Decoding the phenomenon called Thalapathy

It was 1992. I was four, when my sister was born.Yet another actor was born along with her in Tamil films, about whom I knew a very little. Rightly so. It was part of the Kamal-Rajni era, where their combined clout was so large that it was often mistaken to be the Tamil film industry itself. There were other actors with a recall value as well, but none brought in the delirium like they did. So when I saw a lanky youngster with a barely legible mustache, caper by a dabba in Vishnu to “Thota beta rotu mela…”, it didn’t catch my attention. But what did, was the information that appeared in yellow font from no where onscreen to diligently notify-“Intha padalai padaiyavar ungal Ilayathalapathy Vijay“(This song is sung by your Ilayathalapthy Vijay). This wasn’t the fourth wall being broken as a cinematic device of story telling like in Woody Allen movies. This was unabashed propaganda topping what was already a propagandist movie.  So leave alone being a fan, I was far from acknowledging his choice of profession. Little did I know then that I would become a fan of his some day.

1996-2003

I had grown up. So had Vijay’s stature as a bankable actor slowly. He was no more the obscure star. I happened to realize that he lived in my neighbourhood as well. The sight of hapless admirers setting tent outside his Virugambakkam bungalow to catch a glimpse of him, had become a regular feature over the weekends. The rough edges were starting to smoothen. The shirts with boardgame depictions paved way to classier ones. It’s his sharp dressing that springs up to my memory when I reminisce of this period , like the woodlands green shirt tucked into crisp beige trousers that ended exactly where the shoes began in the  “Bharathiku Kanamma” number from Priyamudan. He was some sort of an icon back then itself.Whatever he wore in the movie, made it’s way to the streets. Suddenly you could see a lot of young men wearing their shirts without rolling the sleeves up or buttoning. It was how he would wear his full sleeves. No wonder Coke made him the face of their campaign.
You could see him play myriad dimensions of the love-struck archetype in a slew of extremely popular love stories, which went on to cement his stake in his core constituency- the youth. Be it Poove Unakaga,Love Today, Kadhalukku Mariyadhai or Thulatha Mananmum Thullum; we could distinctly see an extremely likable leadman nonchalantly shoulder the movie till its climax. Not to mention his nimble movements in the songs that had a following of their own.

‘An unemployed youth figuring life, love and responsibilities’ was the common narrative that was peddled in most movies that came since the turn of the millennia. If Kushi had him dodging love and ego, Badri was about a wastrel’s self discovery from a corner he gets pushed by life. His character were all  identifiable, flawed men we could not just root for; but relate to. If youngsters saw themselves in these depictions, elders; their sons.
Another undeniable aspect about his movies were the chartbuster songs. Even if a Vijay movie was bad, the songs would be good. The same album would have a great Gazal type melody like say a-“Nee Katru Naan Mazhai” which would coexist in absolute harmony with an “Akuthe Akuthe” kind of a song. There would be that one irrevernt song in every film, which would turn out to be that year’s anthem like “Al thotta Boopathy” or “Coca Cola Brown color“. What made his dance numbers special was the sheer joy of watching him match every beat with feather footed grace. Take “Minnalai Pidithu” from Shahjahan, with minimal hand movements, all he does is tease with his feet. Just simple movements done so gracefully. Nothing more. But the synergy it creates with the song, is sheer bliss.

2004-2010

There are some memories that stay continue to remain young, even when you’re all grown up. One such memory was my first day experience in Udhayam Theatre. The excitement in the air was so electrifying, that one could’ve actually lit bulbs with it. When the hood came off and Velu goes-“Indha area, antha area….”, the theatre went bonkers. No one could hear a thing in the succeeding few minutes. That day I knew what delirium meant. Ghillli was that movie that gave him the license to get away with the things he does these days.
From being the identifiable guy of an entire generation, he had become their alter ego. His movies were a sort of a wish fulfillment exercise for them. The “Ilayathalapathy” moniker had gained gravitas. His choice of movies had changed. They were no more soft frothy affairs close to the imperfections of life. Be it Pokiri or Thirupachi– his movies were starting to often be set in gravity-less provinces in the director’s head -they doffed their hats to the one-man-against-the- system trope. He could do anything onscreen and get away with wolf whistles.

Imagine this scenario -Man smears 40 grams of turmeric on his face and runs down an army of henchmen like a plague, in broad daylight. And none of the onlookers crack the man behind this elaborate disguise.  Ridiculous right! Well this is a famous set-piece from Thirupachi. With anyone else it would’ve been fodder for  endless parody, but with him it became a memorable “mass moment”.

2011-2017

The first part of this phase was particularly painful for not just a diehard fan, but an average movie buff. Vijay was dealing exclusively in disasters; Kuruvi, Villu, Sura; each one more painful than the previous. These were not mere flops in terms of business parlance alone. Sachein and Vaseegara weren’t runaway hits during their times as well, but there was a grace in their failure. Not an air of mockery, like the one that eclipsed the release of each one of these forgettable movies.

We knew he deserved much better than this and so did we. It was only a matter of time before he bounced back.He was only a film away. We knew that. That film happened to be Thuppaki. It was a kickass film, no doubt whatsoever. But more importantly it was a star’s reassurance to his backers. It had no trappings of his previous failures. It never made the mistake those films did, of trying to show off his star wattage like a flourescent torch. It instead wore it like a perfume. And Thalapathi was back to where he belonged.

I’m an avid movie watcher and a huge fan of Kamal Haasan Yet none of this has come in the way of my love for Thalapathi. It’s not like he makes- or even tries to -an Anbe Sivam or a Midnight in Paris every now and then. Yet there’s something about his persona I can’t put a finger on, that I’m drawn to like a moth to fire. A quality so endearing that you step into a theatre each time in the hope of bringing down the roof.  Don’t know if it’s his characteristic chewing-a-bread-crumb laid back dialogue delivery; the effortlessness in dancing or the unbridled energy he brings to the funny moments. Or it simply stems from the fact that he hails from the same neighborhood as me.

Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is I love him and would always be there for the very first show with sleep deprived eyes, to scream my lungs out to cheer for him.

