Bharat Ane Nenu- The most potent Mahesh Babu film after Pokiri

It was a sultry Saturday evening in Summer 2006, we Tamil guys had landed ourselves, plum middle row seats at Jayaprada for Pokiri. A Telugu friend had dragged us into this, over another Tamil film which all of us wanted to check out. This was my first Telugu big screen experience. Hitherto, familiarity with Telugu films involved loud-jarring footage at stay-overs,of rotund elderly uncles doing things, one generally has come to associate with a chimp on cocaine and Spiderman movies. So I wasn’t specifically upbeat when the screen came alive. But moments into the film, my prejudice changed, as air bound vegetables paved way for Mahesh Babu. He was nothing like the last Telugu hero I remembered- The punk; the shirt folded over a long sleeved tee; the swag; the devil may care attitude; the laid back dialogue delivery, like chewing betel mid-slumber; the effortless larger than life persona, made me an instant fanboy. For a while after that, he was suddenly everything I wanted to be subconsciously. I went for a bunch of his movies after that, even enjoyed Dookudu a lot, loved every bit of SVSC, didn’t understand the euphoria around Srimanthudu and felt bad when Spyder(I’m one among the handful who enjoyed it for its ambition) tanked. But nothing came close to the Pokiri experience as far as the MB persona goes.

So mind was a bit of a mixed bag, when the morning show of Bharat Ane Nenu commenced. Another Utopian story of a proverbial leader, served masala style, I thought to myself, from the trailers. For how better is it going to get from Leader or Mudhalvan, which form the realistic to commercial bandwidth around political-one man narratives. Then this scene happened minutes into the movie. Bharat’s driving his car and gets to know the people he’s about to rule, through the chaos they make around traffic signals. The means doesn’t seem to matter to them, everyone’s just preoccupied to get to the other end. This traffic signal’s a microcosm of the people’s attitude It’s a beautiful visual metaphor of falling civil standards. These are the kind of scenes that make you sit and take notice of a commercial movie’s integrity.

Bharat is an upright guy, not necessarily uptight, notwithstanding the monochromatic power clothing. He’s a creature of details. Look at how he finely moves his name plate, just enough to be in a straight line with his seat, on his first day as CM. MB plays him with characteristic dignity, lackadaisical arrogance and elusiveness, just enough to remain endearing, with accessible reverence. But that’s MB from any social gathering in reality. But it really doesn’t matter. The real and reel life elusive persona play off each other nicely, creating a synergy, larger than life. Like his contemporary Vijay, after all these years, MB too has still got some amount of boyish charm left in him, while going over men deliverables in fallen patriarchal set ups.

I loved Mirchi. It was raw, intense and unabashedly mainstream, with no other ulterior motives to pull. To me Srimanthudu wasn’t as spontaneous cinematically. It was overwrought with an Utopian central deceit. Janatha Garage was a much better mainstream experience, but again Siva was chewing more than he could swallow, trying to be environmentally conscious, while making a Thalapathysque film with a triangular love track and what not. In that sense, Bharat Ane Nenu doesn’t try too hard to be any particular thing, in the process finds it own distinct voice. It’s a simple story, narrated with a grand vision in a freely flowing style.

Wolf whistles are born, when a great story marries a superstar. But that’s the thing about stardom. It can be worn like a flourscent shirt, loud and on the face. Or can be worn like a perfume, subtle and classy. He’s amongst the rare breed that does the latter.  All of this is another way of saying, “Mahesh Babu is back. And in style.”

 

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Why “The Office” is the most inimitable sitcom ever

 

Allusions to some Dwight and “that’s what she said” kept making their way into my earspace at the coffee stalls, months ago, from a bunch I didn’t have much regards for. Probably another pompous TV show that these people talk about, just loud enough to be associated with its viewing, like keeping one’s wrist bent enough in a room to draw attention to the dial of a fancy watch while talking in an impression making exercise.

I was intrigued a little bit. So went back to my desk and looked up Dwight and got to know that he was a character from a show called “The Office“. I was glad it had ended five years before. I make it a point to avoid watching anything that is a part of an ongoing fad. I somehow find it below me to watch something because a larger crowd binges on it. And also I like to trip on, savour moments, conversations at the end of a long lazy day. So verbose, conversational shows strewn with dark humour and sarcasm are my kind of poison. Not the plot heavy ones with diabolic twists and turns.

