Friday, 9 July 2021

‘Koozhangal’ a Rotterdam Tiger award winner-leaves you stunned with its simple story and a performance that is so real

By Mythily Ramachandran

There is one scene in Tamil film, ‘Koozhangal’ (pebbles) that best defines the women of Arittapatti-where the story is set.
An old woman is sitting near a shallow pit where water trickles slowly from the ground below. Using a mug to scoop up the water little by little, she fills a plastic pot kept nearby. Watching her in the process is a group of women who are waiting their turn to fill their pots in the same manner. Undoubtedly it’s going to be a long wait but patience seems to be the second name for these women. There is no resentment nor impatient signs on their faces. They have resigned to their fate in Arittapatti-a drought-affected region in Tamil Nadu-where water is a luxury. Debutant director
P S Vinothraj takes viewers on a journey offering us a glimpse into Arittapatti and the lives of people there.

When Shanthi leaves her alcoholic husband for her parents’ village, her husband Ganapathy is enraged and he sets out to bring her back. But he is not going alone. He barges into his son’s school and pulls out their son, Velu  (Chella Pandi) and the two take a bus. Reaching Shanthi’s village, Ganapathy tells Velu- “Tell your mother to come now, or else I will marry someone else.”

 Velu takes time at his grandmother’s home and an infuriated Ganapathy enters their house, abusing them leading to a scuffle between him and Shanti’s brother. Ganapathy is beaten up, his shirt is torn and he learns that Shanthi has already left for their home. As the father and son wait to take the bus back home, Ganapathy threatens to kill Shanthi when he tells Velu, “From now on you have no mother, only a father.”

The bus journey back home does not go as planned. And, the father-son duo are forced to walk barefooted in the scorching heat across the arid terrain.

Vinothraj’s story captures a day’s event in their lives. His narration is simple and rides on the shoulders of two newcomers-Karuthadaaiyan and Chella Pandi, who play their roles of Ganapathy and Velu with aplomb. Karuthadaaiyan with his boorish demeanor and hurried gait that is marked with a purpose is completely Ganapathy- an angry man with a sense of entitlement. Velu barely speaks. His anxiety and confusion are reflected in his eyes. Chella Pandi is brilliant.

Debutant cinematographers Vignesh Kumulai and Parthib with their unique frames make the trek an engaging one. It’s a beautiful opening scene that sets rolling this journey. An arched branch with a bird’s nest hanging at its end sways in the breeze. And as a bus approaches its stop, we get a peek inside. The camera hovers over a sleeping man and then lingers over a sleeping child cradled in her mother’s lap. Be it the long shots across the brown landscape following a woman who alights from the bus and settles down under a tree to feed her baby, or the camera staring at Ganapathy’s back as he marches,  the visuals lend a fly on the wall experience. Attention to tiny details lights up every frame.

It’s a heart breaking moment when Velu is thrashed by his father for getting a ride on his teacher’s two-wheeler. Velu is confounded and hurt, yet this little boy never cries. As we sympathize with Velu, a pup runs up to him.Velu forgets the beating and plays with the pup. There are other moments that bring out the child in Velu. Blowing up a balloon, he sways it through the window of the bus. He even manages to take some kind of revenge on his father with a small piece of mirror that he picks on the path. It’s good humour there. Velu loves his mother and sister. My favourite scene is the one where Velu and his sister play with the puppy. We never get to meet Shanthi though.

‘Koozhangal’ highlights the poverty in this drought-affected region where a family smokes rat holes to hunt them for food. When curtains fall, Velu removes the koozhangal (pebble) he had been carrying in his mouth to ward off thirst on the journey and adds it to his collection of pebbles.
Does it mean that this road journey was one of many before?  Like the women of Arittapatti Velu has learnt to take life in his stride.
Don’t miss this masterpiece.


Thursday, 9 July 2020

Sufiyum Sujatayum’: A story told from the heart

Marked with terrific performances and visuals, this love story remains true to its genre

Since time immemorial, parental pressure and religion has kept lovers from uniting. Debutant director Naranipuzha Shanavas’s ‘Sufiyum Sujatayum’ follows the life of Sujata (Aditi Rao Hydari)-a speech impaired young woman and her love for a Sufi (Dev Mohan).

The film opens with Sujata (Aditi Rao Hydari) and her family-husband Rajeev (Jayasurya) and daughter- living in the middle-east. The following morning Rajeev receives a message. His wife’s former lover is dead and the burial is planned that evening. Rajeev does something not many men will do. He flies to India with Sujata so that she can pay her last respects to her Sufi. Rajeev hopes that it will bring a closure to a past that has been intruding into his present.

