Review: ‘Rathnam’ (2024), starring Vishal and Priya Bhavani Shankar

May 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Vishal and Priya Bhavani Shankar in “Rathnam” (Photo courtesy of Ayngaran International)

“Rathnam” (2024)

Directed by Hari

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Vellore, India, the action film “Rathnam” features an Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An enforcer for a Member of the Legislative Assembly gets caught up in a violent feud with corrupt businessmen who want to steal land ownership from a group of villagers. 

Culture Audience: “Rathnam” will appeal primarily who are fans of the movie’s headliners and don’t mind watching idiotic action movies that are too long.

Murali Sharma in “Rathnam” (Photo courtesy of Ayngaran International)

“Rathnam” is just another long-winded, repetitive and idiotic action flick with no surprises and no soul. The movie has an unappealing subplot about the shallow “hero” falling in love with a woman who looks exactly like his dead mother. Other than that bizarre part of the story, “Rathnam” has the typical barrage of unrealistic fight scenes and murderous revenge schemes. It’s all becomes so dull and tiresome after a while. And it’s made worse by the movie’s too-long runtime of 155 minutes.

Written and directed by Hari, “Rathnam” (which takes place in Vellore, India) is the fourth movie collaboration for Hari and star Vishal. They previously worked together on 2007’s “Thaamirabharani,” 2014’s “Poojai” and 2022’s “Yaanai.” Vishal portrays the title character in “Rathnam,” which means “gem” in Tamil. This movie is far from being a gem-like treasure. It’s trash.

“Rathnam” begins with a flashback to 1994, by showing how a group of three bandits commit robberies on the road. The three thieves throw eggs at the windshields of passing vehicles on isolated roads, to get the drivers to lose control of the vehicles and crash. The thieves then swoop in and rob the people in the crashed vehicles, regardless if the people are dead or alive.

The thieves use this heinous robbery tactic on a bus, which crashes and kills a total of 26 people. The thieves rob the dead and dying people before escaping. Later, when police try to catch the robbers on a cliff road, eggs are thrown on the police car’s windshield, and the police car falls over the cliff.

The movie then fast-forwards to 2024. Vellore is plagued by corruption from several politicians and business owners. Rathnam works as an enforcer for a Member the Legislative Assembly named Panneer Selvam (played by Samuthirakani), who sends Rathnam to do a lot of Panneer’s dirty work.

One of these criminal politcians is a council member named Babu Reddy (played by Pondy Ravi), who is seen trying to sexually assault a kidnapped teenage schoolgirl while he’s driving her in his Jeep. She jumps out of the vehicle to escape and ends up in a hospital, where police have been called to interview her. Babu Reddy denies anything to do with the crimes he committed against this victim.

The next thing you know, Rathnam and three of his cronies hunt down Babu. Rathnam then kills Babu with a chainsaw. Rathnam’s weapons of choice tend to be anything with blades, because he likes to behead many of his victims. Expect to see many scenes of Rathnam slashing his way through fights by using large knives and machetes.

Fairly early on in the story, Rathnam talks about his past to explain why he turned out to be the person he is. When he was 5 years old, Rathnam and his mother Loganayagi (played by Priya Bhavani Shankar) were kidnapped. The kidnappers forced Rathnam’s mother to become a sex slave. She became an outcast in their community and committed suicide (by hanging herself) out of shame. “Rathnam” has some other flashbacks to his family’s past, with the flashbacks showing relatives such as Rathnam’s father (played by Ganesh Venkatraman) and Rathnam’s grandfather (played by Y. Gee. Mahendra).

Meanwhile, in the present day, three ruthless brothers have been bullying the villagers to sign over land to them. This dastardly trio of brothers are Beema Rayudu (played by Murali Sharma), Subba Rayudu (played by Hareesh Peradi) and Raghava Rayudu (played by Vettai Muthukumar), who have a connection to Rathnam’s past that won’t be revealed in this review. The villagers who don’t comply are at risk of being murdered by the Rayudu brothers, who have a large group of thugs working for them.

Rathnam’s love interest is a medical student named Malliga (also played by Shankar), whose father Vedha Nayagam (played by Jayaprakash) and unnamed grandfather (played by Vijayakumar) are among the outspoken villagers who are resisting the threats and attacks from the Rayudu brothers. Rathnam is immediately smitten with Malliga the first time that he sees her because she looks identical to his dead mother. When Malliga finds out about this uncanny resemblance, she doesn’t think it’s creepy at all that Rathnam is attracted to her in part because she looks like his mother.

