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TV

Mondays with Mason : Chapter Eight

In conclusion, my lord, the case is inconclusive. 

No we didn’t make that up, It’s what Mason says while he tries in vain to put down a decent concluding statement. Maybe it was also said in the writer’s room. 

We are all for revisionism, if it has a place in the story, if the ‘revisionism’ dawns on me when we later understand the workings of the story. But revisionism in place of definite endings is problematic. 

Ever since the first episode we have been doggedly pursuing every clue that this show throws at us, every week we place it with what we already know, to see who killed baby Charlie Dodson? Will they be brought to book? 

Okie yeah, we do know who killed the baby, whose horrific death on the tram car made this the most arresting case to follow on television. 

But is there a sense of satisfaction in the end? 

Partially yes. 

It’s not as neatly tied up as we would expect or as Perry would have wanted his first case to be. He’s really grown from being an investigator, but let’s call this the learning curve shall we?

We could also argue the that the writers did not give us a concrete finish to keep things open for the next season or we could also say that this is a Perry Mason for a different time, a time where there are no definites, it’s all very mixed and hence being inconclusive is not a choice but a characteristic. 

Clue trails go cold, but the series spends much time of the finale in making a statement with the character of Della Street, she not only (and rightfully) bargains her next employment with Perry (not Mason & Associates, but Mason & Street, nice touch) but she also contributes to the case taking a more emotional turn. It’s the most questionable turn the case takes, but one that provides a verdict which doesn’t seem to be a victory for any party involved. 

Our hero is really not arguing the case that he has built which we could say contributes to his inability to come up with solid concluding remarks, because it was Della’s idea to put Emily on the stand. To appeal to the sentiments and not facts. 

Perry had the case, he had Innes- the main perpetrator in our eyes, he could have squeezed the slimy detective in court, hell we even get a glimpse of it in a mock trial, but hell no, apparently no one confesses on the stand. Or so they say. It’s a brilliantly conceived scene nevertheless brought back memories of the 1973 Sivaji Ganesan film Gauravam which too had a similar mock trial, albeit a fruitful one. 

Not so neatly tied up parts linger, while the tied up parts including what happens to Emily Dodson and the trio of Drake, Street and Mason seem to stick out but promise some excitement for the future. 

You can only seek justice when you find the truth, Perry says. But what we got was just parts of the truth, and so justice is not pronounced but hanging in the air, like a thread whose holder we know not.

We enjoyed watching & writing this TV series recap, and we trust you liked our coverage. Tune in back again, hopefully. 

Perry Mason is streaming on Disney+Hotstar and has been renewed for a second season. 

Categories
cinema Essay

Kalaai as a Service (KaaS): Siva Manasula Sakthi (SMS)

It’s time the world took note of the work of director M. Rajesh.

The other SA Chandrasekhar assistant. Especially of interest is his pentalogy of movies with comedy star Santhanam, which began with 2009s Siva Manasula Sakthi or SMS. 

A decade just went past and no one only seemed to notice. Of course SMS is a certain kind of film that would not attract revivals, it also has the misfortune (from a critical pov) of being a non-classy romantic film, a genre which seems to somehow require a film to be ‘classy’ to be revived. 

Anyway, Rajesh wouldn’t care. I don’t mean that in a wrong way.

It shows in every scene right from the start, the mock freeze frame narration and pausing to question the audience whether Jiiva would be an Olympic athlete but then insisting that he is just a normal guy running to catch a train. It’s not that he is not sincere, it’s just that he is probably bored with what is quite commonly known here as “build-up”. No pretensions. 

Cut to next scene

Siva meets Sakthi on the train. 

Seconds later he is asking her to talk to him to pass the time. 

That’s it. 

No glowing close-up to the heroine’s eyes, no hero touching his chest and kneeling to the ground, no guitar solo,no “avlo oru azhagu” types, no Harris Jayraj duolingo humming (although Rajesh would use the composer in a later film), no general wishy washy circling around for 40 mins before saying something poetic etc. 

No romance in a romance film. Boom. 

Full disclosure, we generally love all types of films, but we also tend to hate the most romantic of the romantic ones. The ones where romance is the sole soul, we mean…never mind. 

