Vada Chennai- A fable of Karma,destiny, cause and effect

My face was gleaming with that radiance as I was walking out of Vada Chennai, which usually comes at the end of an overwhelming piece of cinema. It was delicious. I hadn’t felt this content in a while at the cinemas. On the way back, as the high had subsided, I was musing on the myriad blood dripping episodes, over and over again. There was just one underlying thread, one direction all the chaos condensed towards; an overarching motif- Karma. Suddenly the tea bag I had appropriated from the office pantry seemed like a bad idea.

To me, Karma has always been this Utopian watchdog fantasy propogated by a bunch of altruists to keep anarchy at bay. Do good, you’ll be done good. Fuck up, Karma will chase you like a rabied dog to bite you back. This LHS equals RHS— sooner or later —symetry of dividend accruing over deeds seemed too mythological for my vision, that’s been trained in the commonplace of “nows” and “hows”. But Vada Chennai got me pondering, what with the history repeating with the unhurried fuss of shifting tectonic plates. Every event not only has a cause and effect, but with time goes on to cause and effect something or someone else. Like a grand betrayal of a bunch of cohortst that ebbs into a gory murder. None of them, aware enough about what they’ve set to motion. All of them do go on to graze greener pastures at the other end of this severe moral compromise, but not at the price they had set aside. Each of them gets earmarked, sized up from the moment they betrayed; swung their knives. The backstabber begets a backstabber, both literally and figuratively. A casual stabber casually gets stabbed back in time. The once underdog opposers of the establishment eventually go on to become one, to only find themselves opposed, again by an underdog. Every happening in the present, seems to be an echo from the past. Even the seemingly insignificant domestic designs- like the timid younger brother of a numero uno or the self reference to an anchor at the end of a tussle with a cop. The stray events that seem so, at least when they occur, go on to form meticulous cogs in an unforgetting wheel. Seen in retrospect, after the storm settles, it all seems like a part of an elaborate, dense design put together by destiny ever so slowly, that we don’t really know the sea bed these sediments were coming together for.

Who knew I would end up walking out with a new found reverence for Karma after a gangster flick. But that’s what god cinema does, it surprises you in ways you can’t imagine. It lends fresh perspective to predispositions. It becomes cathartic. And what better way to learn life, than as a mute witness to the life of others.  Thank you Vetrimaaran for sharing this epic tale of love, betrayal, revenge and self discovery, Karma feels like a fathomable poetic justice, not the alien eastern promise it used to be.

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Kamal Haasan- The star finally descends from his sky

I remember the night before the bookings opened for the first Vishwaroopam. Trust me, it was a bloodbath and in a matter of few minutes the entire weekend including Monday was sold out. People who tried getting tickets for the first weekend in any self respecting theatre in Chennai would agree with me. Friends and acquaintances were in touch with one another over phone to see if there was an eleventh hour ticket favour to extract. As Aandavar fans, it was both, a proud and restless time to be. The movie hadn’t released in the state for an entire week, but the reviews from overseas(where it had released) were overwhelmingly positive. It was embroiled in convoluted controversies, political and religious, with the ruling govt and several fringe outfits. But ask any fanboy of the actor who has been around long enough, he would vouch that this was the kind of trailer that generally precedes a storm in the theatres. Some memories from this phase would go on to bookmark this chapter as an extremely special one, as far as crazy display of love for a star goes. Like the powerful speech by the man himself from his Alwarpet office’s terrace, addressing an angry crowd of loyalists to keep calm and disburse. Or the fact that thousands— like yours truly, who were too lazy to cast vote in a polling booth next door —went to other states to catch a dekho, for we just couldn’t just afford to see him vulnerable and helpless. We were the minions chipping in to move the mountain for him. Unsurprisingly, these glitches didn’t deter the hype and earth shattering response it got at the ticket windows, when it finally released in the state. The lines from the title track,”Thadaigalai Vendre, Sarithiram padaipavan, Gyanabagam Varugiradha” assumed a gravitas beyond the context of the film.

