Dhoni's ability to stay calm, when everybody else is feeling the pressure, makes him the best finisher in the game.
  • Thursday, April 26, 2018 - 17:17

It was the Chennai Super Kings versus Kings XI Punjab match in the 2010 IPL season.

CSK had never won an IPL title before. This was a must-win match for them if they had to qualify for the semi-finals. Chasing a total of 193, they needed 29 runs off the last 12 balls. When the match ended, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, by himself, had scored 30 runs in these two overs to see CSK through.

In Irfan Pathan’s last over, Dhoni smacked the third and fourth balls over to long on for sixes, an area where he would keep hitting in years to come, whenever he was required to “finish it off in style”.

CSK not only reached the semi-final in 2010, they also became the IPL champions. They went on to win the Champions League trophy in the same year. They retained the IPL title again in 2011. They were also the runners-up in 2012 and 2013 IPL seasons.

CSK became a brand, a hot favourite across the nation, and one of the most successful IPL teams ever. It goes without saying that playing an important role in all that was their skipper’s amazing skill to hold his nerves in tense situations.

Fast forward to IPL 2018. A lot has changed in these eight years. CSK was suspended for two years, 2016 and 2017, and they made a return this year. Many legends of the game had retired. Players like Virat Kohli, who were finding their foot back in 2010, had become superstars now. T20 greats like Yuvraj Singh were off-colour. But Dhoni, who turns 37 this July, is still finishing nail-biting thrillers as we saw in the match against RCB on Wednesday.

To understand Dhoni's method of operation during such highly tense chases, one should look at his arguably finest finish ever in the 2013 Tri-nation ODI series final against Sri Lanka. Chasing only 202 from 50 overs, the equation was 27 runs from 42 balls at one stage. But when he constantly lost his partners and was left only with the last man Ishant Sharma, Dhoni took the game to the last over with 15 runs still needed. Before the fourth ball, Ishant Sharma walked towards him and spoke a few words. It's difficult to speculate what they were but Dhoni's assured nod hinted at what was to come. 

Dhoni's success mantra is to convert a match involving 22 players into a one-on-one battle between the bowler bowling the last over and himself, a battle he's confident about winning on most days. In this match, too, Dhoni did not give in to the pressue. And finally, when he smashed the last six over extra cover, Ian Bishop in the commentary box went – “Magnificent Mahendra, he is unbelievable in so many ways”.

The dugout and Indian crowd celebrated. Sri Lankan players and viewers were heartbroken. There was perhaps only one man in that stadium who still had his composure- the one who finished that match.

Dhoni’s tendency to take a match down to the wire has found him critics, too. In the 2012 Commonwealth Bank series match against Australia, Dhoni was struggling at two runs from 16 balls during a chase, putting pressure on other batsmen. But his amazing self-belief meant that he could turn things around and score the 13 runs that were required off the last six balls. Gautam Gambhir then famously said- “It shouldn't have gone into the 50th over”.

Dhoni’s biggest strength, though, has been that he understands the game more than most who have ever played the sport. That Dhoni finished the 2011 ODI World Cup final with 10 balls to spare tells us that he knows in which games the stakes are high and in which games he can afford to take the risk of a last minute finish. And oh boy, didn’t he still finish it off with a six to give us a frame that we would cherish forever?

There is further variance in his approach while chasing, according to the match situation. The wicket-keeper batsman, who made his international debut in December 2004, showcased his skills as a finisher from the next year itself.

As an exciting youngster with long hair, when Dhoni finished the chase against Sri Lanka in 2005, scoring his career best 183, he struck 15 fours and 10 sixes. In 2008, after he had evolved into a mature captain, he won another close match against the same team in the last over, with only 2 wickets remaining. But this time, his 50 runs did not feature a single four or six!

Dhoni’s ability to absorb pressure comes to the fore even as a captain and a keeper when his team defends scores. Who can forget his gamble to give Joginder Sharma the last over in the 2007 T20 World Cup final? Or his lightning wicket-keeping skills which made him find the split second when the batsman’s foot was off the ground to dismiss Ian Bell in the 2013 Champions Trophy final and Sabbir Rahman in the 2016 T20 World Cup match? Or his street-smart thinking evident in removing his gloves and running to get Mustafizur Rahman run-out in the last ball of the same T20 match?

Even when Dhoni's power hitting declined during 2016-2017, his resolve that it's not over until it is, never took a hit. In 2017, when India was chasing 231 in an ODI against Sri Lanka and was stumbling at 131/7, he made sure he kept his new partner Bhuvneshwar Kumar calm and focused, played second fiddle to him, and took his team past the line.

It is ten days ago, in the IPL match against KXIP, that Dhoni started showing signs of regaining his hitting prowess. This is good news if the selectors want to retain him for the 2019 ODI World Cup. Needing 67 off 24 balls, no one would have expected CSK to get so agonizingly close and fall short by only four runs. Dhoni, who made his highest IPL individual score of 79 runs from 44 balls, would have even won the match if not for his back pain, which limited his ability to stretch to the wide yorkers that Mohit Sharma kept bowling at him in the last over. 

In Wednesday's match against RCB though, Dhoni was fit and daring from the word go. When he arrived at the crease, CSK was 74/4 in nine overs with 132 runs needed from the next 11 overs. He found an able partner in Ambati Rayudu to script the chase. Both complemented each other, selecting wisely which bowler to knock singles against and off which bowler to score a blitzkrieg.

After Rayudu departed, the ask was still steep. But the fact that Mohammed Siraj bowled three consecutive wides against Dhoni in the penultimate over reminds you once again of Ian Bishop’s famous line –"If 15 runs are needed off the last 6 balls, pressure is on the bowler and not on MS Dhoni”. That sounded true in the past. That sounds true even today.

Finally, in the last over when Dhoni clobbered the six over his favourite spot in the stadium to finish at 70 off 34 balls, you saw celebrations from the spectators and his team-mates. One man alone was again calm.

In the '90s, we used to switch off the television when Sachin Tendulkar got out. However, with Dhoni at the crease, we want to switch on the television when the asking rate is climbing in a chase. When you sense the pressure on the bowlers, the fielding captain, the dugout, the spectators in the crowd and the batsman at the opposite end, one man will be seen calmly adjusting his gloves in his trademark style. He will take the stance to face the bowler, as if to say – “Ladies and Gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts. The show is about to begin”.

Dileep is stiff in the second half, but is convincing as crooked Kammaran, while Siddharth is a fine fit for Othenan.
  • Saturday, April 14, 2018 - 19:08

“History is a set of lies agreed upon - Napoleon Bonaparte”. This appears on the screen as the closing credits of Kammara Sambhavam starts rolling. What you read in books or watch on screen about your real life heroes - Are they always true? Or were they twisted so that you would adore and admire the protagonist?  This forms the crux of Murali Gopi’s script in Kammara Sambhavam.

