Sunday 20 October 2013

Toronto After Dark 2013 - Eega

There's always the danger of too much hype affecting the viewing pleasure of a new film - particularly when it's screened at a film festival where the programmers introduce their own choices. You'd think that the sell job would already be done (after all, your butt is already in the seat), but there's a strong desire to reinforce to the audience how much of a treat they're in for...Though I was very much looking forward to the first Indian entry ever to be presented at Toronto After Dark - the revenge thriller Eega - the on stage introduction to it felt perhaps a bit too rapturous in its praise. It was definitely a genuine excitement, but when we were told that the film also contained the greatest Intermission title card EVER, I thought I should scale my own expectations back a bit. After all, could a story of a reincarnated housefly seeking revenge on an underworld boss really provide that much fun? And could a single title card make a crowd spontaneously break into applause?

Turns out the answer is Yes on both counts.

Particularly that title card. Though we didn't actually stop for an intermission (the international cut of the film has been trimmed by 25 minutes or so to about 108 minutes), when our heroic fly strikes a pose in freeze frame after announcing its intention to the big bad boss that it will kill him, our entire theatre burst into cheers and laughs followed by a palpable sense of anticipation for the back half of the film. Those are the moments that the theatrical experience was designed to be. Forget whatever "experience" your megaplex theatre promises you, the best ones are when an entire crowd joyously hand themselves over to what's on screen. Of course, that specific moment wouldn't have happened had the movie not already won us over to it. The story starts out a little slow during its character introductions, but by the time the musical number has graced the screen you should already be sold on the film's rhythms and tone (which is distinctly and very knowingly goofy).

Nani has been chasing Bindhu for a couple of years, but has finally broken through her reserve. Things are just about to blossom when Sudeep (a wealthy criminal who appears to get any woman he wants) enters the picture and feels rebuffed when Bindhu only has eyes for Nani. Without missing a beat, Sudeep kidnaps the young man and dispatches him to clear the way to his latest infatuation. Without any explanation, Nani's soul leaves his body and lands squarely into an unhatched fly egg. The implication is that everyone is reincarnated, but since Nani's feelings for Bindhu are so strong, they spill over to his new physical manifestation. In short order after its birth, the fly has remembered everything and now seeks out Bindhu to protect her and take down Sudeep.

The film works as well as it does because it lays down its foundation early. Within the first 20 minutes or so you've experienced the sparks flying musical number as the two fall in love, the over-the-top smugness and greasiness of Sudeep, many slow zooming close-ups and an almost continuous wall of sound and music. This isn't a subtle drawing room drama. The film knows its CGI isn't suppose to look realistic, plays up many tropes and simply wants you to have fun. For example, when the fly first attempts to communicate with Bindhu, it feels somewhat like Lassie trying to tell someone that Billy fell down the well. Then there's the workout montage as our bug hero gets himself in shape to go after Sudeep in his own house (best use of a light bulb's filaments EVER). There are a few moments that do tend to drag a bit (several sequences of Sudeep trying to swat away the pesky fly tend to be repetitive), but that feels like too much nitpicking after all of the sheer energy and amusement the film has provided.

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