Vivegam- The spy who talks too much

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 orange 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.
Moments later he’s surrounded on top of a dam from all directions by an army of hundreds of gun men—mind you, all westerners — 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 right. But why did he have to enunciate languorously, such pearls of wisdom in Tamil from an era Valluvar was yet to hit puberty; that too in the midst of a blonde military ambush?

Such misplaced lines in ill placed situations isn’t the only problem of Vivegam. Thing is it wants to do too many. Or should I say, serve as too many things at once- 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 spy thriller, where she essentially serves as a light subplot to wink. 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 in tandem to a hand to hand combat. I won’t be surprised if 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 the word “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.

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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. This torn carpet like treatment at home doesn’t seem to deter his appetite( as can be seen by the size of shirts, ample enough to camp refugees) or his uncontested reverence for his betel nut chewing father with a static wig. A woman he loves dumps him. Another woman looking for a loser to run a social experiment falls for him and the dad opposes him for scoring without his consent. In the process, he gets kicked out. How he becomes a Bill Gates and reunites with his disrespectful dad is the rest of the movie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.
.

Mani Ratnam- A master of imitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Vishwaroopam story

This isn’t about Kamal Hasan’s acting prowess, this isn’t about his legion of hardcore fans including me nor is it a factual dissection of the controversy over the ban on the film-Vishwaroopam. This is a memoir of the travails I undertook to make sure I watched the movie at any cost and the myriad experiences that ran across the mind asserting my relation with my matinee idol over the years as the miles in the journey kept multiplying with my bank balance and luck dwindling at a disturbing rate.

My dad had recommended a book called “The Secret” which talks about how the entire universe conspires to make you get what you desire, If you desire it from the bottom of your heart. I got to understand this concept explained in the book through this trip, though not pretty sure about how proud my dad would be about where I applied the same.

The Beginning:
Bookings for the movie set to release on the 25th starts as early as 18th night and before I could get a hold of myself, adrenaline gets the better of me and I end up booking for all five shows for the First Day(ironically I’m not a patron of the concept of overtime in work front).

As the release day nears the guilt of abysmal showing in my recently concluded exams gets dwarfed by Thalaivar hysteria from within and outside. That’s when the ban on the movie happens, as a micro mini section of anti-social elements get offended by their fantasy of the yet to be released movie being anti-them. Suddenly I’m a victim of animosity towards anyone from that community. Maybe that’s how a seasoned rationalist turns into a extremist in a jiffy for a strong personal reason, reasons my inner voice. All the lessons on democracy during the economics period from school time suddenly seem like an exercise on redundancy in a country filled with “touch-me nots” who have their individual remote controls to obstruct democracy.

It does always help to have wise friends with dated sense of humour at times of crisis, the inferno within cools down paving way for logical alternatives to tackle the ape of a mind from misbehaving. So I thought of the following course of actions to take:

Alternate #1 : Go on social networking sites, indulge in some finger pointing, get into some nasty arguments , express views, quote situational lyrics from the movie’s title track and feel self gratified like participating in WWE through play stations.

Alternate #2: For a person, who I look upto as my ideological Godfather would spitting into a common pool to show solidarity suffice or should I do something more worthwhile to show my love & respect. The Mission Telugu land is born!

MISSION TELUGU LAND- CHENNAI→VIJAYAWADA→HYDERABAD→NELLORE→ DISAPPOINTMENT→BACK HOME→PROUDER FAN

Along with my fellow kamalians- Naresh & Gautham, I embark on an overnight trip to Hyderabad where the movie is set to release. The air of mutual ridicule for this insanely mad decision makes way for typical hitting below the belt- guys banter with least regard to a senior citizen’s presence in the opposite berth in our lush sleeper coach heading to Vijayawada.
The news of the movie not releasing in Hyderabad reaches Vijayawada before our bus does. Over breakfast we brainstorm in unison to arrive at a decision to leave to Nellore from there to watch the movie after checking the schedules there.(god bless the visionary who made the cellphone smart with “apps” galore.)
Crusaders-I wouldn’t flatter ourselves, madmen- we almost were there….but diehards-we totally fitted the bill! Why else would this logistical/economical nightmare be vetoed by adults trained to advise other people on how to plan their finance?!
Thus we were enroute Nellore on a bus, which could best be described as one with moderate locomotive abilities on two and a half wheels. Trusting our karma more than the greenhorn driver who was parallelly evolving into a full fledged driver with every passing Kilometre all of us took a power nap.
My subconscious mind gets questioned in my sleep by my brain’s logical side as to whether this pointless madness is worth it?! Offended, my subconscious mind takes me down my memory lane to my first year in the world-Where am I??….I’m in a dark theatre playing some movie disturbing audience rightfully like every newborn does by crying. Crying stops suddenly when a face appears on the large screen- It is Kamal Hasan & that’s where the eternal connection began ,at Aboorva Sagotharargal in Kasi Theatre.

