Sunday, January 13, 2019

Petta - Movie Review

When the trailer and the chartbusting number ’Marana Mass’ were released, it was evident that this was going to be a Rajini show all the way. A director with an interesting filmography like Karthik Subbaraj helming this project, Petta could have been yet another movie in the recent list of experimental flops starring Rajini. But, as Karthik Subbaraj rightly words it in the beginning, this is an ode to the cult of Thalaivar and he succeeds in revering this demigod we know as Superstar Rajinikanth.

In a lackluster decade, Rajinikanth gave us glimpses of his much-loved style and mass appeal in Kabali and Kaala. But the former failed and the latter only managed to sail through decently. But Petta brings back the trademark Rajinikanth that his ardent fans have been craving for. The sheer amount of frenzy, the gooseflesh inducing entry, his slick and stylish gait – it all finally fell in place in Petta.

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Kaali (played by Rajinikanth) joins a residential college set in a picturesque hill station as the hostel warden. He flexes his muscles against the domineering seniors as well as wields a ladle to stir up delicious food in the hostel. His charm and style make him an instant hit among the students, especially Anwar (played by Sanath Reddy) who request Kaali to convince his girlfriend’s pretty mother (played by Simran) about their relationship. The movie then takes a violent turn when Kaali’s past as Petta is revealed, where he is embroiled in a long-standing enmity with Singaaram AKA Singaar Singh (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The rest of the plot is the high-voltage action drama between Petta, Singaar Singh and his son-cum-henchman, Jitu (played by Vijay Sethupathi).

The plot summary may seem like a usual Rajini fare – one man fighting a bunch of baddies. But it is the treatment that makes Petta more watchable. Karthik Subbaraj uses a breezy and light color scheme to develop the story in the first half, which essentially is worshipping Rajinikanth. He ticks all the points off a Rajini revering checklist– a massy opening song, a well styled lead character, suave and power that make a warden more powerful than the Principal, a high-octane fight sequence and generous loads of punchlines. It is everything a hardcore Rajinikanth fan wants and I thoroughly enjoyed this collective experience in a theatre filled with hoots and whistles.

Post interval, the movie shifts gears to a more action-filled environment, with Petta’s past in Madurai. Rural feuds escalated by an inter-caste marriage cause Petta to change his identity to Kaali. Years later, he is confronted by his past in the form of Singaaram and Jithu. This change in tonality from the first half to the second is not transitioned well. The movie changes from a light-hearted Rajini flick to a Rajini action drama rather swiftly. Though the transition was not smooth, Karthik Subbaraj and his DoP Tirru deserve the applause for creating frames in the hues of orange, red and yellow during the fight sequences. This adds a raw appeal to the suave Kaali and further enhanced the well-choreographed (though overdrawn) fight sequences. Having said that, the second half had a lot of unnecessary or stretched sequences which made this movie quite long (almost three hours). Not many, other than fans, can spare attention for such a long time.

Moving over the bumpy ride in the second half, the movie works for its great music by Anirudh as well. Much like the camerawork, the music adds to the cult of Rajinikanth. While the actors are decent in their parts, all of them are overshadowed by the mighty Thalaivar, who owns the screens. I did not quite understand the need to have Nawazuddin Siddiqui, since this was a role any Tamil actor could have played. Vijay Sethupathi, gets to display wry humor as the staunch Hindutva supporter and is a good match to Rajini. Simran and Bobby Simha get smaller roles and are limited to only serving their purpose. The eminence of Trisha in the movie is as much as it has been in this review. An interesting observation was the subtle political references of a Hindutva party, goons acting as Gau Rakshaks and forcefully getting people married on Valentine’s Day. Since they were shown as antagonists, it seemed like a veiled jibe by the actor-turned-politician at a leading political party.

Petta could have been much more nuanced and refined. It deserved better writing in the second half. But when it comes to celebrating the cult of Rajinikanth, I guess all that matters is to get the audience ‘Rajinified’! The bottom line is Petta is old wine in a new bottle. But hey, wine tastes better with age!

My Rating – 3/5

F2 - Fun and Frustration - Movie Review

Men versus women and husband versus wives are themes which have always been the masses’ favorite. Starting with the likes of ‘Kshemanga Velli Labamgarandi’ and ‘Sandade Sandadi’ in the 1990s, this has been a genre of madcap comedy, which had faded into the oblivion. Reviving it in 2019, director-writer Anil Ravipudi brings to the Telugu audiences an out-and-out comedy movie, F2 – Fun and Frustration, starring Venkatesh, Varun Tej, Tamannah and Mehreen Pirzada. For the audience, it is mostly fun but not without some frustration.

