Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kanthaswamy: The Rooster Crows At Midnight

Back when I used to read Rolling Stone magazine, I would pay special attention to the music reviews. They had – or maybe still have – a star rating system that I feel makes a lot of sense. The ‘3 star’ rating was for albums that were good - and here is the important part - if you already liked that genre of music. Why do I bring this up? Kanthaswamy (or Mallanna as my Telugu dub was titled) is a solid 3-star film. If you like over-the-top masala films then this is for you, if nonsensical plots and shiny costumes turn you off, then Kanthaswamy is not going to change your mind on the topic.

For some reason, the only official Tamil version of the film I could find was on Blue Ray, so I went with the reasonably priced Telugu dub, which ended up being just fine. Not only does Chaiyaan Vikram do his own dubbing but apparently the Telugu version cuts out half an hour of superfluous comedy subplot, which I greatly appreciated since the film already clocks in at 2:45 – more than enough time to be spending with the titular Hero of the film. I’m just going to go ahead and go with calling the film
Kanthaswamy since that’s the original title but if you want to purchase a copy - look for Mallanna.

Kanthaswamy follows the adventures of Mr. Kanthaswamy, a police office by day and an avenging Robin Hood-style super hero by night. The film opens with a poor woman distraught because she is unable to pay the hospital bill for her husband. She leaves a prayer on the banyan tree and finds that somebody has left a big bag of money outside her door. The woman, being a good citizen, delivers the money to the police, concerned that somebody might have lost it. The police, of course, promptly accept it as a bribe. In a film like this, that kind of greed will not be tolerated and, indeed, the police chief is beaten up by Kanthaswamy, who is in disguise as a chicken-themed super hero. The police chief returns the money.

The main plot, such as it is, revolves around Kanthaswamy redistributing wealth, the police trying to track down this illicit wealth-redistribution, and Kanthawamy’s feud with evil rich fat cat Mr. Pallur Paramajyoti Ponnusamy aka “PPP”. Kanthaswamy has a cool lair and a cool group of friends that help him with his wealth-redistribution and I thought that was a nice Indian touch to the Western Superhero mythos. Unlike Batman or Superman who rely on fancy equipment or ‘magic’ powers, Kanthswamy does things in a more realistically Indian fashion – with lots of manpower. He has guys to pull the wires so he can ‘fly,’ guys to help collect the messages so he knows who needs money, and guys to back him up by dressing exactly like him and either a) provide backup dancing or b) help

All of that was excellent. Chiyaan is a super star and provided me with one of the best transcendental moments of
masala bliss that I’ve had since, well, Magadheera. See, hearing that prayers are being answered, some local idiots tie a prayer message to the banyan tree asking for ‘a girl like Aishwarya Rai’ to come dance on their roof. Kanthaswamy hears this and while his pals are telling him to just throw it away, he has a better idea – the idiots need to learn some respect for God’s mysterious errand boy. Now, at this point, I was thinking one of two things was going to happen either Kanthaswamy and his gang were going to dishoom the heck out of those idiots or they would rope Subbulaxmi (Shriya Saran, more on her in a second) into acting as bait and then dishoom the heck out of those idiots.

Was I ever wrong!

As I sat watching, a strangely familiar-looking woman appears on screen to tempt the idiots. Yes. Chiyaan, in drag, danced to a medley of Aishwarya Rai songs and beat up the men while dancing. You have not lived until you’ve seen that elbow dance move from “Dola Re Dola” (you know what I’m talking about) used to smash somebody’s face in. Bliss… pure
masala bliss.

So, if Chiyaan was amazing and the story nice and socialist, what drags down

In a word – romance. (And judging from the reviews, I’m not the only one to think so.) There was no chemistry between Chiyaan and Shriya Saran. And worse, there wasn’t even any between their characters – as Subbulaxmi starts off as a total bitch and ends the film that way, too. Kanthaswamy (or maybe just Chiyaan) seems annoyed by her throughout the entire film and Shriya Saran does nothing to make herself more likable.

Let me give you an example of how this dynamic works that can also serve as a bellwether on the film for my more sensitive blog-reading friends.

A situation arises about halfway through the film in which Kanthswamy is being tortured. His captors want him to admit that he is the man behind the mask and Kanthaswamy refuses to do so. Well, not about to give up, a curtain is pulled back to reveal Subbulaxmi locked in an adjoining room with a serial rapist. She is tied to a chair and the icky rapist is creeping all over her. And here is the thing: I didn’t want Kanthaswamy to give in. I won’t reveal what he does but needless to say, it was pretty magnificent. Still, for me and Kanthawamy both to have so little regard for the heroine at half-time means somebody did something wrong storywise.

But, basically, the message behind
Kanthaswamy is this: poor people in India have no money – rich people have too much money – and Kanthaswamy is here to re-distribute the wealth. He’s the worst nightmare of the Tea Baggers here in the United States and I loved every second of it. We so rarely get to see greedy SOBs taken down in real life that it remains deeply satisfying to see it play out on the screen. Substitute Bernie Madoff for "PPP" and have Kanthaswamy dishoom away and there is a message I can get behind.

Perhaps I enjoyed this more than I should because this is my first Chiyaan film he is pretty much the selling point of
Kanthaswamy but I think there is still enough in here to tempt the masala fan – action, adventure, cool locations, great songs, good moral values, and an item song from Mumaith that features the best strutting from a hero that I’ve ever seen. EVER.

It may not be Chiyaan’s best film but, damn, did he earn himself a new fan with


cmleigh said...

Oooh I can't wait to see this. I actually bought Anniyan first but decided I needed to watch it with someone as I am a big chicken :D So this will be my first movie to see Vikram. After reading this I think I will move it up in my queue.

Bombay Talkies said...

Definitely going to see this, if for no other reason than to see the Dola Re Dola smackdown. That sounds epic. (I literally cracked up reading your description--I just watched Dhoom 2 (inspired by all your posts!) and it put me in such an excellent filmi mood that I'm probably game for anything now!)

-Melissa :)

Filmi Girl said...

@cmleigh It really is a fun film!!

@bombay talkies - that smackdown was seriously epic... And I'm glad you saw Dhoom 2!!!

Anonlee said...

Filmi Girl, thanks for the review. This movie is just plain old fun in all its ridiculousness.

If you like Vikram, his next movie with Mani Ratnam Raavan (Hindi and Tamil versions) releases on June 18th. The promos start today according to Rajeev Masand and Faridoon from BollywoodHungama on Twitter.

Rajeev said the movie has a lot of action scenes. So we get Vikram and Abhishek beating up each other. Yah!!!

veracious said...

I actually disagree with you completely on the romance. While the chemistry is by no means legendary, I'd say it's there, and I enjoyed Shriya's bitchy, ubersexual heroine. I think it can get a little boring if they just fall in love, so the little mind games and whatnot was pretty entertaining. Not a fan of the scene you mentioned but otherwise I enjoyed it.

Filmi Girl said...

@anonlee I totally agree and while I was looking to Ravaan before I'm REALLY looking forward to it now!

@veracious Ha! How did I know we were going to disagree on this? I think it's just Doctor Who S5 redux - we see it completely differently. :)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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