Bent on proving the brain’s conclusion erroneous, my subconscious mind takes me to my first few years as a kid & what did I do as toddler- chose a video cassette of “Singaravelan” over Funskool products unlike my fellow toddlers of that era. During my formative years, that movie was my alarm clock,routine, break from routine, my bribe for having healthy average tasting food and my lullaby.Had I watched “Thuruvilaiyadal” that many times instead,I might have had a limited edition pass to Mt Kailash to rendezvous with Lord Shiva.
I wake up as proud Kamalian after revelations from the ‘brain vs sub-conscious mind’ showdown in my memory lane.

We reach Nellore with the contingency looming large over the movie’s release yet again. Still we make it to the theatre expecting the nature to conspire some miracle out of the blue in honour of our persistence, but like acquaintances of a sinking patient outside the ICU we were getting prepared for the bad news.As expected the movie’s released got stalled & we had to return back to Chennai, heavier than when we left with bundles of disappointment.
Just when everyone around us thought the madness has settled down, the news of the movie releasing in Bangalore on Sunday come as whiff of fresh air to a panting sprinter. We wanted to go as the same group again, but Naresh had an “official” reason to back out of our road trip on Sunday. So this time around the wolf pack consisted of just Gautham and me & thus was born Mission Bengaluru!!

MISSION BENGALURU-
CHENNAI→BENGALURU→VISHROOPA DARISANAM→BACK HOME→MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Our road trip begins in the nocturnal hours of Sunday, with Gautham driving his Girl friend equivalent i20 to the tunes of Vishwaroopam songs playing in endless loops. “God(Krishna) I pray to you that to give strength to my Thalaivar at these testing times and make sure the movie releases this time for sure in Bengaluru”.

Wait a sec…God!…thinking about God my mind slips into another purposeful trip down the memory lane as I fall asleep with Vishwaroopam songs being replaced by a pretentious tamil rap song with notorious lyrics likening girlfriends to various home appliances.

Where am I this time and what am I upto??….I’m with my uncle amidst a group of saffron kurta clad “sadhus” and septuagenarians on a seemingly endless pilgrimage(that I was arm twisted to attend in return for a fancy gear cycle), hopping from one holy place to another in pursuit of God within, paradoxically! This was our modus operandi in every place-The Guruji discusses the pastimes of the regional version of God in each respective Dham(religious place). This was followed by a graphical account of unfortunate demises of the Demons at the Lord’s hand and the metaphor of Demon used to describe normal civilians indulged in materialistic activities (such as going to office, driving a car, loving one’s family, eating onion and garlic, watching movies) and the dire consequences they had to face for their blasphemy in hell after life. The motto of the pilgrimage was to regard loving God as the highest purpose of our lives.

Then the event that would change my opinion on God forever happens- “Anbe Sivam” releases. The question I was looking for an answer throughout the entire duration of the pilgrimage gets a strong answer-“Love is God!”The ideals of the protagonist deeply get embedded in me forever. The religious accessories and rigmarole become redundant to me forever. Post that movie-I still love God….but I learn to see him in acts of love and stopped seeing harmless onions and cars as apostles of Satan.

I wake up to the revelations about my retrieved reformation from a God fearing person to a God loving one as we breeze into the beautiful city of Bengaluru.
We reach a multiplex with a not so subtle name called “Rockline Cinemas” and yes,the schedules are very much on-the forbidden fruit is available on platter and we succeed finally-Vishwaroopam it is!

The movie begins to play as we are unable to handle the over dosage of excitement flowing in our nerves, Thalaivar manifests on screen and our primal alter ego takes over and we jump and scream like how a marooned man would at the sight of a ship as the cosmetic layer of civilisation detaches paving way for the organic alter ego!!