Unlike the usual blending of comedy with action, drama or horror, F2 starts with the sole motive of leaving its audiences in splits. As evident from its trailer, there is not much of a plot. Venky (played by Venkatesh) gets married to Harika (played by Tamannah). His initial days of ‘fun’ turn into ‘frustration’ with a cribbing and complaining wife and her family. His misogyny is fittingly answered by the feminist Harika, her younger sister, Honey (played by Mehreen Pirzada) and her family – a dominating mother, a ‘rubber-stamp’ father and two bickering grandmothers. In a first-half filled with moments of hilarity, Honey gets engaged to Varun (played by Varun Tej). History repeats itself and Varun’s ‘fun’ turns into ‘frustration’, which also moves the movie from a Seenu Vaitla style Indian comedy to a Sajid Khan style ‘Houseful’ set in Europe.

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I could not help but draw parallels to Seenu Vaitla – the flag-bearer of madcap comedies in the 2000s, until his recent flops. Much like Vaitla’s films and his previous hit ‘Raja- the Great’, Anil Ravipudi creates a make-belief world filled with comical characters. He is greatly benefitted by the comic timing of Venkatesh, who owns the scenes he is in. I also felt the second half was a lot like the Houseful series in Hindi – bikini clad heroines, foreign locales and heroes trying to get into Boman Irani’s household. Only difference being the Boman Irani here is Prakash Raj. What I also liked was the subtle nostalgic references to the 1990s – theme music from Venkatesh’s Raja playing in the background or the female leads breaking into a dance to the song, ‘Pelli Kala Vachesinde Bala’. It is also commendable that the ensemble cast also gets their comic timing right, including veterans like Annapurna and Y Vijaya.

As I said, it is mostly fun, but it also gets frustrating for the audiences. The songs lack a punch and come more as a hindrance to the narrative than add any value and are forgettable. Also, the story before the interval moves at a brisk pace and does work towards setting up the plot. But the second half feels overdrawn and repetitive, with the story turning into a man versus woman war. Even Vennela Kishore’s entry towards the end, does not add much to the story and could have been done away with (though he does evoke laughs as ‘Jon Snow from the North’). These anomalies make the two-and-a-half-hour-long runtime seem a little stretched. The length allows the makers to balance the misogyny and pseudo-feminism in the movie. Men and women are equally at fault or worthy of credit.

The fun moments are enhanced by pitch-perfect performances by the entire cast. It was surprising to see Mehreen Pirzada emote and don a role which required her to make fun of herself. Complimenting her well as her elder sister was Tamannah, who seemed to share a warm camaraderie with her sister and her husband, played by Venkatesh. Varun Tej, as the ‘Cobra’, gets a Telangana accent and shares a great bro-bond with Venkatesh. Despite his age, Venkatesh still shines in his comic scenes and is a delight to watch. Prakash Raj and Rajendra Prasad, among the others, support the narrative well.

It is great to see a madcap comedy after a long time, without the leads being shown as masculine ‘heroes’ with a bunch of comedian sidekicks. F2 is good fun, but with a little frustration.

My Rating – 3/5

Saturday, January 12, 2019

NTR Kathanayakudu - Movie Review

One of the luxuries that writer-director Krish enjoyed while making NTR Kathanayakudu was the freedom to stretch it as much as possible, since the biopic has been split into two parts. It is a luxury that he enjoys and ensures that his audience enjoys as well, albeit only to a certain extent. While Mahanati, based on actress Savitri’s life, was a crisper take on her life journey, NTR Kathanayakudu is a more exhaustive revisiting to the life and times of Nandamuri Tarakarama Rao, popularly known as NTR.

The movie traces the journey of a young Rama Rao (played by Balakrishna), a newly appointed sub-registrar in Bezawada, married to Basavatarakam (played by Vidya Balan) and father to a baby boy. The portions before the interval traverses through his struggles in the industry and how he turns it into his stronghold. This is where a whole lot of actors make cameos as film personalities of the yesteryears. Much like Mahanati, his initial struggle and commitment towards his work is shown well. But unlike Mahanati, the drama is not subtle and tends to become melodramatic, like the monologue on Andhra being different from Madras or the sequence around a death in his family. Also, the actors reprising yesteryear’s filmstars neither resemble the stars much nor try emulating them, which reduces the novelty. These are still minor aberrations and can be overlooked.

