Movie Review: Tanu Weds Manu Returns


Director Aanand L Rai seems to believe in the adage “Well begun is half done.” With both “Tanu Weds Manu” (2011) and its sequel, Rai starts with a great idea, some sparkling dialogue and interesting characters. But what you get in “Tanu Weds Manu Returns” is the cinematic equivalent of a car wreck.

The first film ended with the unlikely union of Manoj Sharma (R Madhavan) and Tanuja (Kangana Ranaut). Four years later, Manu still has the personality of a block of wood while Tanu appears to have become more dramatic. The film begins with the two in front of a mental asylum – one that looks like it’s straight out of “Shutter Island” – complaining to a group of psychiatrists about their marriage.

This “evaluation” results in Manu being put in chains at the asylum, while Tanu walks out, lounges around her house and drinks wine as though nothing has happened. The loopholes begin with this sequence. Rai requires his audience to suspend their disbelief, but he and co-writer Himanshu Sharma make up for the lack of logic with some well-written, well-observed characters, and some hilarious lines.

Humour is what keeps “Tanu Weds Manu Returns” afloat, and helps you ignore Manu falling for a Tanu lookalike hours after he files for divorce. What seems unfathomable is Kusum, Tanu’s doppelganger and a feisty athlete from Delhi, falling right back for Manu in spite of his wooden personality and complete lack of charm. Kusum is the anti-Tanu — she is sorted, smart and calls a spade a spade.

Tanu, on the other hand, goes back to her old ways in Kanpur in northern India, flirting with her former lovers, and finding new admirers as she sashays down narrow alleys. But when news of her husband’s impending marriage to Kusum reaches her ears, all hell breaks loose. Somehow the main cast and a few others land in Jhajjar, a small town in Haryana and the site of Kusum and Manu’s nuptials.

The plot is convoluted and jam-packed, just like the first film, but Rai gets in some lovely moments. There is a hilarious sequence where a Punjabi wedding celebration involves the Gujarati dance Garba, and another one where the classic Geeta Dutt number “Ja ja Bewafa” plays in the background during one of Tanu’s drunken strolls at midnight.

But “Tanu Weds Manu Returns” falls flat because Rai does not take the film to its logical ending. It is obvious from the first scene that Tanu and Manu are a toxic combination, a couple who can never be compatible. Rai doesn’t make a case for them and their love story throughout the film. Yet he doesn’t have the courage to end it. Rai cops out, and thus does his film and characters a great disservice.

Kangana Ranaut walks away with the entire film, playing both Tanu and Kusum with panache, in what is probably the defining female performance of 2015 (in a year already filled with many). Yet, even she cannot salvage this film in the end. Half done, in this case, is just half-baked and certainly not fit to be consumed.

Advertisements

Uttama Villain: A superb core let down by lacklustre filmmaking


Has any Indian star bared himself — and bored into himself — on screen the way Kamal has in Uttama Villain?

Kamal Haasan’s films suffer sometimes because they end up looking like vanity projects, but Uttama Villain, directed by Ramesh Aravind, couldn’t be anything else — for this is the story of a vain star named Manoranjan (Kamal Haasan). This is cinema about cinema, and because Tamil cinema is really about the hero, the film begins with a shot of a projection booth (in a theatre screening Manoranjan’s latest release) and it ends with the image of the star frozen on screen. Kamal has often called himself a limelight moth, but here, his wattage is increased a million-fold. He’s the sun of his universe, everyone else a mere satellite in obeisant orbit. I’m not just talking about the fans who throng malls (what a perfect location, given that Manoranjan is, in a way, a consumer product; just like you go to a sports store to buy a pair of sneakers, you go to the multiplex to buy three hours with Manoranjan), waiting for a glimpse of their hero. I refer, also, to the Kamal Haasan repertory company (Urvashi, Jayaram, Andrea Jeremiah, Pooja Kumar, Nasser, K. Viswanath), who have to make room not just for Manoranjan and Uttaman (the character Manorajan plays in a movie inside this movie), but Kamal Haasan himself. It’s possibly the most head-spinning triple role in cinema history.