Then the epic action sequence that gave me my sore throat happened in which Thalaivar performs high voltage stunts in a set piece which alone was worth the ticket price ….I gave my loudest cheer ever and lost my voice temporarily.
Then we returned back home, heavier than when we left….but this time with bundles of contentment notwithstanding the hoarse timber of my voice and my amateur attempts at dumb charades.

Under normal circumstances the trips we embark on usually take us to destination from where the places and people remain etched in our memory, but there are those rare trips where our mind takes a nostalgic road trip across various phases of our lives, blurring out every material manifestation we came across in that trip. This trip would always belong to the latter category, a prized memento in my memory trove reminding me of a time where I made inferences listening to my inner self.

I have experienced sore throat a million times in my life as a result of excessive indulgence in menial cold things like ice creams and cold drinks, but this sore throat took was memorable and would remain a cornerstone event of the year 2013 in my life forever, thanks to Thalaivar for the events that culminated to it.

Forgotten Classics-RAJAPAARVAI & GUNA

 

Nayagan,Thevar Magan, Mahanadi, Anbe Sivam are some of the movies which come to our minds when making connoisseur statements to a friend wearing Forrest Gump or Shawshank Redemption as a badge of honour on a lackadaisical Saturday night one upmanship, ensconced in the Kamal Hasan hall of fame. The realm of cinema is no exception to the adage-” While success as flawed as it is, has got many fathers.Failure as opulent as it may be, more often than not is an orphan”


This piece is about  his relatively underrated masterpieces-RajaPaarvai & Guna, which despite featuring in the sanctum sanctorum of many a movie lover’s collection including me for posterity, failed at the box office and went on to be inundated in the shadow of popular cinema in the coming years. 


RAJAPAARVAI:

Right from the oxymoronic title which translates to “Royal Vision” for a story about a blind man, this movie is as audacious as endearing classics get. This 100th film of Hasan that also marked his directorial debut is a story of a blind violinist played inimitably by Hasan himself who sees the world pompously, perched in the throne of his mind’s eye, hence the title.

This movie is a sort of an antithesis of the usual tropes of a disability movie, right from the gratuitous sympathetic-romantic angle, vulnerable protaganist and a melancholic finale intended at leaving a lump in the throat of the viewer.

Here, the protaganist is infact a narcissistic-brat, who’s made a daily routine out of intimidating naive people trying to lend him a helping hand,with his self assured-brash candour. To him, his self respect is the crutch he latches on to walk equally among normal men and gratuitous sympathy bestowed upon notwithstanding the genuinity, is the blindness that reminds him about his disability. The way he effortlessly wears his blindness like a crumpled shirt, is by far one of the coolest perspectives of the condition.

The movie is about how he ends up falling in love with a woman, who deconstructs his fortress of inaccessibility built upon misconceptions and insecurities, brick by brick while awakening to her own self discovery in the process of being his eyes.



GUNA:

This movie is about a senile man’s mission towards his soulmate-Abirami,a namesake from folklore of his formative years.Raised by a mother, a prostitute in the backdrop of rampant fleshtrade, Guna believes Abirami to be his route to salvation. Shuttling between an asylum and the custodianship of his maternal uncle who uses him for small thefts, he finally happens to come across his Abirami in an affluent girl while in a temple as a part of a heist. The divine trance he breaks into at her first sight, is put across in one of the most poetic cinematic depictions, with acting in it’s most unadulterated form punctuated to the mellifluous composition of Ilaiyaraja.

The next time he bumps into her, he kidnaps her to a dilapidated mansion on the top of  a relatively virgin part of a hilltop. From here on, the movie unfolds from the girl’s perspective with her being wary of his delusional ways at the outset, to go on to endear the obsessive love from the hooligan, an amenity that had eluded her affluence till then. 

In this set up, with mountains, wild vegetation and five sensed creatures for company, she reciprocates his primal love, with every layer of her sophistication peeling away to make her revel in the same pedestal as him, her maverick soulmate with brain of an eight year old.    
There’s this beautiful sequence in the movie before the finale, where Guna wants to write a letter to his love, Abirami but is an illiterate who can’t write. So he dictates this letter addressed to her, to her to write. This leads to the evergreen song-Kanmani Anbodu , which she sets to tune while writing to herself as dictated by him.In the end, with the ground below their relation shrinking with every passing moment with challenges galore, they jump off the cliff , to eternally be united at a place, elsewhere.





