Saturday, April 30

Go visit this City of God.

Movie - City of God (Malayalam)
Director - Lijo Jose Pellissery
Producer - Anil Matthew
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - Babu Janardhanan
Cast - Prithviraj, Indrajith, Rima Kallingal, Shwetha Menon, Rohini, Parvathy, Rajeev Govinda Pillai, Anil Murali, Jagadish and others.
Cinematography - Sujith Vasudev
Music & Background Score - Prashant Pillai
Editor - Manoj
Art Director - Salu K George
Soung - Renganaath Ravee
Stunts - Different Dany
Release Date - 23rd April 2011

Lijo Jose Pellissery made an impressive debut last year through the technically captivating Nayakan, starring Indrajith and people hoping for at least 'some' kind of a change in Malayalam Cinema, noticed a lot of promise in him. His second movie got a bigger budget and bigger stars, but he still stayed away from the mainstream Malayalam cinema cliche and made a film that showed his substance as a director and a good storyteller. Like this year's pathbreaking movie Traffic, this one also has multiple narrative which overlaps each other and goes back and forth through events unfolding in each narrative. The name of the Brazilian crime classic by Fernando Meirelles has been used for this movie, and I must say that they havent done much damage to name of the classic. And they might have kept it as a tribute to Brazilian Cinema, which has influenced the kind of storytelling adapted in this movie - especially the style of Alejandro Innaritu in his cult film Amores Perros where a road accident kicks off three different stories of different people meeting at the same point during an accident. (For those who havent seen Amores Perros, refer Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva which also adapted this screenplay technique)

The movie has three parallel storylines - A business tycoon (Rajeev Govinda Pillai) who wants to get back with his once girlfriend, filmstar Suryaprabha (Rima Kallingal) much to her displeasure and his friend Jyothilal (Prithviraj), a henchman who will do anything for his boss. A construction site worker Swarnavelu (Indrajith) and his world in a slum occupied by Tamil immigrants in Kochi and his love for Marathagam (Parvathi), a fellow worker. The third track features a shrewd widow Viji (Shwetha Menon) who would go to any lengths to avenge her husband's murder. The stories and characters cris-cross each other in Kochi, which is referred to as the City of God by the movie's title. 

Nayakan showed that Lijo Jose Pellissery had promise and that he'll deliver much better stuff if given a good screenplay. And Babu Janardhanan, who already gave us the very interesting non-linear screenplay of Thalappavu 3 years back, has done just that. Lijo has treated the engaging screenplay with precision and finesse making it into a completley riveting and gripping experience for most parts. There is not one scene where you lose interest in the movie. The characterizations are nothing like what we see in usual Malayalam films. Nobody in this movie is fully black or white. Each and every character has a fair share of grey to him/her. And one interesting thing is that the ladies are given as much or even more screen space and situations to perform than the lead actors, which is quite unusual. Lijo has dared to move away from the much-abused path of regular commercial cinema and has made a product that deserves an intelligent audience to appreciate. The cyclical narrative keeps the audience hooked on to the film and it is interesting how each narrative ties up to each other and culminate together in the climax. Out of the three, it is Prithviraj & Rima Kallingal's track which is the most interesting. Indrajith's Tamil track provides the entertainment quotient in the movie and Shwetha Menon's revenge plot, which is in a way related to Prithviraj's plot also works well. The constant shifting of perspectives in the narrative requires close attention to be fathomed correctly. The film presents Kochi as the city of dreams, the city of crime and the city of hope and maybe thats why the title - City of God. 

As for the performances, the ladies walk away with the top honours. Rima Kallingal is brilliant as the actress who is going through a turmoil in her personal life. This young actress shows a different side to her and proves that she has immense potential and can deliver amazing performances if challenged. Her dialogue delivery was criticized in some of the other reviews, but I felt it was just right for her character. She emotes naturally and gives a mature performance which would put many of those so-called top heroines in Malayalam to shame. Rima is matched in every way by Parvathy Menon, the VJ turned Filmfare award winning actress (Notebook, Flash, Poo) playing the Tamil girl Marathagam. She brings in a certain raw appeal which makes her vulnerable as well as aggressive at the same time. Watch out for her awesome chemistry with Indrajith. We need to see more of this actress in Malayalam. Shwetha Menon is also great as the scheming femme fatale out to get revenge for her husband's death. Rohini does away with all her poise and plays a slum-dweller with utmost conviction. But the scene at the bar where after she gets drunk, could have been better. 