For the ones who condescend him, I would suggest a viewing of Holiday starring Akshay Kumar; a  lifeless remake of Thuppaki. You’ll know, what Vijay did to do that film. There’s only so much that can be written. So much that can be directed. But after a point, it takes a true blue star to carry a blockbuster beyond the screens. He’s always done it. And done it with style.

Intha Deepavali super collection ‘ngana

“Sachin: A Billion Dreams”…A trip down the memory lane with the master

To be honest, I walked into the theatre skeptically. Just another manifestation of his narcissism I thought to myself. This predisposition has been there from the eve of of his retirement at Wankhede. As a fan, I didn’t like the exit. The sign off should’ve come on-field against a better opponent, not on a podium. And as far as the last speech, his bat should’ve done the talking like it always did, not him. But anyways, each man deserves to choose his time and manner of exit. All the more when the man is a man less and a demi-god more, like Sachin. From then crevices formed in my relation with him and cricket. So when the trailer came about a documentary movie on him, I plainly dismissed its necessity to exist.
But what happened in the dark, after the screen came alive was something I hadn’t signed up for. Mother time probably had woven the crevices together.It was so good to see him. My icon was talking to me. His life was mine to know. A vanilla account it was, but not a prosaic one. After so many years, the child in me got to have a conversation with the brightest star that had lit his sky.  I became ten again. Life became innocent as the screen became a time machine with the master in the driver’s seat.

What can you say to a man, who carries the voice of a billion people in his ears, to unsettle him?

– Ian Botham, on sledging Sachin

Looking at the many Sachin exploits unfold on screen again, felt like flipping through some fond love letters of a first love. As a nineties kid, the nostalgia is palpable. Every shot, personal. Each knock bookmarked an important chapter in my life and the country’s. We’ve seen adulation, fondness and even mad following being extended to some sports personalities. But nothing compares to the emotional entanglement the fans shared with Sachin. Here was a man, whose game was personal to an entire nation. On match days, his showing decided the appetite of a household, sudden sickness leaves in a school and turnout at the workplace. Not to mention the TRPs of sports channels.

That was an era , when one man was- unwillingly -bigger than the sport itself. The nineties was a precarious era for cricket in India, as one couldn’t exactly tell whether he was obsessed with Sachin because he played cricket or with cricket because it let Sachin play it. Because the solicitous national rhetoric that cut through the length and breadth of the nation during a match’s progress was- ” Is Sachin still there?“.
That’s how much a layman needed to know. He was rooting for India alright, but somehow his concern ended with Sachin. His heart veered along faithfully with the master, like a kite dancing to the rhythm of the winds.

Every time I’ve walked with him, I’ve felt like accompanying the king of a jungle.

– Virendar Sehwag on opening with him

Seen from the vantage of the euphoria the nineties held, cricket these days has become a dispassionate affair that celebrates generic consistency over genius. The constant utopia most cricketers are after- remarkable athleticism, the 15 % body fat and the wild reinvention of shots has no doubt added spunk to the sport, but eroded its old school charm. 350+ scores are chased down with disdain, but they’re half the humdinger a 250+ chase used to be in the nineties. Probably the rapid learning curve has removed the hallow behind a cricketer’s head. A Virat Kohli is a great batsman, probably will go on topple some of Sachin’s records one day. But that’s about it. A Dhoni is probably a little bigger than that. His off- field zen persona, the rag to riches narrative and the barbaric helicopter shots taken into account duly. He’s one of the chief architects of the Indian renaissance in cricket. With him came the concept of solidarity. Of team being bigger than an individual. Of each individual chipping in to do his bit. One would hit while one would consolidate. One would turn. One would slip in the quick middle overs and one would guide along till the other side of the finishing line. There’s a certain industrial quality with which the team operates.

But as passive observers on the aisles of history would tell, there’s nothing heroic in the tale of foot soldiers taking the war to an opponent. Winning is always sweet, that doesn’t change. But the stakes aren’t high, though the consequence looms. Swords swing. Metals cling. Bruises cut through the skin. Some times limbs roll. Some times heads fly. The grit is real. The valor is palpable, though generic. When victory ensues, their collective stature brings in celebration, though the throne remains unthronable. Such accounts remain embalmed in history as facts, well short of mythical stature.

Even Dhoni’s reputation as one of the game’s best finisher comes from his dogged consistency in discharging duties from a specific batting designation. We don’t panic when he’s on strike every time. We don’t bunk office every time he’s gone past the thirties. We don’t touch our chins twice before the TV, to just not jinx a century. We love him for his ability to win games, like every self-respecting fan of a sport would. But this adulation clearly originates from the love of the sport, than the sportsman. Nothing like the unreasonable romance with everything Tendulkar.

The nation got familiar with the human anatomy, each time Tendulkar was diagnosed with a new injury.

– Harsha Bhogle

The anecdotes in the movie humanize the legend. After all, like any of us, even he wallowed with guilt each time he lost. He might’ve been a cricketing demigod, but even he turned to God to overcome his tennis elbow injury. We come close to his hitherto unseen shades- like the like how he was this doting father who swore to not operate the diapers of his new born, the reluctant young man who couldn’t summon enough chivalry to respond to a smitten woman’s attention or how he took his brother vicariously with him each time he took stance. Through every vulnerability learnt, empathy grows for someone who was a stoic enigma.

It’s not a movie as much as an experience. It will make you smile. Tear up at times, overwhelmed with nostalgia. Warm you up with the familiarity of a favorite chapter from life and go – ” Sachin, Sachin!“, one more time.

Roast of Suryavamsam

There are things in life we did at a certain age, that we absolutely feel ridiculous about years later- like eating sand, touching own poop, naively dressing…err cross dressing up like the opposite sex largely because a parent cajoled us(only to leave an indelible scar behind thirty years later). Having binge watched Suryavamsam is one such thing. Yup the one with the “rosa poo chinna rosa poo” anthem. I suppose it is bound to have been inflicted on anyone born in the late eighties in Tamilnadu. It’s one of those movies that are so bad that they’re so good. Where do I start? About it being the precursor of several “Supreme Star” Sarath Kumar(SSSK) movies where he plays both, father and son.  Or about the tackiest original sound track ever by S.A. Rajkumar which would go on to scar generations for years to come, while taking contemporary music back to an era where it came out of fingers tapping on dalda tins.