Rathnam and Malliga have a volatile relationship where they break up and get back together multiple times. Rathnam is very jealous and possessive and can fly into a rage if he thinks Malliga is having “impure” thoughts about another man. The movie tries to make this relationship look romantic when it’s actually an emotionally abusive and dysfunctional relationship.

“Rathnam” is filled with ridiculous fight scenes where Rathnam has unexplained superhuman strength and abilities. When he is outnumbered by opponents, the opponents just stand around and watch while Rathnam takes on one man at a time. It’s all such idiotic and lazy filmmaking. There’s nothing about “Rathnam” that can be described as “great” or “very good.” It’s all just a parade of mediocre-to-bad everything that is not worth the time of anyone who wants to see an entertaining action movie.

Ayngaran International released “Rathnam” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on April 26, 2024.

Review: ‘Tiger Nageswara Rao,’ starring Ravi Teja, Anupam Kher, Jisshu Sengupta, Renu Desai and Nupur Sanon

October 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nupur Sanon and Ravi Teja in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (Photo courtesy of Abhishek Agarwal Arts)

“Tiger Nageswara Rao”

Directed by Vamsee

Telugu with some language in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada and Malayalam with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, primarily in the 1970s, with some scenes in 1980 and the 1950s, the action film “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (loosely based on the real life of notorious thief Nageswara Rao) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Robin Hood-like thief, who robs from the rich so he can give to the poor, tries to avoid being captured by law enforcement.

Culture Audience: “Tiger Nageswara Rao” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, but it’s an overly long and repetitive mess of tiresome clichés.

Anupam Kher in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (Photo courtesy of Abhishek Agarwal Arts)

Even though “Tiger Nageswara Rao” is loosely based on the real life of notorious thief Nageswara Rao, the movie is just a pathetic ripoff of stories about English folk hero Robin Hood, but without any charm and intrigue that define Robin Hood lore. This three-hour slog of hack filmmaking drags with empty stereotypes of action flicks about outlaws, revenge and betrayals. The movie’s rampant misogyny, bad acting and wretched story make this vile film a big turnoff. Avoid this bloated trash.

Directed by Vamsee (who co-wrote the horrendous “Tiger Nageswara Rao” screenplay with Srikanth Vissa), “Tiger Nageswara Rao” takes place in India, mostly in the 1970s. In the city of Chirala, the rehabilitation colony of Stuartpurnam exists for the Erukula tribe, which has a history of oppression from British conquerors. In the 1970s, Stuartpurnam is plagued with violent crimes. Local law enforcement is overwhelmed and can’t seem to reign in the worst criminals.

The movie begins on March 22, 1980. A code red alert has summoned deputy superintendent of police Vishwanath Sastry (played by Murali Sharma) to India’s Intelligence Bureau headquarters in New Delhi. One of the officials he meets with is an officer named Raghavendra Rajput (played by Anupam Kher), who tells Vishwanath that they are looking to take down Tiger Nageswara Rao (nicknamed Nagi), a corrupt politician who has a long history of being a thief.

Vishwanath says he knows who Nageswara is, because he had a run-ins with him in Chirala. The movie then flashes back to a train heist that was masterminded by Nageswara, sometime in the 1970s. The chase scenes (some of which take place on top of the moving train) have shoddy and very fake-looking visual effects.

The movie then further flashes back to 1956, to show Nageswara as an orphaned child at 8 years old. He became a protégé of a criminal named Gajjala Prasad (plagued by Nassar), who teaches Nageswara how to become a master thief at the age of 11. By the time he was in his 20s, Nageswara (played by Ravi Teja) was considered to be India’s biggest thief. Nageswara was also difficult to capture. Teja, who was in his mid-50s when he made “Tiger Nageswara Rao,” never looks believable as someone who is supposed to be in his 20 in this movie.

In 1971, a member of the legislative assembly named Yelamanda (played by Hareesh Peradi) supervises a auction that is held every year in Stuartpurnam. The auction, which has luxury goods, is the ideal target for a thief such as Nageswara. You can imagine what happens next. Yelamanda is one of a growing list of people who becomes an enemy of Nageswara. In addition to federal agent Rajput, there’s a local Chirala police inspector named Mouli (played by Jisshu Sengupta) who is hunting Nageswara.

Nageswara is not only greedy when it comes to money, he’s also a promiscuous lout who treats women like playthings to be used and abused. The movie shows in non-explicit ways that he thinks he’s an expert seducer of women, just because he has orgies with at least 10 women at a time. One day, while Nageswara is at an outdoor market, an attractive young woman named Sara (played by Nupur Sanon) catches his attention. It’s lust at first sight for Nageswara.