Shifting between the past and the present Shanavas stays true to the genre while resisting temptations to making it a melodrama. Neither is he keen on biting the bait of a communal line lying underneath.  

‘Sufiyum Sujatyum’ opens with promise, falters midway but finds its feet ultimately to usher in a dawn filled with love. While the narrative is told from Sujata’s perspective, the Sufi remains an enigma. What inner turmoil does he go through when in love? ‘Sufiyum Sujatayum’ could have reached its full potential if more focus had been given to the Sufi.

You can’t help remembering another Malayalam story- ‘Ennum Ninte Moideen’- where religion came in the way of love. ‘Ennum Ninte Moideen’ found its rightful place solely due to its brilliant writing and pathos filled scenes executed perfectly by Prithviraj and Parvathy.

Yet, Shanavas’s maiden film deserves praise on several counts. There are aspects in his screenplay and staging that indicate he is a talent to look out for. The town where the story is placed is in harmony with Hindus and Muslims living together. Sujata often visits Aboob-Sufi’s mentor- and her father (Siddique) is fine with it until she falls in love. 

Small details make many scenes real. The burial scene is shot in a methodical manner. When Rajeevan tosses a handful of soil in the grave, he is burying a past. For a moment he almost slips into the grave but is pulled back by someone. A simple touch added there. 

Siddique’s emotional outburst in a scene left me with goose bumps. The veteran was spot on as Sujata’s father.  Kalaranjini complements Siddique well. You can’t help smiling at this na├»ve woman. In one scene she brings a cap that she stitched for her grand-daughter and gives it to Rajeev. When he remarks that it was a bigger size, she has an answer-‘a safety pin will correct that.’

Shanavas sprinkles humour during tense moments-the cab driver when  intercepted by the police for speaking on his mobile, blabbers about his wife being suddenly pregnant instead of ‘pregnant wife had to be suddenly rushed to hospital.’ The driver made me smile in another scene where Rajeev calls him up to check for his lost passport. The driver says that the passport was not in his car, but before calling off, he shares news of his wife’s delivery.  Who comes up with situations that mirror life?

Aditi Rao Hydari brings in the vulnerability of a woman hindered by speech yet fearless in love. Looking beautiful with barely there make up, Hydari lights up every frame. Remarkable is the scene where she breaks down following a close family member’s death.   
Dev Mohan is earnest in his role and impresses on debut. As the Sufi, he carries a warm glow. Manikandan Pattambi whose character turns the course of the story is a spontaneous performer. The graveyard scenes involving a search for something lost keeps the adrenalin going with a dread-‘What if? 

When curtains fall, it is Rajeev who lingers long. Jayasurya’s subtle body language conveys well Rajeev’s relationship with Sujata. Though frustrated with his wife’s past and bristling with anger inside, Rajeev’s love for Sujata surpasses everything. Jayasurya is fantastic. 

M.Jayachandran’s music is soulful melody. The song,
Alhamdulillah’ is divine while the lyrics of Hindi song ‘Kya Karoon’ beautiful. DOP Anu Moothedath’s frames are spectacular from the word go-every frame   created with care- and some are surreal.

‘Sufiyum Sujatayum’ is not about love only but in understanding the one you love.

‘Kappela’ excels as a small-town tale with a big heart

Appearances can be deceptive.
Actor turned director Muhammed Musthafa debut film, ‘Kappela’ cautions viewers on this point with a simple story set in Poovarmala in Waynad. 

Jessy (Anna Ben) lives in Poovarmala in the Waynaad ranges with her orthodox parents and younger sister. Theirs is a simple life-father is a farmer, mother undertakes tailoring orders and Jessy assists her mother in stitching.  

An accidental call to a wrong number changes Jessy’s life. Vishnu (Roshan Mathew) an auto driver from Mallapuram takes the wrong call and pursues Jessy over phone.  It doesn’t take long for Jessy to fall in love with Vishnu and his voice over conversations they share. 

Benny (Sudhi Koppa), a young man from the neighbourhood is in love with Jessy. He approaches her parents for her hand in marriage. As their wedding is fixed, Jessy decides to meet Vishnu. She leaves for Kozhikode alone one early morning. Vishnu agrees to meet her at the bus stop. Jessy and Vishnu have not been able to share their pictures since Jessy uses an old phone. She cannot afford a smart phone. They are acquainted with each other by their voices only.  

