Kaabil- The drudgery of Hrithik’s acting

Moments into Kaabil I was distracted. Not by the little kids in the row before, having popcorn wars. Not by the bright display from the mobile, next seat. Not even by the incessant banter of a marwadi contingent looking for F row in the middle of B row. It was the sight of Hrithik playing a blind man.

His face encapsulates Michelangelo’s intensity half way into Sistine Chapel. Brows arced, it is a picture of focus. What is he doing? Making omelette.Nah….creating fresco with broken eggs on a pan. He’s got this industrious look plastered on his face whilst at even the most common of things, that it lends some unintentional curiosity to the activity. We begin to wonder when he opens a tap so emphatically, if he’s there for just the water or releasing its hidden potential as well. Or the time when he’s dicing vegetables purposefully,  if he’s sculpting them for a higher cause or just cooking.
Most emotions he doles out in the movie fall in the range contained between Akbar’s royal grimace to Krish’s righteous chin quiver. The ones which don’t fall in this space, fall under the I-blush-excessively-when-I-get-horny platter from Koi Mil Gaya.

The template of the story is older than a few mountains, alright. But where did the thumb rule of character establishment go? Appu Raja(Aboorva Sagotharargal) pitted a dwarf against a bunch of evil men, all bigger than him in stature and status. We were introduced to the dwarf’s vulnerability, his fragility earlier in the film; that we became invested and went on to root in his lopsided battle.

The fun of watching a protagonist with a disability lock horns with a mighty antagonist comes from his helplessness and the dexterity he brings in to make up for it. He has to be the mouse for most parts in the cat and mouse game they play. Which is one of the many places Kaabil falters. Its hero is a blind man with 18 inch biceps and a blonde streaked mane. He sports colour coordinated designer clothes and never puts a wrong foot down on the dance floor. Instead of leveraging his blindness as a bottleneck, it’s treated like a insignificant kitchen scar. I know the title means capable, but this is over-capable with a few exclamation marks.

And the aspiration to have these things scattered in a masala flick that intends to play to the gallery isn’t a crime. Just that their existence could’ve been ratified. Like showing him live with his granny who picks up his clothes. Have a few montages of him sweating it in the gym or even learning dance. These things lend credibility to the proceedings. Just stray shots of him sniffing a smell from a far away neighbour or that of mimicking Amitabh over phone only does as much as Deepika Padukone does to a deodorant in a commercial, as far as authenticity goes.

It’s not like Hrithik isn’t earnest. In fact if acting was measured by earnestness alone, he would probably be an acting demigod. And it doesn’t help that the director isn’t any visionary himself to make up for the lacunae with a taut screenplay or a novel story. He infuses the film with a distinct 80s sensibility and tropes.From raped heroine, vowing hero, political villain to fat landlines with circular dial; it’s all there. Just that it doesn’t have the old school charm of the era. Dabbang was stitched out of the same cloth, but Salman played Chulbul Pandey with such unabashed conviction, that a rusted script became rustic.

Kaabil needed its hero to be fluid, to have a blast like he did in his extremely popular debut vehicle. Instead he tries too hard and the symbiotic spontaneity goes amiss from the viewing experience. If the meticulous posturing during stunt sequences or the asthmatic enunciation of dialogues are anything to go by, Hrithik’s in his own avant garde project. And even beyond all this, every time I managed to con myself of the film being in this era by the constant sight of slim fit jeans, a hideous Baba bhajanesque track would come up to remind me of its expiry date.  .

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.

Batman vs Superman- Yawn of Justice

Imagine a person connected by a bluetooth device to his pet cat. Keeping it from falling off a tree’s branch or helping it cross the road starts to become the purpose of his life with every passing mission to keep the cat alive. Well imagine the person to be wrapped in a blue spandex, itchy around the pelvis and a “who –farted- now” look on the face, that’s Superman and the pet cat, Lois Lane his lady love with an IQ of a dung beetle.
In the recent Batman vs Superman-Dawn of Justice, there’s more feminism per square footage than in all of Meryl Streep movies put together with Mother Teresa montages. For submission to Lois Lane’s whims and fancies on priority basis, seem so pertinent to Superman. Even if this misplaced priority meant a dozen immigrant heads at stake, a possibility of making it to the “No Fly Zone” and a few hundred skyscrapers about to be reduced to rubble by a nuking abomination in those precious minutes of romantic unison, he squeezes every time with her.
The warring heroes bond over motherhood, that too with a precious proper noun crisis. So did the guys, who sat on a production cost of $ 250 Million have a good enough reason to bury the two year old hatchet built on ideological differences and more importantly to go against the titular theme of the film? Yes,”Martha”!
Sure any reason, notwithstanding the magnitude of consequence has to melt at the moot of maternity. So the so called epic gladiatorial battle between God and Man, the Son of Krypton and the Bat of Gotham is a red herring that is relegated to gooey-bromance between two sons of different Marthas in a matter of minutes.
So “Martha. Martha” it is.

And if you thought, that was the last of the influence the fairer sex had on the narrative, you’re mistaken, for there is Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman who is the biggest alpha entity of the story. She gets to belt some of the best lines and kick some kryptonian ass when the big boys are violated by an ill behaved monster on loose. In fact, ironically the scene that shows a JPEG image revealing her hidden identity gets the most evocative score of the movie with the sequences involving the sundry heroes(Batman/Superman) happening in natural sound sans exaggeration. Imagine a paragraph about something with etcetera in the end, double the font size as its body. Well, this is how its movie equivalent would look.

If the scope of the movie was already shunted by the inundating spirit of misplaced feminism, the one noted hamming of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor takes care of the unintentional humor. Neither his “nurtured-on-substance-abuse” look nor his asphyxiated articulation of every syllable, let us take him seriously as a worthy antagonist to pit two of the most revered superheroes against each other. With absolute suspension, his might probably pass off as a teenager’s novice imitation of Heath ledger. And his hyper-ventilation is fondly flattered as being “psychotic”, which is countered with an unimaginative wisecrack by him on syllable count.

The movie reeks from liberal infusion of apocalyptic rhetoric mouthed mostly by Luthor, abstract , which absolutely make no meaning in isolation or together with another disjointed rhetoric like this one-“God is tribal. He picks sides...” or my personal favourite that Alfred dishes so perceptively to the space above the audience’s head called “went-above” that goes-“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.

Problem with these ramblings on God and exodus is the fact that they don’t organically lead up to a proceeding befitting of their gravitas. For how seriously are we supposed to take men indulging in cross-fitness with well waxed chests while trying to forge a weapon of mass destruction or the ones who bag-pack on a trek to a picturesque peak to only get a dad epiphany to fix moral disputes.
The last time I  heard so many geometrical jargons I had a textbook in hand and a puberty to attain. So when Lex Luthor for yet another time got started about how the line was the shortest distance to either sides of a triangle to an uninspired Lois lane, I could only think of  what was for lunch.

As the end credits started to roll, it dawned upon me that maybe Batman was after all  addressing us-the audience when he asked,”Will you bleed?“, for Superman had already fled the scene, leaving us to bleed to boredom.