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Movies Review

Urumi – Review: Style and substance

Santosh Shivan is one of the best cinematographers in the countryAs a director, he has sparkled in the past with movies as diverse as ‘Tahaan’ and ‘Navarasa’. As the ace cinematographer returns to direction once more, one expects some mind-blowing visuals in a power-packed movie. And that’s precisely what ‘Urumi’ has to offer.

Urumi is the story of Chirakkal Kelu Nayanar – a warrior in 15th century Kerala. The story, being told in flashback, has Krishna Raj (Prithviraj), a struggler based in Goa, who gets to know of his vast ancestral property in Kerala by a mining company which wants his land. All set to sell it off to the company, he comes back to Kerala where he gets to know the story of his ancestors from a tribal. Thus unveils the story of Kelu Nayanar, who wants to take revenge for his father’s death by killing Vasco Da Gama. Ably supported by childhood-buddy Vavvali (Prabhu Deva) and Arackal Ayesha (Genelia) – a warrior princess, he sets off to get Vasco’s blood.

This is not Santosh’s first period film – he has done ‘Asoka’ before. The experience has held him in good stead – Urumi defines perfection. The film has Santosh Shivan written all over it. The visuals are spectacular. Shot mostly in Malshej, Maharashtra, the locals are exquisite and look stunning in Shivan’s frame. Even the mist, most of which is natural, looks quite striking. All stops have been pulled to underscore even the last detail. Shankar Ramakrishnan’s script is quite straightforward, and helps the viewer focus into the nuances of the story perfectly. The connection between the flash-back and present is quite ironic and deserves applause.

Acting by Prithviraj is quite commendable. Prithvi excels as the angst-filled hero, living by his father’s ideals. His dialogue delivery and body-language is quite impressive. Genelia has shed her bubbly girl-next-door image to become the warrior princess – Ayesha. She does a good job, playing the menacing princess. Prabhu Deva effortlessly fits himself to the role of Prithvi’s sidekick, providing for the occasional laughter. Surprisingly, he even speaks decent Malayalam. Nithya Menon, who plays Bala, the ‘Chirackal’ princess, sparkles with her childish gait. Jagathy Sreekumar’s Machiavellian Chencheri Kurup is outstanding. He displays a Shakuni-like brilliance, drawing many accolades. The foreign cast, Robin Pratt and Alex O’ Neill – who play Vasco Da Gama and his son Estavio Da Gama respectively, are decent. Vidya Balan, however, is excess-baggage. Her item number is disappointing, with the actor exposing her not-so-perfect figure.

The highlight of the movie is its stunts. Internationally-acclaimed stunt-masters have been roped in to do martial arts for the movie. The movie justifies its title; the ‘urumi’ a.k.a. ‘Curling Blade’ depicts itself in every single stunt scene, so much to the fact that you become a fan of the potent weapon. The fact that the movie doesn’t employ CGI comes across as a high-point. Actors like Prithviraj and Genelia have in fact, acted in the stunt scenes themselves. The final clash between Prithviraj’s soldiers and Vasco Da Gama’s army is amazing. Most of the slow-mo stunts are breathtaking. They leave you glued to the seat, open-mouthed in adoration.

Not everything about this flick is rosy though. At 170 minutes, the film drags. The editing should have been a bit more taut; at least thirty minutes of the story could be easily cut out. Apart from ‘Aaro Nee Aaro’, music by Deepak Dev is disappointing. So are the music videos, most of which are quite unnecessary.

Overall, the 20-crore movie is watchable and worth the effort. Kudos to Prithviraj and Santosh Shivan for producing coming up with such an epic extravaganza.

My Rating: 6/10.

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Movies Song

Kurutham Kettavan – A Malayalam Album With A Difference

I first heard of Kurutham Kettavan from mom. She heard about this new Malayalam music video featuring Suraj Venjarammoodu and Ranjini Haridas on TV and alerted me immediately. Not exactly a fan of Ranjini, I didn’t show much interest. But mom seemed all hyped up about the video, despite not having seen it. Now, my mom’s the last person who’d follow a new music album or anything. So I really didn’t have a clue as to why my mom showed interest on Kurutham Kettavan.