So for the uninitiated Suryavamsam is the story of Chinarasu(SSSK) whose utility to his household is the same as mine to the movie- nothing. He’s a pigeon brained son in a family with a stiff patriarch(SSSK again), who condescends him for a sport. This torn carpet like treatment at home doesn’t seem to deter his appetite( as can be seen by the size of shirts, ample enough to camp refugees) or his uncontested reverence for his betel nut chewing father with a static wig. A woman he loves dumps him. Another woman looking for a loser to run a social experiment falls for him and the dad opposes him for scoring without his consent. In the process, he gets kicked out. How he becomes a Bill Gates and reunites with his disrespectful dad is the rest of the movie.

Vikraman’s movies are not movies, but moral science lessons shoved up our throat with an unending number of cliches and white flag tempting background score, for want of a gunpoint. His stories are modest about their ambitions or character sketches. His good men hail from heaven are Ujala-white beings without a trace of grey and his bad men are nigga black. Pardon the racism, but throw anything at his heroes: diatribes, torn chappals, bombs- they’ll not just forgive you, but chip in to lend a helping shoulder on a rainy day. Celestial creatures that they’re.

Take for instance Chinarasu’s delusional love for his maman ponnu a.k.a fiancee, entirely oblivious to the fact that she’s more aroused by a root vegetable. Anyways, he diligently drives an Enfield like every mama would- with color ribbons flowing from both handle bars – to pick her up from the bus stand every holiday. He takes her to the same god forsaken waterfall to sing the rose anthem I was talking about earlier, with little regard to the fact that she’s a doctor who’s feeling up wild daisies on the river bank instead of paying attention to his metaphorical song or that he’s pushing forty without a clue to earn his next meal which is contingent on the kindness of his gluttonous family. So as the D day approaches, she dumps him because who would want to marry an uncle with a brain of an infant and an appetite of an elephant after becoming a doctor, right? But here’s the fun part, he assumes blame for calling off the wedding for no intelligible reason, in the process becoming a punching bag to his dad again. Wow, no one knew there were so many different ways to be a loser with a capital L.

When Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone had to undergo so much foreplay before they could get on with it in Basic Instinct, all it takes here is just an aphrodisiac lizard on the wall. No foreplay. No class. Just plain rubber lizard. And the consummation is left to our imagination. What we instead get is a song which sounds like a love child between crass lyrics and tacky music with the hook line that goes- “Adada Alwa thundu iduppu, un iduppu“(Your waist is a piece of Halwa!).

There are many things that got into vogue through this movie. The windfall song sequence with victory montages being one such. The song begins with Chinarasu driving a dilapidated town bus. Before we can come to the first stanza, he’s already the richest business magnate in Asia, god knows doing what. By the end of the second stanza his wife is a collector and he’s well, shown signing on state budgets and other stuff. The song ends with the voice of the lizard caused accident, their kid. Yeah, one happy family.

One thing that continues to disturb me like it did the first time while watching Suryavamsam is the girl child that had to be dressed up as Chinarasu’s son. Why the casting department- if there was any – had to resort to this weird stroke of genius is beyond me, especially in a state like Tamilnadu which is littered with the male progeny. And the cutesy of this bewigged kid that refers to septuagenarians as, ” Fraaandu”(Friend) violates me.

Long before Benedict Cumberbatch could flaunt the art of deduction in solving crimes, it came to our living rooms with half the fuss, thanks to this film in which the father nabs the perpetrator by a mere sniff. Yeah, just sniffing.He remembers the flavour of perfume and conservatively narrows in on the only person in the entire village of three lakh people, to use it. Movie comes to an end. So does the purpose of having sniffer dogs.

 

Deconstruction of Baahubali 2’s movie review by Anna MM Vetticad

Anna MM Vetticad launching into her diatribes a.k.a reviews against movies that dare to have sequences autonomous to her value systems has been a regular Friday matinee feature for a while now. If an actor is much elder to an actress or even worse, if an actress’s character arc shapes up on screen in a certain way distant from what Anna had in mind, she would jump in to the rescue of woman fraternity at large. Cry out foul. Condescend the director’s audacity and even question the collective intent of men to wolf whistle for such violation. One might then ask as to what happened at all to the original purpose of reviewing the movie with objectivity. Answer is, it becomes incidental. A Trojan horse to ethical police; to euphemise predispositions which would’ve been plain rants of a woman with misplaced self righteousness without the scaffolding of cinema. So if the anti romeo squads have taken over UP to take the country to a dark age, people like Anna have taken over social media to precipitate prejudice with giant magnifying glasses in their hands to pin point fault lines in mainstream narratives, that are made largely without malice, to play to the gallery.

If a lead man does a shirtless sequence- a song or a stunt -she’ll go on about it in painful detail like an European traveller about Taj Mahal. Poor woman’s just articulating her attraction to a desirable man, right. But if the same movie has an actress performing a sexy song, all hell will break loose. She’ll pounce on it, call it downright sexist and distasteful from the vantage of her high horse of feminism. Anyone calling out the obvious double standards would be rounded off as a troll or its closest interchangeable form now, a bhakt. And just like that, from being a deconstruction of the movie alone, it would become about the intention of the director, whether he is a safe person for a girl to go on a date in the evening and which party might be vote for, given his affiliation.

The idea of women promiscuity is a thing of a progressive-feminist world, agreed. But then why name call the male promiscuity, that too in its most passive vicarious manifestation of ogling at actresses in well choreographed hot songs? If someone ogled at Vidya Balan in Kahaani, then it’s an issue. But if they didn’t in a Dirty Picture, then it’s unnatural. It all comes down to presentation. Different films present different characters, differently, as simple as that.

You can’t go into a Sultan or a Bahubali with the expectation found after a bout of Angry Indian Goddesses, the previous day. The former movies have a different agenda, a different story to tell, a different ecosystem and an entirely different(rather huge) demography to cater to. They can’t have women empowerment in the top of their manifesto as you would’ve liked and they shouldn’t, to be honest.