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It is post the interval, where the movie changes its gears and starts to add the flavors of public service and politics. It is evident that the makers have the upcoming elections on mind and hence, the benevolent and public friendly side of NTR is carefully highlighted. The legends and cults about NTR and his charisma are in full display, with special emphasis given to his illustrious mythological characters. Balakrishna has certainly worked hard to appear uncannily similar to his father and the prosthetics and VFX have also helped to a great extent. He also delivers powerful dialogues well, much like his father. But he lacks the expressive and handsome face that his father had in his youth. You cannot blame him much, since his age shows on the screen. While NTR’s iconic Lord Krishna character was mounted with equal grandeur, Balakrishna looked slightly old. The most uncomfortable reprisal was Balakrishna playing Bruhanalla from Nartansala – a transgender character immortalized beautifully by his father. Unlike Keerthy Suresh who transformed herself in the Maya Bazaar portions in Mahanati, Balakrishna falls short of being as expressive as his father was in Nartanasala.

The music by M.M Keeravani adds the right amount of grandeur to the aura of NTR. This is one of the most restrained and measured performances by Balakrishna, who seemed more believable as NTR in the second half during the later years of NTR’s life. Vidya Balan plays a warm and supportive wife but gets a smaller part in the scheme of things. The rest of the cast is also fine in their parts. I wish Jr. NTR had played NTR in the younger days, just as I wish Naga Chaitanya would have looked better as the younger ANR. Having said that, both Balakrishna and Sumanth looked their part in the second half, when the movie traces the life of NTR in his 60s. Another wish I had was for the length to be shorter. Many sequences, such as the one with Relangi (played by Brahmanandam) or the unnecessary sermon to Savitri (played by Nithya Menen), could have been done away with to reduce the length.

In the end, NTR Kathanayakudu left me content but not completely happy. It has its flaws and has an evident underlying agenda overshadowing other aspects of NTR’s life. Yet, it makes for an engaging watch. The political side in NTR Mahanayakudu and its counter-attack in the form of YSR biopic, Yatra, will clash next month and it will be interesting to see who comes out as the messiahs of the masses. Till then, NTR Kathanayakudu taking us through the acting career of NTR, certainly makes for a decent watch.

My Rating – 3/5

Friday, December 28, 2018

Best of 2018: Telugu Movies

Known for its grand scales and male-centric movies, Telugu Film Industry showed a drift towards content-driven cinema. While the box office continued to be ruled by mass entertainers such as Aravinda Sametha and Bharat Ane Nenu, smaller movies also managed to draw attention. One of Tollywood’s favorite genre in recent times has been Indie Rom-Coms and 2018 was no different, with movies like Chi La Sow and Sammohanam winning praise. But the most promising trend that started in 2018 was meatier roles for women. While U-Turn and Bhaagmathie were labelled as women-centric, movies like Rangasthalam and Awe brought women to the forefront. Irrespective of the box-office numbers, I decided to pick my favorites from 2018 solely based on content and appeal.

Movies (in no particular order)

Awe: What started off as an anthology, soon turned into a thrilling tale of intertwined lives. It cohesively combined various stories, including an imaginary one where a fish and a tree speak, is no ordinary feat. Prashanth Varma achieved this through a well written screenplay, which was amply supported by the performances. Oh yes, it also had Telugu Cinema’s first Lesbian lead couple!

Mahanati: The life and times of Mahanati Savitri were not only captured beautifully, but the scale and attention to detail ensured the audiences were transported back to the same era. Keerthy Suresh’s fascinating transformation into Savitri, catapulted her to instant fame and praise. Also, the wonderful cameos by dozen-odd actors reprising stalwarts from the yesteryears added to the nostalgia.

Goodachari: Just when you lament the dearth of slick espionage thrillers down south, trust Adivi Sesh to bring something novel to the table. Made on a shoestring budget, Goodachari was a perfectly baked thriller that created waves upon its release. Some parts of it may seem contrived, but the racy pace does not let you complain.

Rangasthalam: The first movie that made me believe that Ram Charan can act deserves a mention on this list. Director Sukumar has helmed various projects previously, but the rustic treatment, authentic dialect of the Godavari districts and a much believable world made Rangasthalam an instant hit. Not to forget the better-written role of Ramalakshmi (Samantha), which is a rarity in hero-centric films.

