Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of Asia, the action film “Spy” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A spy tries to find out who killed his brother while he hunts down a terrorist.
Culture Audience: “Spy” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching incoherent and silly action movies.
“Spy” is a jumbled mess with sloppy editing, a moronic plot, and mindless violence. There’s no originality in this time-wasting film about a spy hunting down a terrorist. There are too many other movies that have the same plot but are much more interesting to watch than “Spy,” whose title is also very unoriginal.
Directed by Garry BH and written by Anirudh Krishna Murthy, “Spy” is supposed to look like a globe-trotting adventure. The movie’s story takes place in Jordan, Israel, India, and Pakistan. All of these different location don’t add anythng substantial to the story. They just serve as backdrops to the generic chase scenes and shootouts in this dreadful action flick.
In “Spy,” most of the main characters are from India. Vijay “Jai” Vardhan (played by Nikhil Siddharth) is an obnoxious Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) agent who is tasked with finding an elusive terrorist named Khadir Khan (played by Nitin Mehta), who is also an arms dealer. There’s also some nonsense about Vijay trying to find a connection betwen Khadir and secrets of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, an Indian nationalist who rose to prominence in the 1940s.
“Spy” is nothing but a checklist of stereotypes. Does the dashing “hero” have a less-dashng sidekick? Check. Vijay’s sidekick is co-worker/best friend Kamal (played by Abhinav Gomatam), who doesn’t do much that’s substantial.
Does the “hero” have a personal tragedy and is seeking revenge for it? Check. Vijay’s brother Subhash Vardhan (played by Aryan Rajesh) was also a R&AW agent, and he was killed in the line of duty while trying to apprehend Khadir. There’s a muddled part of the movie that mentions Subhash was credited with capturing Khadir, but Khadir really escaped.
Does the “hero” have a pretty love interest? Double check. He’s got two: Vijay meets Ashiwaraya (played by Iswarya Menon) in a bar. He breaks a bottle over the head of another guy who tries to talk to her. It’s obvious that something is off about Ashiwaraya because she thinks this type of bullying violence is flattering.
Vijay’s other love interest is Saraswati (played by Sanya Thakur), who is one of his colleagues. “Spy” has old-fashioned stereotypes of women. Ashiwaraya is supposed to be the seductive, “bad girl” type. Saraswati is supposed to be the dependable “good girl” type.
Vijay promises his father (played by Tanikella Bharani) that he will find the murderer of Subhash. The movie goes from fight scene to fight scene with no style or charisma. The same can be said of the bland acting performances from the cast. “Spy” will be quickly forgotten by viewers because there’s not much about the movie that’s worth remembering.
Red Cinemas released “Spy” in select U.S. cinemas on June 28, 2023, and in India on June 29, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in India, mostly in the 1990s, the dramatic film “Vaathi” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After a greedy businessman manipulates the educational system so that schoolteachers from government-run schools are sent to his private school system, a dedicated teacher goes against the rules to teach students who can’t afford a private education.
Culture Audience: “Vaathi” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies about inspirational schoolteachers, even if some of the scenarios are very exaggerated for dramatic purposes.
[Editor’s note: “Vaathi” was filmed in the languages of Tamil and Telugu. The Tamil title of the movie is “Vaathi,” while the Telugu title of the movie is “Sir.” A few of the movie’s characters have different names, depending on the language. This reviewer saw the movie in the Tamil language, so the review will have the characters names that were in the Tamil version of the movie.]
“Vaathi” tells a sentimental story that takes a searing look at how the debate over government-funded education versus private education in India affects those who are financially disadvantaged. The movie shows how one person can make a positive difference. With a total running time of 148 minutes, the movie is a little too long, and there are some unnecessary and unrealistic action fight scenes, but the movie’s overall message and how the story is told is mostly watchable and entertaining.
Written and directed by Venky Atluri, “Vaathi” takes place mostly in the 1990s, but the movie begins in the early 2020s. Three guys in their late teens have traveled from Vellore to visit a district collector. They find out that his name is A. M. Kumar (played by Sumanth), who has a story to tell these teenagers. (In the Telugu version of the movie, this character’s name is A. S. Murthy.) A.M. Kumar has a photo hanging up on the wall of an influential schoolteacher, who has become somewhat of legend in A.M.’s small hometown village of Sozhavaram. (In the Telugu version of the movie, A.S. Murthy’s hometown is Siripuram.)
The movie then flashes back to the 1990s, to show the story from the perspective of this schoolteacher. In the Tamil version of the movie, his name is Bala Balamurugan. In the Telugu version of the movie, his name is Bala Gangadhar Thilak. (Dhanush has the role of Bala.) Bala is passionate about teaching and has a strong belief that education should be a right, not a privilege reserved only for those who can afford it.