Among the men, its Prithviraj who shines. The actor gives a kickass performance after a really long time in a role that fits him to the T. His dialogue delivery, looks and brooding personality makes a huge impact in his role of a henchman which he does with ease, without going overboard at any point. He goes on to prove that he is always good in roles with negative shades. And its appreciable that he took out time to act in an experimental movie like this during his busy schedule. Watch out for him in the stunt sequences and the scenes involving him and Rima Kallingal. And of course, there is Prithvi's elder brother Indrajith playing a Tamilian with as much authenticity as we can imagine. He is a delight to watch on screen. Though he reminds us of Surya in Pithamagan or Madhavan in Aayitha Ezhuthu at some instances, thats not a bad thing at all. Lijo has made sure that his first hero gets to shine in scenes tailor made for him, in their second movie together as well. Model-turned-actor Rajeev Govinda Pillai, making his debut as the business tycoon Sony Vadayattil, looks great and has a good screen presence. But when it comes to portraying villainy towards the end of the movie, his face turns wooden and cannot bring out the needed emotions, hence lessening the impact of those scenes.. Anil Murali was very good as a real estate-cum-quotation agent. This would perhaps be Jagadish's best performance in the past 10 or 12 years. He has underplayed so well compared to the overacting he has been doing in every single movie for the past 10 years. Kishore Sathya who played Mehboob, Rima's husband was excellent. And the other bald guy (a Sathyan Anthikkad regular, forgot his name) who plays Sony's partner Babychan was also very good. The rest of the supporting cast also did a great job, except for Nandu who went overboard in every single scene that featured him. 

One major irritating factor in the movie was the hand-held camerawork. Sujith Vasudev has taken some great shots which help a great deal in moving the story forward. But him and Lijo, along with fight choreographer Different Dany has shot some really irritating shots for the innovatively choreographed stunt sequences. The camera is never still and keeps moving here and there, zooming in and out and with lots of action happening within the shot. This gives almost 90% of the audience an eyesore. And it happens with every single action sequence in the movie and there are quite a lot of them. Even the innovatively conceived single-shot fight sequence featuring Prithviraj at a movie set doesnt make the required impact because of such irritating camerawork. But other than the fight sequences and few other instances, the cinematography works very well. Manoj's editing is perfect and he does not go for editing gimmicks unlike many of our famed editors who cut action films. The narrative flows seamlessly keeping you engaged throughout. Renganath Ravee's sound design was also excellent. 

And then we come to the next most interesting aspect of the movie - the music, by Prashant Pillai. The film has a great soundtrack which offers a wide variety of songs, that too in 3 different languages - Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil. While the haunting duet 'Nee Akaleyano' is the best among the lot, the lovely Tamil song 'Kaalangal' is beautiful as well. There's dappankoothu in the form of the racy 'Annan' and a melancholic Hindi song 'Betaabi'. The film shoot song 'Prayam' is also a good number. (Unfortunately, parts of the 2 Tamil songs were chopped off in the print I watched). The background score sets the right mood for the entire film, right from the titles to the end credits. (I loved the use of Kamal Haasan's 'Kaadhal Vandiduchu' in a certain comic portion involving Indrajith). 

On the whole, City of God is a gripping thriller told amusingly through a multiple narrative format, with great performances, great music and fab technical support. Lijo Jose Pellissery proves that he surely is a man of promise. Watch out for Rima Kallingal, Prithviraj, Indrajith & Parvathy. The film got released after a lot of financial issues and has not been marketed properly. So as lovers of good Malayalam Cinema, it is our duty to go watch such films in theaters, and encourage them, so that more makers dare to make such movies. Otherwise, we would just keep getting those mundane masala movies or multistarrers which make no sense, but still make a lot of money. 

Bottomline - A visit to this City of God is worth every penny spent. Go watch!! 

Thursday, April 14

China Town is silly!!

Movie - China Town (Malayalam)
Writers / Directors - Rafi - Mecartin
Producer - Antony Perumbavoor
Cast - Mohanlal, Jayaram, Dileep, Pradeep Rawat, Captain Raju, Kavya Madhavan, Poonam Bajwa, Dipasha, Suraaj Venjarammoodu, Bharat Dabolkar
Cinematography - N Alagappan
Music - Jassie Gift
Editor - Don Max
Art - Boban
Release Date - 14th April 2011

Rafi Mecartin were known for making hilarious entertainers, and the initial part of their career consisted of writing and/or directing blockbusters for Jayaram like Aniyan Bava Chettan Bava, Puthukkottayile Puthumanavalan, etc. They later moved to Dileep giving him tremendous success through films like Punjabi House, Thenkashippattanam, Thilakkam, etc and finally made their one of their biggest hits with Mohanlal through Hallo in 2007. With China Town, they managed to cast these three favourite heroes of theirs in a single film, produced by Mohanlal's man friday Antony Perumbavoor. And when these people come together, one expects nothing short of a hilarious entertainer. But unfortunately, the end result is disappointing, very disappointing. 

