This is a silly silly movie. If you feel the need for total escapism and fantasy and just wacky weird insanity, this movie is here for you. Also, it isn’t very good. Oh, and I know I am all late and backed up on my reviews, I’m gonna catch up this weekend. It’s just been a lazy week.
Well, this movie was a mess! It reminded me of the stories I used to make up when I was a little girl to play with my friends. A hodge-podge of other things we found cool, mixed together so we could each play the character we wanted to play. And then one person had to leave early and we replaced her role with a doll (that’s Shruti Hassan, nothing to do for about 2 hours). But it also had the advantages of that mess, Sridevi sweeping about in amazing costumes, crazy plot twists that keep you watching, Sudeep in a variety of wigs. I still don’t fully get Vijay, but he was there too.
This movie is what happens when someone watches The Princess Bride, Twilight, Bahubali, and Maya Bazaar, and then casts people and writes a script around who they can get more than what the story requires. Sridevi really doesn’t need to be in this film, like, her character isn’t totally required. But boy does she have fun! And hey, main reason people bought tickets was to see Sridevi be evil opposite Vijay. So that was worth it.
Sudeep doesn’t 100% need to be in the move either, but does he ever need to be in a movie? Not really, he is the delightful crazy topping on a narrative structure and that is where he shines. Obviously you HAVE to have two heroines, one to be sexy and one to be wholesome, that’s just common sense. So Hansika and Shruti are a requirement. I’m not really sold on having a 3 separate comic relief actors, but it’s nice that one of them is a girl (Vidyullekha Raman, I continue to be really interested in her career as comedy-cousin-but-female). The magical talking bird though? That’s just random use of CGI.
There’s a lot of random use of CGI, and what’s even worse, cheap random use of CGI. I don’t mean it looks cheap (although that’s sometimes true too), I mean they don’t have enough money to use it consistently. So the talking bird only shows up about half the time, when really if I had a talking bird I would be using him constantly and talking about him all the time! Fight scenes where sometimes people use their powers, and sometimes not. Most irritating, we are told that “blue eyes” are significant and indicate a character trait, but people’s eyes are randomly blue and not blue scene by scene! Because the colorists just got bored or something!
Everything looks kind of cheap, that’s the biggest flaw in this film. If I am watching a big ridiculous fantasy film, I want it to look good! It’s the costumes and hair that kills me the most. Because those aren’t really big ticket items, you can get a costume that looks fun and rich and well-made, and fits the actor wearing it correctly, for almost no more money than you would spend on the costumes that DON’T fit. Hansika and Shruti spend the whole movie wearing skirts that are slightly bunchy with big obvious zippers, and fabric that just looks cheap. Like, visible weave, no interesting textures or colors, bland and boring and like a Halloween costume but worse. Sridevi looks AWESOME all the time in everything, I am assuming that was in her contract. But it makes the other actresses look even worse, that one person is wearing amazing rich well-fitting adventurous costumes, and they are wearing cheesy spandex with spangles.
Also, WIGS! For a Evil Flashback, Sudeep at one point wears a black wig that I swear is The Rachel from season 2 of Friends. Hansika constantly wears a hair bump, 1960s Miss America style. And the hermit in a cave wears a tower of braids on top of his head that keeps wobbling because they didn’t pin it on well enough. Vijay, thank goodness, just wears his own normal hair for almost the whole film (apparently they have highlights and tight fade technology in Fantasy Times), but there is a brief flashback to him in a long haired wig and it is Not Good. Especially because we have three separate slow motion shots of him fwipping his hair around. Or maybe the same shot repeated three times in the course of a fight scene? It’s not good.
Of course, the whole reason I am watching this movie is for Bad Girls month, and it’s kind of interesting in that way. Because on the one hand, the narrative totally makes the women unimportant, Hansika and Shruti and Sridevi are just pawns between the real story of the men, Vijay and Sudeep. But on the other hand, the way Sridevi is presented, her costumes being so much better, her final fight scene with Vijay being so much better than the Sudeep fights, and so on and so forth, her character feels more important than anyone else, no matter what the narrative says. A classic Bad Girl situation, the narrative punishes her and weakens her, but you walk out of the theater not remembering any of that and instead just remembering that she felt so powerful and amazing onscreen.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
As the voice over explains, Demons arrived in India from their remote island! They have blue eyes and vampire fangs (for no reason, they aren’t vampires, they just have fangs). One group conquered south India, and another group went north in the Himalayas. They have powers that make them strong and fast and sometimes able to fly. And now a village chief finds a baby floating in the stream with an egg. He adopts the baby, and the egg which hatches a talking bird. Unrelated, he goes with a bunch of other village chiefs to talk to the Queen about their problems, but instead of the Queen they end up talking to her Evil General Sudeep, who cuts of the adoptive father’s arm. Later, Sudeep and some soldiers come to their village and lil’ Vijay throws a stone at them, his older sister takes the blame and she is killed. And then Vijay’s childhood sweetheart leaves the village for education elsewhere (somehow this is treated as sadder than the death of his sister). Years later, Vijay is grown up, and his sweetheart Shruti returns home. They are still in love and sneak off together and get “married” by a random priest. Vijay sends Shruti off to talk to her parents but then their village is attacked! Vijay’s adoptive father is killed and Shruti is kidnapped by Evil Soldiers!