A brief introduction in “Vaathi” explains that in 1990, the privatization of much of India’s economy led to many government-run schools being shut down and more schools becoming privately owned businesses. Teachers at these shuttered government schools were often transferred to the private schools, with the transferred teachers often making less money than what they were paid working for government-run schools. Meanwhile, depending on the area, private schools raise their tuitions, making education available only to those who can afford it.
The poorest of the poor can’t afford to pay any tuition for education. It’s an inequality that Bala finds very hard to accept. He becomes a teacher who is transferred from a government-run school to a private high school that is part of the Thirupathi Teaching Center, which is owned by a ruthless and greedy businessman named Thirupathi (played by Samuthirakani), who has an elitist and disrespectful attitude toward people who are working-class and poor. (In the Telugu version of the movie, the corrupt businessman’s name is Tripathi.)
Bala (who teaches mathematics) arrives at the school with two male co-workers who are also his friends: Prakash Reddy (played by Sha Ra), who is a physics teacher, has a friendly and easygoing personality. Karthik (played Hyper Aadi), who is a chemistry teacher, has a socially awkward and goofy personality. One of the first people they meet at this school is a pretty woman named Meenakshi (played by Samyuktha), who is a biology teacher.
All three men are immediately attracted to Meenakshi. The movie wastes some time with the three pals arguing about who will get to date her, even though it’s obvious to viewers which one of the friends will end up with Meenakshi. Karthik bungles his attempts to court her when he makes a pass at her that Meenakshi thinks is offensive. Karthik makes a sheepish apology and says this pass was just a “romantic gesture.”
One of the students at the school is named Muthu (played by Ken Karunas), whose parents tragically committed suicide. Muthu wears a leg brace and is often teased or bullied by other students about it. As a result, Muthu often has low self-esteem. Bala takes an interest in helping Muthu in many ways, including boosting Muthu’s confidence.
Bala spends a lot of time trying to convince the low-income villagers to send their underage children to this school. He gets a lot of resistance from the villagers who need their children to work for money instead of getting a school education. The children of low-income villagers who go to the school get treated as inferior by the students from families with higher incomes. Bala notices this discrimination and he figures out a way to stop it in his classroom.
But there’s a big problem looming: Thirupathi wants to raise the school’s tuition. And he doesn’t care if many people in the village won’t be able to afford this higher tuition. Bala gets in many conflicts with Thirupathi over this tuition increase, because Bala knows that many of the school’s students will have to drop out.
The school’s headmaster Thanigachalam (played by Tanikella Bharani) is at the mercy of Thirupathi. The village president (played P. Sai Kumar) also can’t do much to about Thirupathi and seems to be intimidated by this money-hungry businessman. Bala is the only one who seems to be standing up to Thirupathi the most and advocating for the children to get an affordable education.
Thirupathi won’t back down from the tuition increase. Bala knows that he is about to be fired, so he takes matters into his own hands and quits to start his own free “school” for the students who can’t afford Thirupathi’s tuition. Bala’s “school” is really just an outdoor gathering of students underneath a makeshift shelter outside of the village’s border.
Of course, Thirupathi doesn’t like Bala’s act of resistance one bit. He sends several thugs to cause some damage to the makeshift school and physically assault Bala. (None of this is spoiler information, since it’s shown in the movie’s trailer.) It starts a “war” between Bala and Thirupathi, with the students siding with Bala.
Most of “Vaathi” is about the conflicts between Bala and Thirupathi, but there’s also some romance, as Bala and Meenakshi become closer. She starts to fall in love with him after she sees how he treats all of his students with compassion and fairness. Bala is the type of teacher who leads by example.
“Vaathi” is filled to the brim with positive messages about how important education and good teachers are, but the movie sometimes goes overboard in making Bala look too good to be true. In his over-the-top fight scenes, he turns into a skilled action here who can take on and often defeat several men at once. He is almost saint-like as a teacher. Even when he is captured and tortured (already revealed in the movie’s trailer), he looks like a martyr.
However, the movie makes Bala more human when he has some moments of doubt and insecurity. He often gets advice from his supportive father (played by Aadukalam Naren), who’s a taxi driver. When Thirupathi goes on a derogatory rant to Bala about people who are poor or lower-middle-class, Bala says he comes from a lower-middle-class family and is proud of it. Thirupathi stammers a little and tries to backtrack from his insulting comments, but it’s obvious that he’s embarrassed that Bala has called him out for being a bigot.
Overall, “Vaathi” has acting that ranges from mediocre to above-average. The movie sometimes gets repetitious and a little dull. But aside from the phony-looking action scenes, there’s much about “Bala” that rings true when it comes to the battles that teachers have to experience when they want to educate underprivileged students who are being prevented from having the same access and resources as more privileged students. “Vaathi” is ultimately a love letter to underpaid and dedicated teachers who persist and make a positive impact on their students’ lives, despite the challenges and odds stacked against these teachers.
