Jailer: A Well Packaged Entertainer

There are enough Rajini moments to keep the fans satisfied
Jailor ( Tamil). 3 out of 5
Starcast: Rajinikanth, Vinayakan, Ramya Krishna, Yogi Babu and others special appearances ( Shiv Rajkumar, Mohanlal and Jackie Shroff)
Director and writer: Nelson Dilipkumar
Producer: Kalanithi Maran
Production Company: Sun Pictures
Music: Anirudh Ravichander
Genre: Action/comedy
Running time: 2 hours and 48 minutes

Jailer, directed by Nelson Dilipkumar, is a commercial potboiler with a mix of everything. There is the father and son emotion with a climax that is reminiscent of Kamal Haasan’s Bharateeyudu. There is also lot of dark humour generated through Yogi Babu’s character. The film takes the viewers back to Baasha times. Like in Baasha the protagonist in this film also has a violent past.

The film begins with the introduction of a gang who smuggles temple sculptures. The head of gang is Varman (Vinayakan). The opening scene establishes the brutality of the antagonist. From here we move to Tiger Muthuvel Pandian (Rajinikanth). Pandian is a retired jailor who now spends most of his time making YouTube videos with his grandson. His son Arjun (Vasanth Ravi) is an assistant commissioner of police who is on the trail of Varman’s gang. Arjun is warned by many not to dig too deep into this case but he refuses to stop the investigation. One day Arjun goes missing and the viewers are led to believe that he is dead. But things are not as simple as they appear to be. In brief Jailor is about what happened to Arjun and how Muthuvel Pandian nullifies the baddies with the help of some delightful cameos.

For any masala potboiler it is necessary that the villain is on par with the hero. Jailor doesn’t disappoint you there. Nelson has created a terrific antagonist with the character of Vinayakan. Vinayakan makes a huge impression with just his body language. Even in the lighter moments the actor does a very good job. A special mention must be made of Harshath playing one of the henchmen. In spite of limited screen time he makes a good impact.

Rajinikanth and others in celebration mood

The family moments particularly those between Rajinikanth and his on-screen grandson leave a smile on the viewers face. There is palpable warmth between them.  

The dark humour in the film mostly lands thanks to Yogi babu’s comic timing and the banter that both he and Rajinikanth share. Even the action scenes have a certain element of fun.

Coming to Rajinikanth’s Muthuvel Pandian Nelson has done a good job in designing the character. Initially we see Rajinikanth underplaying but later the character transforms into a menacing force. This has been showcased well. The emotional bits are also done well. There are scenes where there are no dialogues but the emotion is still very much felt.

Vinayakan, the perfect villain

Anirudh’s music and background score is another strong pillar for the film. It elevates the scenes in a major way. My favorite song in the film is Rathamaarey which showcases the family bond.

Finally the cameos have also been integrated well. It is a treat to watch Rajinikanth sharing screen space with Mohanlal and Shiv Rajkumar.

What doesn’t work for Jailor is the subplot of Sunil and Tamannah. It only adds to the length of the second half. Ramya Krishna as a typical housewife plays her part well but some of Rajinikanth’s scenes with her come across as too misogynistic.

Keeping the flaws aside it is good to see Rajinikanth playing his age like Amitabh Bachchan. Hope more good stories are written for him.

PS-2: A More Focused Film Than Part 1

In spite of the flaws director Mani Ratnam deserves credit for bringing alive a relatively unknown part of history

PS 2(Tamil)                 3 out of 5

Starcast: Vikram, Jayam Ravi, Karthi, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayaram, Rehman, Trisha and others

Direction and screenplay: Mani Ratnam

Additional screenplay: B. Jeyamohan and Elango Kumaravel

Story: Kalki Krishnamurthy

Based on: Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthy

Producers: Mani Ratnam and Subaskaran Allirajah

Production companies: Madras Talkies and Lyca productions

Genre: Historical drama

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes

Kalki Krishnamurthy’s novel on the Chola dynasty is considered to be a significant part of Tamil literature. The novel Ponniyin Selvan was also serialized in the weekly editions of a Tamil magazine. PS-1 (Ponniyin Selvan) was Mani Ratnam’s dream project which finally came alive in 2022. Not surprisingly PS-1 worked more in the Tamil belt given the nativity factor. The film had a mixed response in other languages particularly the Hindi market.