Siva can never be a movie romantic lead, his pick up line is about Anantha Vikatan (also the producers and the magazine is ‘well placed’ in the movie), it’s not much of a pick up line too, he is raw male instincts personified  he is also real. 

Our usual romantic leads are often those who just jump out of a strawberry dream in little heart situations. Unrealistic even by middle class expectations. 

Siva is just another guy, Sakthi too, just another girl. 

They remain so till the very end.

No no, this is definitely not the glib “mature understanding love story” , no no, this is even not the “poratti podra” transformational love story where one lead influences the other to change their entire life. This movie does not even fall into the taming of the shrew subgenre. 

Siva Manasula Sakthi is the most realistic love story ever made in Tamil cinema, the fact that it is told as a humorous interplay between two characters with brittle ego who cannot get enough of themselves is its differentiating point. That it also avoids unnecessary social commentary is where its brilliance lies. 

Right so, when they do first meet, both are instinctively attracted to each other and present complete fake versions of themselves, but those thin characteristics break away and the rest of the movie is just Siva and Sakthi irritating themselves to the world’s end. 

Yours Irritatingly

Love stories tend to focus on the great moments that a couple have (imagined, with the passage of time) but SMS stays on the not so great moments and more on how much can one tolerate the other, which seems to be a more practical approach to deciding on long term romance, rather than say learning guitar or that sort of thing. 

Hence, the term real.

In life or say real life, relationships are truncated or prolonged based on the mutual tolerance level and relationships include love, we think no other movie touched on this aspect and it’s a very practical way to decide. Great work Rajesh, we know you don’t care, but still. 

Again, a romance film that does not romanticise. 

But it is true that they do have their sweet moments, but it is reserved for a montage during the time Siva and Shakti are away,not as elaborate as the “Kalaai” portions. 

Making irritation scenes the mainstay is also clever while looking at it from the impact POV, when Sakthi realizes that Siva really does love him underneath all the put on contempt, sitting in a restaurant with Arya (another Rajesh trademark cameo feature) her “could have been would-be”. It’s incidents from these irritations and scheming that Siva really understands her. It hits her (and us) hard.

Not so punny, kid

‘Kalaai’ is a difficult word to translate, so is ‘Nakkal’ and ‘Kindal’, make-fun-of does not really meet the meaning, it’s a very Tamil thing and although it is not unique to Rajesh’s films, but he was the one who codified it and it becomes emblematic to the point of difficulty in his later films (maybe wait for our essay on Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga). 

Comedy films have been gauged on the amount of laughter that they provide, how many lines have been remembered, how many lines that could be repurposed for daily life. Maybe that’s a cerebral way to approach humor, but it is not the natural way. Structured dialogue comedy does not happen in real life, people rarely speak in rat-a-tat-a-tat. These are constructed screenplays based on intellect, not for normals.  

Like his practical approach to love, Rajesh also has a practical approach to comedy, he doesn’t want to pack 200 jokes in 100 minutes, he doesn’t even care if some jokes do not land (which is very true of the film) and that’s okay, because in the life of Siva or a person like Sakthi would not be able to make up smart turns of phrase. They would probably make fun of a fat person, which is what they do. But they have a good laugh.

Kalaai hence becomes both the medium for love and comedy, it was refreshing to watch this two pronged approach the first time and it is still refreshing because very few have attempted such a radically different way to tell a love story. Rajesh would, but then this is his mould from which other movies do come out. Do note that the Kalaai is not one way, the hero too gets it back (and nicely so) from the heroine (Anuya Bhagwat is a treat to watch in her debut, despite the dubbing). 

Rajesh’s films are also dubbed (not in another language) as TASMAC films (why not wait for our essay on All in All Azhagu Raja), owing to how the hero and Santhanam spend most of the time at wine shops and yes TASMAC is an important setting in SMS, it’s where Sakthi finally admits to being in love (he still thinks it’s another elaborate Kalaai), but what other outlet does Siva have in matters of the heart. Where else will he go to nurse his broken ego and who else would support him like his friend Santhanam (named Vivek [LOL] in the film). 