Vijay and two wacky sidekicks from the village decide to travel through the enchanted forest to the palace, where they will be in disguise as Demons from the Himalaya settlement coming to bring some sort of herb the demons need to survive. On the way through the enchanted forest, they are captured by tiny people and make friends with the king of the tribe who offers two warriors plus his daughter Vidyullekha to travel with them to the palace. They go talk to a magical turtle who gives them advice, and then pick up a frog that points directions. At the palace, they are able to trick their way in partly because Vijay saves the princess Hansika from a “black tiger” and now she is in love with him. Evil Queen Sridevi doesn’t fully believe them, but is desperate because the demons are dying without the magical herbs. Sudeep the Evil General suggests a challenge, Vijay has to fight a demon and win. He does, thanks to a magical medicine his village medicine man gave him that gives him demon powers. But then Sudeep forces him to walk through a tunnel of fire that only a demon can survive. And Vijay does survive! Very weird! Explained when a castle washerman (why a washerman? Why do they know everything?) pulls Vijay aside and tells him the backstory. Vijay is actually the prince of the palace. His grandfather, the former king, was a good demon who ruled well. Vijay’s father was a good prince who went away for learning and returned with a pregnant wife to be horrified at how Evil Sudeep was sending his soldiers out to terrorize the villages. Evil Sudeep killed Vijay’s father and mother and planned to kill the baby, but then magical talking birds who used to be men picked up the baby and flew it off to the river where they sent it away along with a bird egg. Meanwhile, Sudeep used a magic ring to turn Sridevi Evil and with her help had the king arrested. He married Sridevi off and then killed her husband. All of this with the goal of getting Sridevi to complete an 18 year ritual (involving annual sacrifices of innocent maidens, thus kidnapping Shruti) which will make her immortal. And then Sudeep can have sex with her and become immortal too, and finally kill her. Vijay, now understanding, goes off and fights everyone, rescues Shruti, and breaks the spell and turns Sridevi good again. Sridevi and her father decide to return to the island of demons, leaving her daughter Hansika to rule the kingdom and Vijay to rule his village. HAPPY ENDING.
Don’t bother looking for big deep larger themes. There aren’t any. This script ricochets wildly from point to point as the narrative requires it. Why is there a separate settlement of demons in the Himalayas? So Vijay has a backstory to explain why no one at the palace knows him. Why do demons need the Himalaya herbs? So Vijay can get into the palace. there’s no bigger thing about the two demon groups disagreeing, or how even demons have weakness and need the herbs, it all just flows away. Magical little people in the forest, wise talking turtle, none of it important.
In fact, the whole non-Sridevi part of the film ends up not being important. Even right at the beginning, we learn that the noble villagers are unhappy being under the heel of the Demons. But later we learn this is a new thing, the Demon King Grandpa was a good king, and Demon Prince Vijay 1 was a good prince. It’s really just Sudeep and Sridevi that are bad. So it’s not a story of village rebellion, it’s a story of royal family reform. Heck, Hansika (Sridevi’s daughter) isn’t supposed to be that bad either. The demons aren’t evil, which is quite the twist from the whole first half that set it up as though they were.
The theme the film lands on and sticks with is Evil Sridevi, Evil Sudeep, and their twisted relationship that Vijay must rescue her from. In the end this is a nephew-aunt love story. Which it feels weird to say, is NOT my first nephew aunt love story! Not romantic love exactly, but “this is a woman of my household who I am separated from and will reunite with despite the obstacles placed in front of me by her new household”.
On the one hand, yes it is regressive that Sridevi can only be evil because a man tricked her. And it is super regressive that she is never punished for anything she did since she has no agency of her own, just an extension of a man. But on the other hand, she’s the most important person in the movie! Everything else fades away, including our hero’s love interest and even his dead father motivation, once Evil Queen Sridevi enters the picture. Suddenly it’s all about the battle of wits between Vijay and Evil Queen. Sure, Sudeep is there, technically pulling the strings, but it is Sridevi who has the cool powers and awesome throne and all the other neat stuff.
The worst part of the whole Sridevi plot is the reveal that Sudeep is just doing this for a sexual goal. Once she becomes super super powerful, he will sleep with her (rape her? Consent is funky when we are talking magical evil green fog dust) and thereby take her power for his own. Or maybe that’s the best part? The idea that men will only allow powerful women to go so far before using sex/rape/marriage to take all their power, expressed through fantasy?
In the end we have a familiar character structure which has been debated oodles of times over whether it is empowering or depowering. The Evil Woman is a pawn between the Good Guy trying to reform her and the Bad Guy trying to make her do more evil on demand. Is this a bad thing because the plot is structured with two men being the active agents? Or is this a good thing because the plot is structured around the powerful central woman (even though she is just a prize pulled between them)? Everything from Blazing Saddles to the X-Men has the same plot idea, and comes with the same never-ending discussion of power versus pawn.
But most of all, LOOK AT THE CLOTHES! I think we can confirm, no matter what was happening within the film, on set Sridevi was the Queen with allllllll the power.