Has any Indian star bared himself — and bored into himself — on screen the way Kamal has in Uttama Villain? The closest cinematic cousin is probably Fellini’s near-autobiographical , which was about a director grappling with a creative block. Here, we have a sixty-year-old actor contemplating his legacy, his mortality. At least part of the fun of watching Uttama Villain comes from that legacy, as we play spot-the-reference. Early on, we catch the name of Manoranjan’s new film, Veera Vilayattu. Is that title a nod to the film Kamal made with Gautham Menon a few years ago? We see a song with Manoranjan prancing about in foreign locations with a much-younger actress (Pooja Kumar). Isn’t this the complaint we had of Kamal in his overtly commercial films from the latter half of his career? Isn’t that why the song carries the word Singaravela? Like Kamal, Manoranjan specializes in the step where he leaps and taps his toes in mid-air. In a season of meta films, Uttama Villain is possibly the meta-est of them all.

After a while, I began to see Kamal movies everywhere. That point where he barks an order (“Sit down!”) to his female costar — is that from Punnagai Mannan? That point where he appears with a shaved head and fearsome face makeup — is that from Aalavandhan? The big man who lifts, with ease, Manoranjan’s long-suffering secretary Chockalingam (M.S. Baskar) — is that Bhim boy? That point where we see a minor character using a mortar and pestle — surely that’s not a nod to a beloved song from Meendum Kokila? But at least some of the nods are unambiguous. Manoranjan’s PRO is played by Chitra Lakshmanan, who handled the promotions for a lot of Kamal Haasan’s films in the 1980s and also directed him in Soora Samharam. Better yet, Manoranjan’s guru — allegorically named Margadharisi — is played by K. Balachander, and like the legendary filmmaker, he finds it difficult to make movies with this star, who was a mere ‘actor’ when they made a series of hit films together. We see a picture of K. Balachander with ‘Chaplin’ Chellappa, in that bowler hat, and there’s a lump in the throat. The collaborations of this actor-director duo are so much a part of our growing-up years, their history feels like ours.

And do I need to say that there are many women in Manoranjan’s life? When his son asks him if he’s going to leave his mother for another woman, it’s like reading the headlines in a gossip rag — you have to wonder how much of this is real, how much fiction. Still, it’s clear that there’s room for only one great love in the star’s life: cinema. (Again, remind you of someone?) The rabbit hole gets deeper when we see that the film Manoranjan begins work on, playing the character of Uttaman under Margadharisi’s direction, is also named Uttama Villain, and it too has music by Ghibran. And this is when the real beauty of Kamal Haasan’s conceit kicks in. (He wrote the screenplay, but then, by now, you’ve guessed that.) Manoranjan is dying, and Uttaman cannot die. It’s one thing that actors never really age, let alone die. Every time we watch Kalathur Kannamma, Kamal is five years old. But Manoranjan will not be around forever, and playing Uttaman is the ultimate kind of wish-fulfillment. It’s Manoranjan’s ticket to immortality. (It’s no accident that Uttaman is an actor too.)

Uttama Villain

Genre:Drama
Director:Ramesh Aravind
Cast:Kamal Haasan, Pooja Kumar, Andrea Jeremiah
Storyline: The story of a modern superstar overlaps with that of an eighth-century character he plays.

Uttama Villain — the overall film, that is, not the folklore-ish film that’s being shot within the film (and which is set in the eighth century) — now begins to play out as a series of contrapuntal scenes. Manoranjan has a tender moment with his doctor, named Arpana. (Rani Mukerji’s character in Hey Ram! was called Aparna. Just saying.) And we cut to a love song enacted in the film-within-the-film, the lovely Kaadhalaam kadavul mun. Manoranjan collapses. We cut to Uttaman singing aboutsaagaavaram, the boon of immortality. Manoranjan spies his children from outside his house (for a change,he’s the spectator). We hear, on the soundtrack, En udhirathin vidhai (my bloodline), and we cut to another father-son scene, between Prahalada and Hiranyakashipu, played by Uttaman. Both stories — the one about Manoranjan, the one about Uttaman — feature love triangles, and both feature scheming. The niggling doubt whether a star like Manoranjan, in this commercial climate (all the press wants to know in a scene is whether Veera Vilayattu will make a hundred crore), would make a movie likeUttama Villain is pushed aside when we remember that Manoranjan may actually be Kamal Haasan, who has been at war with the definition of ‘commercial cinema’ for quite a while now. Consider this: the movie Manoranjan was attached to earlier was about the life of Adi Shankara.

