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January 6, 1999


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Nothing like The Truth

Mammootty. Click for bigger pic!
The Truth -- a Mammootty-Vani Vishwanath starrer with Shaji Kailas at the helm -- proved one of the big hits of last year.

Taking off from the eighties superhit, Oru CBI Diary Kuruppu -- which featured Mammootty as a Palghat-Brahmin Central Bureau of Investigation officer Sethurama Iyer who is on the trail of a murder disguised as suicide -- and the equally successful follow-up film, Jagrata, The Truth is the story of a CBI probe into a chief minister's assassination -- and its completely unexpected twist.

Unlike a lot of masala whodunits, The Truth relies not on the usual punch-ups but on genuine investigative techniques and a taut script to hold interest. No songs and dances, no formulaic ingredients -- just an edge of the seat thriller.

One interesting sidelight is the casting of noted character actor Thilakan as a clairvoyant who sometimes helps the police get closer to the truth.

The original CBI Diary Kurippu ran for one whole year in Tamil Nadu -- this at a time when Malayalam films didn't find much of an audience in the neighbouring state. The Truth, dubbed as Unmai, has already attained hit status on the Madras marquee. And now it is the turn of Telugu to cash in on the clever whodunit. The film is being dubbed under the Raghavendra Krupa Creations banner, with Vasantha Kumar scripting.

And while on the subject of thrillers, K Madhu -- who has a distinct penchant for the genre -- is helming Godman, an investigative thriller featuring Mammootty as a police officer investigating mass murder in a coastal town.

A hit in the making

Sreenivasan. Click for bigger pic!
Director Kamal teams with actor Sreenivasan in another interesting upcoming project. Sreenivasan -- who, to the Malayalam film buff, is better known for his sensitive screenplays than for the bathetic roles that are a more visible trademark, has scripting responsibilities for a Mohanlal-starrer, pairing him with Nandini (Kaushalya, to the TN industry, and the girl who debuted in April 19 with director-actor Balachandra Menon).

A novelist specialising in serialised stories of romance and suspense visits the house of a friend, and after a night of carousing, falls into a drunken stupor. Enter a lady, who discovers him and calls the cops... and then... Ah, that would be telling.

Interestingly, this project was first offered to Manju Warrier, the reigning leading lady of the Malayalam industry. Warrier turned it down following her recent marriage, and the project passed into Nandini's hands -- a case of one person's good fortune benefiting another.

Of fangs and fortunes

Prakash Rai
While on dubbed films, another one due soon in Telugu centres around a snake -- India's version of the vampire/werewolf stories of the West.

True, Nagin stories have been a dime a dozen, yet Nagamandala, in the original Kannada, was a megahit. Based on a play by Girish Karnad, the film is narrated in balladic style, under Nagabharana's direction.

The film, with no less than 15 songs (tuned by Ashwath) that carry the story forward, now gets a Telugu avtaar as Naga Vamsham. Prakash Rai, whose portrayal of a character loosely based on Tamil Nadu's reigning chief minister Kalaignar Karunanidhi in Mani Rathnam's Iruvar won him a national award for best supporting actor, appears in a dual role -- as husband of debutant Vijayalakshmi and -- what else? -- as the serpent.

Competition for Chiranjeevi again

Chiranjeevi. Click for bigger pic!
There was a time, in the early eighties, when Suman and Chiranjeevi were rivals for the number one slot in Telugu filmdom. Suman, whose mother was at the time principal of a prominent Madras college, fell foul of the powers that be at the time, ended up facing a trumped-up charge of sexual blackmail, and had his career cut out from under him.

Followed a long period of angst, followed by vindication once the ruling party of the time was bounced out of office. However, he had left it too late -- by then, Chiranjeevi had firmly established himself at the very top, with the likes of Nagarjuna and Venkatesh in hard pursuit.

He's had the odd hit since, though -- and looks to another one with Nuvva Nena, a Telugu-Kannada bilingual that is a comeback for director K S R Doss. An action thriller with Suman playing a revenge-extracting desi Bond, the film has music by Koti and, besides some of Suman's trademark stunts, a plethora of song and dance sequences.

Interestingly, the local Bond recently won a state award for acting playing -- surprise, surprise -- Tirupathi's presiding deity, Balaji, in the Nagarjuna-starrer Anamayya. From the sublime to the, um, ridiculous?

'My name is Suman. James Suman'? Indeed!

While on Suman, he is scheduled to appear, opposite Heera and Rachana, in Pedhamanashulu, a film being produced by D Rama Naidu.

The producer is now busy with this project, which has music by debutant Easwhar, now that his Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain is ready for release.