Special Mention: Bhaagmathie, Ee Nagariniki Emaindi and U-Turn

Performances (in no particular order)

Ram Charan (Rangasthalam): With Chittibabu, Ram Charan broke the mold of quintessential Telugu film here. As the small-time rookie in the town of Rangasthalam, he mastered the rural dialect and looked every bit of a ‘sound engineer’ – one with hearing difficulties. This was an endearing and honest performance, which canvassed his acting skills.

Keerthy Suresh (Mahanati): On the cusp of being written off as yet another ‘bubbly heroine’ in Telugu and Tamil cinema, Keerthy Suresh gave a knockout performance, reprising late actor Savitri. She looked regal, re-enacted scenes from Savitri’s classics and never played a note out of place. It was a role of a lifetime and she lived way beyond the expectations!

Samantha Akkineni (U-Turn, Rangasthalam): Being one of the most sough-after actresses currently, Samantha needed a strong part, after playing second fiddles in hero-centric movies. And she redeemed herself by delivering two strong roles, one of which (U-Turn) was completely carried by her. It will be interesting to see how she follows these up in 2019.

NTR Jr (Aravinda Sametha): Though I had my issues with the narrative and its addressing of ‘feminism’, there is no denying that NTR Jr delivered a praise-worthy performance. Much like his grandfather, his powerful dialogue delivery and demeanor can win over anyone. As the man ‘fighting’ for non-violence, he was restrained, calm yet very volatile. A knockout performance, indeed!
Jagapati Babu (Rangasthalam and Aravinda Sametha): While his contemporaries are still romancing actors half their age, Jagapati Babu 2.0 continues to overshadow the current crop of actors with his powerful roles. His characters in Rangasthalam and Aravinda Sametha were structurally similar, yet Jagapati Babu used his command over his skills, to make them distinctive.

Special Mention: Nithya Menen (Awe), Mahesh Babu (Bharat Ane Nenu), Dulquer Salman (Mahanati), Vijay Devarakonda (Geetha Govindam) and Vishnu as Hollywood (Taxiwala)

Note: This list has been compiled as on December 25, 2018. Also, the following movies were not considered since I have not watched them: Kanam, Sammohanam, Chi La Sow, C/O Kancherapalem and Antariksham

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Best of 2018: Hindi Movies

2018 was an interesting year for Bollywood, where smaller films and concept driven cinema found patronage, while some of the tried and tested masala potboilers failed miserably. Even as jingoism in the form of Satyameva Jayate and Baaghi 2 raked in the moolah, a female-centric smaller film, Raazi, joined the coveted 100-crore club. While the three Khans – Aamir, Shahrukh and Salman – were panned by the critics and public alike (though the verdict on SRK’s Zero is still not completely out), Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal and Rajkummar Rao emerged as the faces of the new ‘Hindi film hero’. There have been a lot of discussions and lists published on the best movies and performances of the year, but here is my list of the best of Bollywood in 2018.


5. Mulk: In the communally sensitive times such as ours, Mulk came as a pertinent voice condemning in the religious divide in the society. An ensemble cast, headlined by Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu, take us through the unwarranted discrimination experienced by a Muslim family, when it is learnt that their younger son is a terrorist. Delicately handling a sensitive religious issue, director Anubhav Sinha leaves the audience’s thought provoked.

4. Stree: This small-sized Rajkummar Rao-Shraddha Kapoor starrer proved to be the biggest bomb formost of the movies that released alongside. With a simple premise of a woman haunting single men of a sleepy town, Chanderi, director Amar Kaushik along with writers Raj and DK, weave a hilarious horror comedy. Rarely does it happen that the supporting cast gets to overshadow the leads, but trust Pankaj Tripathi, Aparshakti Khurana and Abhishek Banerjee to do exactly that! Not to forget, the subtle message of respecting women, that was conveyed beautifully.

3. Raazi: Little did anyone think that the haughty Shanaya from Student of the Year (2013) could carry an entire film on her shoulders! Alia Bhatt has already proven her mettle, but she pushes the envelope further in this brilliantly crafted espionage drama. Not only was the nationalism shown subtly, even the ‘neighbor’ was not demonized. Alia as Sehmat displayed vulnerabilities through a restrained performance. And, you had the always-good Vicky Kaushal as well.