It is an interesting concept as it quickly makes you re-think the impact some of the great biographical films had left on you. The intentions of Murali Gopi’s script are right but it falters as a whole, because the lengthy film (3 hours 2 minutes) becomes tiresome when you realise where it’s heading.

A set of producers (Vijayaraghavan, Sudheer Karamana, Baiju and Vinay Forrt) and director Pulikeshi (Bobby Simha) approach Kammaran Nambiar (Dileep), an old man and Indian Liberation Party member to make a movie on his life. What Kammaran tells Pulikeshi about his early life back in 1945 in a village named Amrutha Samudhram and how Pulikeshi makes it into a film forms the storyline of Kammara Sambhavam.

Murali Gopi ‘the writer’ is in fine form in the first half when he etches out the characters well. He succeeds in bringing out the contrast in the ideologies of his protagonists. Kammaran, a medical practitioner is an opportunist and wouldn't mind treading the path of treachery to accomplish what he wants. Othenan, (played by Siddharth) on the other hand, believes in the principle - “You don't need to live long, just make sure you don’t bow down your head as long as you breathe”.

It is a nice touch to connect various historic events like the Battle of Imphal, the deaths of Hitler and Subhash Chandra Bose and Japan’s fall in World War II to Kammaran and Othenan’s stories. The film's pre-interval sequence of around 20 minutes is its best portion as all the characters, who appeared so far are finely connected in the narrative with a twist and turn for everyone.

But Kammara Sambhavam’s big problem is the second half when the flashback ends and you are brought back to the present day. Murali Gopi tries to mock many films by poking fun at how the songs, stunts and punch scenes are picturised. Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar isn’t spared either with the film taking a dig at the lyrics of Ayirathil Oruvan. But it all falls flat because the script just stalls over here.

Rathish Ambat impresses in his debut as director when the script supports him in the first half, but equally fails when the writing lets him down in the second half. Captured in a few minutes, the Battle of Imphal is shot wonderfully. Cinematography (Sunil KS) and art direction immensely help Rathish to take the film to the pre-Independence era. Gopi Sundar's background score is effective only in parts.

Dileep appears in various avatars. He is stiff in the bearded, mass look in the second half, but gives a convincing performance as the meek but crooked Kammaran in first half. The actor is at his hilarious best in a scene when he learns about the Japanese defeat in World War II and realizes the Japanese money he had collected is of no value. Siddharth is a fine fit for Othenan’s role and it was good to see the actor lending his own voice for Malayalam lines too.

Murali Gopi as an actor doesn’t have much to do. A bunch of good actors like Siddique, Bobby Simha, Indrans and Vijayaraghavan are wasted because they have such minuscule screen space. But at least Siddique as Boss, Kammaran’s son, has some decent one-liners to lighten you up when the proceedings are mundane. 

Namitha Pramod is adequate. Divya Prabha once again leaves a mark in a supporting role. It’s unfortunate that the talented Shwetha Menon is asked to overact when she could have done a lot more. Santhosh Keezhattoor keeps up with his track record of dying on-screen.

When you leave the cinema halls, you cannot help but wonder if this same movie would have worked a lot better if its first and second half were swapped. It seems like a big trick missed by Murali Gopi as it could have held the attention of viewers for longer. For now, in its current form, you need a lot of patience to sit through Kammara Sambhavam, even for a one-time watch. Let’s hope that Murali Gopi backs up his big ambitions with apt execution when he teams up next with director Prithviraj and actor Mohanlal for the big Lucifer.



As a performer, Mammootty has aged like fine wine, but Mammootty’s biggest undoing is his choice of movies as a Superstar.
  • Monday, April 09, 2018 - 18:02
Mammootty. Screenshot/Parole

Rajamanikyam (2005) and Pranchiyettan and the Saint (2010) are two important films in Mammootty’s career. Both films saw Mammootty’s unmatched knack to master any accent (if former had Trivandrum slang, latter had Thrissur). They also showcased the actor’s fine ability to remould himself to get into the skin of the character. Still the hallmark of these two performances was that Mammootty handled comedy expertly like never before. 

Mammootty’s comic timing had a renewed finesse compared to his past years – whether it was when Rajaselvam (Manoj K Jayan) shouts at his character Bellari Raja in Rajamanikyam or when Pranchi gets stuck on the word “Poorangalude” during his speech on stage in Pranchiyettan and the Saint. What makes it even more special is that the actor was 54 whenRajamanikyam released and 59 when Pranchiyettan and the Saint came out.

This pretty much sums up Mammootty's career. His contemporary, Mohanlal might find bulk of his best works in late ‘80s and ‘90s. Whereas for Mammootty, it is rather spread evenly across the years since his first lead role in 1980. This shows how the actor has consistently worked on his weaknesses and found a way to reinvent himself over the years. But if this fact is not perceptible to an average viewer, it is because Mammootty himself dilutes the impact by mixing it up with a lot of average to below average movies.

Take a look at what Mammootty had been capable of after he turned 50. In Rajamanikyam when he gave one of our biggest blockbusters, his energy was infectious. His deadpan dialogue delivery style in Big B became a trendsetter. His portrayals of the meek Madhavan in Kaazcha or the callous Ahmed Haji in Palerimanikyam Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte Katha both won him Kerala state awards. Those were further testimonials to his range that was intact. 

In Katha Parayumbol, he turned the movie graph almost entirely with his cameo. In Pranchiyettan and the Saint, it’s amusing how even for a comedy, his performance is quite distinct from any other character he has done. For an actor who is usually expressive, Mammootty restrained himself wonderfully to keep us guessing what CK Raghavan’s true self is in Munnariyippu. In Pathemari's climax, Pallikkal Narayanan speaks gently with a smile on his face, but Mammootty brings to the fore once again his gift to bring the audience to tears. All these movies came out after his age of 50. 

As a performer, Mammootty has aged like fine wine. But Mammootty’s biggest undoing is his choice of movies as a Superstar. The actor does so many movies in a short span that when many of them turn out average, which is the case of late, it looks worse. If we look at stats, Mammootty has done 47 movies since 2010. Mohanlal also has a fair share of poor movies. But he has still done 10 movies less than Mammootty in this period.

Till Pathemari in 2015, Mammootty at least used to effectively balance the commercial and art house movies. This meant he left behind memorable performances most years. The actor had a habit of knocking on the doors at the state awards frequently. But the juries instead preferred youngsters. It is possible that the rejection at state awards, especially for Munnariyippu, could be playing on the actor’s mind and has affected his choice of movies recently.

