Girishh does something interesting in Kaarigai kanne – what is a whispery and gorgeous melody in Tamil and Telugu, it transforms into a mighty likeable Mohit Suri-style melody in the Hindi version, O mere sanam! The former variants include 2 singers, with the female singers (Shaktishree and Chinmayi) offering tantalizing spoken lyrics, while the Hindi variant is a Benny Dayal solo! Yaarada is grungy and spooky, while the Chinese song Xiao xiao ma is creepy and spooky. The Aval theme is spooky too, with added splendor from Fame’s Macedonia Symphonic Orchestra. Short soundtrack from Girishh with one clear melodic highlight.

Keywords: Aval, Gruham, The House Next Door, Girishh G

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The title song makes up in energy what it fails to do with nativity despite singing about ‘Gowdru’ hotel! Ondhe jeevana is good old Yuvan! The template is all there to hear and enjoy; catchy and highly listenable. Kshanvu kooda is no different – vintage Yuvan dance number that Sanjana Kalmanje aces, barring the occasional awkward note. Ninna haage is where Yuvan truly excels! What starts off as a predictably soft melody takes on lovely hues in the anupallavi, reminiscent of Ilayaraja and beautifully sung by Rahul Nambiar! Yuvan treats his Kannada debut as just-another-Tamil-film, but the tunes work effortlessly.

Keywords: Gowdru Hotel, Yuvan Shankar Raja

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The title song is earnestly background’ish not quite hitting the anthemic high it so obviously tries to reach. The theme crafted after the title song is more energetic and interesting. ‘Godfather kanmaniye‘! Yeah, let that sink in! Lyricist Arunraja Kamaraj’s head-scratching phrase, that. Imman’s generic melody doesn’t do the phrase any justice, though. But Imman does well in Thodra paakkalaam, with its foot-tapping and combative outlook, while Kulebaa vaa is the soundtrack’s best, with its exotic and immensely catchy sound. Malaysian singer Kumaresh Kamalakannan and Nalini Krishnan deliver the song wonderfully. Ippadai Vellum’s soundtrack is Imman’s usual bag of tricks.

Keywords: Ippadai Vellum, D.Imman

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There is an incredibly choreographed fight sequence between Vishal and the Chennai-Chinese underlings at the Red Dragon Chinese restaurant in Thupparivaalan. During this extended, flamboyant sequence, at one point, Vishal dodges the multiple attackers and runs up a small staircase. As he does, a couple of underlings chase him and one of them tries to attack Vishal with a brutal looking knife. As he does, it hits the staircase’s steel handle repeatedly as Vishal dodges each hit.

It seems oddly musical, like a sequence of musical notes (perhaps concocted by composer Arrol Corelli who is especially fantastic all through the film with a dizzying array of musical cues) – a progression in musical notes, to be accurate. If you think about it though, you’d notice that the steel handle is being hit by the same knife and the railing is a simple steel tube like any other with no additional construct. The musical progression that plays in the background should have ideally been one without any progression – a series of similar notes repeated 4-5 times.

But Mysskin wants dramatic tension here. So he plays those notes as an ascending progression, each note accentuating the tension. This is the hallmark of the entire film, in a way. A spectacularly nuanced and intelligent construction of many scenes that are attached to each other only because Mysskin wanted them that way. Because he can.

It’s hard to begrudge him that liberty, given that the film’s leading man chose to produce these amazing scenes loosely tied to a Sherlock-in-Saligramam premise.

The opening scenes—the ‘hero’ introduction—are oddly amateurish. Using a first-person visual narrative to showcase KaNiyan’s frustration in not getting an ‘intelligent’ case to solve seems so elitist and alienating to a normal movie watcher in Tamil Nadu and may appeal only to the sub-segment of audiences who are both interested in Tamil films and are aware of the Sherlock Holmes world. You let it pass and end up in Rhinoceros piss.