I started watching it, the same night. It opened with mild piano interludes trickling over a shot of everyday traffic till we, in a moment come across a board  that says “Scranton Welcomes You”, confirming the city the traffic belongs to as we move to a wall that reads “Dunder Mifflin”, before going in to show the people that constitute Dunder Mifflin, Scranton. This unfussy opening credit establishment from macro to micro nothingness had such an understated charm to it. I immediately knew I was watching something special. Even now, every time I hear the opening credit, my face automatically becomes a lit up smiling emoji.

In one of the initial episodes, Michael’s assembling a team to play basketball and he looks at a black coworker and says,”Ofcourse” obviating his inclusion into the team. For the uninitiated, Mike says more inappropriate things in a day than Trump on cocaine, would in a year.

The shit storm doesn’t stop there, it spirals downward further when he’s asking someone to be a cheerleader for the game. That’s when a fat middle aged employee volunteers, to be met with this beauty from Mike-“Oh Yuck.. That’s more worse than you playing.
A moment of uncomfortable silence ensues, as the camera pans to the woman’s blood drained  pale face and back to a nervous Mike.

That’s basically how every episode pans out, from one grand Mike screw up to another, reaction shots and my favourite- a serene fourth wall breaking rant in a different tangent altogether.

Steve Carroll’s Michael Scott stands tall as the centrepiece of the endearing catastrophe that “The Office” is. He’s not the atypical TV protagonist we’re used to, in the sense that he doesn’t come with a hero’s halo or a fallen angel narrative crutch. Usually these shows, most shows including Friends, Two and a half Men, Big Bang Theory or Californication,House or Boston Legal if I were to consider workplace dramedies, ensure that a central character’s shown as a cool anomaly, endowed with a great repertoire of wicked sarcasm, often mouthing signature punch lines with an ability to draw the fairer sex in hordes, like moths to a halogen bulb. Every anecdote is built around carefully in an endeavour to not just humanise these flawed gentlemen, but paint them larger than life in a world short of odd ball allure. These people can be part of earth altering goof ups, day to day screw ups, get reality checks and even get their asses handed over occasionally; but make no mistake, can never be an ass of a joke or of questionable niceness. Never! You can hear the prompt laughters in the background, see them being rejected by a hot chick every now and then; fall with their legs stretched skywards or dipped in dirty brown water. But somehow the treatment will distill the air of mockery, to keep their “funny man” sex appeal untainted.

This is where Michael Scott is different. A whiff of fresh air…err fart. He’s the consistent butt of all jokes from start to end at Dunder Miflin. He’s this dimwitted loser,petty,morally ambivalent, offensive, sexist, racist guy who is awful with women, easily intimidated and wears his foot in mouth like a badge of honour. Often than not, you’re not just laughing with him, but at him.

All of us would have been a part of some meeting or the other at our workplace. But trust me, nothing comes close to the ones conducted in the Conference room at Dunder Mifflin.

Most jokes in The Office land at that fleeting space between, offensive, insensitive and howlarious. The humour is dry  and has a everyday quality to it, largely due to the  voyeuristic way in which the entire show plays out. Most episodes progress from one mess to another,from one inappropriate statement to another, one shenanigan to another with each concerned character breaking the fourth wall from time to time. Unlike the broader style of acting that we’re used to, where we expect to be hinted by a funny man like say a Chandler from Friends through body language or facial concussions, before every joke, most of the humour in The Office comes as an afterthought. The slapstick tropes hit us instantly here as well, like a parkour stunt going wrong. But the best jokes here are the ones that tempt us to play them back in our heads again and again, as WTF becomes crazy funny. Each episode is filmed solicitously with a certain handheld quality, putting us in a breathing distance between happenings and conversations, like a fly on the wall. Not before we come to terms with the side of the happenings we’re on, laughing our asses off like a conventional audience of comedy.

Take this episode for instance, Phyllis’s wedding.

It opens with Mike sneaking in from behind the bride’s maids for a picture. (Did I tell you Mike’a the most narcissistic creature that there is?)He’s talking to us. He’s telling, “Phyllis has asked me to push her father’s wheelchair down the aisle. So I’m co-giving away the bride. Since I’m paying her salary, I’m paying for the wedding. It’s a big day for Phyllis. But a bigger day for me. Employer of the bride!

Moments later he’s in her change room and matters escalate quickly.

Things go from “If you wanna vomit, it’s ok. Because I just did.”  to “Phyllis, did you break wind? That’s a natural reaction. It’s your wedding and you’re nervous.
He does leave, but not before trying to adjust her hair to cover a bald patch, while being led out of.