The graph in the last two-and-a-half years, therefore, looks bleaker with no offbeat releases and The Great Father arguably the only decent outing. The actor is 66 years old now but still looks a lot younger than his age. Ironically, this is also the actor’s bane. Filmmakers spend time in highlighting the actor’s looks and style in movies to please the fans with an eye at the box-office. As a result, the narrative often takes a back seat.

Even in The Great Father, the actor is in fine form when he is helpless and distraught after what happened to his daughter. But when he seeks revenge, you wonder why a dejected father would walk in slow motion and in style. Such slow-motion walks couldn't be done away with in Puthiya Niyamam too, where he plays the husband of a rape victim.

In Puthan Panam, you might have been glad to see him sporting grey hair. But he ends up flying in the air while doing stunts, making no sense to the character that he plays. This was also the case in Parole which released last week. Thoppil Joppan is an apt example where it all goes wrong the moment he signs such mediocre scripts and there is nothing left to salvage with his acting.

Kasaba had scenes which the actor could have said ‘no’ to. Except for a free Europe tour, you don’t see any reason for Mammootty to sign a movie like White. The less said about Masterpiece, the better. In Street Lights, Mammootty gelled well with other characters in a multi-narrative story. But then it is awkward when he has to address the character played by Neena Kurup as “Aunty”, because you are aware how much older Mammootty is than the female actor.

Mammootty's gift to handpick fine debuting directors also doesn’t seem to work like before. It is unfortunate that we are treated to ordinary stuff by our favourite actor here when his Tamil movie Peranbu, which is long overdue now, is screened only in international film festivals.

Even now the actor surprisingly has no plans to slow down. Mammootty has so many projects lined up - the big budgeted Kunjali Marakkar and Maamankam, the sequels to Big B and Pokkiri Raja, the game thriller that was announced few days back, other movies like Kuttanadan BlogUncleAbrahaminte SanthathikalYathra(Telugu) and so on. What such small gaps between movies do is it dampens the excitement with which you look forward to a Superstar movie release.

But Mammootty has the habit of making stellar returns from setbacks. Who can forget his smashing act in New Delhi (1987) which put an end to one of his most difficult phases and made him the Superstar he is today. Only that New Delhi neither had any daredevil stunts, nor any focus on his looks or attire. It just had powerful characterization, aided by terrific acting. 

You wish Mammootty could approach movies similarly with a keen eye for scripts and the weight of his stardom off from his back. Because if Mammootty “the superstar” can make the right choices, Mammootty “the performer” still has enormous possibilities to offer.

'Spadikam', at its heart, is a tale of conflict between an authoritarian father and a son who wants to live life on his own terms.
  • Friday, March 30, 2018 - 10:00

“Ithu ente puthan Rayban glass. Ithu chavitti pottichal ninte kaalu njan vettum” (This is my new Rayban glass. If you break this, I will chop your legs!)

When Aadu Thoma (Mohanlal) says this to Kuttikkadan (Spadikam George) in Spadikam, the camera is far from his face. There is neither any slow motion walk nor any thumping background score after he says this. There are no techniques that filmmakers usually use to make a line popular. Yet this, among other one-liners in the movie, went on to gain a cult status. Spadikam, which completes 23 years on March 30, defined “Mass” in a manner very few Malayalam movies had.

Writer-director Bhadran did a terrific character sketch, giving his hero an interesting name-“Aadu Thoma”. Thoma drinks the blood of black goats to gain strength. He wears Rayban glasses. He also pulls his ‘mundu’ and covers his opponent’s head with it, a trademark of his fights. Bhadran had only given Mohanlal these attributes to make him sign the movie. This is how you give a character uniqueness right at its inception.

Aadu Thoma is a mass action hero. But he is still not essentially larger than life. Thoma is a rogue. He doesn’t fear anything. He thrashes policemen. But to Bhadran’s credit, he still keeps Thoma grounded. Unlike other mass characters Mohanlal portrayed later, Aadu Thoma hasn’t traveled to foreign countries after he fled his home as a child. He hasn’t learnt music, other skills or achieved great things. In fact the movie doesn’t really talk about what he did the 14 years he was away.

There is no attempt to portray Aadu Thoma as a completely virtuous person. He doesn’t have solutions to all problems. He even fails miserably several times. Thoma tries to woo a judge to change the schedule of his case so he can attend his sister’s betrothal, but only ends up being humiliated in the court. When he tries to take revenge on the judge by locking his gate, he is again beaten by his father, then by the police and walked through streets, hand locked to the jeep.

Contrary to most Malayalam action movies, the lines delivered by Aadu Thoma (exceptionally written by Rajendra Babu) are minimal and to the point. You remember the line - “Kuttikkada, ninte case Thoma avadhikku vechirikkunu” (your case is pending with me), mainly because Thoma doesn’t go on and on in that scene. The fight sequences are instead high voltage, with Mohanlal’s renowned flexibility in stunts exploited to the hilt.

If Spadikam checks all boxes perfectly for an action classic, Bhadran’s remarkable feat is to churn out a great family movie from this same screenplay. Spadikam, at its heart, is a tale of conflict between an authoritarian father who was adamant in making his son a successful mathematician like him and the son who couldn’t take it anymore, deciding to live on his own terms.

You know the father-son relationship is strained right from the beginning when Thoma makes a parrot utter “Kaduva”(Tiger) and when Chacko Master (Thilakan) reads out a cure for injuries to mock his son’s life as a rowdy. Leaving viewers guessing on what made Aadu Thoma the ruffian he is and why his mother, sister and others are still by his side, the flashback is cleverly placed only after one hour in the movie.

It's just 10 minutes long but you rarely see such well-made flashbacks. Not only do you learn about the cruel punishment tactics Chacko used on his son, every main character makes an apperance to connect the dots. Bhadran also plants two important details here to pave way for two immensely heart-warming scenes later.

As a kid, Thoma had pierced his compass on his classmate, Balu’s hand, before he ran away. This is to give us the wonderful scene where Thoma kisses the hand of Balu’s father (N.F Varghese) and asks him- “Why did you buy him a bike that he had to die in an accident?”. The device Thoma had created as a kid to ring the school bell is kept safely by Thulasi (Urvashi) for years. It’s on hearing its sound later that Thoma finally opens up and confesses his love for Thulasi.

Wearing a tough mask outside and hiding his sorrows behind the Rayban glasses, Mohanlal made Aadu Thoma iconic like only he could. The actor’s gift to handle with aplomb just about any situation is in fine display in Spadikam. When Thoma runs into the police station saying “Njan Thoma, Aadu Thoma”, Mohanlal evokes goosebumps in us. When he runs into Thulasi’s house asking her why she kept the device, the actor brings us to tears.

Today we don’t approve when actors are awarded in commercial movies. In 1995, when Mohanlal won the Kerala state award for Spadikam (shared with Kalapani), we didn’t complain. 