But, from Mysskin’s point of view, he establishes a lot of nuances about the characters in those scenes. What stands out is Vishal’s attention to detail, sometimes at the cost of assuming too many things (often accurate; only once does he accept that he is guessing and offers a choice when he asks Mallika if she lives with an uncle or an aunt) by extrapolating his guesses into a coherent story. And then the dynamic between Vishal and Prasanna (playing a world-weary and practical Dr.Watson) where Vishal signals his Watson not to touch the car keys dropped by a prospect, to let him build his story based on his actions. Watson—Prasanna—complies instantly. He listens. He sees. But he doesn’t observe, as Vishal states later in the film.

The antagonists that get on Vishal’s nerves are an interesting bunch. Veteran K.Bhagyaraj reuses his Santa Claus beard from Rudra and presents a stoic ‘Uncle’, while Andrea and Siddanth Venkatesh as the duo that accomplishes things for the gang, even as one of them spectacularly commits Seppuku in the middle of a road in Chennai, surrounded by Tamil Nadu Police (Why? Because Mysskin can!). And, in a comeback of sorts, Vinay Rai, as the cruel (named Devil!) chief villain who, while clearly lacking any larger motive, showboats his villainy in at least two amazing scenes—one in Bhagyaraj’s home and another in KaNiyan’s home—and his poor skills in culinary anger management involving eggs in one head-spinning scene.

There’s a lot of intelligently crafted sequences and ideas all through the film. The nuances they bring (allowing the viewers to think) are really what makes the film so engaging and gripping.

Like Vishal’s name in the film – KaNiyan Poongundran. His lack of social grace almost seems like an allegory to the original KaNiyan Poongundranaar’s Puranaanoru verse, Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Keleer!

Like the two crafty murder techniques that open the film; the former, involving electricity, is clearly a work of genius!

Like the nuance around the ricocheting bullet.

Like the way KaNiyan asks Ravi Mariya (Mallika’s uncle) where the balcony is as soon as he enters their house and goes to mentally calculate the distance between the 3rd floor balcony and the floor (not enough to die, but enough to impair).

Like the scene where KaNiyan asks Prasanna to freeze when the neighbor comes out of his house and suspects someone standing at the other door, but is not able to see it clearly. This is another place where Vishal’s constructive guesswork simply works – night, middle-aged, not wearing specs, possibly short-sighted.

Like the out-of-focus shot of Andrea standing outside the adjacent room when KaNiyan rushes to that floor in the hotel where Kamlesh is staying.

Like the mixed sentences KaNiyan throws at Vinay in the final scenes in Pichavaram while talking to both Vinay and Prasanna at the same time.

There’s so much to observe in the writing all through the film and gawk at the way they are visualized to precision.

It’s perhaps fitting and ironic at the same time that all this attention to detail is lavished only on a lot of supremely crafted scenes, but not at the cohesiveness of a plot.

The villain’s motive and backstory are explained in one breath-taking (for the actor, not for us) torture scene. The villain’s name is revealed (Holcha!) in the end as if it is going to make us feel something (we don’t; we have no clue that we should!). Even the elaborateness of the antagonists seems mighty pointless on the whole, even if individual scenes are astonishingly imagined (like the throwaway introduction of their cruelty, with the partly open fridge and the persistent cue of ‘coffee’ being a precursor to a murder).

It’s as if Mysskin constructed the entire film to showcase Sherlock’s… sorry, KaNiyan’s prowess as a detective. In a way, the entire film feels like an extended hero introduction scene. It all comes together to introduce Vishal as a restless, super-intelligent detective ready to take on deadly villains, with Holcha being the first.

It’s befitting that the film, within a month of its theatrical release in Tamil Nadu, is available on Amazon Prime for streaming directly to the homes and mobile phones of audiences. Thupparivaalan is the kind of stuff meant for binge-watching.

This should have been a 13 part television series to premiere in one-go on Amazon Prime. Heck, it actually feels like a fantastic pilot for Thupparivaalan, Season 1!

That would help set KaNiyan’s world as something more than one film, more than one set of villains, and more than just a one-note character. That could help overcome the dismay about how disjoint it all was while also being mind-bogglingly engaging and relentlessly entertaining.