2. October: Not many liked this movie, but it is certainly one of the most poignantly told stories of 2018. For a better part of its run time, it was shot in the depressing wards of a hospital, with the hues of blue, white and a bed-ridden Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) adding to the gloom. Varun Dhawan sheds his ‘herogiri’ and gave us a compassionate friend and lover in the form of Dan. The surprise however was Gitanjali Rao, playing Shiuli’s distraught mother, who showed pain and strength in equal measures.

1. Andhadhun: You know you are in for a good ride, when the notions created based on the trailer are shattered 15-minutes into the film. Andhadhun was a juicy, fast-paced and whacky thriller comedy, with great performances by Tabu and Ayushmann Khurana. The ease with which director Sriram Raghavan throws twists at the audiences, leaves you surprised, shocked and stunned. And yes, the cryptic end had people talking for days with multiple theories coming out! Pure genius!

Special Mention: Sui Dhaaga, Manmarziyaan, Tumbbad, Badhaai Ho, Lust Stories and Sanju (solely for the performances)

Performances (in no particular order):

1. Ranveer Singh (Padmaavat): When was the last time you fell in love with a menacing, womanizing, cannibal-like villain? Not recently until Ranveer Singh reprised Allauddin Khilji in SLB’s Padmaavat. It has to be one of his best performances till date.

2. Anushka Sharma (Pari): Before playing a caricature-ish Aafia in Zero, Anushka Sharma played a scathingly scary Djinn in the underrated, Pari. Pale, grey, yet violent, she was extremely convincing as a good-evil.

3. Varun Dhawan (October): Though Badlapur gave us a glimpse of Varun Dhawan’s acting prowess, as a simpleton emotionally stuck to a girl in vegetative state, he displayed great amounts of restrain and conviction.

4. Gitanjali Rao (October): Making her acting debut on the big screen, Gitanjali Rao created a great deal of impact. As the mother torn between medical bills, prayers on her lips and the will to fight all odds to save her daughter, her performance was moving. Also, loved the equation she shares with Dan (Varun Dhawan)

5. Alia Bhatt (Raazi): Is there anything this tiny-sized atom bomb cannot do? Sehmat’s character arc goes from a happy-go-lucky college student in Delhi, to a girl on an espionage mission, to a woman torn between her love for her husband and her country. And she plays all of them with aplomb!

6. Ranbir Kapoor (Sanju): Keeping the hagiographic narrative aside, Sanju gave us some of the best performances of the year. Ranbir Kapoor not only physically transformed into Sanjay Dutt, but displayed various emotions brilliantly. His scenes with his father, Sunil Dutt (Paresh Rawal) were pure gold!

7. Vicky Kaushal (Sanju, Manmarziyaan): 2018 was Vicky Kaushal’s year – 5 releases, 5 completely diverse roles and brilliant in all of them. The best of these were in Sanju and Manmarziyaan, playing Kamlesh and DJ Sandzz. Watch him in the scene outside Rumi’s house in Manmarziyaan – sheer brilliance at display!

8. Taapsee Pannu (Manmarziyaan): Apart from being an underrated movie, Manmarziyaan also gave us an underrated actor. Having seen Taapsee’s work since her initial days in Telugu film industry, she has grown and how!? Manmarziyaan is a proof of her caliber and talent.

9. Rajkummar Rao (Stree): In a mixed year, Rajkummar Rao bounced back with a hilarious performance as the ‘chosen one’ in Stree. Be it his banter with his two best friends or Shahrukh Khan style romancing the ghost, he was perfect!

10. Tabu (Andhadhun): Another negative character, like Ranveer’s Khilji, that you fall in love with. But unlike the menacing Khilji, Tabu as Simi is a whacky murderer who is victim of her own circumstances. Watch her brilliance in the 10-minute long Piano-and-body sequence. She makes it one of the best scenes of the year!

Special Mention: Deepika Padukone (Padmaavat), Radhika Madan – Sanya Malhotra (Pataakha), Ayushmann Khurana (Badhaai Ho, Andhadhun), Radhika Apte-Bhumi Pednekar (Lust Stories), Neena Gupta-Gajraj Rao (Badhaai Ho) and Katrina Kaif (Zero)

NOTE: This list is as on December 25, 2018. Hence, Simmba is not in contention. Also, I have not watched the following high-rated movies and hence, they were also not considered while making this list: Hichki, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, Manto, Love Sonia and Laila Majnu