Mohan's Measures:

✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ Superb
✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ Excellent
✳ ✳ ✳ Good
✳ ✳ Not Bad

Friday, September 8, 2017

Yuddham Sharanam - Arjun Ready

Yuddham Sharanam
(Surrendering to War)

2017, Telugu

directed by Krishna Marimuthu

Naga Chaitanya as Arjun
Lavanya Tripathi as Anjali
Srikanth as Nayak
Rao Ramesh as Murali Krishna
Revathi as Seetha Lakshmi

Murali Sharma as Jayadev "JD" Shastri

Mohan's Measure ✳ 

Telengana has a history going back to the age of Mughal Kings. The representatives of this Empire, known as the Nawabs, ran the Deccan area as an Islamic State.

Now that it is a State of its own, it seems to be facing something of an identity crisis, as can be seen in Yuddham Sharanam.

The Cosmopolitan Metropolis of Hyderabad serves as the capital of the new state, and it is in this mix of Indian, Islamic, Chinese, and even American culture, a secular rich reside, work and play.  Unlike the other Arjun movie, however, the Arjun of this movie is a dedicated member in cultured but caste-less, and largely godless family. Decidedly nuclear and undeniably sophisticated, the family finds warmth in the meaning of life interpreted by such families, gifts, restaurants, fancy clothing, and a Western-looking home. In such a family, so muses Arjun, nothing possible can ever go wrong and life can be a truly beautiful experience. That is until...

The "until" is where the crux of the problem lies.  Because just like the rest of India, the "Americanized" city of Hyderabad is far from American morals.  Corruption breeds more corruption, as money brings the possibility of wealth beyond imagination.  One can only wonder to what extent of barbarism human beings can go to gain the power and security found in what to philosophers is little more than sheets of paper.

Yuddham Sharanam is really two scripts rolled into one.  The first half is a one of those dreamy Indian rom-coms, where the boy is the perfect son, the girl next door becomes a perfect bride, and where good and loving parents smirk understandingly as a love story unfolds.  But, somehow the charming Ms. Tripati goes schizophrenic on us too, as she suddenly dons a pair of shorts and a see through top - really, from the girl next door?

It is, however,  the second half which really confuses us as layers upon layers of people are killed by a don, at times for no reason at all.  Why would such a man, having more power than any government, find a threat in a nuclear family, even if they witnessed one of his hits?  The question is even more puzzling when we discover that the perfect son can easily turn into a one man army to destroy him.

The young, perfect son, Arjun, goes to the extent of employing the Chinese water torture to make henchmen tell him about the world's most wanted don, Nayak.  Just how does a young man dreaming of being an inventor find time to study torture, what to speak of working on six-pack abs?

There is another identity crisis here, too, the role of police.  In a movie about vigilante justice, there is little room for honest cops.  So, the resourceful and noble one at the beginning becomes a corrupt one at the end, making the star the only hero.

Yes, there are clever moments in the movie, but they are too few to count.  But, despite the cleverness, there is something telling us that this movie, like so many others in Tollywood, lost control to storyline, leaving the plot behind.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Aandavan Kattalai - "DACA" - ments

Aandavan Kattalai
(God's Will)

2016, Tamil

directed by M Manikandan

Vijay Sethupathi as Ganthi Arumugam
Ritika Singh as Karmeghakuzhali
Pooja Devariya as Aarthi
Nassar as Master
Yogi Babu as Muthupandi Selvam
George Maryan as the senior lawyer

Singampuli as Kumaresan

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

It is the rich growing fields contained within the valleys of South Tamil Nadu which first gave it success, and also the strength to hold sway over much of South and East Asia for centuries.  With the onset of Post-Raj India, people are now desperate to leave it.  But, it is among the middle class, the ones whose lives, much like ours, are ones of quiet desperation, where we find the greatest humanity.

Ganthi is one such human being.  Hoping to find money to feed his family, he leaves his little farming village near Madurai to find a way to get to London.  Under the guidance of con-artists pretending to be travel agents, his aspirations turn to desperate measures in listing a name of a wife on his travel papers.  His goal, at least the one he is forced to take, is to go to London as a tourist and then declare himself a refugee.

He soon finds, however, that there are more honest means to get to London, and in an attempt to have an honest visa, he must now remove the name.  Which means turning up with the wife of the same name, Karmeghakuzhali.  Well, it just so happens that a reporter for a local television station has that very rare name.  The rest, as we say, is the stuff of good comedy.

Aandavan Kattalai is an unpretentious little film, which has the look and feel of low-budget art film.  The songs are there simply in the background; the flashy dance sequences of Telugu cinema being left to that industry.  Vijay Sethupathi plays whom he plays best, himself. He is a grounded man with solid values who somehow finds himself victim to a bad con.  But, he is determined to correct himself.