Throw in 13 villains over 13 episodes of 120 minutes each (the film has no songs anyway, but there is a short title track that connects this KaNiyan Poongundran to the original sangam poet’s ‘Yaadhum oore’ line and plays awkwardly in two places almost as if this was planned as a 13 part series and this theme could have played over many more scenes across the series!) and you would have convincingly built a Saligramam-based Sherlock Holmes saga.

Semparuthi‘s Senthamizh verses by Pulamaipithan gets a resonant, semi-classical treatment by KP, along with Bombay Jayashri vocals. Ennenna kaatchigal is a breezy and catchy melody sung by Jaspreet Jasz and featuring Paul Vicc’s Santana-style guitaring. Vidigira vaanil has an interesting sound led by El Fé Choir’s harmonies, though it ends up seeming like the modern sequel to Raja Chinna Roja’s title song. El Fé Choir also does a splendid job in the Indrajith theme and The Jungle theme. Aayiram thamarai is at least decade late, while Neha Bhasin aces Kaadhal veesi, alongside that gorgeous sax layer. Competent debut by KP.

Keywords: Indrajith, KP

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Thaman’s recreated title song lives on the borrowed steam of Vishal-Shekhar’s original 2006 version. The kuthu elements Thaman adds are trite, at best. Maine tujhko dekha has Amaal Mallik awkwardly proving that he is indeed Anu Malik’s nephew! He lifts, just like his uncle, Linear’s Sending All My Love again, in the guise of insipid recreation of Ishq’s Neend churayi maine! Amaal’s other song, Hum nahi sudhrenge is a Bombay Vikings-like song without the same chutzpah. Lijo George-Dj Chetas’ Itna sannata kyun hai turns AK Hangal’s iconic Sholay dialog on its head into a throwaway EDM song. No maal again.

Keywords: Golmaal Again, Amaal Mallik, Thaman S, Lijo George-Dj Chetas

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Meghna Mishra’s debut, Main kaun hoon, has the earnestness of a newcomer, thanks to poignant lyrics by Kausar Munir. Kausar’s lyrics work even better in Meri pyaari Ammi, with its lived-in feel, though Nachdi phira is trademark-Amit rock that’s relatively less engaging. The combo’s best is Sapne re, with an old-world charm accentuated by Sanket Naik’s percussion, and O re manwa, with a lovely drawl over the mellow tune. Kushal Chokshi’s Hindi-Gujarati I’ll Miss You is a heartwarming ballad with dreamy, Claptonesque guitar. Mika’s Sexy baliye is frivolously corny and catchy, while Sunidhi’s joyous Gudgudi is predictably Amit. Charming—and conventional—soundtrack.

Keywords: Secret Superstar, Amit Trivedi

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Thodi si jagah has fantastic Carnatic-style strings by Finix Ramdas amidst the lively rock sound! Arijit is in his effortless, Amit Trivedi-mode. Arijit’s other song, Dhundlo tum is a soaring, soulful melody that expects a lot from the singer, and he, expectedly, delivers! Yeh mera man captures the Calypso’ish joie de vivre in Ash King’s winsome singing, while the blues’y title song is Shalmali’s impeccable show. Yeh jo pyaar is the soundtrack’s most mainstream, with a simple EDM base and the surprising choice of Nandini Srikar to sing it. Amartya Rahut gets his mojo back again, after Band Called Nine!

Keywords: Tu Hai Mera Sunday, Amartya Rahut

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The generic Middle Eastern sounds and familiar rhythm are downers but Nickk’s tune in Fashion queen is catchy, and works pretty well in Raahi’s vocals. Jeet Gannguli’s Thoda aur is left to Arjit Singh and Palak Muchhal to salvage given the melody’s extremely generic sound – it does have a throwaway pleasantness. The desi hiphop mix works perfectly in Tony Kakkar’s Helicopter! Tony and Neha Kakkar vocals, with the edgy accent, add to the song’s appeal. Bobby-Imran’s Godfather is the soundtrack’s most pointless song, aptly sung by Mika Singh. The Kakkars fly high with their Helicopter in Ranchi Diaries’ soundtrack.