Timeless onscreen romances

Love should probably be the most inexplicable emotion ever fathomed by human mind. Imagine something which could be the vast universe and the speck rogue comet.Love is exactly that. It’s meaning could be exhaustive, accommodating the entire gamut of emotions and at the same time compact enough to be conveyed with a blushing cheek.

It could be complex enough to remain undecipherable over a life time; 

Simple enough to be mastered before puberty. 

It could elude with the deceit of a downpour evading a famine hit land;

While endlessly rain into overflowing tanks. 

A ruthless miser to some;

An indiscreet philanthropist to some other.

An intoxicant to some;

An inspiration to some other

A irrevocable injury on some; 

An antidote to some other. 

A permanent scar on some;

A badge of honor on some other.

A mirror to one’s soul to some;

The wall before the mirror to some other.


I’m this sort of a person who talks in movie metaphors over dinner table conversation. Also, most of my learning and epiphanies have happened at the behest of moving images.This piece is an effort at enlisting some manifestations of love; in all it’s glory through some celluloid cult classics that’ve intrigued and inspired me to write this.


Ennu Ninte Moideen
 is based on a real life story that happened in a rampantly casteist Kerala. It eulogises the trials and tribulations of Moideen(a muslim) to win the hands of his beloved love interest,Kanchamala(a hindu) for over a span of close to three decades;that only saw their love accrue endlessly . Fate mercilessly conspired in their lives- as the sharp end of the stabbing father’s hand. As the apathy of casteist parents who dug their heels deeply in their respective stances. Finally as the the whirlpool, that dragged him to his death. Kanchanamala till date leads a celibate life as Moideen‘s widowed wife.


Vicky Cristina Barcelona
presents love in it’s enigmatic opulence. It tells the story of two friends, Vicky and Cristina,who fall in love with the same man; who’s life is already spiced up by the tantrums of a reclusive wife. Narrated with characteristic Woody Allen nonchalance, this movie makes a passive endorsement to bohemian sensibilities of a man’s ability to love two women at the same time with fervent reciprocation. It uncannily portrays how soulmates compliment and complete each other.

What starts as a promiscuous pursuit; turns into a endearing masterpiece that manages to make one actually root for the threesome.


Punnagai Mannan
 celebrates the redemption aspect of romance.It reiterates the fact that every end ushers a new beginning sooner or later. It narrates the story of a guilt ridden guy, who happens to accidentally survive a suicidal leap with his lover that consumes her life. With the passage of time,another woman walks in to his life from the same place he tried to end it once. She inspires him to love again.He resists and then eventually reciprocates back.After all,light at the end of the tunnel needn’t be of a fast approaching train’s everytime.The movie ends on a tragic note, with the couple getting killed in a freak accident in the same suicidal cliff that the story began from. A testimony to irony, that  fro the jaws of death and killed him at the threshold of another beginning.


Titanic
is a tragedy; which talks about the conspiracy of fate in one’s life. It brings Jack, a lowlife on board of one of the most ambitious vessels built, the infallibly perceived Titanic. Over the course of journey he happens to fall in love with the aristocratic Rose who’s ruing over her engagement. Their lopsided romance grows from strength to strength with every passing mile sailed, for fate to play spoilsport in the form of an iceberg that breaks the vessel and their relationship. Every time the movie plays, our hearts sink along with Jack and the plank.


The Holiday
is about two lovelorn women, Iris and Amanda who swap homes to hold their lives from crumbling apart.The movie traces the journey to their self discovery in the process of finding love in their new homes. It talks about the impact of travel and nature on widening a person’s perspective. The movie’s soul is surmised in this wonderful monologue by a teary-eyed Iris reminiscing about her failed relation-

“I understand feeling as small and as insignificant as humanly possible. And how it can actually ache in places you didn’t know you had inside you. And it doesn’t matter how many new haircuts you get, or gyms you join, or how many glasses of chardonnay you drink with your girlfriends… you still go to bed every night going over every detail and wonder what you did wrong or how you could have misunderstood. And how in the hell for that brief moment you could think that you were that happy. And sometimes you can even convince yourself that he’ll see the light and show up at your door. And after all that, however long all that may be, you’ll go somewhere new. And you’ll meet people who make you feel worthwhile again. And little pieces of your soul will finally come back. And all that fuzzy stuff, those years of your life that you wasted, that will eventually begin to fade.”