And then (get ready to cringe), this idiotic dialogue happens: Nageswara says to Sara as a pickup line: “I’m hungry.” Sara replies in a sexual double entendre, “In order to eat off my plate, one must fast for three days.”

Nageswara doesn’t like this rejection from Sara, so he hits her so hard, she falls down. A nearby police officer goes to defend Sara, but Nageswara assaults him too. The brawling that ensues consists of more phony-looking stunts. Nageswara wins the fight and walks away without getting arrested.

Nageswara isn’t done with Sara, who is engaged to be married. Nageswara shows up unannounced and uninvited at her wedding. He ruins the wedding by telling Sara that he stole her dowry money from a chest. She slaps him, but Nageswara insists that Sara will be his, as if she’s a possession, not a human being.

Sara’s fiancé backs out of the wedding when he hears the dowry has been stolen. Nageswara uses this abandonment as “proof” that the fiancé didn’t really love Sara. Nageswara also says he did Sara a favor by exposing her fiancé as a gold digger. And in this awful movie, this tactic works. Nageswara is able to romance Sara for a while.

Through a series of circumstances, Nageswara ends up marrying someone else who doesn’t excite him as much as Sara does. Her name is Mani (played by Gayatri Bhardwaj), who becomes Nageswara’s long-suffering wife. Mani knows that Nageswara doesn’t love her as much as she loves him. Nageswara and Mani have twin daughters together. (Mani gives birth in a tacky melodramatic scene.)

“Tiger Nageswara Rao” tries to depict the title character as a “noble” folk hero who wants to use the money he steals to build a factory that can provide jobs, but the movie reprehensibly excuses his abuse of women. “Tiger Nageswara Rao” is really just a violent soap opera, where Nageswara continues to steal and avoid getting captured. He’s so smug and arrogant about his crimes, there’s nothing “noble” about him.

There are some sleazy subplots thrown into the movie, such as Sara being forced into prostitution. It’s just more of this film’s woman-hating attitude on display. No one in the movie’s cast gives a good performance. They all look like they’re on auto-pilot for their characters, who have one-dimensional personalities.

There’s so much unimaginative repetition in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (robberies, unrealistic fight scenes, Nageswara getting away), it’s truly mind-numbing and boring to watch after a while. It’s also a movie that has musical numbers that don’t fit the film’s overall tone. “Tiger Nageswara Rao” also has an obnoxiously loud music score, which seems to be a characteristic of horrendous action flicks that mistakenly think “loud music score” equals “effective music score.” There is absolutely nothing in “Tiger Nageswara” that is truly original and worth seeing, which is another way of saying that people who value their time shouldn’t see this movie at all.

Abhishek Agarwal Arts released “Tiger Nageswara Rao” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 20, 2023.

Review: ‘Pichaikkaran 2,’ starring Vijay Antony, Kavya Thapar and Dev Gill

May 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Vijay Antony in “Pichaikkaran 2” (Photo courtesy of Vijay Antony Film Corporation)

“Pichaikkaran 2”

Directed by Vijay Antony

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chennai, India, the sci-fi action film “Pichaikkaran 2” (a stand-alone sequel to 2016’s “Pichaikkaran”) features an all-South-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An evil and greedy businessman, who wants to get rid his rival brother, abducts a street beggar so that the brains of the beggar and the businessman’s brother can be switched through a secret surgery.

Culture Audience: “Pichaikkaran 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching an overly long and terribly made movie about greed and swapping human brains through transplants.

Dev Gill in “Pichaikkaran 2” (Photo courtesy of Vijay Antony Film Corporation)

“Pichaikkaran 2” is a sorry excuse for a sequel. This long-winded sci-fi action flick has a terribly conceived plot about brain swapping. This time-wasting junk ironically lacks any brain-power intelligence. The only real brain damage is to the brain cells of viewers who watch this idiotic film.

Written and directed by Vijay Antony, “Pichaikkaran 2” is a sequel to the 2016 film “Pichaikkaran,” which is superior to this sequel in every single way. (The word “pichaikkaran” means “beggar” in Tamil.) The main thing that these vastly different movies have in common is that Vijay Antony has the title starring role in both movies. “Pichaikkaran” was written and directed by Sasi. Antony makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Pichaikkaran 2,” which Antony co-wrote with K Palani and Paul Antony.

In “Pichaikkaran 2” (which takes place in Chennai, India), a wealthy businessman named Vijay Gurumoorthy (played by Antony) is the heir leader to his family’s business, after the family patriarch (Vijay’s father) has died. Vijay’s evil and greedy younger brother Aravind (played by Dev Gill) convinces a reluctant Vijay to keep their father’s death a secret for about a month. Aravind tells Vijay that they need this secrecy so that the company’s stocks don’t go down and so that they have time to prepare for the transition to new leadership.