Keywords: Ranchi Diaries, Nickk, Jeet Gannguli, Tony Kakkar, Bobby-Imran

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An early scene in Arjun Reddy categorically portends to what the man is all about. In what is an episode that Arjun and his friend Shiva briefly discuss much later in the film, Arjun doesn’t get what he wants and is literally in heat. He walks out to a flabbergasted ‘Darling open the door’ husband and tries to see if he can get any other woman to quench the heat, so to say. When all else fails, including a call to Shiva who calls him a ‘lout’, Arjun shoves ice down his groin and gets into an auto.

The point here is, Arjun picks ice from a roadside sugarcane juice vendor. He doesn’t seek permission from the bewildered vendor. He just sees the ice box, inserts his hand into it and takes whatever he wants. Much like how he sees Preethi walking with other girls for tea, in St.Mary’s Medical College and just announces to everybody that she is his.

That’s the kind of man Arjun is. A lout. An uncouth, irreverent, violent, short-tempered, entitled, incorrigible, privileged… and, as the film helpfully frames it, unconventional idiot. He is also pampered and spoilt by everyone around him, perhaps owing to the ‘talent’ he is supposed to have that has him conducting 200+ surgeries, all while fully drunk.

The most interesting thing about all this is that the film is still a riveting watch! Like watching a film about a miserable anti-hero with an unusual amount of hero-level posturing and swagger built into him by the script.

There are times when Arjun’s behavior gets him what he truly deserves. Like coming to Preethi’s house after she is married. He gets beaten up royally and it is a stroke of genius from the director that Shiva manages to avoid further bloodshed. But mostly, Arjun gets his way, awkwardly so – and that is the most problematic part of this film.

He gets away with beating up another football team. He gets away with all the drunk surgeries (except one, thankfully). He gets away with ‘owning’ a girl without her consent. Heck, he even gets away with being the ‘hero’ of this film despite his boorish bad behavior all through!

In what seems like a grown-up child with a severe anger management and a drinking problem, Arjun throws a tantrum while wallowing in self-pity for almost 75% of the film – that’s the classic Devdas template anyway, made more prominent by Radhan’s consistently exhilarating music and Harshavardhan Rameshwar’s background score, on the Dev.D template. He is berated constantly by his friends and family. He is called names. He is thrown out of places. He is beaten black and blue. He loses his medical license. It is fantastic to find a hero… or anti-hero, getting pummelled to this extent by himself and life and wonder what would happen to him ultimately. You end up feeling like his friend Shiva… you keep giving up on him only to come back the next day to check on him.

The denouement is clearly aimed for a surprise, shock moment. But it goes well with the film’s momentum… the opposite of, ‘you’ve gone so high that the only way now is down’.

The plethora of fresh faces really help make it all completely real. But, of course, it is Vijay Devarakonda who is astonishingly convincing as the hopeless, drunken lout. Vijay simmers through most of his scenes while bursting out in the rest… always volatile and impatient with things around him even as the people around him try their best to make him understand that the world doesn’t work to please him. Shiva, as Vijay’s friend, gets some of the best lines in the film including berating his useless friend the most while also not giving up on him.

Preethi, the object of Vijay’s affection, is in a constant state of looking like a helpless puppy. She barely gets a dialog for most of the film’s initial portions and gets to show that she has a mind of her own too only when she accepts Arjun as her man.

Sandeep Vanga, the director, has a really keen eye on people and their surroundings and interestingly chooses to focus on little things. Like Shiva’s father asking about Arjun at least on 3 different occasions with 2 of them ending up in a brief discussion about diarrhea. Or the brief discussion between Shiva and Arjun outside his hospital about ‘Darling open the door’.

It’s these slice-of-life moments peppered all through the film that keeps the film consistently aloft, despite a miserable, self-pitying lead character trying to pull it down at every moment. That balance—of the lead character going from bad to worse to miserable versus the people around him pulling him up for some air—is the film’s most interesting dynamic.

If you don’t keep asking why people are so considerate to this disgusting lout, the film remains a phenomenally interesting watch. It doesn’t take much though – we’re used to suspending disbelief when a hero single-handedly fights 20 goons; here he fights 20 of his inner demons with a little help from his friends and family.

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November 2017
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