China Town is the name of a particular area in Goa, which is known as the Las Vegas of India. Xavier (Mohanlal) & his friends owned a Casino in this area, which the don Gawda (Pradeep Rawat) acquired by killing 3 of them. Their children got separated and grew up to be Maathukutty (Mohanlal), a goonda trying to reform; Zakkariah (Jayaram), a fraud who would do anything for money and Binoy (Dileep), a perpetually drunk flirt. The three are summoned by Gomez (Captain Raju), the only one among the 4 friends who survived the attack. He plans to give all his wealth and his casino to the three of them. What happens when the drug lord Gawda comes to know about this deal is what forms the rest of the story. And of course, there's a whole 'The Hangover' inspired sequence in the second half. 

Rafi Mecartin's movies, were always funny, even if they were good or bad in totality, till their last movie Love in Singapore, which was absurdity at its peak. Though China Town is far superior to that one, it is still miles behind their last successful comedy Hallo or any of their other entertainers. The first half has some hilarious scenes mainly because of the interactions between the three lead actors, but the second half becomes irritating, predictable and boring. And even the acting strangely becomes horrible in the second half. The plot is nothing new and the everything about the film looks so artificial, mainly because most of the film is shot inside Ramoji Film City, where even a layman can make out that every single thing that you see on screen is a film set, and not something real. The inspiration from Hangover would've been all right, if they treated it well. But they treat it in such a haphazard manner, which fails to invoke any laughter. 

Dileep is the star of the movie as he gets to shine the most. He gets the best comic scenes and lines in the first half of the movie, but later goes into overacting mode in the second half of the film. In spite of that, it is his likable character that holds the film together. Jayaram is quite consistent and does nothing extraordinary with his character. He could've been so much better, but he is still quite all right. The biggest disappointment was Mohanlal. One of the best actors in the world, and absolutely THE BEST, when it comes to acting drunk, it was heartbreaking to see him acting in a very crass manner in the drunk scenes in the second half of the movie. This is the same man who blew our minds in such scenes in No. 20 Madras Mail, Adhipan or more recently in Chotta Mumbai and Hallo. This looks like a mockery of all that he has done in the past. He has some funny interactions and scenes with Jayaram & Dileep in the first half, but it is his performance in the second half that is extremely disappointing. For a die hard fan of the actor like me, this was something intolerable. The scenes where he keeps asserting that he forgot everything that he did on the previous night, he was bordering on overacting, something which we've never seen Mohanlal doing, in his 30 year long career. He brings a smile or two in some scenes like the one where he poses as a don, and we do get to see flashes of his actual talent here and there, but on the whole the impact is extremely heartbreaking. And the kind of costumes and styling he is given in the movie, would make you want to kill the costume designer. His retro look as the father who comes just for a couple of minutes in a song was much better. 

Captain Raju is consistently wooden without even a single expression coming on his face, which was actually quite surprising as he used to be a competent actor. Kavya Madhavan looks slightly trimmer than usual, and has nothing much to do. Pradeep 'Ghajini' Rawat was quite decent. Poonam Bajwa and Dipasha are just pretty faces cast to fill in as heroines for Jayaram & Dileep. Suraaj Venjarammoodu is atrocious as usual. He has officially become the Vadivelu of Malayalam Cinema, where he plays a Dada who gets beaten up by the end of each scene. And it is not funny anymore. In fact, it was never funny. The Sumo fighter sequences were partly funny. 

The entire look and feel of the movie gives us a certain disconnect to it, as everything looks artificial and made up. Mohanlal's introduction shot is yet another badly done somersault trick a la Christian Brothers. The directors have concentrated more on the comic timings of each actor individually, and even Suraaj, when they could have created wonders utilizing the excellent chemistry that Mohanlal, Jayaram & Dileep have with each other effectively. The jokes work to a certain extent initially, but as they progress, they become stale and unfunny. The entire post-climactic sequence after the actual movie got over, was ridiculous. The Hangover plot could have made for a great adaptation even though it has been a widely seen movie, but the directors have used the influence in a terrible way which seems disastrous to people who've seen the original and know its true potential. 

