Mahanati: Intense, Dramatic, Inspiring

Biopics are becoming all the rage in the current wave of Indian cinema, with each industry producing and popularizing lesser-known aspects of beloved celebrities. Mahanati follows the life of the South Indian actress Savitri, from her childhood days to her final days. The film begins in the 1980s by introducing Madhuravani alias Vani (Samantha Akkineni), a journalist who has been assigned to cover the story of Savitri (Keerthy Suresh). She, along with her photographer Anthony (Vijay Deverakonda), embark on a journey to uncover bits and pieces of the actress’ life, including her entry into films, her love affair and marriage to Gemini Ganesan (Dulquer Salmaan), and other highs and lows of her career and personal life.


In any biopic, storytelling of a character’s life narrative is important and can make or break the film. Nag Ashwin’s direction is excellent and the interweaving of Savitri’s life (through flashback) with the lives of Vani and Anthony offers a comfortable balance of past and present. The characterization of Savitri provides viewers with a multifaceted view of who she is both as a superstar and a human being. From her magnanimous nature to her brilliance as an actress, Savitri is a fiercely dedicated and hardworking woman with a kind and compassionate heart. The blossoming of her love for Gemini Ganesan is shown so subtly and beautifully, alongside her upward climb towards success in the movie business.


As a period film set in the 50s/60s and 80s, Mahanati’s settings and recreation of these eras is a nostalgic walk down memory lane for folks who grew up idolizing Savitri during these times. Dani Sanchez-Lopez’s cinematography is fantastic, and certain scenes depicting Savitri’s relationship with alcohol and alcoholism uniquely capture the quandaries of her mind and substance addiction. The music and background score by Mickey J Meyer infuses Indian elements with string orchestration in melodies that appeal to the ears and suit the visual vibe of the movie. While certain scenes appear dramatic and over the top by current standards of filmmaking and storytelling, they are justified by the fact that the majority of this film is set in a time period of up to six decades ago.


Coming to the performances, Keerthy Suresh has done an incredible job as the superstar Savitri. From the young bubbly adolescent to the successful superstar to the helpless alcoholic mother, Keerthy excels in all facets of the dynamic actress Savitri. Dulquer Salmaan is charming as ever as Kadhal Mannan Gemini Ganesan, portraying the character’s love and admiration for Savitri as well as his insecurities and inner turmoil in their relationship. Samantha perfectly fits the role of the intelligent but shy journalist Vani, and her ending conversation with the Mahanati herself is heartfelt.


Final Verdict: Mahanati is an inspiring Telugu-Tamil biopic that highlights the life of one of yesteryear’s beloved starlets Savitri. Although it is relatively long (almost 3 hours), this film is a definite tear-jerker, even for folks who are less familiar with Savitri’s life and body of work.


Baahubali 2: A Conclusion with Pomp and Circumstance

Baahubali 2 is easily one of the most highly anticipated films of India. This multilingual franchise has become a national event for Indians worldwide, who are all dying to know the answer to one important question: Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali? Discover this and much more in SS Rajamouli’s grand epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.

The film picks up where part 1 leaves off, continuing to narrate the history of Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas), this time, focusing on his adventures with Kattappa (Sathya Raj) and his romance with Devasena (Anushka Shetty). Also in this tale of  treason and betrayal are Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan), Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati), and Bijjaladeva (Nassar), who each have their own complexities and responsibilities in royal family politics.

In all its grandeur and glory, Baahubali 2 bears similarities to several popular epics, including The Lion King, Jodhaa Akbar, and Mahabharata (particularly with the cousins rivalry trope). Filled with conspiracy theories and the struggle between justice and injustice, SS Rajamouli takes us on a three-hour journey into the world and internal dynamics of Mahishmati (Magizhmati) and beyond. Baahubali 2 seems like a fairytale, with all the special visual effects, yet at its core it is a film about humanity in the face of greed, power, love, and loyalty.

