Nerkonda Paarvai review: Ajith headlines this necessary and important remake

I have to confess that Nerkonda Paarvai was a remake that I was apprehensive about. Pink was a powerful film that spoke about the importance of consent, simultaneously calling out the double standards society has set for women. It had Taapsee and Amitabh Bachchan but wasn’t a star vehicle, if you know what I mean. Placing Ajith, one of Kollywood’s biggest stars, in a film like this brought several questions. Will the core of Pink be diluted to accommodate the commercial expectations of Ajith’s fans? Will the spotlight shift from what is being said to who is saying it, ie the star?

Probably the first time I am glad, and relieved, saying this but Nerkonda Paarvai IS a fairly faithful remake. The film, for the most part, sticks to the struggles of three women — Meera Krishnan (Shraddha Srinath), Famitha Banu (a surprisingly effective Abhirami Venkatachalam), and Andreah Tariang; A drama where a lawyer helps three women claim their narrative in court. Despite knowing the story and its premise, the Tamil dialogues hit hard. It is terrific how Vinoth has created whistle-worthy punchlines from seemingly normal dialogues. Of course, there is the ‘Apdiyelam Nadakathu. Nadakakoodathu’ from the trailer. But my favourite one is where Bharath Subramaniam (Ajith Kumar) rubbishes two of the most used ‘proverbs’ — ‘Oosi idam kudutha than nool nuzhaya mudiyum’ and ‘Selai mull mela pattalum, mull mela sela pattalum, badhippu selaiku than.’ Namma eniku oosi kita ketrukom, asks Bharath. He further goes on to add that women aren’t objects, like needles and threads, but humans with emotions and more importantly, rights. And her no always means no, without any ‘conditions’.

H Vinoth has tried hard to get the balance right. Bharath Subramaniam (the name is an ode to Subramaniya Bharathi, from whose poem the title has been taken) isn’t the superhuman we usually see Ajith play on screen. Let’s just take the introduction scenes from Viswasam and Nerkonda Paarvai, shall we? The former had a sequence that spanned several minutes slowly building up to the final reveal of the star’s face. Bharath gets nothing of the sort. He is just sitting on a park bench, looking straight ahead, not paying attention to his surroundings. This is an Ajith we haven’t seen in a while on screen, and wish to see more often. Grounded and solid, Ajith’s sheer presence adds volumes of legitimacy to the character. Vinoth keeps his commercial additions to the bare minimum and makes some smart decisions as well. Vidya Balan’s exuberant charm sells a generic flashback. Even the rage and violence that Bharath exhibits in the action sequence has an explanation — even though it’s not exactly the best one out there.

Yes, there is an extra flashback and a fight. Are these necessary to the story? Definitely not. Does it push the narrative to meander a bit? Maybe. But is it a price I am willing to pay to see the crowd react the way it did during Nerkonda Paarvai? I would say yes. One of the major ‘problems’ with Pink was that it was pegged as ‘multiplex film’, and consumed as one. As a colleague succinctly said once, it preached to the choir. Nerkonda Paarvai’s biggest challenge is to break all such barriers; an Ajith film has to reach the masses, satisfy his fans. To hear the audience cheer at all the right moments, especially at some of the terrific dialogues in the second half, was worth every commercial compromise that the team had to make. For Pink, and Nerkonda Paarvai, deliver an important conversation to our living rooms. If more people will give Nerkonda Paarvai a chance because it has Ajith in it, I would gladly take an extra song or a fight sequence as the price to pay for that.

The film’s premise and theme make it the kind of film where you don’t want to dwell on the flaws and just be glad that it exists. It does have few rough edges, like its portrayal of a mental health condition. I found the consistent tautness in Shraddha Srinath’s performance a tad underwhelming, compared to the beautiful mixture of strength and vulnerability that Taapsee brought to the screen. And there’s also the film’s insistence on verbal dissent and cues, which I won’t problematise. In a time, where women still get referred to as ‘idhunga’ and are slut-shamed for their lifestyle choices, one can’t expect the larger society to transform overnight into discussing greyer areas of communicating dissent. Baby steps. Hopefully, we’ll get there soon enough.

I read that Ajith was one of the main people who rooted for Nerkonda Paarvai to happen. It mustn’t have been an easy decision — to let go of all commercial logic, step out of his comfort zone, and take a sensitive, nuanced, issue-centric script to the larger audience. Which is why I want Nerkonda Paarvai to earn money, satisfy fans or do everything that would deem it a success. If this film succeeds it would be a concrete example of how commercial films necessarily need not be only masala entertainers — that stars are allowed to experiment, get out of their creative gold prisons once in a while. Rajinikanth did it with Kabali and Kaala. Now Ajith has upped the game. Will other stars follow suit?

