Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Knife (orig. Kaththi) [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing**

New India Express coverage** (B. Bhat) review** (Sai Shyam G) review**
IndiaGlitz review** review** review**

Hindustan Times (H. Pudipeddi) review**
The Hindu (B. Rangan) review**
Times of India (M. Suganth) review**

The Knife (orig. Kaththi [2014]) [IMDb] [FiBt] (screenplay and directed by A.R. Murugadoss [IMDb] [FiBt]) is the fifth stop on my 2016 Indian Film Tour.   In the U.S., the film is available on a number of mainstream streaming platforms including Google Play and YouTube for a reasonable price.

Staring Vijay [wikip] [IMDb] a famous Tamil actor and pop-singer, the film was released in autumn 2014 in time for India's annual Diwali Holiday amidst a good deal of multilevel controversy due to:

(1) alleged links of the film's production company Lyca to Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa (hated by many in Tamil Nadu for presiding over the brutal crushing of a Tamil insurgency in his neighboring island nation), with Lyca in turn accusing its accusers of forging the photographs allegedly linking them to Rajapaksa and his family [1]** [2]**

(2) specific accusations made in the film of high level corruption in India (in it's giving out of 2G spectrum cell-phone contracts)**

and even (3) accusations of plagiarism [1]** [2]**

The film became the highest grossing Tamil language film of 2014 and subsequently won three 2015 FilmFare (South) awards (India's closest equivalent of the Oscars) for Best (Tamil Language) Film, Best Director (of a Tamil Language Film) and Best Choreography (in a South Indian Film).  A Hindi language remake** of the film is scheduled to be made as well.

So what then is this film about?  Well, the film could be called "a typical Bollywood / Kollywood film" but with a social conscience.   Indeed, it's _almost two films_.

We're introduced to the main character Kathiresan (played by Vijay [wikip] [IMDb] [FiBt]) in jail with a reputation of being both a con-artist (that's why he's in jail) and an escape-artist (why we find him initially locked-up way up by Kolkata (in West Bengal) as opposed to his hometown of Chennai (Tamil Nadu).  As luck would have it, the film begins with another prisoner attempting to escape the (apparently somewhat more imposing prison by Kolkata than closer to home).  The guards, knowing that Kathiresan (or Kaththy, "Knife" for short) ask him (as one who's tried to escape many times before) for help in apprehending him, and ... Kaththy uses the opportunity to escape himself ;-)

The next scene has him back in Chennai, showing-up at his brother Dannu (played by Sathish [IMDb] [FiBt]) also a criminal though more of a small-time if more focused/disciplined pick-pocket.  Indeed, after Kaththy first asks him for money to "take the next plane out to Bangkok" and _then_
 because he falls in ... desire (big Bollywood Dance number there ;-) ... for a sweet young woman named Ankitha (played by Samantha Ruth Prabhu [IMDb] [FiBt]) that he mets at the airport TEARS UP HIS TICKET AND STAYS in Chennai, Dannu complains: "Kaththi, you simply don't know the value of money.  DO YOU KNOW how many OLD LADIES' PURSES I HAVE TO STEAL to pay for that ticket to Bangkok?  I'm NOT getting you another one." ;-)

Well, as they're going back home across some random overpass in Chennai, they spot some kind of  "a hit" take place below them.  Running then to the scene (to see if there'd be anything to take ... ;-) Kaththi is SHOCKED to see that the person who was shot _looked just like him_.

The two take the wounded man to the hospital and Kaththi uses the opportunity to change identities, taking the wounded man's papers as his own and asking his brother to fill out the hospital admission papers as if the wounded man were him.  He figures that whether the wounded man lives or dies, by the time the authorities figure out who he is, he'll be long out of the country (in Bangkok...) anyway.

Well the next day, as he's walking the street there in Chennai, he's picked-up by someone who knows, well, the wounded man.  Who was he?   A man named Jeevanantham, who turns out to have been an activist in the countryside _outside of Chennai_ defending the water rights of a small rural village named Thanoothu from a predatory multinational corporation that wanted to use the region's scarce water resources to feed a cola (soft-drink) plant.

Initially, both he / his brother could care less.  Indeed, they're even quite excited when a local government official appeared offering him an absurdly high sum of money (2 million rupees) to just "go away" which he had no problem doing because ... initially he had NO IDEA AT ALL what all the fuss was about.

But as he learns what's going on, Kaththi increasingly gets a conscience.  Taken "out there" (to the boonies) by someone, perhaps that government official promising him the money, he finds out that 6 men from the local "old folks home" (run by Mother Theresa's congregation) had actually committed suicide (slit their own throats) in a feed reservoir to the Cola bottling plant telling the guards, "Now you'll have to drink our blood mixed with the soft drink water if you proceed."  

And so Kaththi started to understand that even the money he was being offered "to just go away" was essentially "blood money" as well.  And so, he decides to help these poor villagers (whose Elders were in that "old folks home") defend their water, ... using the "skill-set" that he had ;-)

Now mind you, Kaththi, like almost all Indians, "knew something about Gandhi," but he ALSO knew a "heck of a lot about (petty) crime" ;-) ... So let's just say that his defense of the village and its rights was "a rather interesting mix" -- call it "Gandhi meets Jackie Chan [IMDb]" ;-)

Of course somewhere in the story, the young woman that he met at the airport becomes involved (Dear Readers, I'm not going to tell you how ;-).  And of course, "the good side" wins in the end.

What perhaps will interest Readers here (and _should_ indeed interest them) is that the battle over water rights in rural India (especially in the South, like in Tamil Nadu) is REAL.

Yes this movie has a generally quite flippant tone.  Yet, in a speech that Kaththi gives to the media (who all believe that he's still the social activist Jeevanantham) he actually articulates the problems of Rural India:

(1) In the last 30 years across India 12,456 lakes, 27,000 ponds, 7 rivers have been dried to support non agricultural uses;

(2) Nine elderly Indian activists actually did commit suicide to protest the destruction of their rural way of life;

(3) Indeed, for the last 10 years every 30 minutes a farmer in India commits suicide because he can no longer support his family, while more than 1 million farmers have abandoned their generations old livelihood in search of better paying (but often backbreaking) work in the cities, this in a country where

(4) 5,000 children die each day of malnutrition;

(5) Indeed, as in other parts of the world, what food is produced is often not used to feed people, but rather to make soaps (out of milk), "whitening creams" (from eggs, fish and carrots) and cosmetics (out of tomatoes, oranges and almonds).

Anyway, it all made for a very interesting twist to a film that at least initially seemed to be largely a "song and dance puff piece."  And perhaps this is _why_ all the various accusations (unfounded) were made against it in the months leading up to its release and why it ended up winning all the awards (back in India) that it.
A very interesting film indeed, and one that deserves to be more widely known about.  Good job! ;-)

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