Music was quite ordinary. A nice melody 'Arike Ninnalum' is ruined by a bad video where Mohanlal wears some horrible costumes. The drinking track 'Aaraanu koottu' had Mohanlal doing some awesome dance movements (again in bad costumes which restrict his fluidity). Dileep & Jayaram try and match up to him in that song to a certain extent. But the song could have been something better. It was a delight to see Mohanlal dancing after a long time (since Hallo maybe). Same is the case with the engagement song. Alagappan's cinematography serves the purpose of the film and doesnt rise above that. Don Max's editing was okay, and not irritating as his usual combinations with Shaji Kailas are. The art direction is a complete failure as none of the locales or sets in the movie look real. I understand that should not be the primary concern in a movie like this, but still they could have made it look at least a bit real, rather than advertising Ramoji Rao Film City in most of the scenes. Idea Star Singers & Ranjini Haridas randomly appearing in the movie, was far from interesting. 

China Town may succeed because of the low taste in comedy that Malayali audiences have acquired over the recent few years. But even that success has to be credited to Dileep and Suraaj Venjarammoodu. The kind of comedy Mohanlal does in this movie is not something people who love him would like to associate him with. Since the other release of the day is truly terrible and Urumi & Christian Brothers have already had their share of success, China Town may in fact, make money during the vacation period. But personally, I found the movie to be extremely mediocre and was particularly heartbroken at Mohanlal's acting in the film. I hope he redeems that with Casanova which would probably be his next release. 

Bottomline - Watch, if you have nothing else to do, or if you are a hardcore fan of Dileep. 

'Doubles' is terrible.

Movie - Doubles (Malayalam)
Director - Sohan Seenulal
Producer - KK Narayan Das
Writers - Sachi & Sethu
Cast - Mammootty, Nadia Moythu, Tapsee Pannu, Salimkumar, YG Mahendran, Saiju Kurup, Bijukkuttan, Suraaj Venjarammoodu, Anoop Chandran, Suresh. 
Director of Photography - P Sukumar ISC
Music - James Vasanthan
Editing - V Saajan
Art Direction - Gokuldas
Release Date - 14th April 2011

Doubles, the debut directorial venture by Sohan Seenulal is a terrible film that really annoys the people who paid money to watch it. Following every cliche and formula of a regular commercial Malayalam movie of this decade, it doesnt even offer a tinge of freshness or originality. And cannot even qualify as a mass (or crass) entertainer. 

Like many of our buddy or father-son movies, here we have a twin brother and sister who are best friends. The first half establishes their love and friendship. A problem crops up by the time of the interval due to some misunderstanding, and then everything gets resolved after the hero fights the villain and his goons in the climax. Broadly, this is what Doubles or any such movie is all about. The writers have constructed a silly plot around this base structure and that plot does not generate any kind of interest in the audience. Then of course, they've filled it up with poor jokes, random stunts and of course, an item song. 

Mammootty who looked smashing in his previous release August 15, looks bad and has a terrible hair style in the movie. He does not have anything to do and two or three scenes of his in the first half are the only ones which actually make you at least smile a bit. His character is so poorly written and is somebody who is blissfully unaware of everything thats happening around him, that Salimkumar's police inspector character seems more like a hero in the film. His acting does not have anything special in it this time around and  he was quite boring to be frank. Its nice to see Nadia Moythu back on screen after a long time. But she's also given a poorly written character and there is nothing that she has done with it as well. Tapsee looks cute and has the same expression throughout the film with two or three dialogues in between. And if they meant an indication that Mammootty & Tapsee are a couple by the end of the film, then thats the most atrocious casting of a couple one can think of. Salimkumar was good. The usual gang of Suraaj Venjarammoodu, Bijukkuttan & Anoop Chandran test your patience levels to the maximum. Saiju Kurup is decent. If anyone among the audience cannot guess who the actual villain is, within five minutes of his introduction, then he should be an idiot. The samy from Chandramukhi tries to create villainy, but with no effect. Same goes for the Suresh guy with a bad wig. And then there's a funny villain called Danny with a wooden expression throughout. YG Mahendran does not have anything significant to play even though he's spotted in a movie after a really long time. Then there's a horribly fat Kiran doing an ugly item song. 

The director has just translated the pathetically written script on to the screen, without bringing in any significant contribution of his own. The movie bores you, irritates you and bugs you big time. There is not a single scene or moment which one can actually like in the movie. The trustworthy P Sukumar has let us down with his dull cinematography. James Vasanthan's music makes us cringe and think if it was the same guy who composed 'Kangal Irandaal'. The stunt sequences are the usual Mammootty styled ones where there is little scope for innovation. Editing by Saajan is jerky and irritating. 