Apart from a typically solid lead(s) performance, Uttama Villain has a lot of what we’ve come to expect in a Kamal Haasan movie — from reclaimed archetypes (the vidushika) to pet phrases (satyameva jayate). There’s the expected mix of languages — Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam, English. And there’s the play with language. A character is named Yamini simply so that a letter written to her can feature the words “yaam ini…” A line toys with the rhymes edai/idai/udai. That’s worth at least a small smile. But there’s a big laugh in store when the Tenali Raman-like Uttaman mounts a tiger and exclaims, “Ayyo… appa,” and an onlooker yells back, “Ayyappa!” I don’t know if I laughed at the scene itself or at Kamal’s cleverness, but there are many humorous bits in the portions with Uttaman. Even the production company formed by Manoranjan carries the whiff of wordplay. It has his name fused with his mentor’s:Manomaarga, the way of the heart. If that doesn’t define Kamal’s career, I don’t know what does.

But despite all this — all this appreciation for Kamal’s writing; all this acknowledgement of his (personal and professional) past; all these questions about his future — Uttama Villain is just a series of discrete scenes. It just doesn’t come together as a cohesive whole. And at least part of the problem is the people Kamal has chosen to help him bring his vision to screen. Pooja Kumar is pretty, and I was impressed by her athleticism when bound in chains (it’s not what you’re thinking, I assure you), but she’s a shrill presence. I didn’t buy her for a second as an eighth-century princess, not in that pixie-bob. Andrea Jeremiah, too, is incapable of pulling the weight her role requires. As for good actors like M. S. Bhaskar and Nasser, (in Rasta hair and a Thai crown!), we see them in scenes that should have us laughing and crying, but we don’t do any of these things. There’s always a beat missing. There’s always some dead air. There’s a scene where Chockalingam reads out a letter in a screening room. We can practically hear the stage directions. ‘He unfolds the letter. The room is dark. He squints. He gets up and walks to the screen and begins to read by the light of the projected image.’ In other words, what we’re seeing is the screenplay. Where’s the direction?

Kamal Haasan’s writing is so dense and allusive and overstuffed and layered and indulgent that it’s always a question whether even the best actors and directors in the world can come up with the kind of wit and timing needed to fully make the transition from page to screen — in other words, the best Kamal Haasan movies are probably locked up inside his head, where they reside in the most perfect possible manner. But with some of the lightweight cast and crew he’s been working with of late, this material doesn’t stand a chance. I saw a version of Uttama Villain that ran close to three hours. I hear it’s being trimmed to two-and-a-half hours, but that doesn’t change much except maybe save you a couple of leg cramps. From what I heard, the portions being chopped were from Uttaman’s story. I can’t say I’m surprised. This track is staged like a school play — the pacing is just off — and it doesn’t mesh easily with Manoranjan’s story. (Ghibran’s stirring orchestral passages are lost in this friction between the two narratives.) Even the much-hyped Theyyam sequence (why Theyyam in a Tamil kingdom?) plays like an afterthought — it isn’t organic, it’s just another cool thing we now know Kamal Haasan can do. The glass-half-full guy in me says I should be thankful that a film at least gives you so much to think about, but this film isn’t that kind of glass. It’s really a looking glass. How I wished the entire film had been a mirror on Manoranjan, about what it is to be a star of a certain age, at a certain stage, about what it means to be Kamal Haasan.

Fast and Furious 7, review: ‘does justice to Paul Walker’


Furious 7 almost certainly won’t be the last Fast & Furious movie. But at times it feels like the series’ farewell. There are numerous callbacks and homages to the franchise’s entire 15-year history. The setpieces are bigger and crazier than ever, and it’s hard to imagine anyone topping them. And before the chases really get rolling, the mood is often downright mournful. Two different scenes are set in graveyards. Characters talk ominously about taking “one last ride” together.