So after Baahubali-The Beginning you made a huge fuss about the sequence involving Avantika and Shivudu, so much that you went on even call it ” The rape of Avantika” in an award winning piece.
Let me ask you this, in a movie based in a time, thousands of years from now in Ancient India how did you expect a guy to approach a woman he liked? How is a tribal guy who climbs mountains in spare time supposed to display chivalry: Quote Shelley? Open doors for her or foot bills? Flaunt knowledge during quantum physics class in college or power dress to work? Ask her out on a date and then wait for her to make her move?
Let me tell you this, leave thousand years back. This finesse to approaching a woman wasn’t there a few generations back in India when courtship was a mockery before the “first night” of wedding. Taking all of this into account, the era the movie is set in and the primary designations of the protagonists, that sequences involving Shivudu and Avantika are not just tastefully written, but imaginatively conceived as well. First he risks his life and climbs a mountain in search of her. Next, he deftly paints on her arm  from under water while she’s asleep and continues to paint the same art on her shoulder from above a tree .And lastly when she finds out and comes charging at him, he waltzes around every sword wield to deflect her aggression to only confront her with the beauty she was denying to be, with every iteration of escape. She glances at her new self, falls in love with it and the man before, after coming to know the distance he had gone to find her. They break into a song, which ends with their consummation. Love is made. And he goes on take up her life’s purpose to be his. Their relation is so much more passionate, organic and romantic than the courtships that come out of matrimonial sites or Bollywood. Why this had to be equated to an act of rape is beyond me.

Irony died twice when I read these nuggets of insight from your recent review which was yet another chest thumping piece of feminism and radicalism, where you had written and I quote-

“As is always the case, each viewer’s response to the film depends on her/his priorities. My priority, I admit, is not #WKKB but #DRTOHS: does Rana take off his shirt (in the film, as he has for the posters)? Answer: yes he does. For good measure, so does Prabhas.
In the way it is told, #WKKB is not as dramatic a revelation as expected. #DRTOHS, on the other hand, is absolute paisa vasool.”

Read the full article here- http://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/bahubali-2-hindi-movie-review-baahubali-2-rating-cocktail-of-visuals-terrible-acting-closeted-conservatism-3411488.html

While you cried out foul on the objectification of women in the first part, you’ve done nothing but that in your review of the second part. At least that movie was not made with this as the single point agenda, unlike your review. But who cares, as far as a crusader of feminism is at the helm and the target is a bunch of men, right?

Film critic that you claim to be, try telling yourself this, every time you walk into a theatre –

“I see my god in the temple if I’m a believer or in the mirror(or nowhere at all) if I’m an atheist. Where I don’t definitely expect to see him is in the movies. When I don’t expect English movies to be a microcosm of my belief system, it makes little sense for me to expect representation in movies made in my backyard. The characters in the movies can behave in a way I would never in a similar situation, but that would not weigh on my movie watching objectivity. I would compare movies with movies in similar genre and not with parallel thoughts in my head or a news making national headline. Last of all I would try and be the Utopian version of myself with all the virtues I expect the world to possess, not try and inculcate the same into the vision of a creator who’s put his heart and soul into it or a hapless movie buff who might read my review.”

Why every movie buff should just STFU and celebrate Baahubali 2

India’s unity is in its diversity. Yeah right. So is ADMK’s unity now. Common, who are we kidding here. We’ve always been a nation bifurcated as north Indians and south Indians, not just geographically; but psychologically as well. The condescension has been mutual and over the years of being cultivated as polished global citizens, become subtle and sub-conscious. The only places we embrace each other’s identity wholeheartedly is in the cuisines. Sights of north Indians thronging dosa joints and south Indians making beelines to break naan outside north Indian restaurants, being case in point. Outside this, the only things that get us together are the Independence day, cricket matches( thanks to IPL the regionalism has sunk in here too) and festivals.(not anymore, given that the same historical episode falls on different dates on either sides of the Vindhyas.)

So cinema is no exception to this. Movies made in the Hindi language are respectfully called as hindi cinema- given the “Hindi is the national language up your throat” rhetoric  -and movies made in every other language are marginalized under the umbrella of regional cinema. So it’s no surprise that not beyond 5% of the people in a state come out to the theaters to check a movie out. So if you take a Dangal which is the highest grossing movie in the history of Indian cinema, it has managed to bring in a footfall of close to 4 crore people out of the total population of 134 crores, which is a mere 3%. Let’s take the worst case scenario that out of the entire population, only 20% comes to the theatre at all. Even then the most popular mainstream movie in a long time has managed to bring in a mere 15% into the halls. All this goes to show that you might have several dubbed versions, go on whirlwind promotional tours and learn to say “thank you” in a new language on reality shows; but notwithstanding these cutesies the people would continue to see you as a stranger and your movie as an effort in Chinese for which they’ll have to shell out their demonetized currencies.
These deeply embedded bottlenecks have to be taken into context to acknowledge Baahubali-2’s historic showing at the ticket windows; not just in terms of commerce, but culture as well. It is for the first time since the conjuring of Indian cinema, has a movie been perceived as being “pan Indian”, galvanizing the nation as a whole. It’s not just performed like a Salman Khan movie in the North but as a Rajnikanth starrer in the south

So what is it about Baahubali-2, that has made it into such an endearing sensation. Is it the scale? Probably; but there have been other movies like the Dhoom movies or Robot, which have had the scale, given their budgets. Bigger the budget, higher the vantage of scale to mount the film on, one might think. But few films come close to being set on the dizzying imagination as B2. Take for instance a scene that segues into a song sequence. The lead pair’s on a ship. The actress has a parallel thought. No surprises for what it culminates to next. But how it does is the deal breaker. The masts come down on either sides of the ship to flap as gigantic wings, to fly along with the sea gulls into the skies, where clouds scurry along as horses on either sides. These are stuff dream tutorials are made of.

We are a generation that has kowtowed to western imagination. We would quiz each other on Star Wars trivia, dedicate our coming off age to Rowling and worship Tolkiens for “his precious” and wake up before the rooster to keep abreast with GOT happenings. When it comes to myth, Greece has been cooler because Hollywood has made many a million dollar A-lister parades in that space. And the proper nouns are lot more lighter on the tongue and have a ring to them over draught beer. Achilles, Adonis and Thermopylae any day over Arjuna, Krishna and Kurukshetra, right?