One of the major strengths in this film is definitely its strong female characters. Anushka Shetty and Ramya Krishnan deliver power-packed performances as Devasena and Sivagami (respectively), who are two fiercely loyal, determined women faced with insurmountable difficulties and circumstances in a manipulative kingdom. With ease, Ramya Krishnan simultaneously embodies a compassionate, concerned mother and a righteous, commanding leader. Although Anushka’s stunts and action sequences in the first part of the film are brilliant, the cherry on top would have been seeing her in full form fighting off villains in the latter half. Nevertheless, as Devasena, she sticks to her tenacious principles and maintains a confident attitude throughout.

K.K. Senthil Kumar’s fantastic cinematography, combined with MM Kreem’s haunting, melodious music and background score, only enhance this epic conclusion. The occasional visual throwbacks to this film’s precursor, particularly in the end, make it more holistic and integrated for viewers of both films. The grandeur of the sets and costume design are visually appealing and appropriate to the development of the plot. I also appreciated the interspersion of pure Sanskrit words and phrases here and there; it definitely gives Baahubali 2 more of a historical context.

Another highlight of this saga is the bromance and bonding between Kattappa and Amarendra Baahubali, whose relationship is characterized by respect, teasing, and mutual trust. It is truly heartbreaking to witness the moment where Kattappa does the deed and we are faced with the reality why it happened. Rana Daggubati and Nassar too stay true to their roles as the neglected ones who are determined to rule and rise to power.

Final Verdict: Baahubali 2 is not just a film. It is an experience filled with romance and revenge, comedy and conspiracy, treason and triumph. Brace yourself for gory violence, some lighthearted moments, and a lot of intensity.

Kabali: Power, Memories, Bloodshed

Kabali is one of the most awaited Tamil films of the year, and rightfully so, as it stars Kollywood’s very own evergreen superstar Rajinikanth. While the one-minute teaser for the film promises slick action interwoven with quintessential Rajini style and intriguing flashbacks, the film does not quite live up to the high expectations set by the teaser.

The basic premise of the movie revolves around a rivalry between two gangs in Malaysia: Gang 00, headed by Kabaleeswaran aka Kabali (Rajinikanth) and Gang 43 led by Tony Lee (Winston Chao) and his associates. Also entangled in the melee, among others, are Amir (John Vijay), Kumudhavalli (Radhika Apte), and Yogi (Dhansika).


Kabali has all the elements of a Rajinikanth movie-watching experience: style, sunglasses, and sick dialogues. From Kabaleeswaran’s impeccable dressing sense to his power-packed punches, the film flaunts all that comes with the star value and brand name of Rajinikanth. Unfortunately, there is not much else in this film.


Praveen K.L.’s editing is choppy, mismatched, and confusing, as some scenes seem awkwardly placed beside one another. Pa. Ranjith attempts to convey a narrative depicting the struggles of Tamilians in Malaysia but his underlying message and motivation are clouded by inconsistent direction and a confusing plot with little rationality (even for a masala Tamil Rajini film) and more resemblance to a biopic than a gangster-drama. At the same time, Kabali does have a lot of violence, which may make sense or be justified by the film’s title, another name for Lord Shiva, the Hindu god often associated with destruction.


We are introduced to the main protagonist, his past, present, and struggles mainly through flashback and memories, which are effective at times but redundant at others. The scene where Kabali walks through his home recalls memories with his wife in every room is beautiful and gives a glimpse into their relationship. Radhika Apte has essayed her role as Kumudhavalli elegantly, but her perpetual pregnancy during flashbacks is unrealistic. Unlike Kumudhavalli, Yogi is a female character who strays from the ideal heroine in Tamil cinema. She is fiercely protective, physically and mentally strong, yet aware of her emotions and desires, a combination of empowering traits that is seldom seen in female characters of Kollywood.


