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About and around pop culture

When it comes to writing about cinema, the bad films are as important as the good ones. “What makes you go watch this film despite knowing full well that it is nothing but trash?” Some version of this question crops up every time a critic reviews a “bad” movie. As subjective as the qualifier is, there are two kinds of “bad” movie. The first is … Continue reading About and around pop culture

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“Thani Oruvan”… A pretty smart, pulpy thriller

Spoilers ahead… When we first meet Mithran (Jayam Ravi), he’s just the best cop ever. He knows exactly where to be, what to do, whom to shadow – it’s like he can do no wrong. And then he meets his match in Siddharth Abhimanyu (Aravind Swamy, underplaying nicely). Siddharth gets a terrific introduction. I’m not talking about one of those scenes where the villain’s face … Continue reading “Thani Oruvan”… A pretty smart, pulpy thriller

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“Veerapandiya Kattabomman”… Much more than just that one scene

Spoilers ahead… It’s the film that fuelled a thousand acting dreams. For generations, Veerapandiya Kattabomman isn’t the story of a brave king brought down by the British. It’s essentially a single scene – the scene in which Kattabomman (Sivaji Ganesan, who’s beyond magnificent) gives Lord Jackson the chaste-Tamil equivalent of a giant, upraised middle finger. On the big screen, the speech is more resonant than … Continue reading “Veerapandiya Kattabomman”… Much more than just that one scene

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“Vaalu”… A not-bad star-dispensing machine

Spoilers ahead… It’s pure formula. The primary ingredient is the hero (Simbu) who’s a “Plus-Two fail.” An aside may be necessary at this point: How strange that on the one hand we celebrate a Sundar Pichai while on the other our heroes positively revel in their lack of education. The hero’s name is Sharp, and he doesn’t speak very good English (he’s challenged by the … Continue reading “Vaalu”… A not-bad star-dispensing machine

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Common men, uncommon stories

On the eve of the release of ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’, Baradwaj Rangan traces the journey of our biopics, which are no longer just about larger-than-life achievers. It all began in 1959, when a landless Bihari from the Musahar community, a scheduled caste that traditionally made a living as rat catchers, decided to make a road through the Gahlaur Ghati hills, to ease passage … Continue reading Common men, uncommon stories

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“Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga”… Where are the laughs?

Spoilers ahead… Let me begin by mimicking a Santhanam routine. I’ll say, “Let’s grab a drink,” and you’ll say, “Well, hurry, don’t crawl like a crab,” and then I’ll say, “Maybe we’ll have rum,” and you’ll say, “Don’t speak like your mum,” and I’ll say, “Oh look, my shirt is without a button,” and you’ll say, “Stuff your ears with cotton,” and I’ll say, “This … Continue reading “Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga”… Where are the laughs?

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“Chandi Veeran”… A disappointingly generic drama

Spoilers ahead… As Chandi Veeran opens, enraged men brandishing weapons descend on a village and all hell breaks loose. A bomb explodes under a woman and her young daughter – they fly into the air and land charred, dead. A few feet away, a man lies splayed on the ground, his face bisected by a sickle. And young Paari (who grows up to be Atharvaa) … Continue reading “Chandi Veeran”… A disappointingly generic drama

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“Sakalakala Vallavan”… How do you say ‘trash’ in Tamil?

Spoilers ahead… Sakalakala Vallavan, directed by Suraaj, belongs to the genre I like to call the “whoosh movie.” Every edit is accompanied by a whoosh on the soundtrack. The idea is to give the impression that something is happening all the time – and if nothing is happening, if it’s just a simple edit taking us from one place to another, then at least put … Continue reading “Sakalakala Vallavan”… How do you say ‘trash’ in Tamil?

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“Idhu Enna Maayam”… Fascinating premise, but the film’s a mess

Spoilers ahead… The opening scene of Vijay’s Idhu Enna Maayam reminded me of the younger Kamal Haasan character’s quip to his girlfriend in Indian. He says they should go to a theatre playing Schindler’s List – it’s a very good film, so there’ll be no one in the audience and they can do what they want. Here, it’s an English play – and by the … Continue reading “Idhu Enna Maayam”… Fascinating premise, but the film’s a mess

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“Orange Mittai”… A fairly affecting road movie-cum-drama

Spoilers ahead… You may know Ramesh Thilak as the sidekick from films like Soodhu Kavvum. He’s the guy who looks like Prabhu Deva’s long-lost younger brother. Orange Mittai, directed by Biju Viswanath, is his coming-out party. He plays an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) named Sathya, and the film gets going when he responds to a 108 call from an elderly man named Kailasam (Vijay Sethupathi), … Continue reading “Orange Mittai”… A fairly affecting road movie-cum-drama