Thanks to religion and philosophy, cutting close to mythologies in our backyard; we’ve not taken an instant curiosity to them, outside our moral science classes. As a result not many of us know of the marvelous anecdotes they bore in them of love, greed, desire and betrayal. About the masculine alpha males who strutted across the face of earth with unmatched prowess or the powerful women who  were active practitioners of progression even before feminism was needed in this part of the world. Amar Chitra Kata managed to uphold the spirit of the country’s mythology for a while, but it was a comic book and couldn’t grow beyond the school.
The characters in Baahubali are written with a strong heartland appeal, with easily digestible traits to connect to. They’re  distinct individuals with strong personalities and clear belief systems akin to the central characters of Ramayana and Mahabharatha. And the sequences are often tip of the hat accounts. Like the way Sivagami carries a new born through a river, similar to Vasudeva carrying Krishna between a split river. Or the way Kattappa is a mute spectator, who’s loyalty is different from his conscience akin to Bhishma. Or the more obvious central plot of feuding cousin brothers akin to Mahabharatha. It’s all there, but as homage, in spirit, in another form in a fictional land.

S.S.Rajamouli imbues his male protagonists with a certain virile charm, that’s been missing in our cinema ever since it started pandering to the diaspora abroad. They’re dhoti clad, with distinct mustaches and not five o’ clock shadows, brawny and not lean and manly, not boyish. There’s this moment in the movie where Bahubali walks into the court, his gait in rhythm to the invigorating chants in the score to the aid of his cornered wife’s. The drama that precipitates from there to a confrontation is stuff goosebumps are made of. For the first time in a really, really long while I saw sheer delirium in the theatre for a way a moment in a movie was staged. Not for a star doling out a punchline.
If the men partake in the drama, women create it. The women in the movie, Sivagami and Devasena are the fulcrums around which the men function. They’re strong, opinionated,intimidating and majestically feminine.

With such big feet, big shoes need to be there to fit in. The narrative has to have the gravitas deserving of such strong protagonists. Rajamouli’s screenplay stages these characters with such blue eyed adulation, imbuing the proceedings with the necessary friction and conflict. The interval sequence is one such scene designed with a keen sense of dejavu, as a homage to the acclaimed interval block from the previous movie. The circumstances that culminate into the half way point in the two films are entirely different; one is to do with the erection of a giant statue of a king in the present and the other is his coronation in the past. Yet they both overlap in terms of spirit in a common point of conflict.

There are some subtle suggestions of providence, be it the pseudonym Bahubali assumes which later happens to become his son’s name. Or the way the movie ends poetically, with the journey coming to an end in the place it all started. These are grace notes. decorative intentions on the fringe of an already masterful painting. Baahubali is much more than an overpriced behemoth its price tag suggests. It’s way more than the “why Katappa killed Bahubali” itch. It’s much more than an unprecedented fiscal success story it has come to be. It’s just not a movie, but an experience. A cerebral expedition into the childlike mind of its creator. A triumph of his audacity to look beyond the commercial commonplace. A case study on why sometimes great ideas don’t necessarily need a language to be appreciated. Jai Mahishmathi!

Sakhavu- A well intentioned ode to communism

Even before the word go, the movie takes off as the opening credits roll as dilapidated strips of footage and newspaper cuttings on communism- international and local – to the loud cries of war bugles and rusty voices intended at summoning the very spirit of communism from every soul in the theatre, notwithstanding the butter popcorns and coke by them. So even before the screen begins to come alive- before the red on the screen can dry up – we exactly know the side between left and right, the movie’s headed. No surprises there. In these kind of doff-of-the-hat vehicles, all we expect is a compelling tale to chronicle the journey of a man towards his idealistic culmination; without being alienated. The moment Nivin Pauly appears on screen as this man, we’re rest assured about not being alienated.

He’s storming out of the house, late in the night over a fight with his mother. Fight over a strand of hair in his food. Extracting the funny side from domestic duress has been Nivin’s chief constituency and he does it here as well. He plays Krishnakumar a.k.a Kichu, a wayward loser with no aim in life. In short, his favorite alter ego that he’s endearingly played to great effect many times, without a change of wink.(Oru Vadakkan Selfie, Thatathin Marayathu and Premam from the top of the head)  The usual gullible friend/ accomplice in crime, Nivin’s exploitation of him, their combined idiosyncrasies in public places and Nivin being the sporting ass of jokes; all of the accouterments find a place here as well. What’s different about Sakhavu is the scaffolding that he holds on to, doesn’t come in the form of love, like it usually does. Unlike his previous outings, the happy-go-lucky portions are subplots to warm up to another story. A lofty, grimmer one about Sakhavu Krishnan(Nivin again with  a Gemini Ganesansque persona).

Sakhavu is in the ICU in the same hospital, Krishnakumar has come to give blood…rather pull another stunt towards becoming district secretary of SFK, a communist party. In the process gets acquainted with a friend of his, stationed outside. It is through this man that we get to know about the person lying inside and crowd praying outside.

A person who dedicated his whole life to give a theory, the sanctity of practice. To turn it into an uplifting tool from being a fiction of utopia. Sakhavu Krishnan used communism as a powerful instrument to create conversations between exploited and exploiters. This stretch of the movie uses the usual tropes: establishment versus poor scenarios, strikes outside the factory gate,galvanizing monologues to large gatherings, the police nepotism to affluent and even the lock up torture sequences. But what fleshes these sequences are the finesse with which they’re handled. The old wine is not only served in a new bottle, but served tastefully. We get this wonderfully staged fight in the night, where light and sound are put to good effect to create the necessary intrigue. Not to mention well written lines like the one he claims Sakhavu(Comrade) before his name to be the surname that depicts his caste and creed.
Through these portions we come to know of this individual, who is looked upon as a saint by a legion of well wishers, as he lies unconscious in the ICU of an obscure government hospital. We just don’t know him by his teachings or the anecdotes alone anymore, we know him by his instincts and intentions as someone to root for.

