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Polandine Patti Episode 14

Last updated on January 18, 2023

We’d originally only intended to do three episodes on action films in Malayalam cinema, but decided that we really needed one more — this time, to talk about what we’re calling “Girls Kick Butt”!

Download Episode 14

Episode 14 Highlights:

Spoiler Alert! We try to remember to alert listeners to spoilers, but just in case, know that we talk about the films in-depth, so be sure to watch them first if you’re concerned about spoilers!

[00:00:21] Major Ravi’s son, Arjun, is the cinematographer for The Kung Fu Master (TKFM). Harsha thinks he will become a director.

[00:00:39] Katherine has a lot of thoughts about TKFM

[00:00:45] This is our last episode in the action series, focused on women, or as Harsha calls it, The Girls Kicking Ass episode.

[00:01:25] There is physical ass kicking but also swashbuckling and cleverness to move the story forward.

[00:02:05] First up, The Kung Fu Master, which is about a martial arts gang in North India led by a Malayali. 

[00:02:13] Jiji Scaria plays Rishi Ram, a professional martial arts teacher, who is asked to infiltrate the gang by the police. In retaliation, his entire family is annihilated by the gang, leaving Rishi and his sister Rithu, also a martial artist and college professor, as the only survivors. 

[00:03:15] The siblings drop out of society for a year to take revenge.

[00:03:23] It’s very different from other Indian action films due to the focus on East Asian martial arts, specifically Wing Chun kung fu.

[00:04:10] Compared to an Akshay Kumar-style action film, TKFM has lots of hand-to-hand combat where kicks and punches are shown landing.

[00:05:00] Harsha compares how fight choreography inspired by East Asian cinema is shown in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to this film.

[00:05:25] Neeta Pillai, who plays Rithu, trained for a year to do this film.

[00:05:30] In one scene, Rishi and Rithu are teaching a group of children and they give a level of detail about Wing Chun that is surprising. There is a discussion of the Ip Man films with Donnie Yen.

[00:05:55] Katherine mentions this fight scene from Ip Man 2 with Yen and Sammo Hung

[00:06:30] Harsha thinks director Abrid Shine was catching up on the Ip Man series and was inspired to make a Malayalam film with Wing Chun.

[00:06:55] Abrid Shine’s 1983 was a commercial and critical success and helped Nivin Pauly become a star. Then they made Action Hero Biju together, which Harsha does not like.

[00:07:53] Nivin Pauly (and Prithviraj) are known for backseat directing on their films and we speculate if that leads to some of the inconsistency among Abrid Shine’s films.

[00:09:00] Some directors like Lijo Jose Pellissery can try different things while having a unifying style but it’s hard to find that with Abrid Shine’s four films.

[00:10:20] Like Katherine, if you know Hong Kong action films, it’s hard not to spot some of the weaknesses of this film.

[00:10:59] Harsha didn’t like how dialogues were limited to mundane interactions. In productive scenes, the audio is muted and background music plays over it in a montage style. It feels odd.

[00:11:52] We both expected a more fun movie from the title and the family annihilation scene so early on was jarring. Katherine fast forwarded through a lot of it on her second watch.

[00:12:56] Harsha thinks that as much as this was supposed to be a martial arts film, the parts where it exceled were the ones Malayalam cinema always does – the ordinary, family moments.

[00:13:32] The film has the benefit of a beautiful location – the Himayalan foothills. It is beautifully shot. We really liked the way a bloody fight scene was shot against the backdrop of a ground covered in snow. 

[00:13:54] Major action also happens in the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh. Harsha spent a lot of time looking at the graffiti on the walls. 

[00:14:50] This is a vengeance film but without any upsides. It’s hard to imagine our protagonists ever being able to return to a normal life with the trauma and survivor’s guilt they experienced.

[00:15:50] The early scenes out of chronological order was incredibly confusing for us both.

[00:17:15] Rishi’s powerpoint presentation to the police about the bad guys was unintentionally funny 

[00:17:29] Harsha references Kelly Rowland texting Nelly on Microsoft Excel in the early 2000s

[00:17:49] The villain introduction was extremely cringe. Abrid Shine hates recreational drug use.

[00:19:38] Jiji Scaria is a real martial artist and Neeta Pillai trained for a year. We hope she gets more chances to use it.

[00:21:05] Neeta Pillai is depicted very unglamorously, which makes her feel more real. Everyone also wears comfortable clothes appropriate for fighting.

[00:22:28] We appreciate the choices, possibly dictated by the budget, to not objectify her unlike the villain’s moles who are all white women. Their depiction was uncomfortable.

[00:24:10] Next, Independence from 1999, starring Vani Viswanath, who is pretty glamorous.

[00:24:24] This is a classic masala film. Vani Viswanath and Indraja play sisters trying to get revenge on their parents’ killer.

[00:24:52] Khushboo plays another important character, a police officer who is tasked with apprehending the sisters but ends up siding with them.

[00:25:40] We had to include Vani Viswanath in the action series and Harsha picked this one.

[00:25:45] Katherine had only seen her play supporting characters. It was also hard to track down with subtitles but she liked it!

[00:26:15] Trigger warning for potential physical and sexual assault.

[00:26:38] The songs are very good and Nandalala was a popular song for little girls to dance to circa 1999.