It did decently well in Telugu also but in Hindi the film didn’t attract many eyeballs. A big shortcoming of PS-1 was its convoluted screenplay coupled with the addition of too many subplots. There were also some editing lags.

Hence the anticipation around PS-2 was not the same as SS Rajamouli’s Bahubaali 2. However a Mani Ratnam directorial always garners attention even though the director has not been in his best form of late.

The second part begins at the exact point where the first part ended. The Cholas led by Arunmozhi Varman aka Ponniyin Selvan (Jayam Ravi), brother of Chola king Aditya Karikaludu and Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyadevudu (Karthi) are fighting with Pandyas in the sea. While fighting they fall into the waters. Fortunately they are saved by a mute woman Mandakini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a double role). Later Arunmozhi gets treated by the Buddha monks in Sri Lanka. At the same time a conspiracy is taking place. Nandini (again Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) along with the Pandyas is planning to eradicate the Chola dynasty. There are also some Chola chieftains who want to make Madhuranthakudu (Rehman) the Chola king by dethroning Aditya Karikaludu (Vikram).

The rest of the film deals with how the power struggle maps out. And also who is Mandakini and what is her connection with Nandini? Do Arunmozhi and Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyadevudu return to the Chola kingdom? And lastly, who gains the upper hand- Cholas or Pandyas?

First and foremost – the screenplay of PS-2 is a definite improvement over the first part. Mani Ratnam does a good job in connecting all the loose ends and coming up with satisfactory answers.

Some of the twists and turns do catch the viewers unaware. A particular mention must be made of the Nandini’s back story.

The dramatic scenes in PS-2 have also been far better written. A good example of that is the love hate relation between Aditya Karikaludu and Nandini. Vikram and Aishwarya don’t have many scenes together but the intensity is very much palpable in the brief encounters that they have. There is an important sequence late in the second half featuring the two. This scene does pierce the audience’s heart thanks to the direction and also the performances of Vikram and Aishwarya. Vikram in particular is brilliant with certain unhingedness.

Ponniyan Selvan Part 1 – More Of A Docu Drama Than A Historical Epic

The genre of big scale epics has seen a huge revival thanks to filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, SS Rajamouli and even Ashutosh Gowariker to an extent. The likes of Bajirao Mastani, Bahubali 1 and 2 and Jodha Akbar have created a deep impact in the audiences mind. With Ponniyin Selvan Part 1 legendary director Mani Ratnam attempts a genre which he has never done in the past. For those who are not aware the movie is based on a novel by the same name. Since I have not read the novel I will be purely judging the movie as a standalone piece.

Ponniyin Selvan tries to be a gripping combination of thrills, intrigue and emotions.  However, in its effort to be plot heavy the film ends up being neither here nor there, particularly for the Telugu and Hindi audiences.

The story is majorly centered on the character of Vanthiyathevan (Karthi) he is entrusted by Aditya Karikaaludu (Vikram) with the task of delivering important messages to Karikaaludu’s father and sister (Prakash Raj and Trisha respectively). As per the messages plans are being laid out by princely kings to bring down the Chola Empire. Vanithiyathevan’s duty is to find out what are the evil plans and who are hell bent on tarnishing the glory of the Chola Empire. Aishwarya Rai plays princess Nandini. Nandini is someone who comes with a mysterious past, this mysterious past is connected to Karikaaludu. Other important characters include Jayam Ravi as Ponniyin Selvan.

What follows is a complex drama that is hard to keep up with.

One of the few redeeming factors of PS-1 is some of the performances starting with Karthi. The actor is a delight to watch whenever he is on screen. His comic timing and the general energy that he brings to the screen is something that uplifts the film at many places. His interactions with both Aishwarya and Trisha bring a smile to your face.

