Categories
cinema:tamil

Kamalum Hashtagum

A sudden rush of excitement and then normalcy returned.

Today takes me back to some evening in 2006, when a two part poster joined together in the center with a cool cop like Kamal Haasan asking the onlooker (including me) “Chinnapasangala Yaar Kitta?” was stuck outside our wall. 

It was a line from his recently released film “Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu”, it was also probably a poke at then other younger stars he was (is?) competing with. 

My mind rushed back to that very moment on seeing the hashtag on the latest announcement from Alwarpet; it said #KamalHaasan232. 

Loool I said to myself. 

The simple audacity of it, when even now Ajith and Vijay fans are creating a mindless riot over twitter expecting updates for their stars’ 60th something films. It is doubtful with their current productivity that they would reach two hundred films in total. Here was KH at 232.

Loooool I said again, he is still saying “Chinnapasangala Yaar Kitta?” 

A sudden rush of excitement, I shared the poster online and then normalcy returned. 

Meanwhile…

Media has successfully juvenilized Kamal too or current environment necessitates such hashtags. 

It was happening for sometime now, the definition of being a Kamal fan had changed this decade too, possibly it will change in the next. 

Being a Kamal fan meant that you would have to swallow the saliva in gulps when he released Guna with Thalapathy, being a Kamal fan meant honing individual tastes, being a Kamal fan meant that by default it was going against the crowd, being a Kamal fan meant you never know what you are going to get. 

It was not that KH did not command following or fandom, but the successive movies that he made where he did not fit himself in the hero template when faced with the onslaught of peak Rajnimania in the 90s.

This meant that the fans still retained in their head-individually and not as a group, why they loved him and for different people KH meant differently.

I’ll explain, for some when they say they like Kamal

  1. it was his film making (gumbal identifier for this is – Kamal is best screenplay writer/director, but Sivaji is best actor)
  2. It was his acting (gumbal identifier is – Kamal should stick to acting and let others to the directing) 
  3. It was his off screen views (gumbal identifier- KH has constantly inserted his politics as kuriyeedu in his films- xyz kuriyeedu) 
  4. It was his serious films (gumbal identifier- KH is the only true independent Tamil filmmaker we have)
  5. It was his comedy films (gumbal identifier- Why did he not do more films with Crazy Mohan?)
  6. It was his social service (gumbal identifier- do you know how many litres of blood Narpani has donated?”)

<Psst gumbal means group, I know I can use group, but using gumbal is more fun.>

These are just the six gumbals I wrote off the top of my head based on impressions on Kamal and that too only from the 90s.

80s gumbals will have their own qualifiers, because this man has been around for so long that not only different generations have hot takes on him, but within these generations there would be sub groups with hotter takes and more often these sub groups don’t see eye to eye.

There is also a growing generation of kids who might probably know him as BiggBoss tamil host. 

Which can mean only one thing. No single fandom. 

There is no combined KH fandom as it is for other template stars like MGR, Rajni, Vijay, Ajith and so on. Even if their stars go out of their grain and do a one-off film, their fans know that Rajni and Vijay have AR Murugadoss on speed dial to make the next total enmasse entertainer. 

To be a fan of the others, is to completely buy into the persona of the star, to see oneself in them. 

That never happens in a Kamal film, it is very difficult for a group to identify with the character that Kamal is playing on screen, also always it is a different Kamal and it is through the story or his acting or the other skills that he has that takes away our attention. 

So no singular fandom, but KH might be the biggest niche star in Indian film history. 

Allow me that one generalization now. 

Since Kamal was unique and he tried to make his unique movies, his fans too got unique bits of his persona which they clung on to, depending on how much they liked him over the years. 

Which brought me back to the hashtag. 

Lokesh Kanakaraj is a self confessed Kamal fan, he even speaks about Kamalism. 

Which takes me back to the launch of Kamal’s political party MNM, on the stage of which he said “isms dont work” 

Would Kamalism be another ism? Would it work? 

If so which gumbal would be able to fully appreciate the said Kamalism, is it his creative choices, is it his filmmaking, is it his insistence on doing quality stunt sequences (an underrated Kamal element even by gumbal), is it his offscreen comments or the newly adorned political character coat? 

I don’t know what Kamalism stands for at any point of time, guess it keeps changing like KH himself. 

Which was when the normalcy returned. 

Lokesh Kanakaraj has directed three films, two of them have seen the insides of a theatre, one is hoping it will pull us into one, post the pandemic.

Honestly, I liked both Maanagaram and Kaithi (hmm), but only till the movie run time and I have never since wanted to see it again and sometimes even worry about the fuss when I see the general acclaim. They are perfectly serviceable vehicles of entertainment, but neither moving to the mad cap extreme to develop a cult following nor pushing tamil cinema to the other side of art. 

