Come holiday time and that too when a major festival coincides with a weekend and it gets all the more potent for filmmakers who keep salivating at the very thought of their ‘biggie’ running riot at the box office. So with Eid this year falling on a Friday (Aug 9th) we had many films across India lining up for release. After the stalemate between Chennai Express and Once Upon A Time in Mumbai Dobaara ended it was going to be only Chennai Express from Bollywood. Similarly from Tamil Cinema it was to be ‘Ilaya Thalapathy’ Vijay’s Thalaivaa, the biggie from Telugu was to be Pawan Kalyan’s Atharintiki Daaredi and Bengali Cinema lined up Jeet’s Boss which was a remake of Mahesh Babu–Puri Jagannath’s Businessman. Marathi Cinema saw the relatively small film 72 Miles Ek Pravas as the Eid release while Malayalam Cinema in a strange move came forward with 4 releases- all of them films being anticipated- Mammootty– Ranjith’s Kadal Kadannu Oru Maathukutty, Kunchacko Boban– Lal Jose’s Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum, Dulquer Salman– Sameer Thahir’s Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi and Prithviraj– Jeetu Joseph’s Memories.
So here I was in Mumbai all charged up to watch Chennai Express, Thalaivaa, Atharintiki Daaredi and NPCB when it became clear that Pawan Kalyan- Trivikram’s Atharintiki Daaredi wouldn’t make it for Eid owing to the political unrest in A.P. Then came the next blow in the form of Vijay-A.L.Vijay’s Thalaivaa’s release in Tamil Nadu getting stalled due to some political controversy and even the release of the film in places other than T.N looked a little unsure till Friday morning. Amidst all this I was hoping that apart from NPCB maybe 1-2 other Malayalam movies would also make its way to Mumbai thanks to Atharintiki Daaredi pulling out of the race. Sadly that did not happen and finally the films left for me to check out were Chennai Express, Thalaivaa and NPCB.
I happened to watch the paid preview of the film on Thursday with a couple of fellow authors from MAM. We saw it in a good single screen,witnessed the crowd enjoying the film and then proceeded to discuss, debate, thrash and appreciate the film in various ways over what else but Old Monk for company 🙂 . No I’m not going to attempt a review of the film here as I feel Sudeep Nigam has already done a good job with his review. Neither am I going to discuss the merits and/or demerits of the film as it really doesn’t matter anymore as people are only looking at how much money will the movie make now 🙂 . But yes I do want to say that the film is nowhere good to be called a classic but neither is it the worst film of the year to be dumbed down like a sack of filth. Rohit Shetty and SRK had a clear agenda in mind while they set out to make Chennai Express and that agenda seems to be working.
We all know the kind of films that Rohit Shetty has been making and hence it should come as no surprise that Chennai Express has ended up as just another typical Rohit Shetty film. For the uninitiated let me say that I’m referring to films which critics would tear apart but end up getting lapped by the audience. You may like it or dislike it but cannot ignore it as the norm dictates. And that’s what holds true for Chennai Express as well. Hence I really feel it’s not worth my time to add anything more about this film now and will explain this aspect further down this post.
At the time of writing this the people behind this mass masala Tamil film have a lot to worry about and a little to cheer as well. The film has opened quite well in Kerala, Karnataka, overseas and even rest of India but the release in Tamil Nadu is still pending thanks to some unwanted controversy which even a small kid following Tamil Cinema by now understands is just about petty politics and nothing to do with the film per se. Now I’m no fan of Vijay, but have always admired and accepted his accepted his mass appeal among the audience. I do not except anything way too unconventional from his films as it’s foolish to expect say art house sensibilities from his films as he himself keeps saying he has a commitment towards keeping his fans happy.
Of late there’s a big change in the kind of films he is doing. He’s started working with a lot of established directors and the effect had started getting visible with A.R.Murugadoss’s Thuppakki, probably the best Vijay film in the last 5 years or so. So with Thalaivaa again I had some basic expectations when the film was announced considering that the director A.L.Vijay is a reasonably safe hand at handling films with big stars (well his Thaandavam was an aberration of sorts 🙂 ). But as the film’s shooting progressed and when it was clear that Vijay was to play a larger than life role based in Mumbai I started looking forward to various influences that the film must have factored in. The trailer reinforced my feeling further and then I saw the film on the very first day of release at Aurora Cinema, Mumbai- the best place to watch a Tamil, Telugu or Malayalam movie in Mumbai.
