jojo (Shine Tom Chacko) is a domineering team leader, whose wife has filed for a divorce; Girish (Arjun Ashokan) is missing his wedding preparations being planned back home; Biju (Lukman) a first generation policeman from a tribal background is the butt of jokes. We also learn a bit about Mani’s family-his wife played by Tamil actress, Easwari Rao in a cameo.

‘Unda’ brings back the Mammootty we have always admired. It’s sheer delight watching the veteran in full form. Mani’s concern for his juniors; his sympathy for the villager Kunalchand, (Omkar Das Manipuri of ‘Peepli Live); his apology to his subordinates for not rising to the occasion during the Maoist attack one night, make Mani endearing. 

Another pleasure was watching director Ranjith in a brief role. With his spontaneous performance he leaves a mark. ‘Unda’ is complemented by a talented cast-Shine Tom Chacko, Lukman,
Bhagwan Tiwari-as Kapil Dev-an ITBP and Chien Ho Liao, the ITBP officer.
Prashanth Pillai’s lilting music blends well with the raw environment of Madhya Pradesh.

During the salvo of shots that Mani and team fire to safeguard their booth, ‘Unda’ raises the question- ‘Who is the real enemy to a fair election?

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

‘Game Over’ –a psychological thriller that continues to play in the minds long after curtains fall

By Mythily Ramachandran

‘Game Over’- an out of the box story- directed by Ashwin Saravanan and co-written by Dr. Kaavya Ramkumar has been wonderfully executed and filled with strong performances.

Leading the cast in this Tamil-Telugu home invasion thriller-also dubbed in Hindi- is Bollywood’s Taapsee Pannu. Playing fair with viewers, this psychological drama unfolds smartly its twisty narrative.

Director Ashwin Saravanan who impressed on debut with 'Maya' a horror story

Dr, Kaavya Ramkumar marks her debut as screenwriter with this film

Swapna (Taapsee Pannu) a game designer and a game addict as well is living alone with her maid, Kalama (Vinodini) on the outskirts of the city of Chennai in a bungalow.  She is now going through the ‘anniversary reaction’ of a traumatic past. She is unable to control her body’s reactions to the hangover of the trauma. Fearful of the dark, Swapna is much depressed and even attempts suicide, but survives with fractured legs. 
How will this wheel chair bound young woman survive when her house is broken into one night? 

In the first half, director Saravanan builds the story gradually introducing viewers to Swapna, her addiction to Pac-Man and her present state of mind. 
What happened to her on last New Year’s evening is conveyed through few visuals only. Saravanan does not waste time showing details of the incident but leaves it to viewers to speculate.

Swapna’s relationship with her maid is unique. The relationship between the two women is not of one of maid and mistress but more of two room- mates. Several beautiful moments capture this  bond. Kalama seems to be more a family. She closely keeps an eye not only on Swapna’s food intake and sleep, but on her mood swings too. And, even accompanies Swapna for her sessions with her shrink.  This Man Friday or should I call her Woman Friday-is always there to reassure Swapna that life is better than she believes. It is through her conversations with Swapna we learn about Swapna’s  estranged relationship with her parents.

Saravanan and Kaavya Ramkumar have sketched the other characters with great care and they are mostly women. Woven into Swapna’s life is a poignant story of a mother (Maala Parvathy) and her dead daughter-a cancer survivor (Sanjana Natarajan) who met her end in the hands of a psycho killer.

Taapsee carries the film on her shoulders. She gets into the head of traumatized victim and portrays her pain and vulnerability with finesse. One scene stayed with me. Swapna is inside a coffee shop and is waiting at her table for her order to be served. She notices two young men at the adjacent table observing her and discussing something. Getting up and glancing at their mobile phone, she realizes that her traumatic past is onscreen. Pannu was brilliant in that scene as Swapna grapples with several emotions at that moment.

Vinodhini matches Pannu at every step. Subtle and effective, she is the maid we wished we had. Maala Parvathy makes tears well up in the scene where as the bereaved mother she recounts her daughter’s tale.

‘Game Over’ wins with its brilliant edge of the seat climax that is packed with agonizing moments. Complementing the narrative is Ron Ethan Yohann’s electronic score-neither loud or jarring; cinematographer A. Vasanth’s camera with its ‘peeping Tom’ visuals draws a queasy feeling in the stomach; art director Shiva’s splendid  designing Swapna’s room, reflects perfectly a game addict’s life. 

The killers are masked. There is no back-story about a misogynist with an unhappy past either. And, there is a thread of positivity that continues to the end.

‘Game Over’ actually continues to play in the minds of the viewer long after curtains fall.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Athiran: A psychological thriller that is visually stunning

By Mythily Ramachandran

It is a shocking sight for Lakshmi (Shanthi Krishna) when she walks into her house to find her family members dead-her three brothers and her sister-in-law lie dead under unnatural circumstances. Strangely, unaffected by everything, her autistic niece Nitya is sitting in a corner playing with a strand of string.