Who other than Thilakan to portray the complex Chacko Master! When Chacko is alone with the parrot that calls him Kaduva or when he touches his son’s feet at the hospital or when he finally apologises to Thoma, Thilakan brings in utmost conviction in the transformation of a father who realises his mistakes.

Even other characters, played by a fantastic cast, had depth in this father-son tale. Both Thulasi and Mary (KPAC Lalitha) play a part in changing the hearts of lead men. You have the calm Ravunni Master (Nedumudi Venu) to tell both Chacko and viewers how a good teacher and father should be. Also who can forget Father Ottaplakkan's (Karamana Janardhanan) “Ulakka”?

Only Laila (Silk Smitha) got a raw deal. Silk Smitha, as was the norm in most of the films she starred in, exists only to titillate in Spadikam. As a sex worker, she is relegated to raunchy sequences and Aadu Thoma uses her as another way to get back to his father. We get to see this when he holds her hand tightly when they are arrested and made to walk through streets together. Today perhaps Spadikam would have been written differently. But two decades earlier, that Thoma chooses the 'good woman' Thulasi over Laila doesn't come as a surprise.

A huge blockbuster at the time of its release, it goes without saying that Spadikam has influenced generations of viewers and filmmakers. Spadikam was remade in all other south Indian languages. College students still emulate Aadu Thoma’s attire of Rayban glasses, red shirt and mundu along with the “Chekuthan” lorry during festivals in Kerala campuses.

The iconic mundu fight was used as a spoof in several movies. When filming George’s epic transformation scene in 2015’s Premam, Alphonse Puthran asked Nivin Pauly and gang to watch Aadu Thoma’s mass scenes. Spadikam George carried the movie title in his name forever.

Spadikam ends when Thoma arrives at his home to learn that Chacko Master is dead. To fulfill one final wish, he lifts the corpse and make him wear the full sleeve shirt that he had just got stitched. Thoma walks close to Ravunni master but doesn’t speak. He turns to Thulasi, gives his chain to her and again doesn’t say anything. He then enters the police jeep to accept the punishment for killing his father’s murderer. It's a heart-breaking ending, but nevertheless sublime.

We never had a sequel for Spadikam (and we are really thankful for it), perhaps because Bhadran and others knew that there was no further story to tell for Thoma in a world without Chacko Master. There are mass action entertainers. There are beautiful family dramas. And then there is Spadikam.

Jeethu Joseph's action thriller has plenty to like although the writing could have been better.
  • Friday, January 26, 2018 - 16:50

Pranav’s father, Mohanlal is the biggest action superstar Malayalam cinema has produced. There have been actors like Babu Antony who've performed the stunts better. But no one has been as successful as Mohanlal in this genre for this long. Whether it is Rajavinte Makan in the '80s, Yodha or Sphadikam in the '90s or even Pulimurugan last year, Mohanlal’s dedication and energy when it comes to performing stunts on screen has rarely found better counterparts.

What strikes you first in Pranav Mohanlal’s debut as a leading actor is how his speed and agility in stunts reminds you of his father. It is a smart move from Mohanlal and Jeethu Joseph to launch Pranav in a movie that capitalises on the star son’s strengths. We have seen glimpses of these skills when he acted as a child artist in Onnaman in 2001. He has only scaled up further after the extensive training he underwent in Parkour stunts in Australia.

It also helps that Jeethu Joseph has written a story which has its hero on the run for a major part of the movie’s run-time. Aadhi tells the story of Aadhithya Mohan, a young man (Pranav Mohanlal) whose dream is to make a mark as a big music director, for which his dad (Siddique) has allowed him only two years to try and succeed. Though he is actually innocent, he gets tangled up in the death of the son of a business tycoon (Jagapathi Babu) in a pub in Bengaluru. The rest of the film is about Aadhi fighting back. 

Aadhi’s major highlight is its chase scenes. Pranav jumps from building to building and climbs from the ground to roofs with astonishing speed that it will take another viewing to completely appreciate how well he has done it. He even does a decent job bashing up the bad guys when he is not flying in the air. Though the stunts are what he does best, Pranav’s debut is not about that alone.

He starts off a little shakily and you notice that he is not at ease delivering dialogues. The camera tries to be distant from him in the first half, indicating perhaps that the actor wasn’t comfortable initially.  But Pranav surprisingly gets a lot better in the second half, with his screen presence and dialogue presentation getting a good boost. The actor also emotes well when he breaks down in a phone conversation with his father after a tragic event.

Jeethu Joseph has always been a better screenplay writer than a director. It is his writing that can take you by complete surprise at every turn and this is what made Memories and Drishyam two of the finest thrillers of this decade. We miss that extremely skilled writer in the first half of Aadhi as Jeethu takes his sweet time to establish characters and their histories.

Even after Aadhi lands himself in a difficult situation, it might trouble you that he takes a long while before finding a way out of it. The movie is stuck at the same plot point some 30 minutes around the interval. Like his previous outing Oozham, Jeethu Joseph once again has caricature villains who are underdeveloped and don’t really think ahead of the hero.

The director brings his A-game in the movie’s last hour. The entire sequence where Aadhi devices a solid plan to get into the office building to meet Jagapathi Babu gives you ample thrills and reminds you what Jeethu Joseph is capable of when he is in his elements. There are enough clever tricks that the leading hero pulls out of his hat in this part of the story.

Siddique is as dependable as ever and Lena has some light moments in the first half. But the movie might have benefited with lesser space for Aadhi’s parents after a while. The presence of Meghanadan and Anushree brings some relief, the latter especially evoking some good laughs. The bond that slowly grows between Anushree’s character( Jaya) and Aadhi is well established.

Siju Wilson is a weak link in the movie. Another actor who looks the part of a villainous young man would have made a big difference. Jagapathi Babu would do well to stop choosing such bad guy roles in Malayalam movies that don't offer anything exciting to him as an actor. Satheesh Kurup’s camera does a fantastic job in capturing Pranav’s speed in chase scenes aptly. The background by Anil Johnson, who is a regular in Jeethu Joseph movies, goes by his usual job of adding thrills to the tense scenes. His songs though once again aren’t impressive.

Aadhi is Jeethu Joseph’s most satisfying movie since Drishyam and a decent debut vehicle for Pranav Mohanlal. Pranav has a long way to go before you can compare him with his father or even his contemporaries. But Aadhi’s second hour is the sign that he could get better as he spends more time in front of camera. For now, he has exploited the fact that not many young heroes in Malayalam have taken the risk to do stunts like he has in his debut movie. That just about gives Aadhi the impetus it needs.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

The 2003 movie was a flop when it released but has since gone on to become a favourite.
  • Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 12:52

In a scene from Anbe Sivam, Anbarasu (Madhavan) breaks down after the boy for whom he had given blood dies. He says –“These are times when your belief in the existence of God gets shaken”. He looks at Nallasivam (Kamal Haasan), sitting beside him and then re-assures himself, “No, I am not like you. I believe in God”.

