Saturday, January 26, 2019

Manikarnika - Movie Review

As I watched this week’s big-ticket release, Manikarnika, I wondered how much of it is a Kangana Ranaut directorial and how much of it can be attributed to its first maker, Krish Jagarlamudi. Starring Kanagana Ranaut in the titular role as Manikarnika aka Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Manikarnika seemed like a half-cooked product, focusing on the valor and might of one of the biggest freedom-fighters of India, without delving enough into her emotional construct. (Note: small spoilers ahead)

Most of us have read about Jhansi ki Rani in school and hence, know the premise. Therefore, it becomes even more pertinent to develop the characters with required emotions, rather than just blood and flesh. This is where the story by Vijayendra Prasad, dialogues by Prasoon Joshi and direction by both its directors ends up disappointing us. Right from the onset, we are shown of a brave and strong girl, Manikarnika (played by Kangana Ranaut), being raised amid books and swords in Marathwada. But, instead of letting the audience develop a bond with the character, the makers blatantly try to push their point. There are no subtle nuances, but everything is over-the-top. For instance, when a na├»ve Manikarnika expresses her inhibitions about getting married, the Peshwa (played by Suresh Oberoi) replies, “Har cheez seekhi nahi jaati mani, matrubhoomi se prem ho, toh sab ho ajega” and this is followed by a patriotic song. Not exactly the way you would allay a girl’s apprehensions before her wedding! As I said, the makers go overboard in establishing Manikarnika as the bravest woman on the planet. All I wished was revering Manikarnika in moderation, with better dialogues. That would have helped connecting with the character.

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It was not just excessive praise for Manikarnika that was problematic, much like Krish’s other movies, Manikarnika went overboard in making a point. Like loads of melodrama to show the atrocities by the British. Or the fact that a submissive King is shown to be wearing ‘choodi’ – symbolizing his inability to go against the British. And the choodi are referred to quite often – in case the audience forgets how incapable the King is. Or my favorite – an English officer dreams of Manikarnika in Kaali avtaar – does he even know Indian Goddess Kaali?! Having seen some of Krish’s previous works, including the recent NTR Kathanayukudu, Manikarnika seemed to bear his stamp in certain parts – inconsistencies in the narrative, beautiful canvas yet lack of connect and a climax fight scene reminiscent of Krish’s Gautamiputra Satakarani. Similarly, Vijayendra Prasad leaves a few trademark motifs of his – exaggerated common-man scenes, a people’s queen (like people’s king Bahubali) or an out-of-the-blue item song! As I said, it is difficult to point out which part of it was directed by Kangana Ranaut, but she can certainly share the onus for the incoherence.

All things aside, some of the things that worked in favor of the movie were the art design, the costumes and the lead! Kangana Ranaut is feisty and digs her teeth into the character. She is a delight to watch, especially in combat sequences in the second half. She may not have a regal aura like Aishwarya Rai in Jodhaa Akbar or Deepika Padukone in Padmaavat, but she is believable as the people’s queen. A fine actor that she is, she does not disappoint, except in delivering her dialogues which I felt were not powerful enough. Two of my favorite scenes were her confrontation with her mother-in-law and her sword-fight scene with a bunch of British soldiers in front of a Kaali statue. The music felt more contemporary than belonging to that era and the graphics felt like cheap videogames. The rest of the cast was fine, but were over-shadowed by the tall performance by Kangana Ranaut. Though I would like to mention that Zeeshan Ayub was the most underutilized actor in the movie!

In the end, Manikarnika feels largely like a lifeless canvas, painted with rich colors. Kangana Ranaut has been shouldering her movies single-handedly in her last few outings. And much like them, despite a stellar Kangana Ranaut, the movie does not really work.

My Rating – 2/5

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