Occasionally, The Office is a box of surprises. The oddball characters behave/misbehave in their settled rhythm together and apart, doing things in a certain way, expected of them in given situations. But there are times they pull the rug from under.

There’s this episode with Pam’s paintings. There’s this moment between  her and Mike. The mood’s mellow, right things come out of that mouth and it threatens to become beautiful, when a chunkies comes between.  And like that, a random moment of bonding segues back to the inappropriate humor that we’re used to.

I know The Office is an oddball phenomenon that’s better experienced, than explained. I’ve still gone ahead and tried to recollect some stuff from the top of my head- episodes, memories and feelings. But trust me, I can go on forever till it becomes TMI.
Yes, I’ve spoken extensively about Michael Scott and not the others. But that’s how I’ve watched it unfold, from his perspective. To me Mike epitomises The Office. That’s why I didn’t watch the last two seasons after he left. But that’s me. Maybe another person might trip on the absolute weirdo Dwight is. Some might be suckers for the free flowing Jim and Pam romance. Some might just like the synergy of the entire bunch. But whatever it is, The Office is inimitable TV; a gift that keeps giving. If you can manage to keep a straight face, while Mike slips his burnt foot into a MRI machine, you’re either Buddha or chronically depressed.

Mourning Sridevi and falling human standards

It was an usual morning, blank and staring back. Usual, till I heard my sister scream from the room next. I had never seen her so agitated before. She was animatedly trying to wake my bed-bound grandmother up, who had tipped over to the other side only moments ago. She had literally seen the two of us from the time we were palm sized womb fluid covered creatures till the time we could adult around in the evening of her second childhood. To me she was the ersatz world till I could step out into the one with roads and traffic rules. She was the guardian angel who never minded being taken for granted, while continuing to unconditionally give. We always get the chance to say goodbye to our close ones, before leaving out of town, before going out for dinner or even before hanging up. It’s the saddest of ironies, that we never really get to say the one goodbye that actually matters in the end.

The room was filled with stench, her bed was wet. The bowels are the last to ditch to one, bringing indignity to death. We carried her to the hall, like moving a furniture that once used to be animate, where she lay on display for all to mourn for hours together. That place by her wooden corpse, was the longest and hardest of minutes of my life. And the crematorium, where the engulfing  fire summarized her into a compact urn was the last kick at the groin of an already numb heart.

Mind you this was a woman, who had died close to her eighties, a death all of us were expecting to come sooner or later.

Now imagine a hale and healthy middle aged woman, who while attending a wedding is let down by her coronaries in the middle of her bath to drown to her demise. Terrible, right. Imagine the shock of her husband of many years moments after the freak death, from outside the bath. His helplessness. Shattering, right.
Now imagine the woman in question- looks dialed up to a celestial extent, fame the size of a comet and wealth a little more than a third world nation’s GDP. Does the extent of tragedy feel watered down, by the quality of life that preceded the moment of death.No. Does the fact that she’s the second wife of the man outside, strip the tragedy off her death. No. Should the glamorous high flying lifestyle of her husband render him immune to the gravitas of the situation. Hell no.

Then why can’t we let Sridevi’s death be solemn. Hours after the outbreak, we had lowlifes solicitously spreading conspiracy theories, mostly involving excessive Botox, like vengeful syphilis ridden sex workers. Some news channels, went  a step further, to recreate the damned last bath with morphed images of the actress. Everyone wanted a piece of the coverage, even if it meant the bereaved family’s peace of mind was collateral.

The human code of conduct is a constantly evolving doctrine— that exists parallel and within the subjective law of the land — kept abreast with evolving understanding of rights and wrongs, with some taboos that’re alone eternally carved in stone like- no incest, no cannibalism, no non consensual intercourse and no drawing pleasure from a death to name a few. While the rights and wrongs are to make the world a better place to live, the taboos are intended at keeping away the primordial chaos that existed in the caves.

That’s exactly what got me worried about with the coverage of Sridevi’s death. The violation of a taboo that wasn’t to be slighted with. And the tumbling standard in humanity that ensued. Yes, her metier was mainstream and vanity prone. She was a fascinating creature. A seductress who drove hordes of men and gentlemen into weak knees and sweaty indiscretions over two generations. Such actresses and their personal lives are prone to constant public discourse and curiosity, agreed. It’s okay to be inundated by the heights of their irony tower from the streets. Even mock its dwellers out of envy.  No tectonic plates dislocate. But that card isn’t a hall-pass to orchestrate a mocking circus over a funeral. As much as we would swear to the contrary, wealth and fame no matter how much, fail to insulate one’s family from the sting of their demise.