Despite its weaknesses, Kabali does have some strengths to its credit. The choreography for the song “Ulagam Oruvanukka” is unique and creative, as is Santosh Narayanan’s interesting background score accompanying the glamorous shots of Batu Caves and Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Needless to say, Rajinikanth has swag and rocks it immensely well in this film. But perhaps it may be time for the superstar to change his image and start doing more age-appropriate, character roles.


Final Verdict: Kabali is a somewhat underwhelming film with overly high expectations. It lacks a gripping storyline, unexpected plot twists, and slick direction, but it has the star value of superstar Rajini, intense, gory action and violence (definitely PG-13), and a great ending.

Baahubali: Only The Beginning

Baahubali is a film that has been getting mixed reviews all over the internet. It was marketed and promoted as one of the largest budget Indian films that has been filmed in Telugu and Tamil and dubbed into Hindi and Malayalam. It also received huge openings and collections in the box office over the past two weeks and is still selling out to large crowds worldwide.

Baahubali is a historical fantasy/fiction film based on the trials and tribulations of the ancient Indian kingdom Magizhmathi (also known as Mahishmati). The main character, Shivudu (Prabhas), is found as a baby in a river by a village couple who decide to raise him as their own son. The rest of the story revolves around the adventures of Shivudu as he discovers his relationship to Magizhmathi and learns of its history.

The opening scene of Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan) holding baby Shivudu and fighting off soldiers is one of the most powerful and gripping scenes that unfortunately sets the bar a bit too high for the rest of the film. Nevertheless, there are certainly other positive aspects to be noted. For one, the cinematography and visual effects are simply stunning! Even though the film is not in 3D and most of the locations are likely computer graphics, in some scenes it seemed like I was flying over those natural landscapes myself. Many scenes in the first half with Shivudu were reminiscent of the Hindi film Krrish, in which Hrithik Roshan similarly flies and jumps over mountains and waterfalls.

Baahubali is filled with mythological tropes. From connections to Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata to Disney films such as Mulan and Lion King to historical tales of the pride of Mewar and Jhansi Ki Rani, director and screenplay writer S.S. Rajamouli packs a lot into the film. These connections resonate a lot with viewers.

One thing that frustrated me about Baahubali was the contradictory messages regarding gender roles. On one hand, Rajamouli creates strong, bold, passionate, and ambitious female characters like Sivagami, Devasena (Anushka Shetty), and Avanthika (Tamannaah Bhatia). Yet, on the other hand, women are objectified in a split second with an item number or a romantic love song, both of which could have been choreographed and filmed in a more classy and aesthetically appealing fashion.

In addition to conforming to and breaking stereotypes of femininity, one can find strong affirmations of manhood and masculinity in Baahubali. Violence, blood, and shirtless muscular men (namely Prabhas and Rana Daggubati) abound in this film. Though I found the military strategies in the second half fascinating, the editing of violent war scenes definitely could have been more crisp (particularly for ahimsa aficionados like myself). On the lighter side, the music and background score by M.M. Keeravani were interesting and added an extra shot of flavor to this action flick.

Final Verdict: Baahubali is to be watched to appreciate and commend the sheer effort required to create such a magnificent spectacle onscreen. Ramya Krishnan’s powerful acting and Sathyaraj’s intriguing character, along with the presence of a general storyline, sustain interest. However, there is quite a bit of violence (suggested rating PG-13), and it is a 3 hour film so watch at your own discretion.

O Kadhal Kanmani: Classy, Cute, and Carefree

When Indian film aficionados hear the name “Mani Ratnam”, they go into the movie theater expecting to be entertained and have some ideas to reflect on at the end. Needless to say, the award-winning director is back with a bang with his latest Tamil flick O Kadhal Kanmani (OK Kanmani), which has hit the cinemas with groundbreaking box office sales and great reviews!