Only until I saw the video myself. 🙂

Made in the ‘Palavattam’ mould, the album tries to undo (irreparable) damage done to the Malayalam Music scene by a juggernaut called ‘Silsila’ (incidentally made by a namesake of mine 😐 ). Sung by Anoop Sankar (Asianet Plus fame) and composed by Hariprasad, the peppy number has a tongue-in-cheek video featuring Ranjini and Suraj.

The song is about the travails of a random guy, played by Suraj Venjarammoodu, who is  a Kurutham Kettavan (one who’s upto no good) from childhood. Ranjini Haridas is Rosykutty, his love interest. Pepped with 3D animation, the video has a cartoonish-feel to it, making it quite endearing. The song’s also pretty-good, and matches upto the ‘Palavattam’ quality.

Kurutham Kettavan is a product of Vishraam Creations. Favour Francis is the video-director. Prakash Velayudan has handled the camera while Sushil has crafted the 3D visuals of the video. The video is edited by Dheeraj Warrier.

You’d surely enjoy the video, if you know the language. Do check it out! 🙂

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Movies Viewpoint

Is the Malayalam Film Industry Dead, yet?

The other day, my cousin and I were planning to go for a movie. My cousin, Shambhu, is a ‘Madrasi’ – he’s doing his medicine at a Chennai Medical College and was back home on vacation. He asked me about the latest flicks running in the local theatres. I recommended ‘Cocktail’. I’d seen the movie and loved it. “Er… Is that even a movie?” he asked. I gave him a brief outline about the Jayasoorya, Anoop Menon starrer. He butted-in before I could complete.

“Whoa… whoa… Dude, I’m talking Tamil/Hindi movies here. NOT crap Malayalam flicks. Didn’t I tell you that I’ve stopped watching ’em?”

I wasn’t too shocked — the typical Chennai Champ, our friend was just throwing attitude. He’s certainly going to retract his statement once I gave him a brief idea about the movie, and its suspense. Or so I thought.

Turns out that Shambhu meant every word of what he said. He’d rather sit at home and  watch Sun TV rather than drag his ass to the theatres to “waste fourty bucks for a drab three-hour weepathon”.

“Malayalam movies are dead, period. And I don’t attend funerals,” he gave me a hand-gesture, Rajni-iShtyle.

If my cousin — a once-hardcore-Mammootty-fan could go thus far (Rajni’s wigs are way better than Mammookka’s, he quips these days); there’s indeed something seriously wrong with our Industry. And my cousin’s just one among the many (almost-countless) naysayers.

So what’s wrong with the Malayalam Film Industry?