Mind you, these are not naive snafus to be overlooked as uncouth behavior. These are major red flags that mark the breaking point of a morally infertile generation, on the cusp of degeneration. Of slipping human values, like turds of a wet rock. Of the constant inorganic labour to make everything cool. Of the inexplicable itch to make a meme out of a monument. Of  endlessly looking over the shoulder,  with little room for introspection. Violating a dead person’s dignity is not much different from rape. We don’t need to guilt trip. We don’t need to debate. We just need to ruminate on the acceptability of our behavior. And if we feel don’t feel that proud,it’s about time we change. For karma is a bitch that’s been around since the time of dinosaurs.

Arjun Reddy- The anatomy of a heart break

His suffering is personal, let him suffer.”, Arjun’s grandmother tells midway into the latter portion of the movie. That pretty much is the length and breadth of Arjun Reddy, a cinematic ode to yet another romantic left high and dry. Just that he isn’t yet another guy. And this ain’t yet another chronological account of his self destruction that ensues a failed relation.
AR is one of the rare movies that serves as an epitome, bottling up the personality of its protagonist. Like him, its rough on the edges, uncouth without an iota of polish or political correctness. It’s a rugged, in the face account of a hopeless romantic with a constant inebriation to suffering.

His entitlement exists in this fleeting space between self respect and ego. And his state of mind keeps see sawing from self pity to self loathing.In Arjun we get a rare tragic hero, whose idealism doesn’t end with the matter of hearts alone, but trickles to ickier spots of everyday life. Like his unreasonable expectation of ‘dignity’ of non commitment in a heated moment with an attractive woman. Or the brutal show of honesty in a career ending juncture that puts his backers in a spot of bother. These are moments that don’t exist to persuade us to agree with this guy. If anything, they make you loathe him more. But by now you’ve become privy to the suffering he inflicts as an ointment on his wounded soul. While empathizing with his close ones who’re pulled along like rag dolls in this masochistic pursuit.

We’ve got quite a lot of films that’ve come out of this ecosystem, but none get as down and dirty with the psyche of a heartbroken soul as AR does. While most movies trace this downward spiral of a breakup from an objective fly on the wall perspective, AR abruptly drops us in the middle of his lonely world, devoid of a modicum of humor,hope or purpose. We get a panoramic view of this handcrafted hell of his, with the life of his friends, family and his pet even, being torn apart as collateral damage.

The love story that plays as a flashback is whiff of fresh air. It’s an imperfect love story between two incongruent young things. For once between a better looking guy and an ordinary girl. She’s timid, he’s flamboyant.  He exudes attitude, if not cigarette smoke. She well, contemplates and breathes. The contrast between them keeps piling up as their unusual chemistry begins to manifest. There are innocent moments in this portions like the awkwardness that precedes their first kiss. They’re seated next to each other. Fingers entangle in an undramatic way. And he changes position to make his legs face her, only before adjusting his inners along with the jeans from his crack. Then the first kiss trickles. The next one. And the next one, before the dam breaks in a series of montages.

For a movie intending to serve as an ode to torn hearts and fractured souls, AR effortlessly oozes so much spunk and attitude. Mind you, it’s not the usual showboating you find in such auteuristic attempts, but aesthetic appeal that comes organically from dexterity of scene conceivement and unconventional character arcs. Take for instance, a scene in the present where Arjun’s shown smoking in his dingy living room with heavy metal in the background, that segues seamlessly in the music of his Enfield’s engine in an episode from the past.

It’s refreshing to see a movie operating in the old-wine-in-a-new-bottle territory with such panache, moulding every aspect of its narrative from a clay chaster than cliche- a cool granny with an unconventional perspective to things, a conservative brother who beats up in a show of concern, a girl who continues with her extended awkward hug with scant regard to the guy’s growing discomfort, the wallowing friend who looks for his friend’s sign off on his romance days before his marriage , the college gang war that ends in a cigarette and not to mention the man who solicits sex from random women as “physical help” to his ailing heart.

AR feels like a doff of hat to everyone who’s ever been in a self respecting relationship once and seen it burn before them into unrecognizable pieces of nostalgia, only to be locked in a distant part of their memory. It celebrates the purity of those painful bouts of churn in the stomach. The morning awakenings to the eternal gloom of nothingness. The alcohol soaked mind trips. The condescension of every seemingly functional relationship around for the want of a better sport. The friend who babysat with blind eyes and deaf ears to each and every shenanigan. The glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. And the long drawn out redemption. AR is a colossus to the bitter sweetness of love failures. An eulogy of sorts to the deceased love story, buried deep within.