Do the lovers meet as planned?

‘Kappela’s writing and screenplay with well sketched characters is its biggest strength. The narration is simple, the mood and tone rooted in reality, conversations real as the story glides smoothly like a well oiled machine lending a fly on the wall experience and you soon invest in Jesssy’s life.  

The casting is pitch perfect as the lead actors Anna Ben, Roshan Mathew and Sreenath Bhasi are fantastic with their portrayal.  Unsophisticated, simple and living on the high ranges of Waynaad, Jessy’s big dream is to see the sea. What’s beautiful about Malayalam cinema is the natural look the actresses sport. Anna Ben is growing as an actor with each film. This is her third film. Her Jessie easily finds  way into our hearts. Ben neat play of emotions of the small town young woman-vulnerability and gullible-is commendable.  

Vishnu wearing a red pottu  on his forehead always is the perfect picture of that friendly  guy in the neighbourhood whom people seek in times of distress.  That was quite a challenge to depict and Mathew is brilliant, never going overboard with his expressions. 

A stark contrast to Vishnu is Roy (Sreenath Bhasi).  This unemployed BBA graduate is job hunting and has no qualms about removing his lover Annie’s ring so that he can pawn it for his requirements. With his cocky mannerisms and tough attitude, Roy is not someone you will warm up to soon. He enters the lives of Jessy and Vishnu at Kozhikode. Bhasi has been experimenting with varied roles and proves his versatility again. Sudhi Koppi plays Benny the nice guy whom you wouldn't wish to hurt. 

Actor turned director Musthafa

Director Mushthafa has acted in several films in supporting roles. He received special mention by the national jury for playing the lead in 'Ain. Musthafa plays a small role in Kappela. 

Little details make the scenes real and relatable-an old woman asks the bus conductor to let her know when her stop arrives while the passenger in the seat behind Jessie tells her lower down the shutter in the rains. That Jessie’s parents are orthodox comes through the scenes and not through loud dialogues.

Without resorting to loud melodrama and screaming out a social message, the danger is there for all to see. It’s most poignant when a disillusioned Jessy asks Roy- like a child-, ‘Will you show me the beach?’ 
Cinematographer Jhimsi Khalid’s visuals are spectacular. The opening scene is beautiful, as two friends under an umbrella braving the rains reach a bus-stop. Poovaram the small town on the mountains is caught at its rustic best. And, the kappela (chapel) which Jessy frequents is just a basic shrine of Mother Mary perched on a mountain and devoid of decorations yet seems to hold an enigmatic power over the little town below. That closing shot was beautiful. 

Monday, 29 June 2020

‘Penguin’ disappoints despite Keerthy Suresh’s splendid performance

By Mythily Ramachandran

The opening scene sets the mood for a thriller about a missing child and the scenes that follow are promising, but midway ‘Penguin’ gets grounded with an unconvincing plot and several loose ends hanging.

Championing the cause of child sexual abuse seems to have become a trend in Tamil cinema today. There is nothing wrong about it, if only film-makers had an engaging story that educates children on potential abusers and self-protection while guiding parents on being open and accessible to their little ones.

Keerthy Suresh leads this emotional thriller

Written and directed by debutant Eashvar Karthic, ‘Penguin’ becomes more a film about glorifying gore and personality disorder while taking refuge in lauding motherhood.

Rhythm- (Keerthy Suresh) -a mother who cannot get over the loss of her son Ajay-is pregnant with her second child thus making her vulnerable enough to hook onto viewers emotions.  And, she does not hesitate to put herself in the most dangerous situations.

Suresh makes her Rhythm endearing. Some of her scenes are unforgettable-the one in a hospital where she plays with a little girl is beautifully captured. Intense is her performance in the scene where Rhythm reunites with her son. Despite the hard work Suresh puts in and reiterating the wonderful performer she is, ‘Penguin’ disappoints.

With the exception of Linga-who plays Raghu, Rhythm’s former husband- the rest of the supporting actors carry a wooden expression. 

Linga plays Raghu, Rhythm's former husband

The writing suffers. There are several loose ends. Rhythm’s relationship with husband Gautham is little explored. 
What about Ajay’s trauma? For one who has been away from home and family for six years, it is touched perfunctorily. 
Fighting one antagonist is not enough for this mother. Neither is there a back-story for him and his actions, but  he is portrayed as a maniac with scenes painted in gore and innards. 
And, then comes a second antagonist making ‘Penguin’ an exhaustive exercise.

