I'd heard the Tamil political thriller Ko (translates Leader according to Wikipedia) was good, but had no idea just how good until I sat down to watch it. Immediately the film was engrossing - the story unfolds quickly, contains a couple of interesting twists and is accompanied by fun songs. It's just a great watch, and simultaneously entertains and makes one think about the establishment of politics, the corruptive nature of power, and the cynicism in all of this.
A photographer (Jiiva) and a journalist (Karthika) begin to uncover the corruption and immoral behaviour of both the opposition and the government, and also discover a new political party rising from obscurity into inspiring masses of people, both young and old. As the story progresses, the two also fall in love - this romantic strand of the plot is probably the film's absolute weakest link, but lends itself to some really gorgeous songs, so I can't fault it too much.
The biggest find of the film was its lead Jiiva (or Jeeva, if you prefer). The young star is well-cast into the role of the brave but idealist photographer, and he's not a bad dancer, either. I've only seen him in this and in the 3 Idiots remake Nanban, but I anticipate watching more of him, as I hear he's also done some rather off-beat roles.
The second delightful thing was just the clever way the story unfolds. It starts off with a bang - an action scene where Jiiva chases down some bankrobbers to snap pictures of them for the cops, and then retreats to the main story. Journalists once again get to be heroes, which interests me. In some other contexts, it seems that journalists would be the villains - anybody who has followed the United Kingdom's phone hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry into press ethics and behaviour that followed the scandal would know the way in which journalists will occasionally do anything to get the inside scoop.
In here, the journalists go rather far sometimes, but it's all for a good cause, and they don't break the law or anything. However, the politicians themselves will stop at no length to get what they want - to cast their opponent in horrible light, or to gain more votes. The corruptness of the politicians is almost comical here.
Ajmal (or Ajmal Ameer) plays a young idealist graduate who begins his own party and movement called Wings to counter the two corrupt main parties in the upcoming election. Due to certain events, the Wings party gains followers who are inspired by the goodness and the change that this new movement entails.
The portrayal of the popular new movement is very interesting - it seems to harp back to other popular movements of recent history, like the Obama 2008 presidential campaign, which employed inspired volunteers and iconic campaign slogans (Yes We Can) very effectively. I won't discuss the Wings movement any further as to not spoil anything ... but it is highly interesting, and multi-faceted. Ajmal also does great in the role.
Karthika as the heroine could have been a fantastic role and performance. She's a capable young woman who is good and passionate about her job as a journalist. So how come she ends up being the thing I like the least about this film?
Well, first - look at those eye-brows. They're plucked and shaped to give her a permanently glowering look, which serves as no advantage when you're trying to play a character who shouldn't come off as a stroppy teenager. Even when she smiles, she looks slightly disdainful. As for acting, Karthika doesn't pour a lot of personality into the role. She's just there, pretty and a bit flirtatious at times, but mostly just there, a complete vacuum where a good performance should be.
The script doesn't help by giving the love story a slight love triangle flavour by having a friend and colleague (played by Piaa Bajpai) also have feelings for Jiiva's character. None of it really works as well as it should, and even though Jiiva tries to inject some acting and emotion into the whole thing, it's just something to serve as lead-in to some of the (admittedly really good) songs.
Such as this one.
Speaking of songs, they are really crisply shot and for the most part absolutely awesome - almost worth the DVD purchase alone. Whether filmed in gorgeous locations such as this one, or a club number with a bunch of Tamil star cameos (Surya, Karthi, Tamannah, even the composer Harris Jeyaraj himself!) they're worth rewatching. The only one I was irked by was the obligatory foreign locale song, with the equally obligatory awkward white dancers.
Oh, and Jiiva is thankfully a good dancer, joy of joys!
So if Tamil films are available to you at all, seek out Ko - it's a solid film where the pacing makes sure that three hours of film just fly by, and especially for anybody who is curious about political films in India. This is the best one that I've seen so far, and it's surprisingly thought-provoking for a mainstream film!