OK Kanmani, starring Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen

Set in present-day Mumbai, OK Kanmani follows the lives and romantic adventures of video game designer Adi (Dulquer Salmaan) and architect Tara (Nithya Menen), who coincidentally meet at a train station in the first scene of the film. From there, it’s the typical boy-meets-girl romantic progression and development with some 21st century twists.

If I were to encapsulate the essence of this film in one phrase, it would be YOLO – you only live once. This carefree attitude is reflected in every action and behavior of Adi and Tara as they attempt to create a new meaning for their relationship. That being said, a main strength of this movie is the characters themselves, specifically the development of their personalities, their emotionality, and their innate humanness. One can expect to experience a myriad of emotions throughout this film as Mani Ratnam effortlessly weaves realistic situations and humorous dialogues into the script. Essentially, he takes the viewers on a journey through Tara and Adi’s relationship. From their playful naughtiness in the song Parandhu Sella Vaa to their denial of serious feelings in the climax, we experience the couple’s ups and downs, their escapades, the arguments and compromises, but also the most important part – their love for one another.

There is juxtaposition galore in this new-age Tamil rom-com. In terms of characters, the elderly couple – Ganapathy (Prakash Raj) and Bhavani (Leela Samson) – with whom Adi is a paying guest serve as a great role model for Adi and Tara to understand the value of a committed long-term relationship. It was particularly delightful to see the veteran Kalakshetra dancer Leela Samson play such a dynamic role in a mainstream film! This contrast in generational relationships was mirrored in A.R. Rahman’s music and background score, in which he blends Carnatic and electronic musical elements.

A.R. Rahman, music director for OK Kanmani

What 21st century Indian romantic-comedy can be made nowadays without addressing feminine expectations in relationships! Throughout the film, we see Tara conflicted between choosing Adi or her career. I particularly liked that Mani Ratnam chose not to compromise on showing aspects of Tara’s career as she travels to other cities for her job. At the same time, he implicitly questions why the woman always has to compromise on her own career ambitions and desires in order to protect and preserve the romantic relationship. There is one scene where Tara is sitting on a balcony contemplating her future and upon being asked if she wants her career more or Adi more, she responds by saying she wants both and should not have to choose one over the other. It is poignant moments like this when the characters are in some sort of dilemma that we feel emotionally connected to them on a deeper core human level.

Mani Ratnam has done a fine job depicting a typical working couple’s live-in romance with all the elements of fast-paced Mumbai lifestyle. P.C. Sriram’s cinematography is absolutely brilliant, especially in the scenes where Tara is examining architecture in Ahmedabad. It goes without saying that despite being Malayali actors, Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen did a fine job essaying their roles to perfection. Prakash Raj also added a bit of natural humor that accompanies his role as an elderly married man. Special mention must be given to Eka Lakhani for Tara’s gorgeous Indian, Western, and Indo-Western outfits in the film!

Final Verdict: O Kadhal Kanmani is a clean, realistic, relatable, and charming Tamil flick that challenges traditional values about marriage and relationships. If you loved Alaipayuthey, definitely don’t miss this one!

Un Samayal Arayil – Managing Emotions and Expectations

Food. An integral component contributing to life. A necessary substance to sustain the body, nourish the organs, and satisfy the tongue. We eat, so we live. But we also live so that we can eat. All this and much more in Prakash Raj’s latest film, Un Samayal Arayil.