There’s a beautiful narrative device at play as Krishnakumar gets to know about the story of Sakhavu Krishnan. His friend prologues with a precursory that they spoke and looked the same, sometimes. Moments later Krishnakumar proudly glances at himself in the mirror, as we move back in time to see Sakhavu, as him. Just as he so narcissistically would visualize , while listening to one anecdote after another. Even towards the movie’s end, when both men are in the same room, we’re not shown Sakhavu. Probably he looks different. Probably they both are doppelgangers. Probably not. It’s not that important after all.The movie leaves this ambiguity to brew in us, as Krishnakumar walks out with Sakhavu in him. Their resemblance has transcended beyond superficial.

This line from Kaththi comes to mind, that explains communism as one’s awareness of next idli after his hunger being another man’s. Sakhavu takes this culinary metaphor to indicate communism as well. After the point of realisation, Krishnan tells his mom that he’s coming home for dinner. She says there’s only morning’s food left. And he is okay. From staging a walk out over a strand of hair on his food, to going back to eat whatever is left without; we see the entire of his transformation, as his priorities change with him.

Kaatru Veliyidai- Of air, style and no substance

The week before the movie’s release, Mani Ratnam’s interviews with almost every film tracking space worth its salt occupied our bandwidth. And every question directed at the auteur was adorned by a “Mani Sir” before it. The reverence is understandable, given the legacy of the man before. The adulation, even more, given that most of the interviewers were from this generation that was raised on a staple diet of his films. We yardsticked our dressing with his heroes. We tweaked our pick up lines to resemble the ones in his movies. The epidemic of monosyllabic enunciation spread from there. Our romantic moments had his songs play in our mind. Our uptight chested respect to disapproving dads drew from his movies. Our idea of classy, cool, romance, respect, revolution were some form of a tip of hat to his sensibilities. It would be safe to assume that Ratnam’s oeuvre not just captured, but fashioned the imagination of an entire generation.
Beyond their social impact, his films have served as case studies for cinephiles in this part of the  world. He was our Kubrick and Scorsese before our sensibilities could gauge their nuances. So Mani Sir, he is!

But the admiration is mostly for his extensive body of work, peach of which stopped a decade before. Have a look at the movies that’ve come in the last decade, barring Guru and OK Kanmani, none managed to resonate with the audience. He’s not someone we valuate in terms of collections or returns, he’s beyond mere commerce. His movies are an experience, more than a source of entertainment. This experience is what has some how not felt overwhelming off late, be it the inconsistent Raavanan( which was more a vanity project to reflect Vikram’s acting chops, if not his moistened triceps.) or the insipid Kadal.

His core constituency has been the tasteful deconstruction of human relations into palatable drama. Often than not, his dramas have had the just-another-person at their core. It’s the portrayal of their idiosyncrasies, shenanigans, justifications to be a certain way that has made them endearing to us. Take for instance Prakash Raj‘s Ganapathy uncle from OK Kanmani, a slow moving septuagenarian who nonchalantly loves his Alzheimer hit spouse with very little fuss. Shining light on the often overseen contours of normalcy has been MR’s strength. Most of his memorable characters have been white or black. That’s why his VC- who exists in the grey in-between -from KV gets lost in translation, much like his Veera from Raavanan. Ratnam writes these characters with truckloads of complexities without a prologue or a back story, that what comes on screen is often than not confusion. Because not just are we expected to muse on his unique creations now, but also to empathize with their quirks without being a part of their beginnings.

It’s not a prerequisite to have a back story. A movie can span across a short time or its central characters can take off from their current state of minds and brew through the course of it’s running time. A plot driven movie like say, Ayutha Ezhuthu can afford to take that path. A character driven movie cannot. We cannot identify with a Velu Nayakar without seeing the anecdotes from his early life. These episodes make him the man he comes to be before us. This is where KV falters. It’s largely a character driven plot with very little happenings than the whirlwind romance between two people, one of whom is a Bharathiyar quoting chauvinist, who practices his misogyny in the garb of romance. To digest his anomalies as they keep coming, while on the go, with no rhyme or reason, is a little too much to expect out of an audience that’s outside one’s own imagination.

We’re supposed to travel with VC’s psychological journey. Partake in his epiphanies. Root for him. Hope for him to change.Yearn for him to get together with Leela. What we instead end up getting invested in are the artifices like his fixation with his aviator glasses, the actor’s apparent weight loss, his grooming and an eternal grimace that says,”freshly minted out of Madras Talkies“. There’s so much posturing, especially involving the lips(to accentuate his debonairness), that it makes Sivaji Ganesan‘s lip concussions look like a smirk.

And what’s with casting a bunch of talented actors in disposable cameos. Seeing actors like Shraddha Srinath and Delhi Ganesh scattered as passing scenery in the main proceedings felt bad. But RJ Balaji as a surgeon walks away with the credits for being the most miscast member of the film, with him not just struggling to act, but to act sophisticated as well.

The deployment of elaborate symbolism(mountains, sky and landscape serve their bit as metaphors) , mirrors as perspective giving devices and the weird positions in which the lead pair strike lengthy conversations come across as avant-garde gimmickery, as they don’t flow organically into the scheme of things. So this shot of Leela and VC lying on a tastefully knit kashmiri carpet, with their outlines being crimson lit as they murmur to the floors, feels like a wallpaper than a scene.

Rahman’s tantalising songs and the serrated score does way more to the movie, than the movie does to it. But that’s been the case for a while now with Ratnam’s outings, where the music serves as an exquisite fresco on the ceiling to distract after the food turns out bad.

Every great creator has a point, from where he chooses to either call it a day or continue ahead to eventually taint his legacy. RGV went beyond that point. Sachin did that in search of an elusive hundredth hundred. We know how those pursuits turned out. Should Mani Ratnam continue further, only time will tell or the ticket sales definitely will. As far as Kaatru Veliyidai(breezy expanse) goes, it seemed like the title was referring to the space above my head- the breezy expanse – where most of the movie went.

The idiot before the box

Feet pointing ceiling wards, I’m tucked in a warm corner of a sofa in my hotel room in Bangalore. Warmth caused from my absolute deposition in similar position without a limb movement since the past one hour. So there’s this Kannada film-Kirik Party that I wanted to check out and as a result of which been in moot with my body; protesting its inertness and it, my audacity to get off the ass. However, with a little assistance from the balmy weather outside, the body wins and I’m left to turn to an old habit for solace-swapping channels.