Karthik Palani’s visuals of Kodaikanal are beautiful-verdant vegetation, misty mornings, rushing rapids, floating clouds and eerie silence of the nights. But beyond the frills ‘Penguin’ fails to take off.    

‘Pon Magal Vandhal’ a story with an important message

While parents teach their daughters how she should behave, dress and whom to befriend, they ought to also teach their sons how to treat women and to respect them,says lawyer Venba in this courtroom drama

By Mythily Ramachandran

A tranquil misty morning’s beauty is shattered by gun shots and a child’s cries, ‘Amma Amma.’ News reported on television talks about the arrest of Jyoti-a psycho killer who has been abducting little girls in Lovedale, Ooty. The next breaking news is about Jyoti’s death in a police encounter and recovery of dead bodies of children in the yard around her house. According to media reports Jyoti was a wanted criminal from Jaipur. This case of 2004 thus solved is closed.

Jyotika plays a lawyer Venba

Cut to the present- fifteen years later. We meet Pethuraj (actor director K. Bhagyaraj) better known as Petition Pethuraj for his many petitions against small crimes filed in court. He lives with his daughter Venba (Jyotika).
When Pethuraj files a petition reopening the case of Jyoti who he believes has been wrongly implicated by the police, it is Venba who takes up the suit-her first case as a lawyer. But then, she earns the wrath of the local community for pleading the case of an inhuman killer.
Why does Venba take on this case? Who is Jyoti?   

The team-Pandiarajan, K. Bhagyaraj, Pratap Pothen, director J J Fredrick, Jyotika and Parthiban

Debutant director J.J.Fredrick’s ‘Pon Magal Vandhal’ is a court-room drama that spills skeletons out of the closet while unearthing the truth about Jyoti. Child sexual abuse being the plot point here, the film closes with Venba saying-‘While parents teach their daughters how she should behave, dress and whom to befriend, they ought to also teach their sons how to treat women and to respect them.’ According to National Crime records India ranks seven and Tamil Nadu occupies the third place with respect to child sexual abuse.

The producers actors Surya and Jyotika deserves a pat for taking on this subject along with the director who instead of a formula story around a star preferred the less beaten track. Fredrick makes a good start. Of late portraying north Indians as criminals has become the norm in Tamil and Malayalam cinema. I liked that point made here and rebuking us for making presumptions about north Indians. But, the story required better writing.

‘Pon Magal Vandhal’ is more of an investigative thriller and less of a court room drama. There are some unwarranted scenes supposed to evoke laughter and characters having little to contribute. Jyotika playing a dual role is not a good idea either.
Jyotika who has been selective about roles in her second innings is earnest and sincere in championing the cause. She has dubbed for herself in Tamil-which is not her mother-tongue. She is in fine form as Venba. 

Director Fredrick with actor Thiagarajan on the sets 

Parthiban plays lawyer Rajarathinam countering Venba in court. He is in his usual element delivering lines with a play on words.
What makes ‘Pon Magal Vandhal’ worth a watch is its important message and Jyotika’s performance. Cinematographer Ramji’s visuals are a treat.
And, yes like Venba says-‘Let’s teach our sons a couple of things too.'

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Debutant director P.R. Arun poignant sports drama is led by Rajisha Vijayan and Niranj Pillai

By Mythily Ramachandran

Theater director and scriptwriter of ‘Jamna Pyari’ (2015) P. R. Arun rides into Malayalam cinema with a poignant story of a national cyclist champ and her father’s dreams. But this is not a regular story of an underdog battling against all odds to eventually emerge triumphant. It is about two men and their love for a woman who goes through a tragedy. How do they deal with it?

Alice Verghese (Rajisha Vijayan) was in primary school when she got her first bicycle-a gift from her father (Suraj Venjaramoodu). Since then she has enjoyed riding, especially challenging her close friend, Manuel-living next door- into a race with her. While he sprinted on foot to school, Alice sped on her cycle.

Soon cycling becomes a passion for Alice. Egged on by her father- Verghese a former athlete- she put the little town of Katappana in Iddukki on the national map as a national champion. Alice is now gearing up for the Tokyo Olympics. A mishap punctures the dreams of this father and daughter.

Another filmmaker would have chosen to follow the time tested template and make it a story of Alice’s return. Arun- recipient of G. Sankara Pillai award (2003) for Best Playwright in Malayalam for the drama ‘Phaeton’- follows his own path. Without going the ‘Chakde India’ or ‘Dangal’ way, ‘Finals’ wheels on its solo track with a simple story told without cinematic frills and elevated with an astounding performance from its cast.