Dancing in two languages

Prabhu Deva. Click for bigger pic!
This seems to be bilingual week, as far as this column is concerned at least. Stand by for another -- to wit, Geethakrishna's Time, starring the rubber-limbed Prabhu Deva in a film that will be made in Tamil and Telugu simultaneously.

Co-starring are two Bombay girls, Menaka Saini and Radhika Choudhury, with music being provided by Ilayaraja.

Regulars of this column will recall how the producers, wishing to inspire the reigning musical genius of southern cinema, flew Ilayaraja out to the Maldives. The ploy backfired -- in the sense that a hyper-inspired Ilayaraja produced a couple of dozen outstanding tunes, leaving the producers and director with the problem of plenty, and the task of actually having to reject some inspired compositions.

If the music is as good as initial publicity makes it out to be, Prabhu Deva just could come up with a hit -- which he badly needs, given that earlier ventures like Kaadhala Kaadhala, which co-starred him with Kamal Haasan, and Mr Romeo, another two-heroine film featuring Shilpa Shetty and Madhu, didn't exactly set the box office alight.

Another upcoming film the dancing star could be counting on is Ninaivu Irukkum Varai, co-starring Bangalore belle Keerthi Reddy.

Keerthy Reddy. Click for bigger pic!
Incidentally Prabhu Deva -- son of veteran dance director Sundaram -- is rumoured to be moving to Mysore, where the family is now building a deluxe kalyana mandapam (wedding hall). The first wedding to be solemnised on the premises will be that of his brother Raju Sundaram, familiar to movie audiences as the guy who played Maadhesh, Aishwarya Rai's brother in Jeans.

One gritty guy

And while on Kaarthik, the man's proving to be a real dark horse. At a time when the young stars are ruling the Madras marquee, Karthik, already a veteran, seems to be still going strong.

The man who debuted as a chocolate-box teen heart-throb in Alaygal Oyvathillai, and went on to have an indifferent career after that, with films like Mani Rathnam's Agni Nakshatram and Mouna Raagam balancing other eminently forgettable ones.

Then came Ullathai Allithaa -- a superhit. And from then, there has been no looking back. Recent hits include Unnidathil Ennai Kuduthen, Athai Magan, Gokulathil Seethai and Chinna Raja. And last heard from, his recent release Pooveli, produced by K Balachander's Kavithalaya banner and directed by Chelvaa, which pairs him opposite Kaushalya and Heera in a tale of love with a twist, is doing well on the Madras marquee as of now. The guy must know some secret of longevity the rest of his contemporaries don't.

Kaarthik is currently working towards floating his own movie-making company, to be named after his late father and one time Tamil film star Muthuraman.

Fazil scores in Tamil again

Shalini. Click for bigger pic!
Ever since the mid-eighties, Malayalam films have been immensely popular with Tamil audiences. And that success in turn has seen a host of Malayalam stars, led by the likes of Mammootty, Mohanlal and Jayaram, gain footholds inside the Tamil film industry as well.

Strangely, though, Malayalam directors haven't had similar success in the Tamil industry -- with the honourable exception of Fazil (of Harikrishnas fame), whose soft, family-oriented style of film-making appears to have struck a chord with Tamil audiences.

Following the phenomenal box office success of Kaadhalukku Mariyadhai, the Vijay -Shalini starrer that was a remake of the equally successful Malayalam original, Aniyathi Praavu -- Priyadarshan's Hindi version, Doli Sajake Rakhna, didn't find as much favour with Bollywood audiences however -- Fazil is now readying to direct an exclusively Tamil project, as opposed to the more usual trend of remaking Malayalam hits.

The film, being produced by Mohan Natraj, will reprise Fazil's recent hit pairing of Vijay and Shalini yet again.

Chakki's complaint

Meena. Click for bigger pic!
Success comes with its own underside -- ask Chakravarthy.

The man who shot to the national limelight as the angst-ridden gangster in Ram Gopal Verma's Satya is not sure, now, whether to delight in its success or rue its after-effects.

One of his immediate projects casts him opposite Meena, and therein lies his grouse. He is, he says, playing yet another angry young man in love in this latest film.

"Producers apparently can only think of me in that role -- I would love to do comedy, and the lighter shades, I know I can do that well, but maybe another Ram Gopal Verma will have to come along for me to get my chance."

Of course, he does have another option -- produce and star in the kind of films he wants to make. After all, he has already tested the waters successfully with ... Now how does one refer to this film ...?, the film he deliberately left untitled, inviting audiences to name it as they deemed most appropriate. Apparently the man has a yen for the unusual, so what's to stop him making the kind of films that can stretch his acting abilities?

And while on that, an upcoming project, Harishchandra, which co-stars Raasi, has him playing a pathological liar. Kaarthik and Meena play the same roles in the Tamil version.

-- Rajitha

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