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

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

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

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

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A love letter to Sathyam

Whether watching movies in Chennai grew, as a habit due to Sathyam or Sathyam grew due to the habit is one egg-hen conundrum for every Chennaite. What we all know is it is a beloved place, that feels like a home away from home while we go to watch movies. The “Main Screen” is ours. It’s butter popcorn is ours. In short it’s ours.
Here are a few reasons from the top of my mind, about what makes it a cut above the rest.

A landmark to a generation’s love for movies
Usually places that keep doing what they set out to fairly well. become landmarks over a period of time. While the generic landmark comes in handy while navigating from one place to another, there are a few that come to become landmarks to a phase of life, identity or a passion to every soul in a place. Sathyam that way is very personal landmark to Chennai’s movie watching habit. As a millennial, I’ve seen it stand witness to the beginning of theatre going habit to many, cultivating love for films in some, while curating the same in the seasoned. It is safe to say that, watching movies suddenly became a cool activity in this part of the world, thanks to Sathyam. And it’s surprising to see it’s undeterred impact on the next generation as well. Along with Bessy, Marina and ECR, it’s among the non-negotiably integrated identities of the city; the sentiment which probably lead to the widespread fracas and dissent on social media when news of a takeover by PVR made its way.

“To watch a movie you could go anywhere, but to be in one, you had to be at Satyam.”
Ask any self respecting movie buff in Chennai, what wee hours of Wednesday means to them,  phat would come the response- “Sathyam’s upcoming Friday schedule.“. It’s that time of the week, you ought to be glued to the SPI app to land good seats for catching up with a biggie on its opening weekend. Chennai and its suburbs might be mushrooming with theatres— both, single screens and multiplexes — but everyone of them is an eternal second choice to Sathyam. If watching a FDFS of a big star’s movie is in itself a big deal, watching it at Sathyam is even bigger. So what is it that makes Sathyam the cherry on top of a cinematic experience? Is it the immersive experience they bring in each screen, be it quality of projection or their intricately designed surround sound systems. Or is it their sinful butter popcorn and cold coffee. Not to mention, the dim-lit regal rest rooms with king size mirrors, built to pamper the garden-variety narcissist within each patron. We can never pick one reason.

Ersatz pulse to a movie’s health
Off late it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge a movie’s credential. Every Friday sees the release of a new movie and several reviews and reviewers, calling it divine,good, bad and ugly according to their whims and fancies. With everyone with a grammar and a smartphone rendered reviewer, the objectivity to this thing that masquerades as word of mouth in social media has become blurry. But people who know Sathyam, know better. If a movie’s booking status is lush green on a weekend, it’s a rejected disaster. If it’s a sea of red on a Tuesday evening, you know it’s a bonafide blockbuster. If it’s a solid movie with growing word of mouth, you would see it climb from a smaller screen to a bigger one. The vice versa applies to a god awful movie. In short, this is the pulse to hold, to know a movie’s health.

And the obvious value for money
I remember walking into the Palazzo for the first time, the jaw kept dropping as the chandeliers suspended from the steep ceiling; the embellished walls and the tasteful lighting made me feel like a pygmy stepping into an opera house. I had similar feelings when Escape opened. All their properties feel swanky, each with a certain allure and personality, while continuing to feel like Sathyam. I’m not sure if the pricing cap is a thing of their making or not, but I’m surprised by the mere fact that their price continues to remain extremely affordable as they keep setting the bar, higher and higher as far as quality of experience goes. You couldn’t agree more, if you’ve been to multiplexes in other cities. The novelty doesn’t exist, leave alone at this level. The experience feels extremely franchise bound, not to mention impersonal. And did I say, you ought to pay a little more than a flight ticket over a weekend, to get a movie ticket?

Why “The Office” is the most inimitable sitcom ever

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take this episode for instance, Phyllis’s wedding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.”

Charlie- A deconstruction of the protagonist

I had to be told by the visibly baffled ushers that the movie was over, all of it including the last syllable of the end credit. It’s been a while since a movie has had this kind of an effect, that the blank screen seemed alive, long after the moving images seemed to have breached its contour. The movie in point being “Charlie”.