Nalla replies “I believe in God too”. Pointing his fingers at a stunned Arasu, Nalla adds - “That heart of yours which shed tears for a complete stranger – That is God!” You do not have to be an atheist to adore this exceptionally beautiful sequence from Anbe Sivam. The writing here worked on different levels. Nalla, through his words, could console the wounded Arasu and bring a smile in him.

Kamal Haasan, who also wrote the movie’s script, used these same words to perfectly sum up the message he had to convey. It was, in a nutshell, the same as the movie’s title – “Anbe Sivam” (Love is God).

Anbe Sivam, which told this stunning story of a man who found God in people who did good things, completed 15 years on this January 15. Over these years, the movie has grown to be a classic, has been watched by people over and over again and continues to be discussed even today.

But when the movie released back in 2003, it was a flop at box-office - this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that people have often found it difficult to accept movies that walked a different path or were far ahead of their time.

What would have been further heart-breaking to its makers was that Anbe Sivam wasn’t acknowledged even in the major awards. It didn’t win any National Award despite the exceptional performances, dialogues or lyrics. Barring a special jury award at Filmfare and a Tamil Nadu State award for Madhavan, who actually won it for also his work in Run and Kannathil Muthamittal, Anbe Sivam was rejected everywhere else.

Today, Anbe Sivam ranks 4th in the IMDB’s list of top rated Indian movies. Much of Anbe Sivam's iconic status and immense repeat value have to do with how brilliantly the film mixed the comedy and poignant moments with thought provoking dialogues that grow on you.

The initial portions where Arasu, a self-centred man, is stuck with Nalla on his journey from Bhubaneswar to Chennai was partly inspired from the American comedy, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Nalla’s character was partly based on Safdar Hashmi, the communist playwright, who used street theatre to voice his protests.

Kamal Haasan combined these effectively to impart his own ideologies in religion, communism and globalization. His success with Anbe Sivam lay in doing the same without being over-preachy or offending the viewer’s own ideals. Anbe Sivam told us how certain relationships in life are woven in the most unexpected ways. How Nalla jumps in joy when he meets Sister Vanessa, who took care of him after the accident, is still a treat to watch.

When Arasu starts his journey with Nalla, he keeps trying to avoid him at every possible juncture. But finally, Arasu ends up admitting that he had now found his lost brother in latter. Nalla, on the other hand, sacrifices his love and decides not to meet Bala (Kiran Rathod) after he learns Arasu is about to marry her.

Nalla takes care of the dog that actually caused his bus accident. When Padayatchi’s henchman (Santhana Bharathi) confronts him in the climax to kill him, the only request he has is to leave the dog alone. When he finally sets Nalla free and asks him to never come to the town again, Nalla smiles and tells him that he has once again seen God. This is as much a movie could warm your heart in two and half hours.

Madhan, who wrote the movie’s dialogues, complemented Kamal in every step. Almost every line left something for you to ponder. When Arasu expresses his discomfort when travelling in a bus, Nalla advises him, “You should gel with the crowd in a public place. You will want to make adjustments like a remote control. But this is the world, not a television set.”

In another scene, Arasu says – “Soviet Union has broken into pieces. No Soviet Union means no communism”. Nalla retorts- “If the Taj Mahal crumbles, will you all stop loving?" Arasu replies – “No, because love is a feeling”. Nalla now hits back -“Communism is a feeling too”. The difference that some well written lines can make!

Kamal Haasan, like he always does, “became” Nallasivam. He once again paid utmost attention to change his appearance and body language for the character. The effort he makes to click and open his jaw every third second, is the kind of commitment that puts him in the league of the greatest actors.

Madhavan’s infectious energy and comic timing helped the movie a great deal. It is not easy to match a powerhouse of talent like Kamal Haasan. But Madhavan nailed it in the scene where Arasu gets to know that Nalla doesn't have a family and then asks him to be on his side always as a brother. In response to this, Kamal Haasan pauses for a few seconds, gasps and stutters, when he asks - “But why you didn't tell me this before? ” What a terrific combat between two fine acting moments!

Vidyasagar's music flows like a breeze through the movie and Vairamuthu’s lyrics place pearls of wisdom even in the songs. The detailing in most frames was precise. Some of the movie’s finest moments are when Anbarasu and Nallasivam sit side by side and talk. The camera often showed us the angle from Arasu’s side. This helped us see what Arasu speaks and how Nalla reacts to it, behind him. This was such fine film-making. Sundar.C has never directed a better movie.

After his treatment, when Nalla is leaving the church, sister Vanessa stops him, saying she forgot something. She then goes forward and hugs him. Anbe Sivam is like that warm hug. They say movies have the ability to stir your deepest emotions. For an apt example, you don't have to look beyond Anbe Sivam.

This year saw the rise of several young, talented filmmakers, huge hits and novel scripts.
  • Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - 12:05

In 2017, Malayalam cinema saw the rise of several young, talented filmmakers. There were huge hits at the box-office, novel scripts, memorable performances and big strides in the technical department.

Here is a look at 12 things from the year that made the most impact and stayed with us.

Fahadh Faasil’s portrayal of a thief without a name in Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

 Arguably the finest performance by a male actor in Malayalam this year, Fahadh Faasil showed us how your screen-time in a movie never matters if you can transform to the character you play like he does.

When the police beat and torture him, we can feel his pain. When he tells a policeman – “Don’t laugh sir, I know what it is be hungry at this age”, we can learn about his past from his face. When he gives a crooked smile to Sreeja (Nimisha) at the interval point, we smile with him. When he drops the stone and decides to not hurt Prasad (Suraj Venjaramoodu), we are once again left wondering what his real character is.

Angamaly Diaries’ rawness

To make a good movie with 86 debutant actors in itself is not a small feat. Lijo Jose Pellissery went a few steps ahead and made Angamaly Diaries, a near classic. The movie reminded one of the likes of Gangs of Wasseypur in its presentation of gang wars in their raw form.

Two other factors also helped. One, the cinematography by Girish Gangadharan whose camera walked and ran behind the gangs without a glitch. Second, the background score by Prashant Pillai which added real thrill to many scenes.

Aashiq Abu’s expert handling of romance in Mayaanadhi

“Normally we see only half of what we write on paper get translated to screen. In Mayaanadhi, we were happy to see it captured completely” said Dileesh Nair, one of the movie’s writers in an interview.

Tovino Thomas and Aishwarya Lekshmi are lovely as Mathan and Aparana. But Mayaanadhi is ultimately a director’s movie. It's not an easy job to depict romance on screen without being even slightly cheesy. But Aashiq Abu brings in a delicate balance that matches the veteran filmmakers in this genre. The gazes the lead pair share, the pause between their words, the vibe that keeps changing - every detail is precise. The result is a poem on screen.