In reality, Aravind want this month to prepare for a dastardly plan to get rid of Vijay and take over the business. Aravind has heard about a revolutionary surgery that can do human brain transplants. This surgery is an outlawed medical procedure, since the worldwide medical community has issues with the ethics of human brain transplants.

A rogue surgeon named Dr. Shiva (played by Hareesh Peradi) is an advocate of this surgery and has given media interviews saying that this surgery should be legal because it could prolong people’s lives. Aravind tells M. Krishna Iyer (played by Y. G. Mahendran), the loyal secretary of this deceased business mogul, to find Dr. Shiva, who is brought to a secret meeting with Aravind and Krishna. Dr. Shiva is eager to perform this surgery, for the right price.

After Aravind is convinced that this surgery would really work, he hires Dr. Shiva and tells him to wait and see who will be the two people who will have their brains swapped. Aravind then has Vijay kidnapped. Aravind viciously beats and kicks Vijay into unconsciousness. And it just so happens there’s an impoverished beggar named Sathya (also played by Antony), who is a look-alike to Vijay. Sathya, who grew up as a poor orphan, is also kidnapped and made unconscious through violent ways.

Two look-alike people and a brain-swapping plot? You know what this means, of course. Vijay and Sathya end up in a secret operating room, where their brains are swapped. When they both wake up, the body of Vijay has the mind of Sathya, while the body of Sathya has the mind of Vijay. Sathya and Vija still have long-term memories, so they can vividly remember their past.

Avarind’s plan is to kill the body of Sathya (which has Vijay’s mind) and keep the body of Vijay (which has Sathya’s mind), to use as a decoy, so that people will think Vijay is still alive. Avarind thinks that this “fake Vijay” (who has Sathya’s mind) will be such an incompetent leader, the “fake Vijay” will be ousted from the company, giving Avarind a clear path to take over the family business. The problem with this conspiracy is that Sathya, whose mind is in now in the body of Vijay, remembers his real past and isn’t afraid to say so. Even though some people think Sathya is mentally ill for saying he’s trapped in the wrong body, Sathya (in Vijay’s body) is determined to find out why he’s now being told that he is Vijay and has to live Vjay’s life.

After this secret brain-transplant surgery takes place, Vijay’s loyal and loving girlfriend Hema (played by Kavya Thapar), who also works for the company, begins to grow suspicious about the way the “fake Vijay” has been acting, because this “fake Vijay” doesn’t remember a lot of things about their relationship. Will she discover the secret? Will Avarind get away with his moronic scheme? It should come as no surprise that Sathya (in Vijay’s body) is not as gullible and passive as Avarind thinks Sathya should be.

This bloated 148-minute film stretches out the very thin plot with a lot of phony-looking fight scenes and cringeworthy musical numbers. Everything about “Pichaikkaran 2” reeks of mindless filmmaking with a big budget. How stupid is the dialogue in “Pichaikkaran 2”? Aravind repeats the redundant phrase that Vijay is worth “millions and billions.” The acting in this movie is mostly horrendous. The film editing (by Antony) is choppy and amateurish. Antony also wrote the bombastic musical score for “Pichaikkaran 2,” which blasts the music in obnoxious volume levels.

Although “Pichaikkaran 2” tries to make Vijay look like he’s a desirable and admirable person, he’s actually quite terrible. There’s a scene early in the movie (before the brain-transplant surgery takes place), when Hema questions Vijay’s decision to keep his father’s death a secret for a month. In response, Vijay hits Hema hard in the face. It’s all just an exploitative set-up to make the mind of altruistic and compassionate Sathya the better choice for the body of Vijay. Sathya also has a side to him that is a ruthless vigilante, which is the movie’s excuse to have a lot of violent scenes of Sathya as an “action hero.”

Along the way, “Pichaikkaran 2” has a lot of preaching about Anti-Bikili, a social movement that’s against greed, corruption and arrogance about money. There’s also a treacly subplot about Sathya looking for his long-lost sister Rani, who was separated from him in their childhood, when they were sent to different foster homes. “Pichaikkaran 2” is just a horribly made vanity project from Antony. The only real “begging” for “Pichaikkaran 2” is when disastisfied viewers see how bad this trash-dump movie is and beg for it to be over.

Vijay Antony Film Corporation released “Pichaikkaran 2” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on May 19, 2023.

Review: ‘Vikram’ (2022), starring Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil

July 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kamal Haasan in “Vikram” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Films)

“Vikram” (2022)

Directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India in 2019, the action film “Vikram” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: The leader of a black ops team goes on a mission to find a serial killer, who might or might not be a drug lord who is also being sought for arrest. 