Impressive too is Ritika Singh as the reporter.  She is this refreshingly conservative but sure of herself Tamil girl to whom all of us can relate.  She has a job to do, and she will do it well. But, she is enough of a woman to know a good man when he comes along. Interestingly, the North Indian actress speaks Tamil fluently, and this only adds to the naturalness of the movie.

Nassar has a small but impressive role as the man who is impressed with the young man's honesty and is willing to support him on the path of good, which inevitably leads to love.

A refreshing change from the usual, and an panacea from Arjun Reddy, Aandavan Kattalai restores faith in India.  More such films are on the way, God Willing.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Puriyatha Puthir - A woman scorned

Puriyatha Puthir
(The Mysterious Puzzle)

Tamil, 2017

directed by Ranjit Jeyakodi


Vijay Sethupathi as Kathir
Gayathrie as Meera
Ramesh Thilak
Arjunan as DJ
Mahima Nambiar as Mrithula

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

 Christianity can be traced to the Tamil shores from a time going back to the apostle Thomas.  While the morality of Tamil culture remains firmly fixed in Thirukkural, the cultural milieu of film noir, even in this State, remains Roman Catholicism.

A twin white rose, the symbol of Mary Magdalene is clearly visible in the student apartment of Mrithala Matthews, and above it a simple altar dedicated to the Virgin.  It tells a lot about her character, as that of Meera, her orphan roommate and soulmate.  Both women's lives are delicately intertwined; but like Magdalena, one is dropped from virgin to whore. But, to become a saint in Catholicism means the ultimate sacrifice, and both are deserving.

Such symbols abound in Puriyatha Puthir, and is to contemplate on the subtlety of their meaning, as well as that of poetic justice, is this predictable movie's saving grace.  Sadly, such symbolism is not well known among movie critics, leave alone Tamil Nadu's mass audiences; nor too is the artistic style of making good film noir.  Such film-making is carefully prepared, slow to evolve, such that it settles into the soul.

Vijay Sethupathi plays Kathir, with this subtlety, in the way of Dana Andrews, as hero to a strong female lead.  Kathir is a down to earth man, once lover and fighter, and yet he is forced into a state of desperate heroism, trying to save a woman from an unknown stalker.  A clever twist of using the smart phone makes a classic noir very current indeed, as current as the recent privacy law which the Indian Supreme Court enacted.

The closing credits bring this law to our attention, as a small but intelligent audience leaves the theater, contemplating The Rose.



Friday, September 1, 2017

Arjun Reddy - the Barbaric East

Arjun Reddy
Telugu, 2017

directed by Sandeep Vanga

Vijay Deverakonda as Arjun Reddy
Shalini Pandey as Preeti
Jia Sharma as Herself
Kanchana as Arjun's grandmother
Rahul Ramakrishna as Shiva
Sanjay Swaroop as Arjun's father
Kamal Kamaraju as Gautham (Arjun's elder brother)
Gopinath Bhat as Preeti's father

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳

India is home to some of the last remaining classical civilizations.  But, as much as it is reluctant to let go of its stronghold on the past, it is ironically one of the fastest changing societies in the world.  And, as with all cultures, it shapes itself through its storytelling, the best storyteller of the day being the motion picture.

Arjun Reddy tells of a change to something far more dangerous, far more visceral than what Periyar or Sri Sri could have even begun to imagine.  The tale is set around a top-notch surgeon of the title name who spends his life, including times in the operating room, high on drugs and alcohol.  Desperate for sex, he seeks out purely physical relationships with no strings attached, and is shocked when he finds women do not want that.

And, through it all, we as an audience are supposed to feel sorry for him; sorry that he didn't have the courage or discipline to deal with a girl's father, sorry that a surgeon would not be accountable to the life of his patients, sorry that he stands on a soapbox favoring the putrid lifestyle he leads - all because of a college romance.

Romance is perhaps overstatement for the repeated kissing and sweaty body scenes that make this movie R-rated.  For it is really only about sex, between the convincing actor and plasticized first time actress. First-timer Ms. Pandey finds it in herself to be like any other North Indian in Telugu film.  She maintains the very same expression, whether in the classroom or in afterglow.  And, yet , we are asked to feel sorry for her too, for falling into the sheets with a guy she hardly knows, for dumping the values of her conservative family, and for keeping the baby of the coward who had no courage to make things work out.

How sad the awful truth, that the industry which brought us Bahubali and Fidaa, is now the same one which cowers in cheap imitation of Bollywood.

And yet, in a way that is most telling of Telugu movies, even this hopeless story must have a happy ending. I can only quote from a movie from the same genre:

Ik baar ko tajalli toh dikha de 
Jhoothi sahi magar tasalli to dila de 
Ve ki karaan?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sathuranga Vettai - Gandhian Values

Sathuranga Vettai
(The hunt of chess)
2014, Tamil

directed by H Vinoth

Natraj...Gandhi Babu
Ishaara Nair...Bhanu


Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

It is the drive for money which causes decadence in the society, so says the Ramayana.  It goes on to show that a trusted ruler is one who ensures no one ever has too much or too little; an equal distribution of wealth rooted in encouragement of a higher good.