Vikram as Karikaaludu has less screen time but the actor’s intense performance is a treat to watch. Jayram Ravi makes his entry in the second half but the actor makes his presence amply felt.

Both Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Trisha look like million bucks thanks to director Mani Ratnam and the costumes by Eka Lakhani. Mani Ratnam along with Sanjay Leela Bhansali are one of those few directors who best understand how to use Aishwarya. Here too Mani Ratnam casts her smartly as the enigmatic queen with her own secrets.

Cinematography by Ravi Varman also goes perfectly with the requirement of the film. He does a good job in showing the grandeur of Cholas through his lens. The production design by Thota Tharrani also adds to the richness of the frames.

The biggest issue with Ponnin Selvan- 1 is the numerous subplots integrated into the story by the director. Too many things are happening simultaneously and as a result it is difficult to catch up the plot.

The film is also filled with many characters that don’t make any impact whatsoever. Perfect examples of these are ones played by Prakash Raj, Sarat Kumar and Rehman.

The film’s editing is also subpar as the drama moves at a very slow pace, particularly in the second half. Some of the scenes are way too lengthy. A perfect example of this is the climax where Karthi and Jayam Ravi take upon some villains. The fight scene happens in a ship with thundering rain as a backdrop. It is definitely jaw dropping but this action block goes on way too long. Because of this the cliff hanger at the end doesn’t really make an impact.

Music by AR Rahman is pleasant but nothing spectacular. It is nowhere close to their previous associations.

Final word: Watch PS-1 if you are a fan of Mani Ratnam or you like slow paced historical dramas. The rest can give it a skip.

Gargi : Only For Die Hard Fans Of Sai Pallavi

Gargi directed by Gautam Ramachandra is a khichdi of many films. Courtroom drama interspersed with an important social topic has become a genre in itself. Case in point being Surya’s Jai Bheem and Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Jana Gana Mana among others. The topic of sexual abuse is also something which we have seen in films earlier too. A film becomes engaging only when a director brings something new to the table even within the familiar zone. Gautam did try to make it engaging but he did not succeed completely. One thing is sure, the twist at the end is something which knocks off your feet.

(Sai Pallavi) is a school teacher leading a decent life in Hyderabad. Her father (R.S Shivaji) is a security guard. He is accused of sexual abuse on a girl child, this girl child lives in the apartment that he works. Gargi is convinced that her father is innocent and she wants to prove it. No lawyer is ready to fight his case as everyone is convinced that the security guard is indeed guilty. At this crucial juncture an inexperienced advocate Gireeshan Kappaganthula (Kaali Venkat) steps in. Adding to the mix there is also Aishwarya Lekmi playing a typical version of cinema journalist. The rest of the story is about whether the security guard has been falsely accused or if he has actually done this heinous crime.

Gautam Ramachandra doesn’t waste any time in setting up the plot. More than the story it is the narration that pulls you in. The director does a good job in capturing the lifestyle of Gargi and her surroundings. There is no artificiality here.

The portions between Sai Pallavi and Kaali Venkat have also been well developed by the director. The way he comes forward to help Gargi has come out well. There is also some subtle humour that he brings to the table.

The director also deserves credit for creating the character of a transgender judge. Sudha S brings a certain authority to the part. She is particularly good when she gives it back to the public prosecutor after his snide remark.

One major failure of Gargi is how it depicts the media. Stereotypical representation of media has become a common feature in these kind of films, and Gargi is no different. The character of Aishwarya Lekmi doesn’t bring anything substantial to the tale. The change in her character at the end comes across as lame. There are some other supporting characters too which could have been avoided. These include the uncle character and also the boyfriend of Gargi that we see earlier on. They don’t really help in any way.

The scenes showing the childhood trauma of Gargi are rather inappropriately placed. The intention isn’t wrong but the placement is where it goes horribly wrong. Gargi gives you a sense of deja vu as Sai Pallavi’s love story also had the theme of sexual abuse.