The way it started in an abstract manner made me think it was only a matter of time before things would go above the audience’s heads, alienating them in the process.

It’s always about the initial few minutes as far as a movie goes. You’ve got to pique the viewer’s interest and allow him take the trip you’ve in offer, dovetailing his imagination with your narrative in these precious initial minutes. Otherwise, predisposition sets on them as they decline to get on board and resort to next important things like checking the reclining extent of their seats or getting up to add some butter to the popcorn tub.

So as I was saying, it started abstractly, but with every passing moment the sense of intrigue enveloped me. Soon there I was, moving in tandem in my head with the stroke of the artist’s brush on his canvass till the last stroke that led to the incredible painting, the movie was.

Charlie is a celebration of the spirit of wanderlust, eponymously named after its protagonist. It talks about his constant travelling, warming us up to his psyche through the perspective of people on whose lives he’s left an indelible impact; enriching one albeit.

So we embark on this journey to find Charlie along with Tessa, who’s intrigued by one of his creations with the brush; yup; he’s an exemplary artist who makes sketch trophies of people, the only footprint of his available to her at all. As fate would have it, she comes across men, one after the other from the sketches. With every first person anecdote endorsing Charlie, a dot gets connected in her mind that’s attempting the big picture.

He’s like one of these exotic birds, which doesn’t confine itself to one sanctuary. It belongs to the sky and the sky to it, flying mockingly above frontiers. He loves touching upon a myriad lives in his journey, oh so nonchalantly. But never lets to be touched back, in his characteristic inoffensive way.

A zephyr, that bristles its way through the hair strands cozily to leave without a trace.

From the account of the burglar who came to burgle, who he hitched along to burgle with after a drink to the cutting of a marinated fish(ersatz cake) on mid sea; commemorating the birthday of an unlucky hooker who breaks down to only be held by him to be told-“The sea’s got enough salt and can do without your tears”, we travel along with Charlie .

Here’s this bohemian spirit in all its prowess, stopping a suicide victim with great difficulty to only negotiate a postponement to kicking the bucket. He sells the experience of magic mushrooms and the sight of a cloud crowned peak, to justify the postponement .

Once she likes the new habitat he gets her acquainted to, he barely tries to check on her in a fiduciary way. In fact he tells her how she could just roll down from the mountain top on her Enfield, to an assured end if this wasn’t working. But that’s him, this unobtrusive person who lets people be.

There’s this beautiful scene in the movie, where a lovelorn septuagenarian is overwhelmed after being introduced to the lost love of his life-a nun now, by Charlie. This man locks himself up and asks to be let alone  curtly, when Charlie goes in search of him. Charlie just smiles in an empathetic, un-offended manner. That moment, you understand his reverence to space and privacy- A cornerstone to his nomadic life pursuits.

In another uncanny episode, Charlie advertises his demise on a leading daily’s obituary column to check the turnout for his funeral and the extent of emotion at display. He later tries to reason out with his baffled wellwishers on his hoax of a funeral over drinks, sufi music and wisecracks.

For a fluid entity like him, intimidated by the very thought of settling down; knowledge of another female constantly on his toes is an unsettling feeling with the fear of permanence it brings about. So he indulges in a cat and mouse game with Tessa; notwithstanding her earnest efforts at catching up to him.

And it doesn’t help that he doesn’t have a permanent residence,uses mobiles, laptops and constantly hitches a lift to commute from place to another; leaving behind no digital traces for her.

The movie ends with Tessa and Charlie coming together in a festival over a glass of lime juice finally, courtesy his tip to her about his whereabouts. The union happens in an unhurried, mischievous manner without much adieu, like the epiphanies that happen to us over the course of the movie.

This is that kind of a holistic movie where nothing stands out like a sore thumb screaming for individual attention despite their superlative contribution to the film- be it the blemish less performance of the two leads, Gopi Sundar’s ethereal score or the auteur’s  skilful narration of the convoluted plot in an endearing manner. Every element functions as a cog in the wheel.

Overall, Charlie is the personification of our organic self. That part of us that comes alive at the prospect of constant adventure, travel and bonhomie without the need for any form of societal validation. An alter ego that endorses leading a life without an ambition; making life an ambition in itself.