Culture Audience: “Vikram” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Kamal Haasan and who don’t mind watching overly long action movies with messy stories and silly fight scenes.

Fahadh Faasil in “Vikram” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Films)

At nearly three hours long, “Vikram” overstays its welcome, as it becomes more of a convoluted mess of plot holes and increasingly far-fetched action scenes. The movie’s biggest “mystery reveal” has no real surprises. “Vikram” is just a repetitive and mind-numbing loop of double crosses and fight scenes from people who often have secret identities. At least one hour of this movie didn’t need to exist.

Written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, “Vikram” is a sequel to the 2019 action film “Kaithi” (another cops versus drug smugglers story) and is somewhat of a sequel to the 1986 movie “Vikram.” Because of all the twist and turns in the plot in the 2022 “Virkam” movie (most of these twists which are clumsily handled), there’s not much to say about the movie’s story except that it essentially revolves around three main characters:

  • Agent Amar (played by Fahadh Faasil) is an alpha male commander of the black-ops squad, which is unoriginally called the Black Squad. About five to seven men report to Agent Amar in this group. Amar has a generically overconfident personality and all the stereotypical actions of a black ops leader in a movie that’s more concerned about fight scenes and explosions than in creating characters with meaningful personalities.
  • Sandhanam (played by Vijay Sethupathi) is the leader of the Vetti Vagaiyara gang, which is involved in drug trafficking. And it goes without saying that Sandhanam is the movie’s chief villain. At least the movie made Sandhanam a colorful character with a lot of memorable quirks. Sandhanam is the middle of 24 siblings, he has three wives, and he’s described in the movie as “a bit of a psycho” and a “hardcore doper.” Sandhanam has bizarre plans to start his own government, which he wants to be funded by money he makes from drug trafficking.
  • Karnan (played by Kamal Haasan) is a mystery man who is shown murdered early in the movie, but his identity is crucial in unraveling the movie’s overly tangled mystery. Karnan’s murder is part of a series of murders committed by a roving group of masked terrorists who kidnap their victims, tie them up, and them kill them on videos that they send to law enforcement. Before each victim is murdered, one of the masked men snarls, “We declare war against your system.”

Karnan was one of three men whose murders were committed by this mysterious group of serial killers within a short period of time. The other two men were Narcotics Control Bureau official (and “Kaithi” movie character) Stephen Raj (played by Hareesh Peradi) and Narcotics Control Bureau assistant commissioner of police Prabhanjan (played by Kalidas Jayaram), who was Karnan’s adopted son. The video recordings of all three murders were also sent to law enforcement.

As far as the investigators know, Karnan was a civilian and not part of law enforcement. However, Karnan apparently had a seedy background as a drug addict, alcoholic and womanizer who frequently visited brothels. It might explain how Karnan was connected to the underground drug trade, but will that be enough information to solve these murders?

Predictably, someone in the Vetti Vagaiyara gang gets greedy and wants to betray gang leader Sandhanam. This traitor is named Veerapandian (played by Gowtham Sundararajan), who hatches a plan to team up with a member of rival gang to get a big drug shipment that has gone missing and deliver it to a mysterious crime boss named Rolex. Veerapandian’s partner in crime is Rudra Pratap (played by Aruldoss), and they both want to get the money from Rolex (played by Suriya) that would have gone directly to Sandhanam.

Amar’s supervisor is police chief Jose (played by Chemban Vinod), who has put Amar on this mission to find out who’s behind these terrorist murders. At the same time, Amar is also tasked with busting Sandhanam’s Vetti Vagaiyara gang of drug traffickers. It doesn’t take long for Amar to find out that Rudra Pratrap is the target of a murder plot.

All of this might sound like an intriguing story, but it’s handled in a sloppy and often nonsensical way. Viewers are expected to believe a lot of moronic plot twists and overlook many illogical story flaws. The last hour of “Vikram” is a steady pile-on of reveals until viewers feel like it reaches the ludicrousness of a bad soap opera. None of the acting in this movie is special or noteworthy.

As for the excessive violence in “Vikram,” it plays into the usual mindless stereotypes where the “hero” can, all by himself, take on and defeat several armed men at the same time without the “hero” getting any serous injuries. There are several heinous scenes in the movie where a toddler (played by Dharsan) is in the middle of the violence, and no one stops to get this child out of harm’s way. The baby is better off than most viewers of “Vikram” though, because the baby is blissfully unaware of “Vikram” being such a terrible movie.

Red Giant Films released “Vikram” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 3, 2022.

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