Parvathy’s bravura performance in Take Off

Sameera (Parvathy) breaks down when she explains to Manoj (Fahadh Faasil) the reason why she didn’t leave Iraq despite the situation in the country. She tells him how the wages a nurse gets in her country is so meagre to make her ends meet. It is an act so good that it makes you forget it is an actor in front of you and takes you right into the plight of her character’s profession.

Take Off is a neatly crafted thriller and Parvathy’s performance was its USP. Having already won Best Actress in the recent IFFI awards, Parvathy should add more such films in her kitty in coming days.

Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela’s new spin to depiction of life threatening diseases

The interval block of Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela is hilarious. Sheela Chacko (Shanthi Krishna) and her family get themselves locked in the doctor’s room and the attender goes and informs the doctor.

In contrast, the movie ends on an emotional note. We are shown how Sheela’s husband and kids used to cry far from her but still wiped their tears and ran to her when they were called. This exactly is the achievement of writers Althaf Salim and George Kora. They could find a chink in the wall to produce humor out of a disease like cancer, also not forgetting to lend the sensitivity that such a subject needed.

Paravaa’s boys

When Ichappi (Amal Shah) after his long jump lands in front of the girl on whom he has a crush and locks eyes with her, his face glows. Haseeb (Govind V Pai) is first shocked to see his friend break the rules, but then looks at them one after the other and nods his head in happiness.

Facing the camera for the first time, these kids amazed the audience with their spontaneity throughout. In a movie where everything, from Rex Vijayan's music to Shane Nigam's acting, was impressive, the boys still stood tall.

Aadu 2’s success story

If the first few days are any indication, Aadu 2 is all set to become a huge blockbuster. The roar and applause to Shaji Pappan’s intro in cinema halls is something usually witnessed only for the biggest superstars.

What is riveting about this success is that this is a sequel to a movie that flopped at the box-office. It only goes to proves that a film can find acceptance and a cult following after its DVD release and this is something filmmakers can capitalize on.

The nostalgic trip that Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu took us on

How the ball you hit falls in a neighbour's courtyard, how you gather and chat after a match, how there is a group leader who resolves issue - for many, Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu was less a movie and more a nostalgic trip to a village where they spent their childhood.

The movie’s most poignant moment was when George (Dileesh Pothan) and Baiju (Biju Menon) sit under a tree and share their memories. When George calls Baiju a lucky man and sets off to return to America with a heavy heart, it would have passed on the same emotions to any viewer who is far from their roots.

Jimikki Kammal song

To call Jimikki Kammal viral would be an understatement. This song composed by Shaan Rahman for Velipadinte Pusthakam was a movement not only in Kerala, but even in Tamil Nadu and beyond.

If the original song was viewed 56 million times on Youtube, the one featuring Sheril had 15 million views. People across the country danced to the song and recorded their versions too. American host Jimmy Kimmel tweeted saying he loved it.

The huge popularity meant that Mohanlal himself, who didn't feature initially in the song in movie, danced to the tune.

Sunday Holiday’s feel good factor

After the night Amal (Asif Ali) and Benny (Sudheer Karamana) have had a fight, Benny’s mother (KPAC Lalitha) comes to Amal’s house, hands him a bag of snacks and requests him to not fight again. Amal on his way to work meets Benny and apologises. Benny smiles and pats Amal’s shoulder.

Cinema is such a powerful medium that a small reconciliation on screen can bring such positive energy in you. Sunday Holiday doesn't have a solid story but it has such sweet moments that stay with you .

Suraj Venjaramoodu’s transition to a fine character actor

2017 was the year where Suraj Venjaramoodu completed his transition from a loud comedian to a fine character actor. In Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, his restraint was amazing when portraying a naive guy.

In Varnyathil Aashanka, in contrast, his character was shrewd and opportunistic. The control with which he acts the hilarious drunk scene in the latter, tells us that he is all set to fill the void left by many legendary actors.

Ramante Edanthottam’s climax

Ramante Edanthottam is far from being a perfect movie but its ending struck a chord. Ranjith Shankar wrote some fine lines for the final meeting between Malini (Anu Sithara) and Elvis (Joju George) before she walks out of a marriage where she is not respected.

Anu Sithara stole the show when she sums up Malaini's state of mind as she returns to her dance class, Also impressive was the tail end which shows Malini’s life after a year, how she is happy and how there is no friction with her ex-husband. Here is a filmmaker who had clarity on the message he wanted to convey.

Honourable mentions

 Dulquer Salmaan’s growth in stature as an actor, switching with extreme ease between 4 diverse roles in Solo. Manju Warrier's fine return to form through C/O Saira Banu and Udhaharanam Sujatha after a couple of mundane years. Basil Joseph's knack to squeeze out maximum laughs in Godha. Arun Gopy’s slick execution while revealing the climactic twist in Ramaleela. Genuine attempts by Dominic Arun and Rohit VS to revive crime comedy genre in Malayalam through Tharangam and Adventues of Omanakkuttan

It's unfair that only the best works get recognised, the worst deserve awards too!
  • Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 15:37

2017 is nearing its end and the award season will kick in shortly.

In a recently conducted meeting of the Malayalam movie artists organisation, it was brought up by several members that only the best works are getting recognised by various award ceremonies every year and that the practice should change.

Most were of the strong opinion that no one should feel left out. A huge number of artists who are behind "disappointing works" also have stories of pains to narrate (though mostly, this is the pain they inflict on viewers) .

In light of this, a new jury was formed to give away "special" awards in additional categories this year. Here is the full list of the awards and winners which this jury announced.

Best movie title – Ayal Jeevichirippundu / Goodalochana

This category was said to be a cakewalk for the jury. Ayaal Jeevichiripundu rightly depicted the condition of a viewer who had completed watching the movie.

Goodalochana, on the other hand, was by all means a “conspiracy” against the audience.

Most awaited movie – Poomaram

Director Abrid Shine expressed his gratitude to the jury and viewers for winning the award for the second year in a row.

He added that he is looking forward to win the award for the next 3 years too and even make an attempt to enter the Guinness Book of Records.

Most Original Script - Sathyan Anthikad / Iqbal Kuttippuram (Jomonte Suvisheshangal)

The award jury admitted that it was a technical error and that such errors are bound to happen when winners are at times chosen through “pick a chit” game.

Meanwhile Sathyan Anthikad has requested the jury to not consider him or his script writers for this category from next year. He has confessed that almost every scene of Jomonte Suvisheshangal is inspired from several other Malayalam movies.

The director added – “The scene where Jomon(Dulquer) talks about his dad with his sister and brother is taken from Rasathanthram. The scene where Jomon interacts with Vaidehi (Aishwarya Rajesh) in her office is from Nadodikkattu. The one where Jomon overcomes all hurdles and makes up for the losses made by his father is from Jacobinte Swargarajyam”.