This is not what Gandhi Babu wants. Having lived with tragedy and poverty, he synonymizes the two, encouraging him on the way of the conman.  It will take Bhanu's undying love to show him otherwise, to teach him the value of the intangible, of love, of goodness, of honesty.  But, to make it happen, Babu will have to do one more con, one that puts his life on the line against an angry mobster.

Deeply centered on Tamil culture's focus on subtle aesthetic of life, Sathuranga Vettai is one of the very few pulp noir Tamil films which works.  Largely because of its powerful message, the movie puts "pulp" in the background, while letting noir work itself into a poetic justice, bringing to closure a man's sordid life and opening him up to a happier, or at least more peaceful, new start.

Superb acting by all involved, and a relatively real world view of the streets of Tamil Nadu's cities and towns, makes Sathuranga Vettai a great watch, and good preparation for its soon to be arriving sequel.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Jaya Janaki Nayaka - Dons, dandy, and eye-candy

Jaya Janaki Nayaka
(Victory to Sita's Husband)

directed by Boyapati Srinu

Bellamkonda Sreenivas as Gagan
Rakul Preet Singh as Sweety
Jagapathi Babu as Ashwadh Narayana Varma
Sarath Kumar as Chakravarthy
Suman as Central Minister
Tarun Arora as Arun Pawar
Vani Viswanath as Aswith Narayana's sister
Sithara as Aswith Narayana's wife
Jayaprakash as JP

Dhanya Balakrishna as Sweety's friend

Mohan's Measure  0 

One of the key indicators of South Indian movies turning out to be terrible is the Times of India.  When it gives a Telugu movie a good review, it is time to run for the hills.

Jaya Janaki Nayaka is not a terrible movie; it is several terrible movies put together. It takes characters, plots, even costumes from other movies in a jumbled mess, mixes it in a blender, adds plenty of tomato juice, and serves it to us with eye candy as a shake. More like poison, if you ask me.  To describe the experience of watching this film - it is like having to watch Catherine Tresa (yes, she is in this movie, too) do an item number while struggling with the stomach flu.

C-rated actor Bellamkonda Sreenivas plays the role of the hero much in the way Mr. Spock would play a romantic lead.  Chemistry is left in the classroom.  The guy sports the same ridiculous plasticized look on his face whether he is hugging his lover or beheading a bad guy.  

His heroine is no prize either.  Ms Singh must have the same acting coach as Shah Rukh Khan, because she too has a set of 5 to 7 facial expressions she puts on when that number of fingers is held up.

Unfortunately, both these characters are staged with a set of top notch character actors who play...well...characters from other movies.   You have Sarath Kumar from Arasan (complete with veshti), Jagapathi Babu from Lingaa, and Jaya Prakash as well...Jaya Prakash.  Finally, you get some joker name Tarun Arora to do a half-baked imitation of a villain wearing Prakash Raj's clothing from another bad film which isn't coming to mind.

What does the director do? He sits around and watches while these folks and their minor sidekicks battle it out to show who is the best Don in the bunch.

Just like an episode of Big Boss.  By the way, who's Janaki? Who cares!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Anando Brahma - you heard it right

Anando Brahma
(God is Happiness)
2017, Telugu

directed by Mahi V Raghav

Tapsee as Leela
Vennela Kishore
Srinivas Reddy
Thagubothu Ramesh
Shakalaka Shankar
Rajeev Kanakala

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳

It is a quaint old home in a unknown town which seems to serve as the focal point for ghost stories; at least as far as Tollywood and Kollywood are concerned.  Taking the set from Sangili Bungili Kadhava Thorae, Anando Brahma delivers yet another frightening, but fun-filled family tale of self-operating doors and apparent apparitions.

As ghostly as the movie is the information about it.  Little is offered on the web, not even in Wikipedia, to explain the story, its actors, or Ms Tapsee's pivotal role.

What I can tell you is that while Ms. Tapsee serves as the center of the ghostly tale, it is the four comedians which make the comedy breezy and laugh-a-minute.  Much like its Tamil equivalent, the movie throws us back to old movie dialogues and music, satirical wit and over the top slapstick adding to the fun.

Best among the group is Shakalaka Shankar, who comes up with an impressive set of impersonations of movie stars and famous movies (including Bahubali), which brings out the chuckles in the small but interested audience. Funny too is the very impressive drunken outpourings of Thagabothu Ramesh, who is akin to the late, great Foster Brooks in his imitation of the inebriated.  

While I am not sure what it can do for an actress who has been praised for her roles in Pink and Naam Shabana,  Anando Brahma certainly uplifts our spirits by awakening those of others.