Santhanam’s role in Rajesh films would continue to grow even to the extent of the whole film revolving around him, but surely you can witness traces of the flow in the ever popular ‘Harry Potter Vaaya’ and the broken mobile phone gag in SMS, but it is definitely not peak Santhanam. We were surprised about how little he appears in the film.

Rajesh also believes that Kalaai is not restricted to what only the comedian says, he finds it in the RJ voice obsessed Siva’s sister, he finds it in the kindness personified Urvashi, Siva’s mother. It is here that Rajesh forged his strong family setup which would be repeated time and again. 

But it is Jiiva who takes the money to the bank, the testimony to his acting prowess is that after SMS, he is able to fit right into Neethane En Pon Vasantham too. Absolute talent, perhaps the most versatile after Kamal. 

Rajesh perfected his model in his first film while many accumulate signatures slowly over time.

Why yes how many first film directors set out to make their best film as their first?

Working under limitations of a production house (Vikatan) which was till then producing tele serials and no star magnet to put people in their seats. His advertising background probably came to help in including items that interest his core audience (the youth of 2008-9) and he went about it making it as honestly as possible and proving that excessive displays of conviction alone cannot make a good film, just being self will do. 

Do give it a watch, if you haven’t lately and we hope you would think well to include it in future anniversary revivals.  

After a top debut, where will Rajesh go from here? 

Tune into the next edition of Kalaai as a Service, where we (hopefully can) dive deep into the cinema of M Rajesh. 

Thank you for reading.

Categories
TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter Seven

Uncharacteristic for this series, episode six begins with a camera crawling on a field after a girl. The episodes as you may remember just begins mid-scene or mid movement with the words Perry Mason in the largest of art-deco fonts that could occupy our screens.  Much like below

But here is the camera slowly following a little girl admiring nature’s beauty, it’s Sister Alice, no, it’s just Alice before she became the ‘instrument of God’. The only other time this series went back in time was to show the impact the Great War had on Perry Mason. 

Sister Alice is an odd character in the Charlie Dodson case, her story thread strain runs parallel to the case but they never seem to meet, but it’s not too far away. Our now dead George Bannon and Emily Dodson first fell in love in Sister Alice’s Radiant Assembly of God. The establishment itself was funded by Herman Baggerly, who was Charlie Dodson’s grandfather as we got to know, but the biggest trick that the series played is in the character of Alice. The trick was to focus on the grand standing assurances made by the sister and to make us question her power and circle around the drama between Alice and her mother. 

All that is broken in the pre credits sequence. 

A lot of other assurances are broken too in this episode as we approach the end of the mystery, like for instance the friendship between Perry and Pete; both have been on the street detectives from the start but I guess it’s the end of their working relationship. After Perry became a lawyer (he is more confident in his appearance in court), they are no more on equal footing and yeah Pete does “fuck it up” at the most inopportune moment. 

Perry not only loses a working friendship but also his family property which is a terrible blow considering that’s all his motivation when he was in the dumps. In these thick of things though, he fears losing the case more than losing the property. 

There’s a nice running gag about Perry Mason’s suit which attained peak when a lady threw collected garbage as he walked in to court, did we mention that he actually does feel and talk like a lawyer now? Yeah we did, but we also want to point out that Perry is also always on the side of data and points and not emotion and narrative, that’s an admirable thing especially when Della asks him to go easy on the numbers. 

The numbers do make sense, acting on a clue from the last second of the previous episode Perry builds a competent case, almost a winner if not for the misfortune mentioned earlier. What also makes sense are the answers to three of the four questions we raised, and the fourth? Well that’s reserved for the final showdown. 

Just another week. We wait, much like those outside court dangling effigies of baby Dodson, but not with terror but with bated breath. 

The episode ends as it begins, with Sister Alice. 

HBO’s Perry Mason is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar and has been renewed for a second season.

Categories
cinema

Raat Akeli Hai

As The Swivel Chair Spins #12

Fridays are better than most days. 

Particularly the ones that come with detective movies. 

Raat Akeli Hai is indeed an evocative title, more so for Bollywood buffs of the Dev Anand song, but it hardly captures the movie that follows it. We could push a little more and say it’s a romantic title, much like Inspector Jatil Yadav- who’s secret gaze of women contradicts his lofty expectations from his future wife. “Decent” & “good looking” is what he tells his mother, how difficult would that be to find? 

