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.

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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.”

Irudhisutru- field notes of a cinephile

 

“Sometimes honesty is a luxury most can’t afford”
-Kamal Hasan in Manmadan Ambu

The quote is the only take away from the otherwise hideous squib of a movie. It comes at a time when the detective played by Kamal fondly attests for the character of an actress he’d been spying upon, to her suspecting ex-fiancé played by Madhavan.
Honesty is a virtue elevated to the status of a luxury, thanks to the affordability attached to its practice.
At a time when well-articulated lies serve as ersatz diplomacy when most are content picking security over self-respect, convenience over correctness; feign bonhomie to stay relevant, cover conscience with brands & designation in the process carefully weeding out necessary friction of arguments and abuses; duplicity has become the order of the day, making honesty look like a celibacy vow.
Men who preserve their dignity without bowing at the altar of acceptance have become far and few, the endeavors of whom the system swats systematically with the neglect reserved to a fly.
This apartheid has left the tribe of honest men disgruntled in an island amidst a sea of naysayers, who practice political correctness as an uncontested religion. This is the space from which Prabhu operates to make peace with life.
He vrooms to Chennai on his bike, after being banished on account of sexual harassment charges albeit phony in pursuit of a champion to the tune of this song which epitomizes his spirit-
Sidu Sidu Sinam, Seerum Manam,
Ethirppugal Varum,  Muraithu Kadakkiren

Slithering with Anger, with a racing heart,
As hindrances arise, I drive by snaring at them.

Kadu Kadu Mugam, Kaayum Ratham
Kothi Kothithidum, Vaegam Edukkiraen

With a rugged face, my heated up blood
is boiling hot, as I speed up in my journey.

Paninthu Nadakkum Adimai Illai
Thanmaaname Balam

Not a slave to be oppressed,
My dignity is my strength.

Ithayam Maraikkum Udaikal Illai
Nirvaanamaai Manam

Not the one to disguise his heart’s desire,
has a straight and naked mind.

Poda Poda
Ennai Kattum Vilangillai
Poda Poda
Enakkenna Bayam Illai

Go on, Go on,
There is no handcuff to hold me down,
Go on, Go on,
I do not fear anyone.


Santhosh Narayanan’s score isn’t just a sore thumb sticking out for a chartbuster functionality kind of thing. But is rather organically woven through the narrative, content with being a faithful shadow that doesn’t aspire beyond the story’s movement.

Anger is the most traded currency in this movie about under dogs and misfits. Prabhu uses it to fence himself from people who he considers to be unworthy of his bandwidth. He uses it to keep slimy low lives at bay from his fence’s precincts. He uses it to conceal an indelible disappointment, like the one involving his wife dropping him like a bad habit for another man. He uses it to size up the tenacity of a protégé’s resilience at other times.
If anger was an appliance, he could easily be the most holistic user of the same.
Madhavan’s Prabhu sees right into men, peeling through every external veneering with scant reverence for either discretion or empathy. He sieves a person’s intention behind a display of their anger, for he only knows it too well to be an elaborate conceit through a life time of practice.
When he comes eye to eye with the purpose of his trip, a prodigious champion lurking in the foul-mouthed Madhi, a slum dwelling fish vendor who uses the same modus operandi as his-anger explosions to fight her motley of inner demons( insecurity, poverty, rejections); he recognizes a counterpart who goes on to become an unlikely soulmate.

So he takes her under his wings not charitably, but as a ticket to his long evaded redemption. He is no all-encompassing coach displaying cavity giving sweetness. And she is no empathizing balm to the soul either, for she embarrasses him to his end of endurance and bends him to the point of breakage. Yet he finds patience to see purpose in this train wreck, employing method to madness; managing to soften around her serrated edges; seeping from her psychological state to physical state of trust by the journey’s apogee.
Madhavan’s angry young man portrayal reminds one of Kamal Hasan’s from Punnagai Mannan which also involved a disgruntled mentor fighting his inner demons while coping with a hard nut protégé to handle. While Hasan’s dancer trainer was a failed recluse who looked up to romance as an institution to redeem, Madhavan’s Prabhu is a bohemian man who pukes at the sight of  moral values.
This journey is set like a proverbial taming of the shrew. Just that it is as much about the tamer’s learnings and shortcomings as the shrew’s. It isn’t a conventional culmination to a predictable destination. It’s about simmering tempers and expletives as a fond form of communication.
The two deploy emotions as a language itself like Neanderthals, making language to convey emotions seem like a run-of-the-mill inorganic process. You almost sweat from the heat of their non-verbal exchanges through the course of the movie.