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“Naalu Policeum Nalla Irundha Oorum”… A bare handful of laughs in a ‘comic’ parable

Spoilers ahead… Naalu Policeum Nalla Irundha Oorum is the kind of film where we’re not supposed to care that it looks like a Class IV production of Aattukkara Alamelu. The jokes are supposed to be the thing – and for a brief while, they are. The four cops of the title (Arulnithi, Singampuli, Bagavathi Perumal, Rajkumar) live in the village of the title. It’s a … Continue reading “Naalu Policeum Nalla Irundha Oorum”… A bare handful of laughs in a ‘comic’ parable

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Radio days

The king is dead. Long live the king. Baradwaj Rangan remembers MS Viswanathan. At 7:59 am, last Tuesday, I got this sms from a friend: You have to write a great tribute. I hadn’t looked at news sites yet, but I knew who the tribute was for. We’d been hearing news about his hospitalisation and the word “critical” was being thrown around a lot. It … Continue reading Radio days

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“Maari”… Some nice bits can’t save a grindingly ordinary movie

Spoilers ahead… Every young Tamil-film hero looking to become a super star (if not the Superstar) makes a film in which he plays a cop. That’s when he announces his ambitions of entering the big leagues. Enough with all this love from the urban pockets. I now want B- and C-centre adoration. Maari is Balaji Mohan’s announcement that directors can do this too. He wants … Continue reading “Maari”… Some nice bits can’t save a grindingly ordinary movie

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Alice in Wonderland

Gautami opens up to Baradwaj Rangan about ‘Papanasam’, her milestone movies, and, yes, Kamal Sir. You know how some actors look even better sitting across you than on screen? Gautami is charmed like that. She could probably jump out of bed and pose, simultaneously, for a keep-your-skin-glowing ad, a be-trim-in-your-forties ad, and one of those ads where a woman gets mistaken for a college-goer until … Continue reading Alice in Wonderland

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“Baahubali”… A triumph of imagination

Spoilers ahead… At the beginning of Baahubali – The Beginning, we’re shown the lay of the land. This kingdom lies here, that one there. It’s nothing new as an idea – we saw this in Lagaan, for instance. But look what the director, SS Rajamouli, does. He renders the map in three dimensions and follows it all the way to a waterfall, which morphs into … Continue reading “Baahubali”… A triumph of imagination

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“Papanasam”… A faithful remake, a solid thriller

Spoilers ahead… Let me begin by saying how intensely jealous I am of those of you who haven’t seen Drishyam, the Malayalam movie that inspired Papanasam. Most times, it doesn’t matter whether we’ve seen the original film or read the book the screenplay is based on – because, as the cliché goes, there are only so many stories, and most of what we see involves … Continue reading “Papanasam”… A faithful remake, a solid thriller

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Bullet-point Report: “Yagavarayinum Naa Kaakka”

I’m getting increasingly fascinated by our heroines these days. Take the Royal Enfield-riding Kayal (Nikki Galrani) in Yaagavarayinum Naa Kaakka. She knows the hero (Saga, played by Aadhi) is interested in her. She spots him waiting for her outside her college. She approaches him from behind and taps his shoulder. He turns, surprised to see her outside rather than in class. “Waiting for me, no?” … Continue reading Bullet-point Report: “Yagavarayinum Naa Kaakka”

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“Indru Netru Naalai”… A time-travel thriller with more comedy than thrills

Spoilers ahead… Like Appuchi Gramam, Indru Netru Naalai is “local” sci-fi – and this localisation is the best part. The story is about a time machine from the future that falls in the hands of two men in the present who have to go back in the past so they can remain who are… in the present. In other words, it’s the standard time-travel pretzel … Continue reading “Indru Netru Naalai”… A time-travel thriller with more comedy than thrills

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“Moone Moonu Varthai”… An easy-watch comedy

Spoilers ahead… In most films, we can sense the director’s terror that the audience is going to tune out and start looking at their smartphones – hence the frantic cuts, the soundtrack whoosh accompanying the change of camera angles, the insistence that every scene carry a punch. Madhumita’s Moone Moonu Varthai exists at the other end of the spectrum. It’s so low-key that you feel … Continue reading “Moone Moonu Varthai”… An easy-watch comedy

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“Eli”… Seriously unfunny

Spoilers ahead… All we ask of a comedy is that it keep us entertained. At least, this is what I ask. Not plot. Not acting. And certainly not whether it “makes sense.” I was doing some idle YouTube-ing a while ago, and came across this scene with Kallapetti Singaram and two others. They’re villagers, and they’re in the city for the first time. Inside a … Continue reading “Eli”… Seriously unfunny

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