Later on a lonely night, somewhere in the Gangetic plain,as Jatil bhai sits down to have his reheated dinner, a gruesome muder is reported. 

A large mansion. A dead old patriarch and suspects reaching to the double digits. It’s a classic Christie setting. 

Wait! A short detour into what catapults the best Christie adaptations into classic status, hmm, it’s only five things that we really need.

  1. There’s the idiosyncratic detective (mostly accented) 
  2. There’s the avengers type collection of the best of acting talent and all of them  colorful suspects 

(Maybe you can look up the list from Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express) 

  1. Of course, who could forget multiple motives
  2. Easy deception or more deaths 
  3. Finally, climatic exposition of what happened, preferably in the drawing room. 

Netflix’s Raat Akeli Hai has all of the above! Typing this makes us very happy, to see writing that loves genre elements like we do. 

But that’s not all, if it’s classic Christie in part, writer Smitha Singh seems to have been bitten by the Chinatown bug and weaves in Radha (Radhika Apte), a shifty femme fatale and layers of social commentary. 

Hmm, mostly it works well, no one can fault Nawaz as he limps through the small lanes in the search of clues and solve the murder of Raghubeer Singh. Nawaz believably goes from frustrated to sufficiently self confident. 

Where Raat Akeli Hai loses the plot, is in its inability to differentiate the suspects, this is important in a classic Christie setting because the tension is wholly sustained on who the killer is? 

Could it be him? Could it be her? Could it be them? Or could it be one of those unbelievable sleight of hands that Christie does and stumps her reader, just for sakes. 

All of this tension comes from us knowing the characters, glimpses of their lives, their worries and motives from the interviews that the detective would take and frame the narrative. Here, after a point (the third act), it didn’t really matter who the killer really was and our characters are just names painted behind foldable film shooting chairs. 

For the viewer tired of Christie’s Mysteries, there are lots of other things to look at, like the elaborately designed rooms in Thakur saab’s mansion, mirrors and Pankaj Kumar’s effective cinematography.

Yes, but it’s hard to watch this film  and not think about Knives Out.

Raat Akeli Hai is now streaming on Netflix.

Categories
TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter Six

And we are back. 

We mean from the sort of disappointment that episode five was, but this episode does not leave behind the sudden pick up of pace in the story telling. While we have stated that it could be because maybe the writers room just realized that there are not many episodes to go. 

Here we are with Perry Mason, finally taking center stage in a show that bears his name, if you would recall the last bits of chapter five where we see him get his license to law. Six begins directly at the courthouse and it promises to be a cracker. Except for our hero it is his first outing and all he outs are coughs and even the cameramen’s flash falls like lightning bolt.

It’s heartening to see the show come back to its root themes of how really tough it is to go against the system and how even justice is not about plain facts but about opinions, sentiment and circumstance. While Mason is trying his best to build up a face saving defense, he is also stuck with a client (Gayle Rankin is absolutely the best actress on the show) whose inability to be honest costs them a lot with the jury. 

The episode’s best moment comes when Perry gets to go against Matthew Dodson, now siding with the state, it makes a larger statement as to how society views differently the vices of men and women. But again, the case proceeds only around conjecture and that’s only because those who know the truth are too afraid to do so. And evidence…well that was sort of Perry’s trump card becomes futile. 

They only have two more episodes to go and what began as a single thread has now distributed into multiple strands and while old threads continue to provide more clues to Pete Strickland while he goes on a quest to connect the three brutal murders from episodes past. We of course know who did it, come on catch up soon, Mason & associates!

The scene of a frustrated Mason and his team reminded us of a similar scene from A Few Good Men. Keep at it guys, the truth presents itself to those who dig. 

It’s our job to do the recap right, so we tell you what are the questions that are still not close to being answered, 

A> We still don’t know who killed Baby Charlie and why

B> We don’t know what the Radiant Assembly of God is protecting

C> We don’t know for whom Innes is working for, but another dimension of his relationship with partner Holcomb came through

D> We don’t know if Sister Alice is doing the whole resurrection to divert the case away from its real interests

But what we do know is that Perry Mason will ultimately solve it for us.