  1. Lack of Good Films in the market – Let’s face it, Malayalam movies are simply not appealing any more. Apart from masterpieces like ‘Pranjiyettan and the saint’, how many films good films can you count in the past few years? Three, or maybe four max. There ends it. Ours was a film industry which churned out films that  consistently featured in the Indian Panorama and went on to win national and even international film awards. But that’s history now. Talented filmmakers are still there, but they’re simply not coming up with good movies or not working on movies at all. We’ve also entered the ‘rip-off’ culture. Directors like Priyadarsan have ripped-off in the past, but they’ve done it with elan. Current rip-offs like ‘Anwar’ and ‘Cocktail’ may be doing good in the box office, yet many critics have panned them. Commercialization is a tsunami that has taken the industry by storm. So we’ve sequels of previously-successful movies (think Balram v/s Tharadas, Sagar Alias Jacky, In Ghost House Inn) and pure commercial crop (Puthiya Mukham, Robin Hood et al). Our producers are pulling all stops in making films succeed. They end up burning their fingers badly and ruining our industry too.
  2. Increased Failure Rate – The few good movies that make it to the theatres suffer fatal losses. On an average, less than ten percent of the movies releasing in theatres set the cash registers ringing. With increased production costs, and plummetting revenues, producers find it hard to make ends meet. Many producers shut shop and move on to other businesses. The ones that have moved on are the lucky few, there are many others who’ve taken to the streets, forced by debtors to pawn their very clothing. All for the sole ‘mistake’ of financing a film. Wary of accumulating failures, the community of producers is fast-dwindling.
  3. The Superstar System – Our ‘superstars’ could certainly learn a lesson or two from Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth. While Bachchan-saab endears audiences with his charismatic charm and humility in KBC4, Rajnikanth walks and talks amid commoners as if he were a nobody. Our superstars go on to throw attitude and slap people in public. I’m a huge fan of our superstars. But many of their actions have crossed the limit. They must stop ghost-directing movies, and leave their attitude aside, while acting in movies. With their overwhelming attitudes out of the picture, Malayalam moviedom would go a long way in sculpting a success-story.
  4. Competition from other languages – This excuse has forever come to the rescue of our directors explaining why their films were panned. One could have argued against it in the past. Not any more. Hindi, Tamil and English are making hay in Kerala, while the sun of our film industry is on the wane. These industries are not doing exceptionally well themselves. Bollywood and the Tamil Film industry are also seeing plenty of losses. But our viewers find time to watch these flicks. I can safely say that smart marketing is the reason. Tamil and Bollywood movies have the budget to afford extravagant scenes shot in exotic locales, a liberty our flicks can’t afford. Coupled with brilliant actors and directors, these movies rake moolah in our shores, overshadowing our shoddily-sculpted movies. It also hurts the Malayalam movies have a limited market, when compared to these exquisitely-mastered flicks.
  5. Piracy – Bootlegging is as old as movies. And it suits the laidback Malayalee attitude. The typical Malayalee is way too lazy to drag his/her ass to the theatres. He’d rather have the movie on his television screen, even if it’s of a shoddy quality. When a  new Malayalam movie does its television premiere in a festive season, the entire family crowds around the 32″ LCD TV, to watch the flick in HD, complete with stereophonic sound. With the arrival of torrents, piracy has gone an extra mile. You can now lay your hands on the Blu-Ray rip of a two-month old movie, in three-hours time. What more does the Malayalee want?

One should actually give the industry a pat-on-the-back for having survived all these odds. We still have producers (many of them actors themselves) who are willing to foot the bill for a movie, half-sure that they’d go knee-deep in debt, once it’s out. As long as the dwindling, never-acknowledged community of producers  exist, our industry shall live on. Perhaps, they’ll find a work-around, perhaps we might get to see many a ‘Pranjiyettan’on the screens from now on.

No, our Industry is NOT dead yet. And let’s pray that it shall never ever die.

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Movies Review

Anwar – Review: Prithviraj Shines in a Disappointing Movie.

Prithviraj has indeed come a long way. From ‘Stop Violence’-obscurity to ‘Ravanan’ celebritydom, he has seen it all, and risen up like a phoenix. Fans of the actor who is widely touted as the ‘next big thing’, have been eagerly awaiting his latest flick Anwar.

Coming from master-filmmaker Amal Neerad of ‘Big B’ fame, the movie had a lot of expectations attached. Peppy tracks from Gopisundar like ‘Khalbilethi’ and an aggressive promotion only added ‘fanned’ the fire, pun intended.

Anwar the movie

Don’t judge a movie by its promo, they say.

I concur.

‘Anwar’ doesn’t have anything new for a storyline (which itself is mostly ripped-off from ‘Traitor’). Islamic terrorism has featured in many movies like ‘Baba Kalyani’ . ‘Anwar’ has the terrorism story, narrated from a muslim angle. So we have our protagonist, Anwar (Prithviraj) who is booked by the police while running a hawala transaction. He ends up in jail and finds himself in a spot – constantly attacked by policemen and fellow-inmates (who are Hindu, needless to say). Babu Sait (Lal) – fellow-inmate and terrorist rescues Anwar from his plight, and takes him under his fold. Once freed from the jail, they join hands to craft terror. Prakash Raj is an ATS (Anti Terrorist Squad) officer trying to bring Lal and his comrades to book. A twist follows and changes the storyline altogether. Mamta, a suspect in a bomb-blast case, plays Prithviraj’s love interest.

The first half of ‘Anwar’ is downright impressive – especially the camera-work, and the way the plot unfolds. The narration by Mammootty sets the tone for the movie.  Powered by a taut-direction from Amal Neerad, Satheesh Kurup’s cinematography works wonders.  You notice a brownish-tinge in the frames, especially during the jail-scenes – yes, the ‘Big B’ effect. Amal has gotten better in what he does, even with his famed slow motion sequences (think ‘Sagar Alias Jacky’). His attention to detail needs applause. There’s a scene where Prithviraj washes his legs, after taking a beating (literally) from the police. Even such ‘normal’ scenes are dealt with such finnesse. Dialogues by R Unni stand out. The film spares lengthy monologues – the actors speak mostly in the Kochi-lingo. Vivek Harshan’s editing is taut and makes the movie fast-paced.