This part of the world, we celebrate….scratch that, worship our movie stars as demigods if the endless shower of milk on fifty feet cutouts are anything to go by. We like them in their abodes as inaccessible larger than life beings, who come alive only in their 70MM extensions sporadically, which we catch a glimpse of at ungodly hours in the dark of nondescript theatres. That’s the reason for the fourth wall breaking dialogues and winks to exist in these star vehicles. Not as devices to further the story’s cause, but to ensure that the theatrical experience is an endorphin addled affair.
While in most parts of the world, movies are merely a source of entertainment and an exercise to pass time; here they’re that and a lot more. They’re extremely personal. They’re personality forming devices, that lend dimensions to other wise modest men with nothing home to write about. Ask the millenials, we would tell you what being a Kamal fan meant to a friend who was a Rajni fan and vice versa. Often than not, a room with the two of them felt like a pressure cooker about to burst upon. These weren’t mere individuals who wore make up and took up pseudonyms in front of the camera. They stood for a certain preference in art form. A certain sensibility. And the cold war between the two legions were largely, two school of thoughts coming against each other in an never ending one-upmanship, veiled on the surface as hits vs flops and expletives conversations. At the heart of all this, was the fact that the two stars in question, were in a distant sky from where they would descend to the silver screens to compete and at times interact with one other, through their movies and fans. Beyond this they existed through their songs and popular lines, scripting popular culture in tandem with their whims and fancies. They wouldn’t give interviews. Their public appearances were few and far between. They wouldn’t put their weight behind commercial brands like their peers in the north. Only information available to their respective core constituencies were through grapevine and unverified gossip, leaving everything else to one’s imagination; endowing them with an enigmatic aura. While one did everything to keep this intact, the other did everything in his power to break away from the mould.

In a culture of worship, the God remains ensconced in the sanctum sanctorum, while his devotees form a beeline outside to catch a glimpse. This status quo changes, the moment the God steps out to the streets. The paradigm changes. No more do they need to look up to someone who’s amongst them. He becomes amythical. His accessibility dissolves their devotion. And the religion crumbles.

For ardent followers like me, this phase that started a few years ago, came as a surprise when the hitherto elusive star started opening up, in fact a little too much. There was a time I remember, when I had to wait for a rare cover story in Vikatan to get a glimpse of his recent looks in a film or his two cents on an issue. Since I couldn’t read in Tamil that fluently and it was a Haasan interview, I remember asking my grandma to do the honours. It all started I guess, when he came on Super Singer. Seeing him in that program felt inexplicably wrong. His king size stature felt bizarre and out of place in a show involving amateur singers. The idea behind it was so uncanny. The thought that the Kamal Haasan needed a prime time slot in a household show, to reach to the masses felt redundant and unsettling. I slighted it as an one off occurence. But more was to come.

He was at every other film event or they happened in his backyard, quite literally. Then Twitter happened or he happened to it. And endless chaste Tamil/English limericks and cryptic tweets starting making their way into our timelines. From talking about him on social media, to talking to him there; it had come a full circle. From inhabiting our imagination, to leaving nothing to it, my God had stepped out of the sanctum sanctorum. From then on it’s been a slow painful exercise in alienation and detriment. First we got to see him in an hitherto unseen ad campaign for Pothy’s. Then came the advent into small screen with Big Boss, a show designed as an antithesis for everything his body of work stood for. He was ubiquitous- in posters, hoardings, TV spots and newspapers, only that this time, none of this marketing avalanche concerned a film starring him. Then came the last straw, his political entry. Whatever little was left of that once comet-sized aura, was gone. Call it a job hazard, but he was available in every district  and on every stage in it; every terminal and every memorial. Switch on the TV, he was there. Switch it off, he was there on Youtube. Come out of it, he was tweeting about an ongoing crisis. And like that, my favourite star-mentor was doing everything in his power to dismantle the halo around his head.

No wonder, the bookings for Vishwaroopam-2 were lacklustre at the ticket windows. I was appalled to see the movie open with a video about his poltiical party. This was not the Kamal I revered. It was the first show and the theatre was brimming with die hard fans, who were waiting to wolf whistle at his first appearance; which came in the form of a three minute documentary of his recent political outings. By the time his character, Wizam appeared onscreen the steam had already run out. Maybe like the movie, this phase is also a sequel starring the star of the first film, but with an altogether different stature and a different role to play. It was after all natural for the Sun to set on this horizon as well, just that it took close to six decades for the evening to come.

 

Roast of Kaala

We’ve often seen visual metaphors employed in great movies as a narrative device, to drive home a thought or reflect a state of mind through images alone- like a dried up pond to depict lack of prosperity or an insect caught in a spider web when a character’s caught in a convoluted mess. Then we have the not so subtle ones like a dog seated under a table standing in for an underdog. Kaala falls under this category. Rajni’s Kaala is constantly seen in a black sabari malai costume. He’s constantly sporting a pair of shades and even drives a black jeep while talking things like “Uzhaippin vanam karuppu“(Colour of labour is black). This excess doesn’t stop here, but goes on to become a character defining tool throughout the running time. All white skinned folks that show up onscreen— men, mongrels and idlis —are bad, vulgar, close minded and racist; while the dark skinned ones are hard working good Samaritans, extremely broad minded and liberal. And most importantly, apostles of dravidianism.