The conversation with the director had to be even cut short when the list went on and on.

Best ‘Amal Neerad’ Award – Jinu Abraham (for slow motion in Adam Joan)

Director Amal Neerad was unhappy that he did not win the award despite making a movie (Comrade in America) this year.

But the jury was unanimous in that the award should go to the director of Adam Joan. The jury cited the movie to be first of its kind experience, where from the motion of cars and bikes to stunts to even the death of characters, everything was slow.

There was also a “special mention” for the plight of Adam Joan’s editor, who is reported to have slept thrice through the movie, thereby forcing the makers to release the unedited version of 2 hour 48 minutes itself.

Best re-use of resources – Jayaram for his looks in Sathya and Achayans

After winning the award for using the same look and makeup in Sathya and Achayans, Jayaram spoke to the media – “I have realised that people don’t really care about my movies anymore. So much that they didn’t even pay attention to the fact that I had the same look in these both movies. I thank the jury for at least taking notice of it. This was done in purpose so that the producers could save money out of it “.

It seemed that was the only money the producers saved at the end.

Most colourful costumes, best movie character name, most well written character – All for Rajakumaran (Pullikkaran Staraa)

Even when asked the reason for this choice, most jury members had the same thing to say - "Pullikkaran Staraa" (He is a Star! ).

Asianet MD K Madhavan has meanwhile mocked at this practice of giving the awards, looking at someone's star stature.

Most selective actor – Jayasurya (Fukri)

Initially Jayasurya mistook the award to be one for doing the least number of movies in 2017.

But it was later communicated to him that it was for the actor’s knack of selectively landing himself in the worst movies of popular directors – Priyadarshan’s Aamayum Muyalum, Rajasenan’s Immini Nalloraal, Balachandra Menon’s De Ingottu Nokkiye and this year, Siddique’s Fukri.

Best movie “without a script” - Ranjith (Puthan Panam)

The jury was in awe of Ranjith’s ability in recent years to make his movies without any script. There were talks that the director usually writes scripts on sets after starting the shooting. But the jury squashed all such rumours stating that he was just jotting down the character names and mapping them against dialects from each district in Kerala - a skill that the filmmaker has developed to confuse the viewers and let them forget all about the need of a story.

Award for bravery and perseverance – 1971: Beyond Borders

The movie’s director Major Ravi was first ecstatic believing the award was a tribute for the soldiers in his movie. He tried reaching out to Mohanlal to share the news and talk about the next script he has written for the actor. It is when Mohanlal didn’t return his calls that Major Ravi realised that the award was, in fact, dedicated to all the viewers who spent on the tickets, went inside theaters and suffered through 2+ hours of this movie.

Best Friend in the industry - Lal Jose

This was given for the valiant efforts of the director to support his friend Dileep during the release of Ramaleela. The jury was especially appreciable of the fact that Lal Jose didn't even care to make his own Velipadinte Pusthakam a decent product. Instead he was more energetic while posting 'Avanodoppam’ , ‘Dileepinu Janakeeya Kodathiyil Vijayam’ etc on Facebook.

Most realistic dialogues – Murali Gopi (Tiyaan)

The movie's dialogues were as realistic as how Aslan Mohammed (Prithivraj) spent his days lighting fire and walking in slow motion on the top of a hill.

In one scene, Aslan says –“Do you know why the warriors of God begin with a defeat – to quell arrogance?" Pattabhiraman’s (Indrajith) reaction to it was an expression that said – “Enthu thengayaanu nee parayunne” (What coconut are you saying)?

“I announced the biggest project” award – Shared by Mammootty and Mohanlal

It is believed that the jury had the toughest time to find the winner in this category.

When Mohanlal announced Odiyan, Randamoozham and Kunjali Marakkar, Mammootty was right behind with big projects like Mamankam, Karnan and “another” Kunjali Marakkar.

Though the jury wanted to take the budget of the projects as the criteria, they noticed that the actors, directors, producers and crew members were all quoting different amounts. It was finally decided to share the award between both the stars.

Special Message - Omar Lulu (Chunkzz)

This was not an award but rather a message from the jury to the filmmaker- “Try and spare us from such movies in future".

Best Technology – Villain, for filming completely in 8K resolution.

A jury member mentioned that it’s a proud moment for Malayalam cinema and more such advanced technologies should be used in our movies. When asked what difference 8K brought to Villain, he said he had to hurry for another meeting and cannot speak further.
Nazriya has acted in only around a dozen movies but she was sorely missed.
  • Saturday, November 04, 2017 - 11:06

“I am fed up, Aunty. I've had enough of this,” Pooja tells her aunt in Ohm Shanti Oshaana after learning that Giri (Nivin Pauly) is going to marry another woman.

“I’ve never seen him laughing like this,” Divya tells her cousin in Bangalore Days when she discovers an old photo of her husband with another woman.

One was a girl who tried everything she could to woo her crush but still failed miserably. Another was a newly-wed woman who just wishes for elusive happiness in her married life.

As our hearts went out to both of them equally, we had one person to thank for – Nazriya Nazim, who did a fabulous job portraying the two characters. All the more reason why Nazriya’s announcement to return to the big screen is great news.

The actor, who married Malayalam star Fahadh Faasil in August 2014, has been out of action for the last three years. Earlier this week, she confirmed that she has signed director Anjali Menon’s new film where she will star alongside Prithviraj and Parvathy.

Malayalam women actors who find their life partners within the film fraternity have mostly bid adieu to the field. While Manju Warrier returned to films after her divorce, Rima Kallingal is one of the few exceptions who didn’t take a long break.

While it is refreshing to see Nazriya back in three years, what makes it more delightful for fans is that her comeback vehicle will be made by Anjali Menon who also gave her the meaty role of Divya.

From her debut as a child artist in Palunku in 2006, Nazriya has in fact acted in only around a dozen movies. Out of these, a majority were released in 2013 and 2014 and three were Tamil movies. If Neram brought her into the limelight, Raja Rani won her fans in Tamil Nadu.

Her performances in Ohm Shanti Oshaana and Bangalore Days won her the Kerala State award and ensured that she left a void in the film industry when she went out of action. Nazriya’s biggest assets are her bubbly personality and infectious charm – both of which make her a natural in front of the camera.

In Raja Rani, she played only a cameo. She had an unusual introduction with John (Arya) catching Keerthana dancing while brushing her teeth. Even the ending was striking as Keerthana meets with an accident and is soaked in blood. Between these, her “hey brother” antics kept that segment of 35 minutes lively.

Ohm Shanti Oshaana is one of the most entertaining Malayalam movies in recent times. It was cleverly written from the point of view of a woman protagonist, which is a pretty rare thing for a comedy entertainer. But the movie wouldn’t have had the same repeat value it has today if Nazriya hadn’t played the lead role.

