Time travels

Vikram K Kumar is one of those film-makers who grow from strength to strength and keep honing their skills. His first two movies were absolute duds (Telugu movie Ishtam and Tamil movie Alai). But he had hit the big stride in 2009 with 13B, shot both in Tamil and Hindi. This DIY horror comedy starring Madhavan was nothing less than sui generis for Indian cinema until then. Everything from the cinema verite camera angles to brooding milieu heralded an emerging talent. He followed that up with a cutesy Telugu rom com Ishq, which gloriously brought actor Nithin's sinking career out of the rut.

However, it's Manam, starring all three generations of the Akkineni family (Nageswara Rao, Nagarjuna and Naga Chaitanya) where Kumar gave his creativity its biggest wings. He subverted the concept of time in such a way that the oldest looking person is the grandchild of the youngest looking person. This was the perfect swansong for Akkineni Nageswara Rao before he breathed his last. If Manam was the Pinot Noir, then his latest Tamil movie 24, starring Suriya in triple role, is definitely the Riesling.

It's got the perfect balance of everything that makes a mainstream movie a critical success as well. Taking his trope of time from Manam ahead, Kumar tried to give the time travel concept a spin that would make even H.G. Wells proud. The movie opens in 1990 when Sethuraman, a scientist, is on the cusp of inventing a time machine but his twin brother Athreya already has his eyes set on that ultimate human fantasy device. Before he could lay his hands on it, his well-meaning brother manages to fend him off only to find himself and his wife dead.

Twenty-six years later, his son Manikandan who grows up to be a watch mechanic stumbles across the key to a box containing the device that his father left with him. How he uses it to get even with his evil uncle forms the crux of the rest of the movie. I was awestruck at the fact that Suriya, who has had a prolonged slump at the box office, decided to bankroll such a high concept movie. Not only is he doing a triple role, including that of a remarkably terrifying antagonist, he has taken additional responsibilities of producing this grand project.

There are so many money shots in the movie that I was enthralled to no end: the whole sequence where Mani discovers the magnificence of the device is a benchmark for Indian cinema for rest of the year, the interval bang is quintessential commercial Tamil cinema and yet so bloomingly original, every twitch of Athreya's aging but menacing muscle screams brilliance. Even the whole courtship scenes between Suriya and the magnetic Samantha, which are usually a drag in Tamil cinema, have a refreshing tinge to them.

Tirru's photography is mind blowing, showing Poland at its infectiously natural best. Prawin Pudi's unflinching editing is another highlight. Such a gorgeously mounted movie's sole problem is its soundtrack by A R Rahman, who thankfully makes up for his middling work with a pumped up background score. All said, Kumar showed what he can stump up when he's given the right kind of budget. This movie made me wish that South India exported more film-makers like Kumar to Bollywood instead people like Prabhu Deva, who, quite frankly, has the IQ of a mollusc.

Another high concept movie that had me transfixed from start to finish this week is the futuristic thriller Ben Trachtenberg's 10 Cloverfield Lane. The movie opens with a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) running away from her fiance when a speeding truck rams into her car. She wakes up to find herself in a bunker that John Goodman's character Howard has built. He tells her that going outside is a major health hazard and that the air is virtually unbreathable. Another "survivor" (a disarming Emmett DeWitt) tells her the same.

At a time when Donald Trump has won the Republican nomination for being the next President of US, this movie can be treated as an allegory of the mood in conservative parts of America. The climax is so superlatively good that it reminded me of the scene in Magnolia where frogs fall from the sky.


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