Switching between the past and the present debutant director Vivek narrates a psychological thriller. Athiran’s strength lies in the staging of the story with idyllic visuals captured brilliantly by cinematographer Anu Moothedath. Right from the opening scene, there is drama and a novelty in every frame.

Pillion riding on the lens of cinematographer Anu Moothedath, viewers follow Dr. M.K. Nair (Fahad Faasil)- a psychiatrist from Trivandrum Medical College on his journey. Nair arrives at a picturesque mansion reminiscent of the Victorian age-standing isolated and an enigma in the midst of  a verdant region. This is a home for the mentally afflicted and managed by Dr. Benjamin Diaz (Atul Kulkarni).  

Dr. Nair, has been deputed to probe into Dr. Benjamin’s treatment of his patients. Despite the implicit beauty of the surroundings and the classically decorated interiors there is a queer air about this hospital that caters to the very rich who have abandoned here, a family member for losing his/her sanity.

Dr. Nair’s investigation reveals that besides the five patients listed in the register, there is a young autistic woman, Nitya (Sai Pallavi) bound in chains and confined in a dark room.   It now becomes his mission to free Nitya.

The cast includes a host of talent-Leona Lishoy playing a patient who walks around in a nun’s habit and speaks verses from the Bible-Kerala state awardees Sudev Nair- as a young man in love with Nitya- and Surabhi Lakshmi -as a patient who is concerned over Nitya. 

The story belongs to Fahad Faasil and Sai Pallavi. This is a role Faasil can sleep walk into. Sai Pallavi’s Nitya is a complete contrast to her debut role of Malar from ‘Premam.’ With hardly any dialogues, Pallavi brings to the fore an autistic woman’s plight. And, she does it without going overboard. Renji Panicker as Nitya’s father brings poignant moments. 

Vivek who earlier worked as creative producer with MTV India and Walt Disney has not assisted any director nor attended any film school. He shows promise on his debut.

Playing the perfect tango to his vision is cinematographer Anu Moothedath’s frames. Sometimes bewitching viewers with Nature’s moments-a line of ants crawl carrying leaves-Moothedath takes you indoors into Dr. Benjamin’s mansion with its elegant interiors-a bull head staring from the wall while a black cat with glowing eyes silently watches Dr. Nair being ushered in.  Great attention has gone into detailing every scene.

Ghibran’s music adds to  the sense of foreboding in the story-soft and ominous especially in the night sequences. Some loose ends mar ‘Athiran’ from becoming a much better film. It’s the reveal in the climax that holds up ‘Athiran,’ as an interesting thriller.


Saturday, 23 March 2019

 ‘To-Let’- a captivating tale of a family’s search for a rented house

By Mythily Ramachandran

This national award winner directed by Chezhiyan has been globe- trotting and winning acclaim

Cinematographer turned director Chezhiyan’s debut film ‘To-Let’ is a realistic portrayal of the predicament of a family of three who go house hunting after their landlady issues them a month’s notice to vacate.  

Winner of 32 awards including India’s national award for ‘Best Tamil Film’ last year, ‘To-Let’ is marked with evocative moments, eloquent visuals and standout performances by the lead cast.   

At the film’s outset, we meet this family of three-Ilango (Santosh Sreeram), Amudha (Sheela Rajkumar) and Siddharth (child actor Dharun) who have returned home after an evening at the beach. Amudha quickly changes into her home gown, tunes in the radio and gets dinner ready. Ilango also changes into his lungi and clears the clogged Indian styled toilet. Siddharth fondly called Siddhu baits his father into a game-he mimics a lion out to devour a rat-his father. That picture of contentment inside this dimly lit ordinary house with walls marked by the child’s crayon art is a beautiful portrait not easily forgotten. Life looks good until Amudha is summoned upstairs by the landlady. When she returns home seething with anger, it finds its outlet on Ilango-whom she had asked to keep a watch on her cooking-Ilango has left the dosa to burn on the stove. We soon learn that the landlady- a rude woman who treats Amudha shabbily- has asked them to vacate.  

Ilango, an aspiring director is yet to make his first film. He works as a writer in an ad company. It’s tough making ends meet. Amudha who cautiously manages household accounts suggests they go house hunting on their own instead of relying on a broker. They can cut down the broker’s fees. 

Every morning the family sets out on Ilango’s rickety scooter -that frequently has a starting trouble. Thus begins an ordeal of meeting house owners-some questioning them on their religion, some preferring ‘only vegetarians’ and if everything else is good, the quoted rent –with the IT boom in Chennai-exceeds their budget.  

Tiny details and poignant moments enhance Chezhiyan’s narrative and through his telling frames shot often in natural light, he has you invested in the lives of Ilango and Amudha. You feel their pain when the landlady without prior notice brings in prospective tenants disregarding their privacy; you feel sorry for Amudha when she describes her dream home; you are relieved when they finally find a suitable house; and you laugh with them when Dhruv asks his parents to join in his game of ‘house hunting,’ where he plays landlord. Like a fly on the wall, you can’t help but eves-drop on their life.

