The rise and rise of Thalapathy

It was 1992. I was four, when my sister was born.Yet another actor was born along with her in Tamil films, about whom I knew a very little. Rightly so. It was part of the Kamal-Rajni era, where their combined clout was so large that it was often mistaken to be the Tamil film industry itself. There were other actors with a recall value as well, but none brought in the delirium like they did. So when I saw a lanky youngster with a barely legible mustache, caper by a dabba in Vishnu to “Thota beta rotu mela…”, it didn’t catch my attention. But what did, was the information that appeared in yellow font from no where onscreen to diligently notify-“Intha padalai padaiyavar ungal Ilayathalapathy Vijay“(This song is sung by your Ilayathalapthy Vijay). This wasn’t the fourth wall being broken as a cinematic device of story telling like in Woody Allen movies. This was unabashed propaganda topping what was already a propagandist movie.  So leave alone being a fan, I was far from acknowledging his choice of profession. Little did I know then that I would become a fan of his some day.

1996-2003

I had grown up. So had Vijay’s stature as a bankable actor slowly. He was no more the obscure star. I happened to realize that he lived in my neighbourhood as well. The sight of hapless admirers setting tent outside his Virugambakkam bungalow to catch a glimpse of him, had become a regular feature over the weekends. The rough edges were starting to smoothen. The shirts with boardgame depictions paved way to classier ones. It’s his sharp dressing that springs up to my memory when I reminisce of this period , like the woodlands green shirt tucked into crisp beige trousers that ended exactly where the shoes began in the  “Bharathiku Kanamma” number from Priyamudan. He was some sort of an icon back then itself.Whatever he wore in the movie, made it’s way to the streets. Suddenly you could see a lot of young men wearing their shirts without rolling the sleeves up or buttoning. It was how he would wear his full sleeves. No wonder Coke made him the face of their campaign.
You could see him play myriad dimensions of the love-struck archetype in a slew of extremely popular love stories, which went on to cement his stake in his core constituency- the youth. Be it Poove Unakaga,Love Today, Kadhalukku Mariyadhai or Thulatha Mananmum Thullum; we could distinctly see an extremely likable leadman nonchalantly shoulder the movie till its climax. Not to mention his nimble movements in the songs that had a following of their own.

‘An unemployed youth figuring life, love and responsibilities’ was the common narrative that was peddled in most movies that came since the turn of the millennia. If Kushi had him dodging love and ego, Badri was about a wastrel’s self discovery from a corner he gets pushed by life. His character were all  identifiable, flawed men we could not just root for; but relate to. If youngsters saw themselves, elders; their sons.
Another undeniable aspect about his movies were the chartbuster songs. Even if a Vijay movie was bad, the songs would be good. The same album would have a great Gazal type melody like say a-“Nee Katru Naan Mazhai” which would coexist in absolute harmony with an “Akuthe Akuthe” kind of a song. There would be that one irrevernt song in every film, which would turn out to be that year’s anthem like “Al thotta Boopathy” or “Coca Cola Brown color“. What made his dance numbers special was the sheer joy of watching him match every beat with feather footed grace. Take “Minnalai Pidithu” from Shahjahan, with minimal hand movements, all he does is slide with his feet. Just simple movements done so gracefully. Nothing more. But the synergy it creates with the song, is sheer bliss.

2004-2010

There are some memories that stay continue to remain young, even when you’re all grown up. One such memory was my first day experience in Udhayam Theatre. The excitement in the air was so electrifying, that one could’ve lit bulbs with it. When the hood came off and Velu goes-“Indha area, antha area….”, the theatre went bonkers. No one could hear a thing in the succeeding few minutes. That day I knew what delirium meant. Ghillli was that movie that gave him the license to get away with the things he does these days.

From being the identifiable guy of an entire generation, he had become their alter ego. His movies were a sort of a wish fulfillment exercise for them. The “Ilayathalapathy” moniker had gained gravitas. His choice of movies had changed. They were no more soft frothy affairs close to the imperfections of life. Be it Pokiri or Thirupachi– his movies were starting to often be set in gravity-less provinces in the director’s head -they doffed their hats to the one-man-against-the- system trope. He could do anything onscreen and get away with wolf whistles.

Imagine this scenario -Man smears 40 grams of turmeric on his face and runs down an army of henchmen like a plague, in broad daylight. And none of the onlookers crack the man behind this elaborate disguise.  Ridiculous right! Well this is a famous set-piece from Thirupachi. With anyone else it would’ve been fodder for  endless parody, but with him it became a memorable “mass moment”.

2011-2017

The first part of this phase was particularly painful for not just a diehard fan, but an average movie buff. Vijay was dealing exclusively in disasters; Kuruvi, Villu, Sura; each one more painful than the previous. These were not mere flops in terms of business parlance alone. Sachein and Vaseegara weren’t runaway hits during their times as well, but there was a grace in their failure. Not an air of mockery, like the one that eclipsed the release of each one of these forgettable movies.

We knew he deserved much better than this and so did we. It was only a matter of time before he bounced back.He was only a film away. We knew that. That film happened to be Thuppaki. It was a kickass film, no doubt whatsoever. But more importantly it was a star’s reassurance to his backers. It had no trappings of his previous failures. It never made the mistake those films did, of trying to show off his star wattage like a flourescent torch. It instead wore it like a perfume. And Thalapathy was back to where he belonged.