Although the entire film does not revolve around food and cooking, the main love story certainly begins with it. Mistaking Kalidasan (Prakash Raj), a food-rasika and archaeologist, for her favorite restaurant, frustrated dubbing artist Gowri (Sneha) accidentally calls Kalidasan’s number and orders “kutti dosas.” What starts off as an argument over dialed wrong numbers eventually becomes a meaningful relationship that Gowri and Kalidasan build exclusively through phone communication (i.e. without meeting one another). One fine day, they both decide to meet and further misunderstandings and mixups result throughout the rest of the film as Kalidasan’s nephew, Naveen (Tej), and Gowri’s sister, Meghana (Sangeetha Hornad), also join the confusion.
One of the main themes in this film, because of its focus on the brewing romance between two older individuals, is the Indian societal expectation for women and men to get married and “settle down” at an early age. Gowri and Kalidasan really struggle with this expectation throughout the film because they are older than the “marriageable age” and are being forced to find someone to spend the rest of their lives with, by and in an environment where there are no eligible bachelors or bachelorettes that appeal to them. In many scenes, people trouble Gowri and pry into her personal life, asking why she still has not settled down with a significant other. Interestingly, in the beginning of the film, she laughs at and makes fun of love, its stupidity, and its nonsensical nature. At this point, she is clearly content with the way her life is going. After her phone encounter and rendezvous with Kalidasan, however, her vision of what makes her happy completely changes as a result of her enjoyable experiences interacting with him, sharing recipes and cooking as a form of historic storytelling. In essence, by understanding that what makes her happy is spending time talking to Kalidasan, Gowri realizes that she eventually ended up wanting exactly what society expected of her (i.e. wanting to settle down), except at a later stage in her life.
As much as I would like to say this is the case for Kalidasan, it is not entirely the same situation on his side of the love story. Even though Kalidasan’s caretaker and friends encourage him to go for ponnu-paakal or pursue a love interest, it is not the main focus of his life story. In other words, much emphasis of the film is placed on his career and work as an archaeologist instead of his personal life. Even though there is quite a bit of film reel dedicated to Gowri’s career as a dubbing artist, there is certainly more focus on society’s expectation of her to get married. Not only does this reveal the double standard for women in managing this expectation and their careers (compared to men, for whom the marital pressure exists but is much less prominent), it also contributes to the inferiority complex potentially experienced by many older single women in their mid to late 30s who may feel depressed or frustrated about not finding a husband on account of this societal pressure.
In this film, both Kalidasan and Gowri experience an inferiority complex as well as self-esteem and self-worth issues related to this marital expectation. The low self-esteem manifests itself in certain scenes where Kalidasan examines his hair for gray strands and his face for wrinkles before going out to meet Gowri in-person. For Gowri, the inferiority complex is portrayed in many different ways. Firstly, she begins to pay more attention to her physical beauty after engaging in a meaningful relationship with Kalidasan, which in and of itself is not bad but she becomes bound by it, questioning whether or not Kalidasan will accept her for who she is. Secondly, she also has to face the taunts of those around her who constantly compliment her younger sister for her youthful face and pity Gowri for the fact that her beauty is fading with age.  As the film progresses, both Gowri and Kalidasan begin to derive their sense of self from others (including each other), instead of feeling independently beautiful and content as they were in the beginning of the film. Over the course of the misunderstandings, they transform from the peaceful, detached souls they really are to attached, insecure adults who don’t know how to remove themselves from the constraints of societal expectations revolving around marriage and physical appearance. The two protagonists have also never fallen in love with anyone before. Thus, along with the standards of physical beauty and marriage, they are also dealing with the emotional roller coaster of romantic relationships.
The juxtaposition between the older, more mature love story between Kalidasan and Gowri contrasts well with the youthful romance between Meghana and Naveen. Music maestro Ilaiyaraja does a fine job conveying this generational difference in plot and storytelling through the music, which has a mix of his signature melodies and modern-day tunes. It is also clear that Prakash Raj, as the director of this film, has some favorite actors, such as Aishwarya Bhaskaran and Elango Kumaravel, who also starred in his previous film, “Abhiyum Naanum”. The touch of intellectualism and classiness in this rom-com-drama certainly makes it easy to watch as it is also a rather clean movie.
Final Verdict: Overall, Un Samayal Arayil is a cute Tamil chick flick, with some unnecessary tangents but laughable and relatable moments too. Albeit slightly disappointing after Prakash Raj’s “Abhiyum Naanum”, this film is worth a watch at least for the interesting recipes and food tidbits here and there.