This story of an ordinary family has several moments that the audience will relate too. In the absence of her mother, Alice and her father share a close bond. The scene where Alice takes permission from her father to express her love for Manuel is beautiful. Vijayan’s   Alice is unlike her earlier films, yet full of life. Vijayan does not go overboard with her portrayal.

Suraj Venjaramoodu is the show stopper here. Speaking little, his Verghese is a man defeated in life but finds meaning in life through his daughter and her dreams.  Venjaramoodu speaks more through his eyes-Verghese’s disappointment, sadness and anger is tapped through glances. Venjaramoodu wins hearts.

Surprising viewers is Niranj, who has worked in other films earlier. This is clearly his big break. With well etched characters, director Arun makes viewers invest in their lives. Manuel with full sleeved shirts and flip flops undergoes a sea transformation in the second half of the story. His love for Alice is free from valentine moments. Their love is  felt in moments together-when Alice goes on her morning sprint and hails out to Manuel who is busy distributing newspapers-in a challenge to overtake her-a ritual that goes back to their school days. Manuel’s love is the kind every woman yearns for -unselfish, caring and so true. Niranj meets his director’s vision completely as he delivers Manuel.

And as Arun takes his story on a different route, he also raises voice about politics in sports and step-motherly treatment meted out to sportspersons. There is a lot of warm vibes and good will with respect to the fringe characters. Shot in Kattappana  district of Idukku, DOP Sudeep Elamon’s frames are a feast for the eyes.

‘Finals’ proves again that a good story told from the heart will reach far and near. Certainly not the loud noise made by a starry cast. Don’t take the audience for granted. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

‘Love Action Drama’ a cocktail that has little to applaud for

By Mythily Ramachandran

Dhyan Sreenivasan’s directorial debut ‘Love Action Drama’ disappoints with an insipid and unconvincing film. Touted as a rom-com, ‘LAD’ came with great expectations with its lead pair-Nivin Pauly and Nayanthara,’ but ends as a case of talent wasted.
Dinesh (Nivin Pauly) pines for his cousin, even on the eve of her wedding. He has been in love with her since childhood, despite her making it clear that she was not interested. She is now marrying another man.

An incurable alcoholic who smokes too, Dinesh believes that life is a party all the time.  With a family business and enough wealth to bank on, he does nothing beyond annoying others with his uncouth attitude and irresponsible ways.  

So, it is really hard to believe when a beautiful and confident woman like Shoba (Nayanthara) who is managing an NGO in Chennai-falls in love with Dinesh. They meet at his cousin’s wedding in Kerala. Shoba is his cousin’s friend. 

When Dinesh’s ploy to take revenge on his cousin’s groom goes wrong on the wedding eve, it’s Shoba who ends injured and in hospital. Love was just waiting to happen or so it seems. Dinesh is entrusted to take care of Shoba. And, instead of being angry with him for her situation, she finds him innocent. On her return, she even sends him a ‘missing you’ message on Whatsapp. Reason enough for Dinesh to pack bags and reach Chennai to win her love. Assisting him in this endeavour is his friend Sagar (Aju Verghese)- playing accomplice and advisor in this love game.

The audience is forced to believe that love brews between the two. That this love story applauds stalking is another matter. Here love is more about impressing through deceit and less about honesty in a relationship. There is nothing compelling about the characters that makes you invest in their lives and their relationship. Clearly the script required better writing and seems to be hastily done with an urge to fill it with as many commercial elements possible. The resulting cocktail tastes insipid.

Pauly succeeds in making Dinesh as someone with no redeeming trait to be worthy of Shoba’s love. His scenes with Aju Verghese are often loud and drenched in booze banter.  Verghese’s expressions are exaggerated. Humour is completely forced and slapstick.

It is Nayanthara who keeps the sagging script afloat completely. Looking stunning in glamorous attires, it’s a change after her recent experiments in Tamil cinema, where she has played more performance backed characters. 

When Shobha slaps Dinesh in a scene, he tells her that even his mother has never done that. I was almost tempted to say aloud-‘that’s where she erred Dinesha.’ 

LAD gets long drawn out with scenes of barely any significance to the story. Like the scene where a foreigner consoles Dinesh in her accented Malayalam after he leaves Shoba. And, why are children shown in romantic relationships? Seriously it’s not funny.  
The screenplay is erratic, new characters surface to add drama to the love tale and there is action, as promised in the title-winding up the story in a hurried manner. 
LAD is all frills with little substance.