On the whole, Doubles is a really terrible movie which fails to score in any department. Despite having two talented actors/stars like Mammootty & Nadia Moythu in the lead, the makers have completely failed to utilize even 10% of their talent by giving them such poor characters to play in a pathetic script. 

P.S. - After watching Doubles, even the extremely mediocre and disappointing China Town seems like a classic. 

Bottomline - AVOID!!

Wednesday, April 13

Urumi is fantastic.

Movie - Urumi (Malayalam)
Director - Santosh Sivan
Producers - Santosh Sivan, Shaji Nadeshan, Prithviraj Sukumaran
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - Shanker Ramakrishnan
Cast - Prithviraj, Prabhu Deva, Jagathy Sreekumar, Amole Gupte, Genelia, Nithya Menen, Vidya Balan, Arya, Ankur Sharma, Robin Pratt, Alexx O'Neill, Shaji Nadeshan
Director of Photography - Santosh Sivan ISC
Additional Cinematography - Anjali Shukla, Alphonse Roy
Music & Background Score - Deepak Dev
Editing - Sreekar Prasad
Action - Anal Arasu
Art Direction - Sunil Babu
Costumes - Eka Lakhani
Make Up - Ranjith Ambady
Release Date - 31st March 2011

Not so long ago, a maverick filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino made a kickass movie called Ingourious Basterds with his own fantasized version of German History, where historical characters became part of a zany fictional story. Famed cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan & first time writer Shanker Ramakrishnan have attempted something similar in Urumi, where historical characters become part of a fantasy tale about revenge, redemption and freedom, told in the form of a ballad. If QT's Basterds told the story of a bunch of people who set out to kill Adolf Hitler, Urumi tells the story of one man and his best friend who had just one goal - the death of the famed explorer Vasco Da Gama. And as promised, Urumi is a fantastic visual experience mounted on an epic scale with an intriguing screenplay. 

The movie begins with a narration on Vasco Da Gama by Malayalam Cinema's own KPAC Lalitha, lending it the fairy tale nature which Santosh Sivan always tries to capture through his films. We see the young & aimless Krishnadas (Prithviraj) & Tarzan (Prabhu Deva) taken back to Kerala from Goa to negotiate a deal to sell KD's ancestral property to an international mining company. But before they seal the deal, they are captured by tribals who occupy the land and their head (Arya) narrates the story of their land, which spans back a few centuries. Cut to sometime during 1500 AD - Chirakkal Kothuvaal (Arya again) dies a brave death fighting against Vasco Da Gama during his second visit to Kerala. And this ignites a fire for revenge inside his son Kelu Nayanar (Prithviraj again) to kill Vasco Da Gama. He grows up with his Muslim friend Vavvali (Prabhu Deva, again) to become a fierce warrior. In the process of getting towards his goal, he gets into an alliance with Chirakkal Thampuraan (Amole Gupte) despite the presence of the scheming Chenicheri Kurup (Jagathy Sreekumar) and also meets the fiery warrior princess Arackal Ayesha (Genelia) who later joins forces with him. Whether Kelu will get his revenge or not becomes the crux of the film. 

Urumi is perhaps Santosh Sivan's finest film as a director (The Terrorist & Halo being his two other great films) and the film has his stamp all over it. When India's most celebrated cinematographer directs a movie, he is bound to tell his story through some striking images, which is exactly what Mr.Sivan has done in this movie. Unlike his previous work as a cinematographer - Raavanan, which received a lot of flak for being just a showcase for some magical visuals, Urumi unravels almost completely through the mindblowing images that Santosh Sivan has captured in his camera. Shanker's script gives ample space for Mr.Sivan to play around with his visuals which he has clearly enjoyed doing. The movie is told in the form of a ballad where history, mythology and fantasy blend seamlessly with each other. From building a mirror between present day happenings and ancient history to recreating a period seen never before in our cinema with virgin lands almost permanently covered in mist, Santosh Sivan & his writer Shanker have done a mindblowing job. And unlike the usual coconut trees, backwaters and Athirappilli waterfalls, Santosh Sivan has showcased a different kind of greenery, a different kind of Kerala in the film. And there couldnt be a better setting for the movie. 