As expected the film released in Mumbai too with a lot of fanfare (as seen in the image attached) and the single screen audience comprising of mainly Vijay fans seemed to be all too happy that the movie did release in Mumbai on time unlike in T.N. The film starts off with some violent scenes in Mumbai before leapfrogging in time to Sydney, Australia where Vijay and Santhanam seem to be having a blast, the former more into dance with the latter providing comic relief apart from also handling Vijay’s mineral water plant and its supplies. Enter the heroine Amala Paul and the rest of the 1st half is a breezy ride, with songs, light moments and nothing typical of a Vijay film though there’s hardly anything happening till the interval twist. The 2nd half seems to be tailor made for Vijay fans as too many influences get evident with films like Nayagan, Baasha, Sarkar, Thevar Magan and many more. The film stretches and pushes itself beyond redemption as it ends up with nothing new to offer despite its length of `183 minutes. Yes the film does have political undercurrent if you observe carefully but nothing that’s worth spoiling your sleep, let alone entering into controversy zone. Eventually the film is worth talking about for fans of Vijay while for the others it ends up as just another routine Vijay film.
The film may or may not appeal to all but it doesn’t take away the fact that the unofficial ban on the film in T.N is simply not done at all. The people responsible for the same should understand that the film is not about Vijay alone and is a result of the sweat and toil of a whole host of people involved and hence it’s imperative that the film be allowed a theatrical release in T.N soon, very soon.
Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi
Sameer Thahir is a cinematographer in Malayalam Cinema who turned director with Chaappa Kurishu, a film more than clearly inspired by the South Korean film, Handphone. Though a riveting film, it didn’t really impress me all that much and recently he had made the short film Esha, which is part of the anthology film Anchu Sundarikal. Esha for me was the weakest of the 5 short films and hence ideally I should have not expected anything from his latest film NPCB. But the initial few posters and stills, followed by the teaser was more than enough to hook me. A quintessential road movie, NPCB is a film which talks about Kasi (Dulquer Salman) and Suni (Sunny Wayne) who set out on a bike trip all by themselves. Now while watching the movie on many a point in the film one gets the feeling that Kasi and Suni are just a representation of us. And for this one doesn’t even have to become a biker and/or have a fascination for bikes.
Kasi’s journey is all about wanting to forget something and yet this journey just makes him go back to the same thing. Suni is the sort of best friend one would always want to have by your side, someone whom you can count on for anything, just about anything. The film is youthful, vibrant and has everything that the urban youth connects to and yet stays rooted something that’s commendable by Sameer Thahir. The women in the film are all superb and have a definite character element that makes you remember them well after the film is over, even if their screen time was not that much. Surja Bala as Assi, the love interest of Kasi is able to portray the innocence and sweetness that the character demands. The romance between Kasi and Assi is shown in extremely realistic fashion and it’s really good to see that Sameer Thahir did not bow down to commercial diktat and bring in unnecessary romantic ballads into the film. Be it in the scene when Kasi protects Assi during a police crackdown during a student protest or when Kasi calls up the Ladies Hostel landline to speak to Assi, the moments are subtle and well done. I was reminded of my own college days when mobile phones were too expensive and out of reach for us and I spent evening after evening, night after night glued to the landline phone at home only to call up the Ladies Hostel of my college to talk to a girl I liked :).
Paloma Monappa as Ishita the surfer makes heads turn with her confident debut and Ena Saha is effective. Dhritiman Chatterjee’s presence lends a lot of maturity to the film at the right time. The film also zig-zags through places not usually seen in Malayalam Cinema like Vizag, Puri, rural West Bengal, Nagaland etc and Gireesh Gangadharan’s cinematography brings alive these wonderful locations on film. Hashir Mohamed’s writing is very contemporary and the use of Hindi, Tamil, English and Bengali dialogues gives the film a Pan Indian appeal of sorts. Rex Vijayan’s music is wonderful and the songs do not distract us at all in the film. ‘Doore Doore’ (lyrics by Vinayak Sasikumar and sung by Suchith Suresan) is an easy going biker song while ‘Neerapalunkukal’ (sung by Saju Srinivas) quickly shows us the chemistry between Kasi and Assi in the course of the song. ‘Thaazhvaram’ (sung by Sushin Shyam) is a call to the road once again and the instrumental piece at the end of the song is a treat to the ears.
NPCB is not all just fun and frolic as there is a sense of purpose to the whole journey which becomes clear to Kasi in the 2nd half. Even the way the film culminates with an anticipation of an extended bike ride, albeit with change of companion is interesting. As the film got over I was filled with a strange feeling as I experienced a rush of emotions. It was easy to connect to NPCB as the film was my kind of story, youthful, fresh and with panache. At the end of it all I even started wondering why on earth we are bothered too much about films like Chennai Express and Thalaivaa (no disrespect to either film) when there’s so much to be seen, heard and observed in NPCB.
Undoubtedly NPCB is my pick among the Eid releases this year.