Prithviraj impresses with a stellar performance. He has improved in terms of acting skills and has done his homework right. He sparkles, especially in dialogue delivery. The actor has some of the most brilliant lines in the movie; it also helps that he has one of the best voices in the industry. However, he fizzles out in the song-sequences – especially in ‘Kanninima Neele’, where the actor fails to live up to the mood of the song. However, watch out for the stunt scenes, crafted in Amal Neerad perfection. Prithviraj simply oozes style in these sequences. Even the worst of his critics will have to applaud him for his performance. Mamta has also done a good job – despite a sidelined role. Salim Kumar, who plays Babu Sait’s right hand Ashraff – is comic relief for the otherwise-serious movie, giving way for some good laughs. Prakash Raj plays the  beedi-smoking ATS officer’s role with elan. Jinu Joseph (remember the kid’s father in Kerala Cafe’s ‘Bridge’?), who plays Raj’s sidekick, fails to impress.

Music by Gopisundar is a big positive. Tracks like ‘Kanninima’ and ‘ Khalbilethi’ are amazing. Both songs – especially ‘Kanninima’ impresses with its stunning visuals.  While Shreya Ghosal’s voice is the highlight of a haunting ‘Kanninima’, the ‘Khalbilethi’ number has a feel of its own. Sukhwinder Singh has done a good job with ‘Vijanatheeram’. The rap-song from the movie – ‘Njaan’ got mixed reviews. The song (especially the video) tries to repeat a Bluffmaster feat, with Prithvi doing an ‘Abhishek’. The song – sung by Prithivraj and Mamta, is peppy but largely-disappointing. The song was greeted by loud boos from the audience when this author first watched the movie (First-day, first-show).

Anwar is far from being the perfect movie on screens, this season. The storyline is hackneyed for one, including the full  plot, post-twist. It’s a tried and tested theme which may not go well with many of the well-informed, ‘been-there-seen-that’ viewers. The dark tone set by the first-half of the movie falters during the second half when the movie slips to classic song-dance routine. Once a movie becomes quite predictable, there must be something delectable about it to hold a viewer’s attention. Anwar lacks just that.

Ironically, the worst part of this movie is its credits – the movie ends with the ‘Njaan’ song video, with credits rolling as a ticker (which was masked by poor projection, at my theatre). But that’s not even a problem, considering the song’s video. You may have differences in opinions about the song, but of course, you CANNOT butt-in such a er… ‘different’ song after  a gripping movie. It’s sheer-sacrilege. ‘Bluffmaster’ was cool.But it was a hip-movie, not a dark one. In any case, ripping parts of ‘Bluffmaster’ for a movie at the other end of the spectrum isis NOT cool. The song spoils the mood set by movie, bringing in a negative vibe amongst viewers. It mocks the the whole movie and its hapless viewers, at least the few who stayed back to see the end-credits.

Picture this – ‘Anwar’ – a ‘serious’ movie by all forms of interpretation, ends with a flirtatious word: “Thalle.” (No, the phrase  doesn’t have any serious inner-implications)

The song’s a mere attempt to make Prithvi don the ‘superstar’ hat. Prithviraj does not need a rap song to be cool. And this ‘so-called-rap-song’ has only tarnished his image as a stellar actor.  I think it’s high time Prithviraj gave a break to his ‘professional singing’ career. He should focus on his acting. Not because he’s a bad singer. Because an appalling song like this could do to Prithviraj what movies like ‘Praja’ and ‘Onnaman’ did to Mohanlal.

All in all, Anwar is good in parts. It’s a must-watch for all Prithviraj fans -easily one of his best movies, especially the ‘Amal-Neeradi’-ified styles and stunts. Give it a miss if you’re looking for what the trailer lured you into. The flick’s like one of those cute barking dachshunds — they just bark on. No bites. No rabies.

Nothing.

My Rating: 5.5/10