An alter ego that doesn’t delve on the consequences of an act or the accruals of a deed, but lives every moment till its last drop. One that is so preoccupied with living an experience and monkeying to the next one, to take stock of petty things like success and failure. A good Samaritan who touches upon lives of people he bumps into; not because it’s good; but because it is cool.

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.

Jacobinte Swargarajyam-Chicken soup for the Soul

Earlier on the movie we are shown an affable looking old man pulling the leg of Jacob’s youngest son, who blushes in response like a pug tickled on its sensitive belly. He then goes on to ensconce on the plush sofa laid out in the hall, browsing a daily. We think of him to be family. Probably a family friend. As it turns out, he’s their driver. Jacob is that kind of a man. His family, that kind of a warm place.

Before a family outing he wants Jerry, his eldest son to click a few moments with a vintage camera bought out of his first earnings. He wants pictures taken with this archaic device over its slicker digital counterparts. He believes it watermarks memories, distinct and exclusive from digital photos taken by the dozen these days.

Jacob is a very emotional man, who’s his family’s fulcrum and his family, his.

While on a drive, Jacob proclaims himself to be the richest man in the world denominating his wealth in the terms of his children’s value to him.A loving husband.A doting dad, he waxes eloquently about perspectives, epiphanies, anecdotes to Jerry like a cult founder to his follower.
Altitude is a motif in the movie used as a metaphorical device.
All the life lessons imparted to Jerry happen from a vantage point overlooking a landscape beneath. From over a sand dune once. From the ridge of the terrace, where Jacob tells his son that the best place to look at a city to appreciate its opulence is, from its top.

But Jerry is a naive person who’s leading a life too gifted to appreciate these words. It takes a crisis,the size of the one that hits him, for him to appreciate the fruit held in the flowery discourse of his father.

All of a sudden his cup that seemed full is turned upside down. His father is forced to move to another country on the lookout for newer vistas. His prosperity gets disarranged like a pack of cards. All that he is left with is his Family and a dark corner, life’s pushed him to.

Distraught and devoid of hope it’s at this point- eyes closed, he sticks his head out of the roof of a wedding party’s limousine that he’s unwillingly become a part of-courtesy an acquaintance. This results in one of the most poignant moments in the film.
The car gets into a dark alley as epiphanies start brewing from within. With the strong wind combing against his face, he starts reminiscing his dad’s words about Dubai being a land of opportunity which he would realize when the time was right. And when he opens his eye as the car moves out of the dark tunnel, he sees the city standing before him like a benevolent deity.

If till this point it was about the king and his kingdom. From here on it is about the prince shepherding his family  out of oblivion and bringing back his father from exile; while discovering his own self.

The crisis takes away every bit of opulence from them, barring themselves. If anything it brings them closer than before. It brings out hitherto dormant dimensions in each one. Their mother rises above the confines of her chores, guiding Jerry from the place of their father. She pushes him to his limits. Empathizes when he stretches beyond. Jerry manages to fill his father’s huge shoes, buoyed by his mother’s unrelenting support.

What doesn’t break something, makes it stronger by its strength.

The Jacobs in this period are kept on their toes. They learn to be desperate. To sacrifice.To cut slack. They know the real friends that they’d made, who weather the storm along with them. They collectively function with an objective to instill back the faith that left them along with Jacob. Resiliently they see  through the crisis and unite with him in due course.

We get to know in the end that this is a true story. An extremely motivating one at that. But, to weave an endearing celluloid fable out of it, it needed an auteur with a vision beyond just retelling anecdotes prosaically. What we get are well fleshed characters. Scintillating performances that dissolve in the cause of the movie. Sequences staged so well to empathize and root for. Like the one in the end, where Jerry’s mother manufactures an embrace to break the ice between him and her husband that results in a Kodak moment before Jacob’s vintage camera.

The last time this happened, the camera captured a merry moment. But this click is different from that by the underlying gravitas. It is the visual equivalent of a victory bugle at the end of a battle. It captures a proud father, his relieved son and a thankful family that’s wrapped themselves around in a warm embrace.

The king returns to his kingdom, to a place that now feels like his heaven.

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.