I’m an avid movie watcher and a huge fan of Kamal Haasan Yet none of this has come in the way of my love for Thalapathy. It’s not like he makes- or even tries to -an Anbe Sivam or a Midnight in Paris every now and then. Yet there’s something about his persona I can’t put a finger on, that I’m drawn to like a moth to fire. A quality so endearing that you step into a theatre each time in the hope of bringing down the roof.  Don’t know if it’s his characteristic chewing-an-eternal bread laid back dialogue delivery; the effortlessness dancing or the unbridled energy he brings to the loghter moments. Or it simply stems from the fact that he hails from the same neighborhood as me.

Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is I love him and would always be there for the very first show with sleep deprived eyes, to scream my lungs out to cheer for him.

For the ones who condescend him, I would suggest a viewing of Holiday starring Akshay Kumar; a  lifeless remake of Thuppaki. You’ll know, what Vijay did to do that film. There’s only so much that can be written. So much that can be directed. But after a point, it takes a true blue star to carry a blockbuster beyond the screens. He’s always done it. And done it with style.

Intha Deepavali super collection ‘ngana

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A million reasons why Khaidi No.150 doesn’t match up to Kaththi

Remakes are like soul transplants, with the intention remaining same, with the interpretation changing to adapt to sensibilities. So as far as remakes are concerned, it’s no big deal if it’s a case of being lost in translation. Case in point, Gabbar Singh,a remake of the immensely popular Dabbang. It looked nothing like the original, nor sounded. It was an improvised version, altered to cater to the cravings of its viewing demography. But it felt and hit like the original. This is where KhaidiNo150 misses a beat ot two, it’s a cause lost in transition. Right from the word go, the makers leave little to ambiguity about the Boss being Back. The title is underlined by the statement in Bold Italics, a gyrating babe in an item song informs us to get ready for the same, Chiranjeevi himself interjects the same in the pre-interval conversation with the villain and Devi Sri Prasad solicitously bookends every song notwithstanding the genre with the word “Boss”. So with such tender subtlety of a sledgehammer we do get an air of what the movie is about. Or rather who it is about.

The core issue of water scarcity becomes an artifice to fill the lull between comedy,fights and fourth breaking soliloquies, to feel less guilty. It’s like those mutton biryani binges preceded by righteous half day fasts. Take the case of this important sequence where the hero and his elderly entourage have taken the city’s water pipes hostage from within. Before we begin to sink our teeth into the situation’s pulp, a phone call between the lead pair breaks into a collage(I’m not dignifying that to be a song) of crass sounds and crasser words that goes-Ammudu Let’s do Kummudu. The farmer’s plight, the gravitas of the issue pale out to oblivion and we’re treated to Chiranjeevi’s version of Lungi Dance. How seriously am I supposed to take his angry monologue that follows suit about the dire state of the sons of the soil. It’s not like Kaththi was a PSA documentary. The Vijay starrer was a manipulative commercial subversion of the issue with all the crowd traps-songs, fights and comedy, just that it knew when to press the right buttons and when not to. Like the Selfie Pulla number which came immediately after the interval to warm up the crowds, to an entirely songless second half. Kaththi let us take a moment off to ruminate about the problem put ahead, grin at the quick fix solutions it offered and took us close to the head space of its protagonist(a crook who’s redemption we were partaking in with shameless fun). It entertained without diluting its core.

Imagine those days from playing street cricket when a friend’s dad would stop by to hijack a match for a few balls with the bat. He would get beaten, bowled and just wouldn’t give back the bat till the cover drive came on a full toss. But still we would be courteous, despite that courtesy getting mistaken for encouragement. Watching Khaidi… was at some level like that. The euphoria in the theatre I watched after a point turned placid after the initial excitement. The wolf whistles for the star’s trademark moves in the songs  came in sputters- almost as an afterthought -without the organic delirium.  The pairing of Vijay and Samantha looked natural, despite the love track being preposterously spun. Here the sight of Kajal and Chiranjeevi feels like a pervert’s version of Cheeni Kum. And the sight of the star, his son and the actress dancing  in tandem to the beats of a ludicrous song, looks creepily incestuous given the number of movies she’s done with the latter.

Kaththi was a star vehicle designed to service the imagination of the legion of its star’s fans, alright. But the situations were staged in a manner they added a layer of  vulnerability to the larger than life proceedings, bringing credibility to the cinematic liberties taken. There’s a little prologue to the coin scene, where the agitated hero sets the stage to marry his brawn and brain. Or be it the initial love hate banters between Vijay and his partner in crime, where the former sportingly takes a few for the team; the twinkle in Vijay’s eyes every time he spawns up something; the dexterity with which he deconstructs blueprints or the slo mo shot of the impromptu gesticulation in the middle of a fight. These aren’t path breaking stuff essentially, but grace notes that add finesse to the proceedings.

Khaidi… is a bloated affair with a hero on his A game scene after scene. After a point it gets tedious to watch a clueless villain and his army of henchmen participate in a cat and mouse game played with a cheat code by its hero. The thumb rule of escapist cinema is “travel light”. Khaidi… saunters ahead with the heft of accoutrements in the form of a dozen comedians shitting bricks to scratch our underarms and countless unimaginative dance numbers aimed at boosting up tourism Europe if not the hero’s calorie burning process. The legendary blueprint scene is shot so charmlessly that all we see is a hero- with nostrils raised – thoughtfully deducing who spoilt the room after lunch, as the topography in the blueprint becomes three dimensional. There’s this portion in the film where Chiranjeevi’s Seenu with a hapless Kajal- who looks like a prom queen lost in her Grandpa’s tea party -galvanises a troop of elderly men to act citing Gandhi; couldn’t help but contemplate if the pep talk was meant for them or was it the founding stone to this come back vehicle as well?