John Wick Chapter 2- The movie works, but its matrix doesn’t

A mafia boss with a distinct European accent goes, “He’s committed. He’s focused….”. Who is this person , well endowed-  given the stock of buffed of men in silk suits decorating the peripheries of his tastefully lit cabin -singing litanies about? He’s responding to his second in command’s suggestion to eliminate the reason for their shift in location. The reason being a person. Not just another person, but the eponymous hero-John Wick. The bombastic prologue segues in a dark alley from where a sinewy silhouette walks towards. Enter, Keanu Reeves. We were expecting a hero to service the legend that was so elaborately woven around. What we instead get is the sight of a man trudging his way into the frame, like Dravid after third session at crease.

Let me first make one thing clear, I’m not as dismissive of Keanu Reeves like I was of Hank’s atrocious hairdo as Robert Langdon. He’s a fine looking guy. And like Hanks he doesn’t have a distinct persona that would let him have a fourth wall breaking conversation from the vintage of a larger than life role. I never complained about him in the Matrix franchise. That ecosystem warranted a neutral looking bland person and it got one. But the Die Hard, Commando, Taken template of films are essentially testosterone spiking trips, as avant garde as the posturing may seem. John Wick’s core is set in this space.  Just that there’s sincerity instead of swag, modesty instead of attitude.  It’s as tedious as it would’ve been, had Arjun played Raghavan in Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu.

When Bruce Willis moused through the nooks and corners of Nakotomi Tower to single handedly bring the villain’s empire down , it was sheer delirium. An epidemic of wolf whistling ensued. And Mc Clane gladly acknowledged with a,”Yippee kiyay, motherfucker!”. And like that pop culture found an another parlance for posterity.

We’re constantly being reminded that this lethal person’s god’s handpicked population control technique, ahh…”the boogeyman” as the people around hype him to be. But not in one of the infinite stunt sequence do you feel this palpable danger these people were talking about, if anything he looks endangered. It’s that strange space we find ourselves in, were the one killing seems to be in danger more imminently than the ones getting killed. Vulnerability is a good thing- if it were an under dog account -it brings plausibility. But not when you’re fashioning a legend of sorts. You don’t want to shine on the fault lines.
All this critique isn’t to take anything from the set pieces, that are invigoratingly staged. They’re choreographed with a staggering vision; with an unctuous imagination. Like the stretch when two gunmen nonchalantly sprinkle bullets as they weave through a busy crowd, the claustrophobic combat in the train that ensues or the dexterous shootout in a dark tunnel   But all of that translates to such uninspired action on scene, that it feels like a school annual day gig, with Reeves going through the motions with a post coital face, keeping track beneath his breath, of every kick and punch delivered. He’s neither a skilled martial artist nor a luminous star to overlook the fact of not being one.

A man’s assaulted pup’s killed by a bunch of teenagers, one of who is a son of a Russian mafia lord. But little do they know that the pup ain’t just another pup. It’s the last gift from his late wife. And the man’s no ordinary person. He’s John Wick, one of the deadliest assassins on the face of earth. He’s part of a brotherhood that lets him shop guns like shoes.He goes on to single-handedly reduces the mob empire to a debri of corpses and brick. End of first film.
Rinse and repeat-Sequel!

It does make for one hell of a read and it should’ve stayed that way. That way it could’ve teased our imagination about who could play John Wick.Some movies are better left in the pages till the right guy comes through. A star, who can elevate the material beyond the pages. That’s the thing about star wattage, it makes a hero out of a mercenary when played right. And the lack of it, makes the mercenary,well…..Keanu Reeves.

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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.

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 copious 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.  .

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.”

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.

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.