It’s impossible to watch these moments and not think about Paul Walker, who tragically died in a car crash in November 2013 before production had wrapped. Even though Furious 7 delivers the franchise’s requisite thrills, Walker’s real-life fate is never too far from the surface. It’s on the audience’s mind when his character, Brian O’Conner, dangles off the edge of a cliff from a mangled bus, or when the camera begins to cut carefully around the actor’s face in scenes that were clearly completed after his death. Even though Walker is still present, his absence is already felt. It is strange to watch a movie that is this much fun and this sad all at the same time.

For years now — ever since the original cast returned in 2009’s Fast & Furious — the series has been building one of the densest and most complex mythologies in all of modern Hollywood, a trend that continues here as the characters deal with the fallout of their actions in Fast & Furious 6 (which was, in turn, a response to the aftermath of Fast Five, which dealt with the blowback from Fast & Furious). In the last film, street racer and master thief Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team defeated a British criminal named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans); in Furious 7, Shaw’s older brother Deckard (Jason Statham) vows revenge. Newcomers won’t notice, but hardcore Fast vets will be delighted, particularly when this Fast & Furious concludes a scene that originally began way back in The Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift almost ten years ago.

Deckard murders one of Dom’s buddies, blows up Dom’s house, and nearly kills his amnesiac lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez)Brian’s wife (and Dom’s sister) Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Brian and Mia’s young son. He also attacks Dom’s secret agent pal Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who’s no pushover. So Dom vows revenge on Deckard for vowing revenge on him. This is a lot of revenge for one movie to contain, and that’s before Dom and the rest of his crew (which also includes computer expert Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and comic relief Tyrese Gibson) hook up with a shadowy government operative named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and then start skydiving out of planes behind the wheel of their custom cars, a sport I guess we have to call “skydriving.”

Furious_7_poster

Though Fast & Furious began in 2001 as a movie about an undercover cop in the world of Los Angeles street racing, it has long since abandoned that milieu — along with the laws of physics — for globe-trotting espionage and heists involving wildly over-the-top action sequences. Furious 7 spans three continents and features a truly international cast, another major part of its appeal (new members of the ensemble include Thai martial artist Tony Jaa, West African actor Djimon Hounsou, and Bollywood star Ali Fazal, along with MMA champ Ronda Rousey). When it ramps up to full speed, it really delivers on the knowingly absurd stunts that Fast fans have come to expect, along with four epic showdowns: Rock/Statham, Walker/Jaa, Rousey/Rodriguez, and Statham/Diesel. (Diesel’s funniest line comes during that last one: “You think this is gonna be a street fight? You’re goddamn right it is!”)

Director James Wan, a man previously known for horror movies like The Conjuring and Insidious, replaced longtime franchise steward Justin Lin on Furious 7, but the visuals don’t miss a beat. By the big finale, Wan’s juggling three or four interconnected lines of parallel action, and doing so with a deftness and precision that a lot of veteran genre filmmakers still lack. Even with the tough choices he made out of necessity in order to keep Paul Walker in the film, this might be the best-looking and best-edited Fast & Furious so far. (I’d still rate Fast Five as the best overall movie in the franchise for sheer brio and entertainment value, and a plot that holds together a bit better than this one.)

Fast & Furious 6 made something of a catchphrase of the line “Ride or die.” It’s repeated by Michelle Rodriguez at the start of Furious 7, but this time Diesel suggests she try just the ride part and skip the rest. In the wake of Walker’s death, the creators of Furious 7 could have chosen to rein in some of the outrageous car chases and crashes. Instead, they went in the opposite direction; this Fast & Furious seems to contain a record number of brutal collisions that characters walk away from like they’re invincible. It’s a choice that could have backfired, but it feels right, and it makes Furious 7, which is already a fitting and moving send-off for Walker, even more poignant, because the characters in the film can do what people in the real world cannot: Defy death.

The late Paul Walker in Fast & Furious 7

The late Paul Walker in Fast & Furious 7