Prithviraj is restrained as Kelu Nayanar and does remarkably well. But one misses the fire of revenge in his eyes and body language at many instances which makes his character a little weak at times. And when it comes to the initial comic portions as Krishnadas, he overdoes it a little as usual. The actor has a beefed up look (inspired by Salman Khan's Veer) which didnt create the required impact on the posters, but works very well in the film. His dialogue delivery was very good and needs special mention. Prabhu Deva completely overshadows Prithviraj by stealing the show from him in every frame they appear together (there are hardly any scenes where they are not together). Prabhu Deva brings in the comic, fun element of the film and the audience establishes an emotional connect with his character rather than the protagonist played by Prithviraj. Its a delight to see Prabhu Deva acting after a long time and that giving such a fabulous performance. He scores in every department - be it comedy, romance, dance or action.  Jagathy Sreekumar is the other scene-stealer in the movie. The legendary actor plays an effeminate minister Chenichery Kuruppu with utmost perfection. We Malayalis havent had the opportunity to see the actor in such a role earlier and he stuns us with his performance in it. Genelia is in complete contrast to the cute bubbly girl we've seen in so many movies as she plays a fiery warrior princess. She does unbelievably well in the action sequences which deserves a whole lot of appreciation for her effort and dedication. But otherwise, her performance wasnt very great. Her chemistry with Prithviraj was also very cold and didnt create any impact. Her lip sync was completely out of place as well. 

Amole Gupte is brilliant as the flamboyant king and the actor never lets us know that its a non-Malayali actor playing the role. The dubbing artiste Hareendranath also requires a special mention for doing an awesome job. The irresistible Nithya Menen plays the romantic interest of Prabhu Deva (or  should it be the other way round) and even though she is not that important in the main plot, she does extremely well in the flirtatious scenes with Prabhu Deva and the wonderful song. Arya in an extended cameo is great. Prithviraj's dubbing for him was a little unsettling initially, but then we get used to it. Vidya Balan plays the mystic character Maakkam who clears a dilemma in the mind of Kelu and features in a raunchy song as well. She does fine, but the costumes she wore in the song looked totally out of place in a film like this. She has dubbed by herself and her Malayalam was actually quite good. Ankur Sharma as the good for nothing prince Bhanu Vikraman was partly good, partly bad. That he is completely unfamiliar with the language, reflects in his acting and affects it too. Alexx O'Neil (earlier seen in Madhrasappattinam) is very good as Estavio Da Gama and Robin Pratt is equally effective as the explorer Vasco Da Gama. The co-producer of the movie Shaji Nadeshan plays the part of a dedicated soldier and has a good screen presence. The rest of the supporting cast is also very effective. Tabu's appearance in a song doesnt work all that much. 

Shanker Ramakrishnan's highly researched screenplay where history blends seamlessly with fantasy is definitely brilliant for a first time writer. He lives up to the promise he gave through his short film Island Express in the Kerala Cafe anthology. He creates a perfect mirror to what happened centuries ago through the present day events, although the good and evil have taken different forms now. He slightly loses his grip during the few romantic interludes between Prithviraj & Genelia which slows down the pace of the movie. But otherwise he grabs the audience by their throat and holds their attention till the last frame of the movie. Each character has a distinct and unique characterization and many of them have different sides to their personalities which we havent seen quite often with characters in our Malayalam Cinema. The story goes a full circle and builds up to an effective, satisfying closure with a ray of hope. The mirroring of characters from the past and the present was a great touch too. The language spoken in the movie is slightly difficult to follow, especially the significant historical details and terminologies used during that period. (I actually got a complete picture only on the second viewing, which I enjoyed even better than my first one). The dialogues are kickass to say the least. Coming from Ranjith's school of filmmaking, it is no surprise that Shanker can write really kickass dialogues. Its also a reminder that punch dialogues need not be high voltage lines which rhyme. And without resorting to that, Shanker has packed a powerful punch in so many of his dialogue. A slight MT influence creeps in here and there in the dialogue (maybe because only he has written good dialogues in this genre of films so far in Malayalam), but thats not a bad thing at all. All in all, a tremendous effort from Ranjith's protege Shanker Ramakrishnan which deserves an ovation. 

The cinematography of the film is lyrical to say the least. Each image is poetry in motion and contributes so much to the telling of the story, rather than staying just awesome visuals arranged to make a story. In addition to the director & DOP Santosh Sivan, last year's National Award winner Anjali Shukla (Kutty Srank) and Alphonse Roy (Aamir) have also worked for the film.  The virgin locations and perpetually misty atmosphere creates a completely new world different from anything we've seen on screen so far. Be it the use of different animals to enhance the frames or the slow motions shots or the extreme close ups, everything looks so bloody good. The CGI and DI are also done very effectively, especially during the fight sequence in the second half shot in a dawn effect. The only place where the visuals are jarring was the 'Aaro Nee Aaro' song which looked totally out of context in a movie like this. And the way it was shot, with extreme slow motion, looked more like it was an Amal Neerad song rather than a Santosh Sivan song. The climactic battle also could've gone easy on the slow motion, but it works even otherwise. 