Though Sai Pallavi essays the role of a lower middle class woman with a conviction, which by now we have got accustomed to, the theme of the film has become redundant; it might have reached its expiry date.

Vikram: A Masala Treat For The Fans Of Kamal, Fahadh And Vijay

The biggest victory of Lokesh Kangaraj’s Vikram is how he balances the three immensely talented actors. The script has been written in such a way that all three get their moments to shine. In essence, Vikram is a stylish action drama. The first twenty-to thirty minutes of the film are a bit of slog with the overload of the information but as you go along the film starts getting better. Vikram is not as engaging as Karthik’s Kaithi which also belonged to the same genre, but it definitely fares better than the director’s last film Master.

The films begins off the supposed death of Karnan (Kamal Hassan).  Karnan is the father of the martyred cop Prapachan (Kalidas Jayaram) We learn that a series of such killings has been happening, the people responsible for this are a group of masked men. This group calls it their war against the system. To stop these killings, the police chief brings in a black cops team. The head of this team is Amar (Fahadh Fasil). Amar starts digging into the past of Karnan. Vijay Sethupati plays a fearsome drug lord called Santhanam. Santhanam is searching for a shipment that would make him a king pin. Meanwhile, Amar is getting more and more puzzled by the many versions that he hears about Karnan. Was Karnan an alcoholic father grieving over the loss of his son, a womanizer or something more than that? But the bigger question is whether he is really dead.

The most intriguing part of Vikram is the investigation scenes of Amar and his team. These portions keep you hooked as you yourself are also trying to figure out who the actual Karnan is. There isn’t a lot of Kamal Hassan in this part but his presence can still be amply felt, both as an actor and also as a character.

The action part before the interval has a solid twist that makes you look forward for the second half. Post interval the plot becomes more straight faced. Just like Kaithi here too you have a bunch of cops holding against an army of gangsters.

The subplot of Karnan and Prapanchan’s baby gives the second half some emotional undercurrent. These portions are pretty good. Kalidas Jayaram has a small role but the actor does a good job nevertheless.

As I earlier said all the three actors get their moments to shine. Kamal Hassan packs a punch in both the action and the emotional bits. His scenes with the little grandson give some heat touching moments. Fahadh Faasil sails through his role with his usual aplomb. He shines the brightest in the first half. Vijay Sethupati’s Santhanam is an extension of what he did in Master but the actor still makes an impact with his villainous turn. His interactions with the family members raise some chuckle worthy moments.

What pulls down Vikram significantly are the overdose of action. There is no denying that they have been solidly choreographed, but these scenes come too frequently from the middle of the second half.

Also the suspense factor is no longer there once the identity of Karanan is revealed. The film becomes more generic after this in terms of treatment. As a result the film starts feeling very prolonged. The editing department is another minus for Vikram. At least thirty minutes of the film could have been easily chopped off. Because of the excessive length the impact of Surya’s cameo lessens down.

It also doesn’t help that the supporting characters with the exception of Kalidas are mostly gap fillers.  

In a nutshell, watch Vikram if you are a fan of the three actors. But be prepared for all the bloodshed.

Thalaivi: Starts Off Promisingly But Loses Steam Midway

The life of Jayalalithaa makes for an engaging dramatic story. She was someone who treaded her own path in the industry and later became an iron- fisted politician. There are highs and lows in her life both as an actress and also as a politician. Not surprisingly many biopics were announced after death. You have already had Gautam Menon’s web series Queen starring Ramya Krishna as Jayalalithaa. There was also the announcement of Nithya Menon playing Jayalalithaa alongside the Kangana Ranaut’s one directed by AL Vijay.

Out of the two AL Vijay’s one has been creating lot of buzz. Apart from the real life personality Kangana playing the title role has also helped in the buzz. After seeing Thalaivii the first thing that comes to your mind is how much of Kangana’s presence affected the film particularly in the second half. Al Vijay does a good job in exploring in the Jayalalithaa and MGR relationship along with the impact that MGR had in her joining politics. The MGR character is played by the terrific Aravind Swamy. But the film dips badly in the second half and never really recovers.