Jackpot review: A fun Jyothika, Revathy in a not-so-fun film

For long, I have wondered if a film with a woman protagonist could be a proper commercial film. And by commercial here, I don’t mean ‘anything that is sold’. I am talking about the masala films, with all its tropes, in all its glory — men flying around, the glitzy songs, the larger-than-life action, and so on. Jackpot has Jyothika in her massiest avatar, launching men into the air, dancing uninhibitedly to outlandish songs with the lovely Revathy for company. And the duo is out to do some outrageous things, like searching for an ‘atchaya paathiram’ in 2019. One can say Jackpot is the closest answer I have got in recent times to my initial question.

Director Kalyan’s ‘answer’ isn’t very convincing though. Kalyan seems to like creating storyscapes from the 90s — ones that feel extremely familiar and at the same time foreign, because we have left them back in the 90s. In that way, Jackpot feels like Gulebaghavali all over again. (not just because both films have Revathy as Maasha). These are stories where a ‘guduguduppukaran’ has magical powers, when an all-endowing vessel becomes the solution for world issues. Sigh, if only life works that way.

While the normal masala entertainer would rely on the star’s mass appeal, Jackpot plays the humour card. It joins the list of films that no one seems to take seriously, except for a few of us who write about films. Not the makers, and definitely not the larger audience. To call the film’s writing convenient would be an massive understatement. Here’s an example. Akshaya (Jyothika) and Maasha get stuck in a tough spot and Maasha concocts a ridiculous story to get their way out. Akshaya leans in to ask, “Unaku samalika vera kadhaye kidaikala.” It is a question that we ask Kalyan at times, given the extremely convenient turns, the narrative of Jackpot takes.

The humour doesn’t work in most places and sometimes, make you even question the standards for comedy we have these days. Body shaming Yogi Babu is usual business — I am tired of wondering who is enjoying these ‘remove your mask’ and ‘you resemble an animal’ jokes anymore. But there’s another one where Anandraj plays a woman, again neither funny nor appropriate. However, there are jokes that land, delivered mostly by Kingsley and Thangadurai. Sadly, these are few and far between.

Jackpot isn’t a great film, not even a good one in fact. However, it was quite fun to watch Jyothika and Revathy let their hair down completely — probably why they chose to be part of this film. I like how Jyothika springs a surprise — Naachiyaar after a Magalir Mattum and now a Jackpot after a Raatchasi. Even though Akshaya and Maasha aren’t the best of the characters written out there, Jyothika and Revathy’s exuberance makes a compelling argument for the film. I quite enjoyed where Jyothika parodies Durai Singam, one of Suriya’s most popular characters, and her stunts as well. I wish they were given a better film altogether, but the least would have been to give the ‘sob backstory’ a miss. But I guess that’s the line Jyothika has drawn for herself. Women just can’t have all the fun, can they?

Ispade Rajavum Idhaya Raniyum review: A complicated romance that doesn’t pretend to be anything else

Right from the word go, you know that Ispade Rajavum Idhaya Raniyum is not about people who are politically correct. We are introduced to Gautham (a powerfully convincing Harish Kalyan), who is searching for his lost soul in the mountains. And we are let into his introspection, as he ponders over his relationship with his Idhaya Rani. Gautham wears his baggage on the sleeve. It doesn’t take much to realise that he is broken, bearing the brunt of trauma. He swings between extremes, has temperament issues. But Ranjith Jeyakodi calls a spade, a spade. There is no glorification of Gautham’s toxic masculinity — an errant dialogue comes from a friend who changes her mind later. Right from his friends to Tara (Shilpa Manjunath), everyone knows Gautham is difficult. So do we, and that makes IRIR an extremely important film.

For the most part, IRIR is rooted in a real world full of flawed people. Gautham has friends who spew questionable advice, but they are there during the tough times. An ‘absent’ father who wisens up over the years. Tara meets Gautham in questionable circumstances, but she chooses to see beyond. She romanticises the violence, at first.  (aided by Sam CS’s electrifying score) Now is that ideal for her, not really. But can it happen? Yes. It is a problematic relationship that she chooses to enter. She wants to save him; she thinks she can do so. But does that make it easy? Again, not really.

IRIR is a problematic romance and also in a unique way, a coming-of-age story. Why I would rather have an IRIR, rather than say, an Arjun Reddy, is that it shows problems as they are. It shows people as they are. Somehow in the corner, there is still respect and consent. And where there isn’t, someone calls it out — bold and loud. Nobody shames the woman, the victim. Stalking is given a definition. If IRIR troubles you, think why. Is it just because we are shown people who are politically incorrect? What makes us uncomfortable with characters who aren’t easily comprehensible?