Deepak Dev's music is nothing short of epic. He has realized the scale of the movie and delivered what it exactly needs. A grand score with some great songs ranging in different genres. 'Aarane Aarane' and 'Chimmi Chimmi' are the hot favourites of the season. The tribal songs 'Appa Nammude' and 'Thelu Thele' are sublimely beautiful. The beautiful 'Aaro Nee Aaro' and the sensuous 'Chalanam Chalanam' have disappointing visualizations. The theme music score is out of this world and is one of the best compositions Deepak Dev has come up with. The background score, despite the slight AR Rahman influence is brilliant, to say the least. It completely enhances the feel of the scenes and takes them to another level. One can surely say Urumi is Deepak Dev's career best work. Sreekar Prasad's editing is perfect as the movie has a seamless flow throughout. Sunil Babu's tremendous efforts at recreating the atmosphere of the bygone era has paid off richly. Ranjith Ambady's make up and Eka Lakhani's costumes are authentic as well as imaginative. Anal Arasu's action choreography is stunning. Sound Design by Rajakrishnan is pure brilliance. 

On the whole, Urumi is a complete audio visual experience which is definitely something new and rare for the Malayali audience. And all this is done within a completely entertaining format, making it one of the finest entertainers in recent times as well. Fabulous performances, stunning cinematography, great music and sound design, spectacular action and a fine screenplay transport you completely into a different world, and by the end of it all, gives us a reality check that the situations are not that different even now. Though there are a few glitches, they are not as big to hamper the great experience the movie provides on the whole. Urumi is also the kind of film which grows on you slowly and with each re-watch. Had it been a little tighter, it could've featured amongst our all time classics. Shanker Ramakrishnan proves to us that there's still some hope left in this industry. Kudos to Prithviraj, Shaji Nadeshan and Santosh Sivan for venturing into this mammoth production and coming out trumps and thereby bringing cheer to our industry. Here's wishing all the very best to August Cinema for their future endeavours. Watch, if you havent already. 

P.S. - Watch at a very good screen with extremely good projection and sound systems to enjoy the movie completely. Sridhar's poor screen and sound did impact my first viewing and I could enjoy the movie in all its glory only on a second viewing at Q Cinemas.

Bottomline - A fantastic experience which Malayalis shouldnt be missing at any cost. 

Saturday, April 9

Maappillai is a bad remake.

Movie - Maappillai (Tamil)
Writer / Director - Suraaj
Producer - Hitesh Jhabak
Cast - Dhanush, Manisha Koirala, Vivek, Hansika Motwane, Ashish Vidyarthi, Manobala
Music - Mani Sharma
Release Date - 8th April 2011

Rajnikanth's Maappillai [1989] was a humongous blockbuster and showcased Rajni in a never before fun avatar, pitted against an equally strong Srividya as his mother in law. 22 years later, the movie is remade by director Suraaj with Rajnikanth's real life Maappillai Dhanush reprising his maamanaar's role and Hindi actress Manisha Koirala stepping into Srividya's shoes. The least you could expect was an entertaining fun ride. But since the director had made the pathetic Padikkathavan earlier, I didnt have much expectations other than about Dhanush whom I knew would do an awesome job. 

And my expectations didnt go wrong. Suraaj took the original story idea and built and entirely new screenplay around it, which is quite terrible. The movie takes an eternity to get to the point. Initially you dont mind it, as Vivek and gang keeps you engaged with their comedy track. But another flashback revealing Dhanush's past was absolutely unnecessary. The original had none of this nonsense and even though it had all the mass masala elements, it stuck to its point mostly. 

Hansika Motwane falls head over heels in love with a simpleton Dhanush after he saves her from an accident. (This is called originality). They decide to get married but Hansika's mother is the powerful and arrogant Manisha Koirala who cannot accept the marriage. But later when she knows that the groom can be the types who can be kept like a servant in her own home, she decides to give consent to the wedding. She comes to know the actual truth just some time before the wedding, but she is not able to stop it from happening. From then on, it becomes a fight between the mother in law and son in law to prove money or compassion, which is mightier. And of course, our hero wins after lots of songs, fights, comedy, punch dialogues and 'aappu's. 