[00:27:05] It’s not so different from a massy action film starring Mohanlal or Mammootty from the time – good songs, comedy uncles, hero(ine) entrance

[00:27:40] Both VV and Khushboo are styled beautifully and Khushboo gets a romance track with her husband, played by Vijayaraghavan.

[00:28:35] Harsha compares Khushboo’s character to the female police officer in Anjaam Pathiraa who has no home life.

[00:29:10] This is directed by Vinayan who is known for giving Kalabhavan Mani characters with dignity.

[00:30:10] Kalabhavan Mani plays an odiyan, or shapeshifter

[00:30:30] We miss many of the supporting cast in the film who have since passed away, including Mani, Cochin Haneefa, Rajan P. Dev, Murali, and wonder how they would have fared in the industry today.

[00:31:30] Murali plays a communist who is accused of the parents’ murder. Communists are often depicted as good people in 90s Malayalam films. At one point he says, God is the greatest communist there is.

[00:32:35] The film has some topical depictions of politicians, the labour movement, Gandhian philosophy and religion. Harsha points out the reference to K. Karunakaran visiting Guruvayoor.

[00:34:25] We liked the range of female characters.

[00:35:15] Despite the surprising progressiveness of the film, it has gotten somewhat lost in time.

[00:35:50] Katherine wants this to be available to non-Malayalam speakers. She is happy to donate to crowdfunds for such projects.

[00:37:00] SCube is doing some restoration and uploading them on Youtube but often without subtitles.

[00:37:25] VV is a charismatic screen presence who hasn’t gotten her due because she isn’t considered An Actress ™ the way Manju Warrier was.

[00:37:45] In our previous discussion about Hitler (1996), we mentioned how she held her own next to Shobana. 

[0037:55] VV is married to Baburaj who has had a great career in New Gen movies. She was the bigger star when they married; let’s give her a career resurgence too!

[00:39:00] Women choosing to give up acting careers might be their choice but it’s also spurred by the industry’s discrimination and social pressure against them.

[00:39:20] Krishna plays the younger sister’s love interest and is the villain’s son. He is another one of the films in this episode.

[00:39:30] Krishna had a Rahman-like career arc in the late 90s. He is related to Shobana and Vineeth and is a grandson of one of the Travancore Sisters.

[00:40:05] He has the appeal of a boy band member.

[00:40:25] Our next film, Daya, also stars Krishna as the love interest. He plays Mansoor, the spoiled son of a wealthy father.

[00:40:35] When his father passes way, the 17-year-old Mansoor inherits all his wealth. He loses all the money due to bad friendships. In the end, all he has left is the slave girl Daya played by Manju Warrier who hatches a scheme to restore Mansoor’s wealth.

[00:42:55] The story is from the Arabian Nights and the screenplay is written by M.T. Vasudevan Nair.

[00:43:50] At one point, Daya pretends to be a man and is appointed prime minister. 

[00:44:50] Manju Warrier rides horses, shoot arrows, fights with swords and all around swash buckles through this film.

[00:45:45] Disney’s Aladdin inspires some of the aesthetics of the film.

[00:046:57] Queer studies academics would find the genderbending and the princess falling in love with boy-Daya very interesting.

[00:48:10] This film and Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottum are the crux of Manju Warrier the star. 

[00:48:35] Katherine is grateful that these films are finally becoming accessible online with subtitles. She watched it on Hotstar at one point with subs.

[00:49:18] We discuss how content can stop being available on one streaming platform and go to another, depending on licensing agreements. There is also a difference among countries in availability.

[00:50:00] K. Madhavan, the former chief of Asianet and a Malayali, is the current head of Disney India.

[00:50:48] Some of these OTT platforms need to consolidate because there’s too many out there now.

[00:51:12] Harsha is afraid of being geolocked out of content because of Disney’s purchase of what used to be Rupert Murdoch’s Asian entertainment business, which owns all the Star content.

[00:52:20] Next, we talk about Thira, starring Shobana, directed by Vineeth Srinivasan.

[00:52:49] This is one of the few films Shobana has dubbed for herself. Her Tamil-inflected Malayalam accent isn’t out of place in this cosmopolitan film.

[00:53:30] She plays Rohini Pranab who rescues trafficked girls.

[00:54:00] The girls in her NGO are abducted by the antagonists. Dhyan Sreenivasan plays a brother looking for a kidnapped sister taken by the same abductors. 

[00:54:30] Shobana isn’t doing a lot of physical action but she’s setting bombs and showing Dhyan how to fight. She pushes the plot forward.

[00:55:30] The camerawork by Jomon T. John is very frenetic, which isn’t pleasant to watch.

[00:57:28] This is Dhyan’s debut and he isn’t a strong actor.  

[00:58:25] He is likeable in ensemble films like Kunjiramayanam and Adi Kapyare Kootamani, not as a lead.

[01:00:02] Thira was supposed to be a full trilogy but nothing has happened in 9 years.

[01:01:40] Shobana does a film every 6-7 years so maybe we have to wait another few years. She deserves her own action trilogy.

[01:02:15] It’s exciting to watch movies where women push the action forward. 

[01:02:24] Harsha is still mad about The Great Father, which is where we started this series.

[01:03:30] We had so much fun with the action series!

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  1. Jerin Jerin

    I would love to see you guys talk about Achuvinte Amma and Manasinakkare, two movies I feel deals with loneliness and found family,

  2. Katherine Matthews Katherine Matthews

    That is a lovely idea (I really do like Manasinakkare, too), and I’ve added it to our potential podcast theme list!

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