I’ll tell you what disturbed me about IRIR. Gautham’s healing process. Gautham’s sense of clarity comes out of nowhere, as a blessing in disguise, that pulls him out of the violent coping mechanism he has built for himself. For a film that took care to ensure that it is painted with reality, this seemed a bit off. Finding light through the darkness isn’t as easy as one thinks. I wish he had gotten some help of sorts, that puts him on the course to recovery. Also, we see why Gautham is drawn towards Tara. She is the inexplicable ball of light in his solemn, somber world. He says as much as well. But what does Tara see in Gautham? How does it go beyond the initial attraction? What fuels her confusion? To know that, we needed to see more of Gautham’s good days, if you know what I mean. It was probably because of this that the climax felt like a fairytale ending strapped to a complicated love story.

But all said and done, it doesn’t demerit the perspective that Ranjit Jeyakodi has given us — that love isn’t always aspirational. We are problematic people with problematic lives. What works for one, will not work for another. IRIR makes you think and what can be a better start than introspection?

Penning politics: The Yugabharathi interview

Lyricist Yugabharathi was a published writer when director Linguswamy asked him to write a song (Pallankuzhiyin Vattam Parthen, which went on to become a super hit) in Anandham. With more than 1,300 songs in his repertoire since, Yugabharathi’s journey has been adorned by a garland of songs across genres including romance, dance, and politics, the category much cherished by him. In conversation about his most recent hit, Gypsy’s Very Very Bad (which has crossed 1.4 million views), he opens up about this song which sharply critiques authoritarianism.

Read the full interview here…

Watch the full video here:

Peranbu has made me a better person: Sadhana

Sadhana is what we can call the accidental actor. Spotted by Ram, the young actor played an important role in his second film Thanga Meenkal, that rechristened her as Chellamma to the Tamil audiences. Little did she expect that she would get a National award for her performance. After all, nobody had expected her to act in the first place. “My family has always been ardent supporters of art but they never expected that someone from the family would act in films. My mother just asked me to give it a shot and see if I am able to do it.” The reception, Ram’s confidence and of course, all were a surreal surprise. “On one hand, we were all so elated, and on the other hand I wasn’t even sure if I deserved it,” she says unassumingly. The talented actor is now back with Ram’s upcoming film Peranbu, where she shares the screen with Mammootty and also takes on the challenge of playing an adolescent girl affected by cerebral palsy.

Read the full interview here:

Watch the full interview here:

Vantha Rajavathaan Varuven Review: This Simbu-starrer and Sundar C directorial is a tiring rehash of rehashes

Sigh, what do I write about a film like Vantha Raajavathan Varuven? Let me rephrase that. What can I write about it that doesn’t make me sound like a creaking, ancient gramophone? That was the challenge I set myself as I walked out of the theatre. It is quite a task, especially when Vantha Raajavathan Varuven feels like the end product you get when you throw Poove Unakaga and Minsara Kanna into a blender, which is funny considering that it is a remake of the Telugu film Attarintiki Daredi. (I haven’t watched the original, and right now, I am thanking my stars!) Problematic humour, objectification of women, self-indulgent dialogues — even VRV’s flaws aren’t original; so much so, that, if I pick bits and pieces from my previous reviews it would still make absolute sense.

Read the full review here…

Sarvam Thaala Mayam is a joyous tale: Rajiv Menon

As Rajiv Menon talks, it is fascinating to see how he seamlessly eases into a tune or two in between the silences. “There is Thaalam in everything. Sita Kalyanam, a song sung at Brahmin weddings, is the same raaga as Kuttanadan Punjaiyile, a song sung by men at boat races,” he explains. This omnipresence of music is what he wishes to bring out with his new film, Sarvam Thaala Mayam. The film documents the life journey of an aspirant mridangist who wishes to break communal hurdles. “All of us have an innate sense of rhythm. Only if I kindle that emotion will the film not get stuck within an instrument. It’s meant to appeal to the sense of music in us,” he explains.

Read the entire conversation here…

The interview in video:

90 ML review: A decent girl-gang outing with more pros than cons


The trailer of 90 ML, when it was unveiled sometime back, set a lot of tongues wagging. The film was branded ‘sleazy’, the content ‘shocking’, even before the film hit the screens. The sneak peeks and the promos didn’t really help the image. Well, spoiler alert. There is not much that’s sleazy or shocking in the film. Well, not more than the audience reactions anyway. But let me come to that later. What 90 ML is, is superficial, outrageous but also fairly fun when Anita Udeep doesn’t push it too far.