It is one of those rare movies where character establishment isn’t an incidental technique to a larger scheme, but the very objective itself. It seemed to me like the boxing scenario, politics and sexual exploitation were rhetoric devices pulled off with aplomb only to vest the story with its dynamism.With due respect to the efforts that have gone in, even if it was about football and its ecosystem it would’ve left a similar impact.
For what left me with a sore throat as the end credits started rolling was the sight of a teary eyed Prabhu with a puppy dog look pining for Madhi’s embrace.
From being a dysfunctional womanizer who walks into an association meeting with a can of beer at the outset, to a vulnerable person who breaks down in the embrace of an honest woman in the end,  it is one of the most endearing stories of a flawed protagonist told on celluloid.

Thoongavanam- the movie that wasn’t

God! It was bloody good. I just couldn’t have enough of it. My facial hair felt validated. My adrenalin surge was making my fist pump endlessly into the desk adjoining the PC. The lurking fanboy finally had a reason to resurface with renewed vigour.
The “it” I’m talking about is the trailer of Thoongavanam. Boy was it lip-smacking with Thalaivar in amazing form, kicking some ass. A Taken it was going to be, I thought in Kamal style. Another one to go to the long list of masculinity-for-dummies manual alongside Satya and Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu, to name a few.
We all revere the mesmerising actor the man is. A rare breed who could own the screen without disturbing the aesthetics of the story movement; towering tall enough to not belittle the movie. His recent Papanasam being a case in point.

Coming back to Thoongavanam, I walked into the first show with great expectations. The promise the tease managed, the reveal couldn’t keep up. Every thing that caught my imagination in the trailer suddenly seemed like red herrings . What with every passing scene, I could palpably feel my fervency falling apart. Was the movie bad? No.
But was it just good enough to just not be bad? This was a Kamal Haasan movie after all. All of us know that the actors would be well casted and they wouldn’t disappoint. Likewise the technical aspects can be taken for granted to be top notch. So Thoongavanam had all these bare minimums fulfilled. But did the fans of the star have anything to root for like a Vedhalam which released alongside? No.

The reviews which floated around were extremely flattering with most calling it a wonderful remake of the French movie, Sleepless Night with major assertions towards the ‘justice’ it had done to the movie.
So, is it enough for a remake to just do ‘justice’ to its original. How relevant would such ardent submission be, if the original’s milieu was diametrically different from the remake’s. Not to mention the difference in sensibilities of the respective viewing demography.

Sleepless Night is a French movie that catered largely to European sensibilities when it released back in 2011.We are a population that adds tandoori chicken to make a pizza sell. If the number of manchurians and fried rice variants that’ve been imagined by our street food industry were to be patented, it would scar the Chinese for a lifetime.
The same holds true for celluloid adaptations of foreign origin movies too. The content clicks when nativity is addressed.
This is where this movie misses the mark by some distance. Taking the culinary metaphor of pizza further, the pizza needed some tandoori sauce and Indian herbs to become palatable on the Indian roads, but continued to be a rich-bland affair that belonged on the ovens of Milan still, but aspired for acceptance in Mylapore.

Let’s take the case of another Kamal classic- Avvaishanmugi which was adapted from an English classic itself, Mrs. Doubtfire.  The movie kept the central conceit intact, but had an independent existence without tampering with the core of the original.
The motley product of dispute, reasons, characters & props that the narrative deployed stayed local and relatable, steering it in a direction different from the original, making the movie speak in the language of the hoi polloi.
Mrs. Doubtfire was a classy affair with subtle situational humor. Avvaishanmugi on the other hand was its unabashed masala recreation that relied largely on dialogue based humor and the crowd pulling ability of its lead man. Whether it did justice to the original in its entirety is subjective. But what it managed to do justice to was far more consequential than that. It reached the story to a large audience, in the process seeping into popular culture. No wonder the movie was such a roaring success.

Thoongavanam’s a grim-long-faced affair unfolding in a night club, with grimmer adults on endless loops of hide-n-seek throughout its running time. It didn’t help that it released on Diwali, a festival that makes mincemeat of guilty pleasures. Where movies are expected to be run-of-the-mill escapist affairs in line with the popular mood, it didn’t help that it was a slow movie that had every character operating at a breakneck speed. Every cop and crook in the movie, run for their lives or to save a dependent’s in this convoluted plot involving multiple ratting in either camps. But neither do we connect to their desperation nor to the plot’s urgency to cut to the chase in every sequence.