Sithara Entertainments released “Vaathi” (also titled “Sir”) in select U.S. cinemas and in India on February 17, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Visakhapatnam, India, the action film “HIT: The 2nd Case” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A self-assured police detective goes on the hunt for a serial killer, who murders women and who leaves their body parts at the crime scenes were his other murder victims are found.
Culture Audience: “HIT: The 2nd Case” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “HIT: The First Case” and suspenseful movies about police investigations of serial killings.
“HIT: The 2nd Case” is a captivating thriller from beginning to end. It’s a winning example of a sequel that’s better than the original movie. The story’s mystery is wider in scope and told in a more compelling way than in “HIT: The First Case,” a movie originally released in 2020 as a Telugu-language film, and then remade as a Hindi-language film released in 2022. It’s also a great idea to make each “HIT” movie with a different detective protagonist.
“HIT” movie series creator Sailesh Kolanu has written and directed all the “HIT” movies so far. “HIT: The First Case” ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger for the movie’s protagonist, police inspector Vikram Rudraraju. “Vikram: The 2nd Case” has a brief mention of what happened to Vikram, but otherwise, it’s a completely separate story. What each “HIT” movie has common so far is that it’s a story about a hotshot investigator in a police department called Homicide Intervention Team (HIT) located somewhere in India.
“HIT: The 2nd Case” follows police inspector Krishna “KD” Dev (played by Adivi Sesh), as he investigates the case of a twisted serial killer who dismembers his victims and leaves their various body parts at the crime scene where the killer’s other victims have been found. All of the victims are women n their 20s and 30s. The first known victim is a woman in her 20s named Sanjana, whose torso has been found in Visakhapatnam, India. KD makes a promise to Sanjana’s devastated, widowed father (played by Tanikella Bharani) that he will find the killer and make sure that there is justice for Sanjana.
In “HIT: The First Case,” police protagonist Vikram had post-traumatic stress disorder. In “HIT: The 2nd Case,” KD doesn’t have any psychiatric issues that affect how he does his job. However, KD’s biggest weakness is his arrogance. Early on in the movie, KD tells a group of reporters who ask for his comments about an unrelated case where KD captured a man who killed his own brother: “Generally, these criminals are very dumb.” It’s a comment that will come back to haunt him when the serial killer does things to outsmart KD.
KD’s cockiness also shows in how unkind he is to one his female colleagues. His ex-girlfriend Varsha (played by Komalee Prasad) has been appointed as one of his subordinates. He tells Varsha: “Seeing your face is very annoying to me.” The movie never really goes into details over why Varsha and KD broke up, but it was a romance that obviously did not end well. KD is very unhappy that Varsha has been assigned to help him with this serial killer case. KD also has his trusty police dog, a German Shepherd named Max, who is a constant companion when KD is on duty.
Whatever negative feelings that KD has toward Varsha, they are in direct contrast to his adoration of his girlfriend Aarya (played by Meenakshi Chaudhary), who is a confident and independent feminist who also expects chivalry from men. When KD asks Aarya to move in with him, she’s reluctant at first because she doesn’t want to give up having her own place. But she eventually changes her mind, because she and KD are in love with each other and want to build a life together.
Aarya works at female empowerment center called HER Welfare Association, which helps female victims of domestic violence, and offers other female-oriented services. A flashback scene in the beginning of the movie shows how, 20 years earlier, women from HER Welfare Association staged protests in support of a woman named Jhansi (played by Neela Ramana), who accused her husband Ram Prasad Koduri (played by Harsha Vardhan) of raping her, after he caught her cheating on him with another man. The HER Welfare Association plays a prominent role in the story.
Other characters who are connected to this story include KD’s female police sidekick Shradda (played by Pavani, also known as Pavani Reddy); Sanjana’s roommate Rajitha (played by Divya Narni); Rajitha’s boyfriend Kumar (played by Suhas); Sanjana’s childhood friend Raghavudu (played by Majili Shiva); KD’s police colleague Abilash (played by Maganti Srinath), nicknamed Abi; KD’s immediate supervisor Shinde (played by Brahmaji); and director of general police Nageswara Rao (played by Rao Ramesh).
Describing the rest of “HIT: The 2nd Case” would be giving away too much spoiler information. It’s enough to say that the movie is a non-stop ride of suspense and intrigue, with all of the actors playing their roles very well. The movie’s big showdown scene comes across as a little too contrived, but it’s still packed with a lot of tension. Mostly, “HIT: The 2nd Case” succeeds in how this investigation unfolds in a riveting way and how solving this mystery has a few fascinating surprises.
Wall Poster Cinema released “HIT: The 2nd Case” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 2, 2022.