The television comes alive the image of Rajini in a graceful bell bottom trouser. He’s slapping around his sister, who’s apparently lied to him about her romantic life, that he had come to know about. The scene’s reeking of chauvinism, but the man’s grace more than covers it up. His hair isn’t the messy pigeon nest it came to be a few years later with the superstar moniker, it’s parted from the side gracefully. Arulirunthu Aruvathu Varai is a movie for all seasons. It continues to remain so.

Probably one among either the movie or Rajini cause a sandwich craving.The hand meddles with the Swiggy app and moments later there’s a club sandwich that is room bound from a joint few kilometres apart. The mood changes. So does the channel.

Shahrukh is a bloody heap, yet he’s pummeling an army of blazer clad henchmen with conspicuous looking punks, that almost descend on their collars like hibernating rodents . All of them despite being the “bad” entourage, are thorough gentlemen. They patiently wait for their turns to get at our hero, ensuring he at no point does he have beyond one person to sink his fists into. And our hero gamingly hams along, with an eternal chin quiver. Baazigar is one of those delightful masala movies, where the hero’s moving in slow motion in a scene that is already shot in slow motion. An 8 metre rusted iron rod gets planted into his solar plexus, yet after a brief pause he manages to not only kill the villain with it; but limp a few miles to die on his widowed mother’s chiffon; leaving her with a corpse and a stained sari. The woman’s old, dependent, mentally unstable and now orphaned. But who cares about all that.All that matters is,she’s been avenged by her serial killer deceased son. “THE END” the screen screams before our mind begins to ponder further.

The sandwich makes its appearance and craving settles. Mood changes. So does the channel.

Aamir Khan’s deconstructing the definition of “book” to a painful detail to get back at a professor. He’s supposed to be a geek, but he plays it with the gawkiness of an alien that belonged in PK, nevertheless endearingly. Rancho is one of the most celebrated character of this generation and not without a reason. Watch him spiritedly explain the anecdote behind how the “Aal izz well” phase came into vogue, you know the stuff cult classics are made of.

I’ve watched 3 Idiots a million times like anyone else. So the channel changes before I begin to get sucked in once again.

A septuagenarian is frolicking with a certain sense of authority and a wig, heavier than it; with a girl younger than his molar tooth. The gentleman in point being Rajkumar, who’s apparently got his regime for diabetes mixed up with the choreographer’s vision, to come with something that looks like a form of non verbal exorcism.
I felt violated by the shenanigans. Thankfully most of the sandwich had made it past the digestive system. At least I had the luxury of changing the channel, my heart went out to the poor girl onscreen who was subjected to child abuse.

I get up to make myself a nice drink. Hmmm..the pleasure of solitude, fermented liquid on rocks and the company of a box with infinite entertainment.Channel changes.

Bhai’s bed bound, reeling from some pain. Something we’ve not seen in any of his several court appearances. What’s moved the mountain…rather who?
It’s not the blurry image of the deceased from Bandra pavement nor the blackbuck. It’s his muse, a lanky Anushka who’s apparently confronting the man about their skirmish from sometime back. He’s in tears. She’s gotten to him. It’s a beautiful scene from Sultan where he breaks down before his estranged wife in the most vulnerable point in life. The pain that separated them once, gets them back together.

Too mushy for a Bhai movie. Drink’s hit bottom. The limbs have become pleasantly lethargic. Eyes are in search of sleep. Mood changes. Channel changes.

“If the homo sapiens were in fact homo sapiens…is that why they’re extinct?”
“Joey, homo sapiens are people!”
“Hey, I’m not judging!”
I cracked up like I did the first time. Joey’s dumbness is addictive. To me, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, writers of Friends are demigods, much bigger in stature than Tolkiens and Rowling. While LOTR and Harry Potter had to resort to magic and an alternate world set in fantasy to capture the imagination of their subscribers, Friends mined its epicness from commonplace. There’s no gibberish, no scale and no convoluted subplots and backstories. Just a bunch of friends who live their lives with us. Or atleast made us feel that way. None of them are path-breaking actors by any standards. But tell you what, they needn’t be. Because we don’t know them, as much as the characters they’ve dissolved into before our eyes. So Ross doesn’t behave like Michael Schwimmer. Maybe Schwimmer is a lot like Ross.
That’s the thing about Friends, it gives you a sense that life would be great with every iteration. The dark corner in the bedroom wasn’t eerie anymore. No one was looking back at me from there. It was just my over imaginative head. I needed to rest, a early morning train awaits. The TV needed to as well.

Power off.

A night well spent.
.

John Wick Chapter 2- The movie works, but its matrix doesn’t

A mafia boss with a distinct European accent goes, “He’s committed. He’s focused….”. Who is this person , well endowed-  given the stock of buffed of men in silk suits decorating the peripheries of his tastefully lit cabin -singing litanies about? He’s responding to his second in command’s suggestion to eliminate the reason for their shift in location. The reason being a person. Not just another person, but the eponymous hero-John Wick. The bombastic prologue segues in a dark alley from where a sinewy silhouette walks towards. Enter, Keanu Reeves. We were expecting a hero to service the legend that was so elaborately woven around. What we instead get is the sight of a man trudging his way into the frame, like Dravid after third session at crease.

Let me first make one thing clear, I’m not as dismissive of Keanu Reeves like I was of Hank’s atrocious hairdo as Robert Langdon. He’s a fine looking guy. And like Hanks he doesn’t have a distinct persona that would let him have a fourth wall breaking conversation from the vintage of a larger than life role. I never complained about him in the Matrix franchise. That ecosystem warranted a neutral looking bland person and it got one. But the Die Hard, Commando, Taken template of films are essentially testosterone spiking trips, as avant garde as the posturing may seem. John Wick’s core is set in this space.  Just that there’s sincerity instead of swag, modesty instead of attitude.  It’s as tedious as it would’ve been, had Arjun played Raghavan in Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu.