Throughout the movie we’re shown Diwakar’s(Kamal) endless failed efforts to get to his kidnapped son. He’s head-butted, pushed and punched by stock characters whose names gratuitously roll in the end credits as “Extras”. They obviously wanted to throw some light on the lead man’s masochism, if not vulnerability. But end up celebrating his fallibility to an audience that had gathered in hordes to hoot and whistle, alienating them in the process.

The redemption does come in the end. But it’s too precise to invigorate any celebration and doesn’t even belong to its lead man. In the mainstream format, when a story takes a significant time to vividly paint the struggles of its lead man, but coughs his redemption out like a blemish in the end, it defies the very syntax of movie-making for the masses.


Commercial movie making is largely about making-believe than fact establishing. The leverage of exaggeration and the staging do the trick. Case in point being Emerich’s 2012, an apocalyptic movie that traces John Cusack and his family comfortably escaping from one natural disaster to another with breathtaking ease. The contrived escapes were a bigger spectacle of defiance than the disasters itself; playing the primal battle of man versus nature to the gallery.
A closer case being Liam Neeson’s Taken that resembles the plot of Thoongavanam to a large extent. Just that Neeson’s character is staged as an invincible one-man army. Something that Thoongavanam should’ve done. Something Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu aced. For who can forget the wolf whistles that went up the roof when Raghavan went,”Chinna Pasangala. Tha..Yaaru Kitta da vilayadringa?”
That was a movie for the masses. A star’s conversation with his fans.

Iraivi- a men chronicle about women

The story of goddesses can be told in a lot of fashions. It can be set in heaven, clearly delineated from hell-much like the virtues of the protagonist from the vices of her nemesis- in a “vanilla approach”. But a more effective modus operandi to celebrate her without propagandizing would be to set the milieu in the dungeons of hell; squinted from where the heaven would appear in all its glory at an inaccessible height. What better way to eulogize the Goddesses, than from the perspective of fallen gods.

Iraivi starts with montages of different women on the threshold of new beginnings-one making a  bucket list about the qualities of her ideal man; one hopefully about to get married to a film director despite her friend’s reiteration of the fraternity’s character(or the lack of it) and a widow in the midst of a passionate intercourse with a man; who she objectifies to just be her dildo-all of them separated by aspirations, united by rain.

The movie is not a  “baptism by womenhood” sort of affair.Infact on the contrary it is an endeavour at establishing them to be flawed contemporaries. Firm counterparts who could thrive on their autonomy.

This is a film that shows, without trying to show off; expresses without going all out to explain. The way it rolls out, we understand and appreciate its intentions.
A lesser movie would’ve resorted to sub plots to burnish the glory of its women. But not this one. So when we have the drunkard husband waking up to yet another hangover, we’re shown Yazhini slapping him to only breakdown to an embrace moments later; when she gets to know of the cause to the madness.
She is a reasonable person-who can expand and contract to the whims and fancies in the jurisdiction of love-only by choice.

When the man tired of being the “other man”, comes to Malar place with his father to convince her to tie the knot with him; we witness a stereotype-wrenching role reversal. Poker faced she tells the man’s father that she’s in this only to satiate her salacious needs, that her deceased husband-the only man she loved wouldn’t be able to.
Both men are left to simmer and squirm in the unadulterated quality of her honesty; that doesn’t make room for diplomacy or deceit to come across as affable.
She is completely capable of  being independent -to “paint” a life of her own possibilities-of a man’s reassurance of love.

Ponni is distress sold as a penny stock to her husband, who himself as we’re told hasn’t found any takers . All her dreams of wedding remain scattered when after a rough consummation on their first night, smoking casually her husbands tell her she can remain with him if she “adjusts”. Her light of hope(flickering as it was) goes off with him turning the light down in the room.
When he comes back to her after serving time in prison-for a crime he so proudly commits putting their marital life on the altar of gratitude-she hits him back with his “adjust” ultimatum in a different context; not venomously, but from a less naiver space.
She is gentle, not brittle. Her femininity lends to her a softer side, often mistaken to be fragile.
These women become the alphas in their relationships-by their overbearing arc of patience, by their display of dogged resistance,ability to move ahead, to look forward to life without turning spiteful-even if passively so.

As the movie draws to its end the women-collateral damages to the fallibility of their respective men-who were knobs in their hands, get united again by rain. Only that this time around, they get drenched in it without restraint. They’re content with being prosperous islands in a sea of men, who get to only scrub on the shores, but never let the sea get beyond that.