Rita (Oviya), an unabashed fun-loving woman who lives life on her own terms, moves to a new apartment and strikes a friendship with four women who live in the same housing complex. Rita steps down the auto with a cigarette in hand, lit by the auto-driver. The intent is to get the viewer’s attention and that is effectively done. To balance this and make Rita not too alien (to the people in the colony and our mainstream audience), the same sequence has Rita handing out chocolates to almost every kid in the building. Okay, I am exaggerating a bit, but I did wonder if she had a candy store in her bag. Anyhow, this isn’t the kind of film where you look for that sort of depth. Rita is more of an idea than a character — fiercely independent who strictly follows her ‘my life, my rules’ philosophy. Thankfully, Anita Udeep doesn’t burden this idea with a backstory, trying to ‘explain’ why she is so. “If I had a sob flashback, would that make what I do okay? I just do what I like,” says Rita. I sighed in relief.

It wasn’t Rita’s recklessness that was interesting in the first place anyway. Rather, it was the four women she befriends. Each with their own set of problems — Thamarai, Kaajal, Paru, and Sukanya are fascinated by Rita’s unbridled life. Bored of their own lives, they explore, mostly just to get the high of trying something new. First, it is drinking, then it is make-up and so on. Bommu and Masoom, actors who play Thamarai and Kaajal are especially charming with refreshing innocence — Oviya’s performance feels the most clunky of the lot. 90 ML touches infidelity, homosexuality, live-in relationships and also subtly touches upon the importance of an active love life. As much as the film loudly shouts across a few points, it also documents subtle change — like how Paru becomes comfortable with a lesbian friend after initial hesitation. Despite having an A certificate, I wonder why certain dialogues about homosexual intercourse were muted out. The talk about sex and their love lives feel natural, so does the curiosity around, which by itself is a game changer for women on-screen in Tamil cinema. But for the most part, 90 ML is a version of the masala film template — there are unnecessary songs, action etc. I wish it hadn’t. Though, it only gets tiring when it is stretched a tad too long in the second half of the film.

The biggest advantage that 90 ML has is its non-problematic humour (except for a very few scenes — a man checks the pockets of a short haired girl, ‘thinking’ she is a boy. Why?). But it is definitely bliss to hear innuendos that don’t make you cringe. There’s a bungalow ‘reference’ that I found particularly innovative. Unlike Iruttu Araiyil Murattu Kuthu or Hara Hara Mahadev Ki, it wasn’t the jokes that made me uncomfortable, rather it was the reactions that they fetched that made me squirm. Every time someone kissed on screen, it was greeted with loud catcalls and cheers from the audience, along with the occasional ‘wow’. In fact, a gentleman thought it would be appropriate to shout, “Adhelam seri, matter enga?” during the film. I wonder if that’s why Anita Udeep chose to cut a trailer that only picked the most expletive moments. Or chose to have a song like ‘Sugabanam’ (STR’s music is generic but it fits the film.) where all the women do is flaunt their curves seductively for the camera? If the film had been promoted as just a fun movie about women and their love lives, would it have gotten a 5 am show at multiple theatres? That’s some food for thought.

To Let review: An astute portrayal of house-hunting and houses

In a recent interview, director-cinematographer Chezhian says that every film can be brought down to a word, or a sentence. For example, he said Paradesi’s word was ‘Idapeyarpu’. As I walked out of Chezhian’s To Let, I was wondering what this film’s word would be. Globalisation is one word — the film does begin with a card that places it in the immediate aftermath of globalisation. Is it ‘search’? To Let, as the name suggests, is about a family’s search for a house. But none of these words throws its arms around in its entirety. I did find a word that almost serves the purpose — realism. Well, almost. Continue reading “To Let review: An astute portrayal of house-hunting and houses”

LKG review: A fairly entertaining political satire

Most of our political films promise us a messiah — a saviour in the form of a leader. With an exception of Annanukku Jey, another political comedy, our films in this sphere have been about an apolitical person being pushed into the realm. They rise up to the occasion, lifting up the system from the rut it has been stuck in for years in the process. We saw it in Mudhalvan, we saw it in Sarkar and also, in NOTA. The biggest thing that works for LKG is that Lalgudi Karuppaiah Gandhi is no hero, at least in the conventional sense. And that RJ Balaji, who makes his debut as a lead, doesn’t try to be one as well. (Here’s an A+ for that!) Continue reading “LKG review: A fairly entertaining political satire”

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