Roast of Vivegam

Earlier on in the movie, Ajith aka Thala ambushes an international weapons exchange in a tent, between an American and an European( on the basis of their appearance alone). Set to the tune of a grungy score, the sepia reflection from the explosions outside accentuate his silhouette sincerely from head to toe, when one of the alarmed men ask him who he is.

That’s enough for him to break into one of the many unhurried existential koans in chaste Tamil, with scant regard to the understanding of his audience in the tent or us.
Moments later he’s surrounded on top of a dam from all directions by an army of hundreds of gun men— mind you, all true blue pale skinned foreigners — when he again begins to talk to himself, probably in an endeavor at breaking the fourth wall about why one can never lose till he “never ever gives up”. Healthy life policy alright. But why did he have to enunciate so languorously, such pearls of wisdom in Tamil from an era Valluvar was yet to hit puberty; that too in the midst of a firangi military ambush?

Such misplaced lines in ill placed situations isn’t the only problem with Vivegam. Thing is it wants to do too many at once. Be a bondesque spy thriller, a spousal relationship manual, motivational material and fodder for humor, that comes dead on arrival.
Take for instance the continuous reiteration of the chemistry between Yazhini and AK. The stretch involving her packing his clothes voluntarily for a mission is point enough to reassert their compatibility. Especially in what is striving to be a taut spy thriller, where she essentially serves as a light subplot to humanise our protagonist. But she keeps popping up from time to time like a malicious pop up from a recently closed porn site, during bike chases to enquire about his well being. During gun shoots, where he’s hanging by a branch to confirm his time of arrival. And in the finale, to sing along to enliven a hand to hand combat. I won’t be surprised if over time, Vivegam makes its way to recommended therapy in marriage counselling.

Also the director doesn’t believe in the basic intelligence of the audience or in the concept of leaving some things to their imagination. Most of the scenes play like three dimensional power point presentations. So for example if a character talks about poverty you see a slab of a poor naked child on the left bottom of the screen. Or if they’re talking about earthquake you see an earthquake GIF following solicitously. Imagine a graphically created phoenix glide across the screen, on the prompt of “phoenix” as a subtle metaphor of our hero.

Vivegam is also one of those times you feel like you’re in the front row of a “spoken tamil” class, with participants from Gujarat, Pakistan, America and Africa competing with one other to mangle the language to an unrecognizable extent. The sheer unintentional fun of seeing Vivek Oberoi converse in Tamil, in a post coital tone with Ajith is alone worth the price of the ticket.

Vedalam, the previous collaboration of this duo was no masterpiece, but it had a lot of money shots for the die hards. It was content with providing lousy entertainment, with little regard to both, subtlety or logic. It’s genre let it leverage its star’s wattage to expand to the hilt within the milieu. But Vivegam strives at every step to subvert the spy genre to the “mass” sensibility, while ensuring that the fans of the star are tickled enough.
So there are these mandatory montages of sugar/BP induced slo-mo long strolls which have become typical of this actor; public safety awareness messages sandwiching every action block and the hapless central villain diligently servicing the hallow behind our hero in each board room conversation with his nefarious colleagues. Vivek Oberoi does the honours, mouthing these campy lines with little remorse, with the expression of a freshly minted dad outside a maternity ward.

Vivegam is a little way too verbose for a spy thriller. The thing is it would’ve been the same, even if it were a Visu film.

The rise and rise of 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, 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 slide 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 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 Thalapathy 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 Thalapathy. 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-an-eternal bread laid back dialogue delivery; the effortlessness dancing or the unbridled energy he brings to the loghter 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. But somehow this torn carpet 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 the 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 on, falls for him and the dad opposes him for scoring without his consent. In the process, he gets kicked out. How this simpleton turns into 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 who 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 colored ribbons flowing from both handle bars – to pick her up from the terminus 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.

While Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone had to undergo so much imaginative foreplay before they could get it on with 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 disturbs me to this very day is the girl child that was cast 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 male progeny. And the cutesy of this bewigged kid while referring 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 the father who nabs the perpetrator by a mere sniff. Yeah, just sniffing.He remembers the scent of a perfume and conservatively narrows in on the only person in the entire village of three lakh odd people, to use it. Movie comes to an end with this deduction. 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!