Nazriya lends her own voice in Malayalam movies. This is such a stand-out factor when you need audiences to be drawn to your performance. Her voice-over, which ran through most of Ohm Shanti Oshaana, benefitted the movie hugely. The narration of her professor's heart attack was a riot despite the gravity of the episode.

The actor has great flair for comedy, evident in scenes such as the one where she hands over her poem titled ‘Mathi’ (sardine) to Giri’s mother or when she runs out of the medical entrance coaching centre.

In Bangalore Days, Nazriya showed further polish as an actor. A memorable scene is when Das (Fahadh Faasil) asks her how their dinner was and Divya replies, “It was splendid.” The heavy tone perfectly conveys her state of mind. The shaken appearance when Das shuts the door on her to end their heated argument or the broad smile on seeing the fridge full of mango juice – both told us how she has started to use her expressions to good effect.

Nazriya found some success as a singer too, lending her voice to two Gopi Sunder numbers in Salala Mobiles (La La Lasa) and Bangalore Days (Ente Kannil Ninakkai). She played a different character, an introvert, in Samsaaram Aarogyathinu Haanikaram (Vaayai Moodi Pesavum) but the movie was a flop.

Divya’s eyes sparkle when Das invites her to dinner much to her surprise. Pooja’s smile is wiped off to be replaced with shock when she hears the news of Giri’s wedding. This is the kind of spontaneity you want to watch in any actor when you watch a movie. This is exactly why I look forward to seeing Nazriya on screen again.

Welcome back Nazriya. You were missed.

The trick is to balance the "mass" moments with good content.
  • Monday, October 23, 2017 - 15:23

In Tamil cinema, writing a good screenplay for a huge star is a herculean task. On one side, you have to play to the gallery to please the actor’s ardent fans. At the same time, you need to have enough going to keep other viewers engaged. But unfortunately, most times, the makers end up giving us the “been there, seen it umpteen times” feeling.

Let’s take some of the movies of such stars in recent times. Movies like Theri and Vedalam still carry the “predictable” Baasha hangover in which the hero has a past that many are not aware of. Kabali brought out the actor in Rajnikanth after a while but failed to give the thrills you expect from his movies. Singam 2 and 3 didn’t have anything new to offer like the first film did.

A lot of movies do not even try.

In the last five years of Tamil cinema, two instances that come to mind when a superstar movie offered immense repeat value would be Thuppakki and Kaththi. Both were Vijay movies. Both had A.R Murugadoss at the helm of screenplay and dialogues along with direction.

Kaththi completed 3 years on October 22nd. Thuppakki would complete 5 years this November 13th. Here is a look at various nuances in the screenwriting of A.R Murugadoss that make these two movies great entertainers:

Be imaginative: In Thuppakki, when Jagadish (Vijay) finds out that the sleeper cell has planned to detonate bombs at 12 places in Mumbai at the same time, he gets the help of his eleven army friends, gives directions to them over phone and kills all the sleeper agents.

In Kaththi, when Chirag (Neil Nitin Mukesh) sends 50 men to get rid of Kathiresan (Vijay), he asks his friend to quickly switch off and switch on the mains whenever he flips a coin – a trick that lets him attack the men when they cannot see him.

There is a good chance that this is not how you expected these heroes to handle the situations. The central theme of these movies doesn’t deviate from the protagonist who is a saviour of the community. But Murugadoss’s success lies in writing sequences like these that viewers haven’t seen before. It keeps them guessing.

Consistent one-upmanship between Villain and Hero: A villain who thinks one step ahead of the hero – that is as rare a sight as could be in a Tamil superstar movie. In Thuppakki, until the short brain freeze in the climax where he decides to take Vijay one-on-one, the sleeper cell leader (played by Vidyut Jammwal) gave us one of the cleverest bad guys Tamil cinema has ever produced.

The character interestingly didn’t even have a name in the movie.

In a sequence that showcases the villain’s skills, he gets pretty close to narrowing down the group of people who killed his men just from the dress they were wearing that day. When the hero hacks into his kidnap plan and sends his sister as one of the hostages, the cat and mouse game between them gets really exciting.

Kaththi might not have had a villain as well etched out as Thuppakki. But even he could give the hero some serious headaches when he faked the signatures of 2300 villagers in support of the factory- those who couldn't come to India and deny the claim.

Dialogues that resonate with viewers: In Thuppakki, when his friend asks Jagadish why he needed to give up his life to kill the villain, he replies –“If those who want to kill thousands of people are ready to sacrifice their lives, why can’t we sacrifice ours too to protect people”.

In Kaththi, during the press conference, Kathiresan asks –“When we are hungry thrice a day, we remember food. But have we thought about the farmers who give us that food any day?”

Entertainment was obviously the first priority of these movies. But both Thuppakki and Kaththi could also make us think about our soldiers and farmers respectively while our eyes were on the screen. What helped the cause were such well written dialogues.

Well placed whistle worthy moments: Now regardless of all other factors, Murugadoss doesn’t forget the most important thing in a superstar movie – produce the whistle worthy moments. He doesn't mind waiting to create these moments.

Kaththi saw a deviation from the usual routine of having a hero perform a fight immediately after he is introduced. The first fight doesn’t happen until the two foreign ladies arrive in disguise to attack Kathiresan and we were treated to one of Vijay’s finest choreographed stunt sequences.

In Thuppakki, when Jagadish finally reaches the location where his sister is kidnapped, you first see the dog and then hear a gunshot. Vijay then slowly emerges out of the smoke with Harris Jayaraj’s thumping score in the background.

In Kaththi, Chirag who is watching the live news on TV thinks he has won the battle after he had ties up Jeevanandam in his room. But then, Kathiresan comes out of the water pipeline, this time against Anirudh’s BGM.

To write these two sequences in this exact same way is what matters. In Thuppakki, when the sleeper cell leader speaks to Jagadish the first time over phone, the latter listens patiently to all the threats on the other side, nods his head and just says –“I am waiting”. Then "interval" appears on the screen.

The same set of words, which is used once again for Kaththi’s interval, has today grown into an iconic one-liner.

In Kaththi, another smart technique used is to establish Kathiresan’s expertise with blueprints at the beginning itself in jail. Which meant that when he asks for the blueprint of Chennai city later to shut down the source of the water, the moment has already earned its right to be "mass".

A.R Murugadoss might not have been able to enjoy the same success that he had with Thuppakki and Kaththi in his new Telugu film – Spyder. But his next project, in which he teams up with Vijay again, carries huge expectations. Because one is a superstar whose energy levels has still seen no dent. Another is a writer-director who knows how to use this star to his full advantage. This is a lethal combination any day.