Dhanush is very good as Saravanan. And like I've always said, its hard to not to like him in any movie because of his earnestness and great screen presence. But when compared to Rajnikanth's original performance and the impact that creates, this one certainly pales in comparison. Dhanush has his moments and its only because of him that we dont run away from the theatres. The movie begins with Vivek's comedy track and continues for around 10-15 minutes before Dhanush makes an appearance. This track and his re-appearance in the second half are the most entertaining parts of this movie. Dhanush & Vivek share great chemistry and have superb comic timing, so most of their scenes and sequences together work, and give some good laughs, even though we've seen it all in many other movies. Manisha Koirala, the main antagonist in the movie gives the pathetic performance. I dont know why they cast someone who didnt know the language in such an important and powerful role. Somebody who knew Tamil, like Khushboo or Roja would've made a great mother in law to Dhanush. Manisha looks good in quite a few scenes, but despite the fine actress that she is, she comes up with a very poor performance which cannot even be compared to that of the late Srividya in the original. Hansika is a chubby chick who just comes and dances around in songs. She does not even make an attempt to move her lips in Tamil. So there is no question of lip sync, which most important characters like Manisha, Hansika and Ashish have decided to completely avoid. Who knows what they were speaking while shooting. Ashish Vidyarthi plays his usual role, with a funny twist at the ending.

Mani Sharma's Songs are extremely mediocre. There is not one song which makes you want to get up and dance. Only 'Ennoda Rasi Nalla Rasi' is good, and that too because the original was composed by the inimitable Ilaiyaraaj and they havent tampered the song much. Most of the movie is shot inside studios and the exterior of Manisha's house is shot at a cool hang out on ECR, 9 Feet High. Everything so damn colourful in the movie and it jars after a point. 

The funny climax scene involving the 'gym boys' was a good touch, spoofing the regular ends of such movies, but then we had seen a similar climax sequence in Boss Engira Baskaran also. And the worst part is that Dhanush wins by sheer luck and not by his own efforts and also, the problem between him and Manisha is not even solved completely. Her husband's part which had a separate sub plot in the original, is not even touched upon here. Here, we dont even know what her husband is and where he is, and she still has 'kungumam' on her forehead. So we presume he's not dead. But there is not even a mention of him. The best parts of the original were the scenes between Rajnikanth and Srividya and the punches it had. Here they dont work at all. Even the punch dialogues are boring and lifeless. All Rajni had to do to is smile, to create a punch in the original. Unfortunately, Dhanush is not Rajnikanth, even though he's a great actor. You dont even feel that the movie is complete when you leave the theater. Suraaj's terrible screenplay has done a lot of damage and it would have been so much better if he had made a remake sticking to the original screenplay. Most of his movies are excuses to tie together some funny scenes involving a leading comedian - be it Vadivelu in Maruthamalai and Vivek in Padikkathavan and Maappillai. If thats what he wants, he should go ahead and make full length comedies. Not half baked potboilers like these, which doesnt entertain other than the funny comic sequences. 

All in all, a bad remake of the original which is funny in parts thanks to Dhanush & Vivek. Suraaj has spoiled the potential of the remake with his terrible screenplay. Manisha Koirala is pathetic. Music & other technical departments also fail completely. The comedy scenes would anyway start appearing on Sun TV, Adithya and Sun Music soon. So why bother going to the theater to watch the other boring parts of the movie. 

Bottomline - Get a DVD of Rajnikanth's Maappillai and watch it again rather than wasting money on this. 

Monday, April 4

First Look - Deiva Thirumagan

Movie - Deiva Thirumagan (Tamil)
Writer/Director - Vijay
Producer - Mohan Natarajan
Cast - 'Chiyaan' Vikram, Anushka, Amala Paul, Santhanam
Music - GV Prakash Kumar
Cinematography - Nirav Shah
Editing - Anthony
Art Direction - Santhanam
Release - May 2011

Vikram's next release after Mani Ratnam's Raavanan, Deiva Thirumagan has him playing an autistic person with the mental growth of a five year old. Reportedly based on the much appreciated Hollywood film I Am Sam, starring Sean Penn, this movie tells the tale of such a person fighting for the custody of his daughter. Anushka plays an advocate in the film which also stars Mynaa fame Amala Paul and Santhanam. Director Vijay who's known for his remakes Kireedam, Poi Solla Porom and a heady mix of Titanic, Lagaan & Kisna in his last movie Madhrasappattinam, has written and directed this movie. Vikram is seen yet again in a performance oriented role and we're quite sure that he would do an extraordinary job in the movie. Music is done by Vijay's favourite composer GV Prakash Kumar. Cinematography is by Nirav Shah and editing by Anthony. The audio launch of the movie is touted to be in the coming week and the movie will get a May release if everything goes as planned. For now, here's the teaser promo of the movie featuring Vikram.