Chezhiyan proved that a story can be told sincerely without the trappings of cinematic frills and the tropes of commercial cinema. Lead actors Santosh Sreeram and Sheela Rajkumar share a lovely chemistry as Ilango and Amudha-bonding over intimate moments with an Ilayaraja song in the background and holding differences just like any married couple.

Sreeram, an accidental actor assisted Chezhiyan for ten years as cameraman. And, on his acting debut he reveals immense potential.  Sheela a stage actor slips into Amudha’s shoes with great ease. Child actor Dharun is a natural-his Siddhu is adorable. Moments touching your heart include a scene where Siddhu is trying to erase his drawings on the wall-his mother is angry and has asked him to clean it up before they vacate. And, when the child picks up his drawing sheet crumpled and thrown by the landlady, it leaves a knot in the throat.  

‘To-Let’ is a film that speaks from the heart. 

‘Sarvam Thaalam Mayam’ a beautiful musical drama

By Mythily Ramachandran

Is music the privilege of a select few?

Rajiv Menon’s musical drama ‘Sarva Thaalam Mayam’ while raising this valid question takes viewers through the life of Peter Johnson-son of a Dalit mridangam maker-who aspires to learn music from none other but the renowned percussionist Palakkad Vembu Iyer.

Inspired by the life of Carnatic mridangam vidwan Umayalpuram K Shivaraman, STM is beautifully narrated and complemented by spectacular performances, especially by the two lead actors-music director cum actor-GV Prakash and the Malayalam veteran Nedumudi Venu.

Peter (GV Prakash) is a crazy fan of Tamil actor Vijay. This easy going young man prefers skipping his examination so that he can play the drums during the release of a new Vijay film. His father Johnson (Kumaravel) is probably the last in the family to continue with the profession of making a mridangam. Peter is certainly not keen on following the mridangam, but is fascinated by its beats. When he delivers a mridangam to Vembu Iyer (Nedumudi Venu) for a concert, he happens to watch the live show from close quarters and from then on, his  heart beats for the mridangam. He is adamant about learning mridangam under Vembu Iyer. Will Vembu Iyer accept a Dalit as his student?

Rajiv Menon- known for his earlier two romantic dramas, ‘Minsara Kanavu’ and ‘Kandukondein Kandukondein’-found the spark for this story while making ‘Overtone’ –a documentary on the life of mridangam artiste U.K. Sivaraman.

GV Prakash training in mridangam under Sivaraman for a year prior to shooting has clearly paid. Prakash just lets himself go onscreen as he brings out Peter’s passion for beats and his perseverance to learn mridangam. It’s a delight watching him match every step with the spontaneous actor Nedumudi Venu.

A romantic angle is woven into the tale with Malayalam actress Aparna Balamurali as Sarah, a Malayali nurse who attends to Peter’s injury following a scuffle. 

‘Sarva Thaala Mayam’ a feel good entertainer that without making a loud noise makes a social statement-Music is a universal language that crosses boundaries of sect, religion, culture and language.

Friday, 22 March 2019

'Sigai’ a Tamil whodunit thriller

By Mythily Ramachandran

The first original Tamil feature film on ZEE5 directed by Jagadeesan Subbu has actor Kathir in a never before seen role

With theaters unable to meet the increasing number of films clamouring for space, digital space is opening new doors. Tamil film ‘Sigai’ released online in January 2019. 

‘Sigai’ follows the life of Nimmi, a call-girl, whose sudden disappearance at a client’s home sends Prasad, her pimp investigating.  

Directed by debutant Jagadeesan Subbu, this crime thriller carries within its narrative, a sensitive tale about inclusion of every human being irrespective of who they are.  

Prasad (Raj Bharath) is not the regular pimp portrayed in cinema. His language is neither crass nor humiliating of the women, he sends out on work. And his prostitutes are not garishly dressed. Surprisingly Prasad comes across as a compassionate human being who feels for his women team. So when Nimmi (Meera Nair) fails to report at her client’s place the next day, after visiting Prasad’s client the night before, he decides to enquire about her whereabouts. And, he stumbles upon a murder. Revealing beyond will be a spoiler.

‘Sigai’ takes a while in the first half, introducing us to its different characters. Post interval, with the entry of the London returned Mathivanan-the dead man’s friend-the story gets intriguing. Kathir, a good performer and still basking in the success of his last film-‘Pariyerum Perumal’lends a poignancy to his life as Mathivanan. It’s a subtle performance there.  

Director Subbu is to be hailed for choosing a story that embraces a social message like this one on his debut. I only wish he had invested some more on telling Mathivanan’s background story. Navin Kumar camera work is remarkable.