When Bruce Willis moused through the nooks and corners of Nakotomi Tower to single handedly bring the villain’s empire down , it was sheer delirium. An epidemic of wolf whistling ensued. And Mc Clane gladly acknowledged with a,”Yippee kiyay, motherfucker!”. And like that pop culture found an another parlance for posterity.

We’re constantly being reminded that this lethal person’s god’s handpicked population control technique, ahh…”the boogeyman” as the people around hype him to be. But not in one of the infinite stunt sequence do you feel this palpable danger these people were talking about, if anything he looks endangered. It’s that strange space we find ourselves in, were the one killing seems to be in danger more imminently than the ones getting killed. Vulnerability is a good thing- if it were an under dog account -it brings plausibility. But not when you’re fashioning a legend of sorts. You don’t want to shine on the fault lines.
All this critique isn’t to take anything from the set pieces, that are invigoratingly staged. They’re choreographed with a staggering vision; with an unctuous imagination. Like the stretch when two gunmen nonchalantly sprinkle bullets as they weave through a busy crowd, the claustrophobic combat in the train that ensues or the dexterous shootout in a dark tunnel   But all of that translates to such uninspired action on scene, that it feels like a school annual day gig, with Reeves going through the motions with a post coital face, keeping track beneath his breath, of every kick and punch delivered. He’s neither a skilled martial artist nor a luminous star to overlook the fact of not being one.

A man’s assaulted pup’s killed by a bunch of teenagers, one of who is a son of a Russian mafia lord. But little do they know that the pup ain’t just another pup. It’s the last gift from his late wife. And the man’s no ordinary person. He’s John Wick, one of the deadliest assassins on the face of earth. He’s part of a brotherhood that lets him shop guns like shoes.He goes on to single-handedly reduces the mob empire to a debri of corpses and brick. End of first film.
Rinse and repeat-Sequel!

It does make for one hell of a read and it should’ve stayed that way. That way it could’ve teased our imagination about who could play John Wick.Some movies are better left in the pages till the right guy comes through. A star, who can elevate the material beyond the pages. That’s the thing about star wattage, it makes a hero out of a mercenary when played right. And the lack of it, makes the mercenary,well…..Keanu Reeves.

Mani Ratnam- A master of imitation

There is this sweet spot in movie making that exists between imitation and inspiration that auteurs keep hitting from time to time. Nayagan is a wonderful case in point. Kamal and Ratnam’s doff-of-hat homage to Coppola’s Godfather, resulted in the creation of the most iconic characters in pop culture, Velu Nayakar. Nayakar was modelled on Corleone, looked like Varada Raja Mudaliyar and drew from Haasan’s persona. It was a thesis on effectively implementing a western trope to eastern sensibilities-staying true to both, without diluting the other. This was first among the many times, Mani Ratnam would go on to paint vivid pictures of inspiration on celluloid.

Sometimes the inspiration came from a peer’s work, like in the case of Mouna Ragam which is his interpretation of Bhagyaraj’s Antha 7 Naatkal. Mouna Ragam like A7N dealt with that icky space between a husband and his wife’s unrequited past romance. Like Rajeev, Mohan was a debonair gentleman who went out of his way to find a cozy spot for his wife outside the precincts of matrimony. They were dignified men, keen listeners content to be the number two in their woman’s life. Antha 7… was a colourful tale with comedy, romance, tragedy and drama operating in tandem under the vigil of a path-breaking screenplay that lent each central character with dignity and empathy. Mouna Ragam dialed up the wife’s disgruntlement, killed her ex and focused more on the evolution arc of the relationship with her husband, from being one of “kambilipoochi” like repulsion to a place of reverence. It felt like a vibrant Woody Allen film with a brilliant Ilaiyaraja score and a lot less cynicism.

Thalapathi was a case of inspiration from mythology and folklore. It was a contemporary adaptation of Karna’s life- his friendship with Duryodhana, tumultuous relation with his estranged mother and his administering of dharma, Rajni style. It audaciously plucked the essence of central characters from Mahabharatha and tossed them in and around the heat of Chennai’s vigilante establishments. It made for a riveting watch. Ditto with Roja, that spun the story of Satyava-Savitri against the backdrop of Kashmiri insurgency. The mythical anecdote suddenly assumed different shapes and connotations. It became a chest thumping account of a woman’s resilience. It also turned a sort of flagship movie on nationalism, courtesy the invigorating Tamizha Tamizha sequence. The subversion of Yama into a humane terrorist was another stroke of genius.

If some of Mani’s inspirations came from movies and some from mythology, some came from lives and times of personalities. Like the iconic Iruvar. It was his cinematic ode to the MGR-Karunanidhi saga. Like an overseeing conscience, it surreptitiously follows the journey of the two doyens of Dravidian politics through insignificance, friendship, one upmanship, envy, bitterness, ignominy and their eventual separation. It lets us partake in the head space of the two of the most fascinating men, as they traded blows at each other, lending relatability to prosaic anecdotes we’ve hitherto read and heard over the years, without taking sides.

And to bring to life, the story of how the founding stones of the nation’s biggest business empire were laid, as a fascinating personal account is no mean stretch. Guru did this and more. It gave us a manipulative protagonist who took to business like life and to life like business. Gurukant Desai was a capitalist subversion of Nayagan’s,”Nallu Peruku Naladhu na, Edhuvum Thapilla” commandment. The ruthlessness, the scant disregard for the rule book were all there, but unlike Velu Nayakar, all this doesn’t culminate in the path of altruism. Guru’s a scrupulous businessman. Period. When in a tight spot, he greases his way out. Like with every biopic worth its salt, Guru keeps us pondering from scene to scene, if this was Ambani or just Gurukanth. Ratnam never really bothers. He simply keeps blurring the line between the two.

Seen as a naive connoisseur of cinema, these are fascinating films with top notch production values, timeless performances, lilting scores. All in all, timeless pieces of art. If one wants to scratch beyond the surface,  then these are masterful retelling of popular lives, progressive deconstruction of folklore and “what-if” discourse of enigmatic personas. What better way to embalm the legend of MGR, than through Ratnam’s direction, Mohanlal’s acting and Rahman’s score?

Nallu Peruku Naladhu na, Edhuvum Thapilla“-If it benefits a few people, nothing’s wrong.