There is nothing wrong in playing to the gallery but AL Vijay along with writer Vijayendra Prasad overplayed the masala. It also doesn’t help that the film becomes melodramatic. It is a shame because Thalaivii had lot of potential.

Thailavii begins off with a disturbing scene where Jayalalithaa is molested in the Vidhan Sabha. She compares herself to Draupadi and makes a vow that she will enter the assembly only after becoming the chief minister. From there we move to Jaya’s acting journey. We see her dancing around the tress and also wearing some striking retro costumes. The first half is mostly devoted to establishing the bond between Jaya and MGR. We see MGR helping her in being more comfortable in front of the camera. Slowly Jaya starts having a significant space in MGR’s life. It doesn’t go down too well with Raj Arun who plays the trusted man of MGR. There are also glimpses of Karunanidhi played by Nassar and MGR entering into politics. The second half takes a big shift as the plot looks at Jayalalithaa’s political entry and how she became a revered leader.

One of the things that AL Vijay gets right is recreation of the period. The atmospherics in the first half fits the time zone aptly. The costumes are beautiful without making it come across as gaudy. The set design is also appropriate and there are times where you will get nostalgic.

Aravind Swamy, as I earlier said, is brilliant. He does an outstanding job in making sure that MGR doesn’t come across a caricature. He particularly shines in the second half as the politician. His scenes with Kangana are emotionally quite moving. A scene which I really liked was after her bharatnatyam performance. He says to her that if he hadn’t come as a chief minister he would have whistled there itself. After that we see him closing the door and giving a loud whistle much to Jaya’s surprise.

The biggest issue with Thalaivii is the rushed portrayal of Jayalalithaa’s entry into politics. An important incident related to the misuse of MGR’s Midday Meal scheme doesn’t have the emotional impact that it needed to have. There are many instances in the second half where you feel that the makers are playing to Kangana’s image instead of focusing on the core story.

The character of Karunanidhi also doesn’t leave any impact whatsoever. Nassar has the presence but is severely underutilised and comes across as a caricature.

Coming to Kangana Ranaut the actress tries hard to fill in the big shoes. She fares better as an actress than as a politician. The makeup and the effort to look hefty in the second half just doesn’t work.

A personality like Jayalalithaa deserves a far better attempt than this.

Master: Two Vijays, A Juvenile Home And Drugs

Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Master is a rare mainstream film where the villain gets equal footage to the hero. In fact we are introduced first to Vijay Sethupathi’s Bhavani rather than the hero Vijay Thalapathy and the reason for his evilness is also well established by the director. This plays a huge factor in the exciting face-off between the hero and the villain at the end. Plot wise Master is a routine good versus bad story but to the director’s credit he does package it in a fairly interesting way.
In simple terms the story is about an alcoholic professor JD played by Vijay Thalapathy. After working as a college professor he is sent to a juvenile home to reform the young children there. There his life takes a huge turn due to Bhavani. The rest is about how Master wins over Bhavani and also reforms the children and others who work for Bhavani.

An important part of the film is the realistic picture of life in juvenile homes and how the young prisoners there are treated. Lokesh Kanagaraj succeeds in making you empathize with the cause of juvenile children through JD. The major reason for this is how the characters of the young children have been written. He is also effective in showing the transformation of JD in the second half. There is also a strong message from the director about giving up alcohol and drugs.

The comic scenes where Vijay Thalapathy talks about why he is single are quite hilarious. You have references to Titanic, Premam, Attarintiki Daaredi and other movies. These scenes work well as they raise ample chuckles. Malavika Mohanan, the female lead has nothing much to do, like in most commercial movies.

Anirudh Ravichander’s background music is a major asset for the film. His background score elevates many of the film’s action scenes and slow-mo moments. The songs are also quite good.Performance wise Vijay Thalapathy is good but Vijay Sethupathi is the show stealer with his solid acting. Apart from being an effective villain the actor also shows his comic side in the scenes of banter. Master is a typical commercial film but well packaged.