The movie feels like those drowsy post lunch history periods in school. In fact it opens with one such anthropological AV, which resembles those state govt sponsored documentaries  that played in single screens to get electrical subsidies.

To the movie’s credit it constantly keeps trying to reinvent the wheel, but often than not keeps finding itself in the “unintentionally funny” territory. Take this for instance, a bunch of nondescript dudes show up to rap jack-shit, every time someone’s murdered graphically. We’re shown a suspended corpse of a young bloke, moments later to only see this motley bunch, agony rap below the very post he’s hung from. Leave the fact that this neither turns out cool nor novel, but the very idea feels very wrong and inappropriate, like the thought of Kamal preceding over a Ganapathi Homam.

Another thing that got me curious was the love track between Rajni and Huma Qureshi. What’s it with Ranjith and the recurring motif of estranged elder couples. If Kabali focused on a separated husband and wife, who later unite to the tune of Mayanadhi, this one pedals the unrequited romance in Kaala’s life. Every time they cross paths— or for that matter even their neighbors or their dried clothes or pets — the Kannama track solicitously cues us to soak in the poetry of their epic tragedy, even if we’re just interested in checking our phones. This track feels like those complimentary welcome drinks that accompany a buffet, to only spoil the appetite.

Fascinating things happen through the course of movie(not in a nice way), that your head keeps oscillating from “what the fuck” to “yaaawwwnnn”. Agreed Dharavi is a microcosm of India, but here every character that pops out on the screen sounds like they’ve stepped out from different Mani Ratnam movies from different eras with weird ethnic accents.
Another such gem is that Hari dada apparently kills Kaala’s dad in front of his eyes in his wedding and still both of them go through an extremely polite meet and greet when they meet decades later. Not often do you see such big hearted compassion in a mainstream feature centred around a thug, who not just forgives, but offers a welcome drink to his father’s killer.

I’m all for looking at ancient folklore through the prism of today’s socio political ecosystem. This is a beautiful way to dust the cob webs, while keeping the core embalmed in relevance. Thalapathy did this. So did Rajneeti. While the protagonists were demigods and demons in their spirits, they came in the skins of flawed mortals. This made for a fascinating marriage between myth and mainstream. Storytelling was the sole focus behind these unions. These interpretations were removed of malice or mischief of any kind. Objectivity was the only scaffolding that held them together. They never were a artifice to drum out personal agenda or a pet prejudice. That’s what was the most hurtful part about Kaala. The Rama-Ravana play that goes with absolute prejudice. Dandakaranya Nagar, regular shots of Rama idol with dramatic musical cues from Conjuring movies. And the self referencing of Rajini as a one headed Ravana. The list goes on.It could’ve been an angry blog or a drunken stupor, but the fact that this was made as a mainstream theatrical greenlit by the mascot of “spiritual politics” has to be the among the biggest ironies of the decade.

The dravidian agenda gets doled out myopically, subverting the Ramayana from being good vs evil or even righteous husband vs his wife’s abductor to North vs South, Class vs Crass and white vs black, like the myth was only about these things leaving it like an orange sucked of all its pulp, to only be called bitter. A progressive Ravana as opposed to a chauvinistic Rama who expects women to touch his feet. The statement against centuries of patriarchy is an absolute necessity, but not in this fashion; not as a gun that pulls another bullet at the heart of the ideological another Hindu god. And the parallel narration of Ramayana in the climax as the Ravana personifying  Kaala, gets decimated head by head reeks of perversion and deep rooted hatred.

Okay, let’s leave aside the problematic sub texts and the reams of political incorrectness, does it at least work as a simple minded Rajni movie? No. The power play between him and the villain is lopsided, but not in the way we’re used to in a Rajini film. Every time he opposes Hari Dada, he gets pummeled down with greater force. He throws ego tantrums, the villain obliterates his family members like rag dolls. He warns the villain, the villain acknowledges with a bomb that reduces his dear hamlet to ashes and charred survivors. He takes the battle to the streets, the villain kills him over a early morning prayer without moving a finger. The moral victory they were going for in the end, comes almost as an ambiguous after thought.
Remember that iconic scene from Padayappa, where he pulls a swing from the ceiling. Now imagine the same scene had that swing fallen on Rajni’s head instead or had one of his sidekicks done it for him. Kaala essentially turns out as either this movie or that.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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

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.

 

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!

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.
.