Papanasam- A master at work

Drishyam was a rare piece of cinema. It blended art and commerce; without having to  lay either on the altar of sacrifice towards upholding another. It was one of those movies that made the audience feel smarter from the edge of their seats, while unknotting to the bedrock of the mystery scene after scene. Thing with visceral genre of movies is that, while they tend to engage; seldom do we empathise with the plight of a protagonist.It is in this very aspect that, Drishyam is exclusive.
It stirs a storm and throws a family in its eye. Their survival through this tumultuous phase is designed like a game of chess, with a simpleton deploying a maze of deception to lead astray the legal system.
Drishyam was a memorable movie not just in Kerala, but throughout the south. The movie not only ran for months together in these parts, but triggered spontaneous remakes in every South Indian language. So when the news of the tamil remake starring Kamal Haasan broke; it was a mouth watering proposition for every fan of his; more importantly every fan of cinema.
The original starred Mohanlal as the protagonist-Georgekutty, a movie smitten-cable TV operator who bails his family our of a murder they had committed, scot free.What made things interesting was not just the prospects of seeing one doyen interpret a role made immortal by another; but the fact that Drishyam was a watertight plot driven movie with modest room for its hero to expand. It was always the plot above the characters, who dissolved in the flow of its narrative. There’s always been this accusation about  Kamal movies by some naysayers, , that his performance at times tend to hijack the movie while propelling it ahead; notwithstanding the peaches that they were.

So Kamal reprising the cable operator as Suyambulingam was not just a tight rope walk, but shone a light on the ability of a giant to bend down at the threshold of a glorious piece of art; to beautify it without looming large over it. Papanasam was a special movie also for the fact that, it brought to fore Kamal-the actor alone without the accoutrements that generally make his movies an exhibition of his versatility,at times reducing the director’s to a vestigial designation.
Last time this happened,we got Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu-a movie that didn’t warrant a thinking hat to appreciate the underlying subtexts. It was resultantly a very popular movie with the masses,reiterating the huge star that he was.

Papanasam easily got to rate among his most consequentials efforts, for carving a niche for itself as a masterpiece; despite staying honest to the original alongside classics like Kurudhipunal and Satya. Kamal’s Suyambulingam is an endearing man with a gift of the gab; speaking in a mellifluous Tirunelveli dialect(which aurally resembled a symphony composed in bullets) while not being smitten by movies. His portrayal was faced mostly with the same conflicts as Lal’s Georgekutty, yet had its own magic;managing to decorate without diluting.

This role was that of a small-towner’s, with a simplistic outlook towards life. Unlike Haasan’s earlier ventures, this jurisdiction wouldn’t let him wax eloquently in chaste english about abstract aspects of communism and his long lasting adherence to atheism- the meta movie aspects of a quintessential Kamal movie.
Suyambulingam is a man, who flaunts his agrarian roots with the length of the earthworms wriggling beneath his feet. Unlike the actor’s previous outing, where his real life persona often percolated into his reel life manifestations-even if seamlessly so-this one was diametrically opposite.
He wasn’t the compulsive global citizen that we’re used to seeing him play so often, with a fine blend of altruism and sarcasm. On the contrary here was a man-whose life revolved around his adorable family-to protect which he would go to any extent.(Even if it meant tripping to the other end of law).
The movie neither had a grand ambition about defusing a bioweapon or outsmarting a militant outfit; instead it had a family based out of a small town making conversations about a long pending trip to the city over breakfast and a miserly dad who hoped to pay for his daughter’s expensive excursion on a prorata basis.

While the average actor makes you appreciate his acting like an anxious kid performing a skit on the lookout for applause, a master makes you identify with his character’s plight through his acting. Haasan effortlessly is the latter.

His Suyambulingam is a vulnerable man. Vulnerable by his situation, not by ability. A trait you witness so often through the twinkle in his eye-as he deceives his way out of every investigative procedure. There’s a look of fluid contentment in his face- forged out of dexterity and relief- every time the investigation buys into his carefully crafted red herrings.
It is sheer bliss to watch the thespian essay an author backed role with such aplomb after a long time. He just doesn’t flesh out his character beyond the prosaic; but makes him a jolly good fellow with his own little charm, be it the way he gets heady while watching an erotic song or the fashion in which he cajoles his wife to bed-with a liberal dose of talc and innocence.

Papanasam is stroke of genius even if deconstructed to minute details forming its frills. Like the way it is bookended by the shot of Suyambulingam’s eyes-metaphorical of watching things unravel through his eyes; almost poetic given the fact that the movie deals with the deception he creates.