Neutral films with an interesting premise. (Hmm)

When normalcy returned, I thought about the times when fans got to make their films with their idols, more recently Karthik Subbaraj with Petta, Atlee with his Vijay film trilogy and Prithviraj with Lucifer. 

Forget Lucifer, it is a great film, very rewatchable and Mohanlal can insert himself into any persona. I have seen Lucifer thrice in the lockdown alone, so forget Lucifer when I group it Petta etc. 

Sorry but my choice does help me illustrate the  contrast with the others viz. : if I don’t buy into the fanboy nature of the movie I won’t be able to appreciate it fully. 

Allow me one more speculation. 

Is Kamalism going to be like the 2021 version of “Rajnified” or will it be another Lucifer?

But why make another Lucifer? (hmm, lot of guns in the poster with a ghost like hero) 

This was when my normalcy dipped into sadness. 

Ok then I came back to a steady state and said to myself,”let’s wait for the movie, hobbitses”. 

And then I jotted all this down. 

The End.

PS

But I do know one gumbal who will be very pleased with today’s announcement: which is the “Kamal must submit himself to a young visionary filmmaker” gumbal. (single quotes over visionary)

Lool, I thought to myself, Kamal will never submit, go see the climax of Drishyam. 

Categories
cinema:english Essay

Moneyball: Saving Stories From Storytellers

More Words, More Lies

As a writer, lately, I have been having a crisis of faith. A falling out with words, adjectives mostly, a bunch of liars, these adjectives, hate them. They mean nothing and the world is a better place without them. 

That’s the thing with words, I just abused a whole class of them and no one is going to defend them. My crisis of faith stems from a professional point of view, the truth I believe is at the opposite of what I write and I keep blocking them with words, words that don’t mean what I want to say, but words that will somehow convey what the other person wants to hear. Basically, lies. It’s the same in conversation too. 

Analytics tell the truth and self analytics tell you the truth, and when people tell you the opposite, you know they are just saying it to make you feel better. There is concern, of course, but little truth. 

So you can imagine my crisis of looking at words on a page day after day and thinking, is this the truth?

I’ll make that generalization now.

Humanity stepped away from the truth when it started to use words to make itself feel better and ever since has made the lives of professional bullshitters (often called those who call themselves as storytellers) a very lucrative one. 

Seeking Truth in Movies & Life

Humor me one more time, I would like you “feel” the crisis of faith,if you are in a career that demands working with words 80% of the time (written and spoken-speaking on phones too count) and the rest 20% of the time “socializing”, then I’m sorry it is within the profession of bullshit, maybe we can collectively calm ourselves by calling ourselves storytellers. 

Oh no, I don’t hate stories, in fact I love them, stories come with seeds of truth in them. It’s the story tellers that come with their extra words and obfuscate the truth.For the storytellers the only tools are words and not analysis. As mentioned before, analysis leads to truth. 

Adding two and two, a well analyzed story and by keeping storytellers away, will lead to a personal truth, that the story is willing to offer me, the beauty of story is that it can deliver multiple truths.  I see Moneyball as a metaphor for this higher generalization.

But there is no denying the fact that words are entertaining, they take us away from the dullness that is associated with analysis, they can make us laugh or cry, feel emotion or even make us buy a product. But it’s not the truth, nor is it a path to it. 

Which is why it surprises me, when I see Aaron Sorkin’s name on the writing credits of MoneyBall.

Aaron Sorkin deals with a lot of words, more words than what you thought about when you just read “a lot of words”, not the Tharoor unreproducible types, but reproducible by people with decent degrees and some degree of smugness types. 

Affectionately paraded as ‘Sorkinisms’ by those trying to up their intellectual image (and smugness), his fast paced dialogues in a professional set up has ever since given men (mostly men) wet dreams of becoming a TV news host, Navy lawyer, Facebook founder, political speech writers and heck even the President of The United States. 

Sorkin’s characters radiate with the message often found on t-shirts, “Smart is the new sexy” , except Sorkin kids believe that here smart means using a lot of words within a short period of time. And too many words, often amount to nothing. 

Humor me again, four of the five professions mentioned are professional bullshitters, I mean storytellers,no wonder these give rise to wet dreams. 

So yeah, Aaron Sorkin could be one the patron saints of those who want to be storytellers. Which surprises me even more when I find his name on the screenplay of Moneyball. 

Because Moneyball is a film about how a American baseball team cut the bullshit and decided to win games. Based on the non fiction book by Michael Lewis, it traces the 2002 season of Oakland Athletics under the stewardship of GM Billy Beane. 

Now,Billy Beane got exposed to professional bullshit early in his life, he made a bad decision, falling prey to a talent scout who convinced Billy and his family that he has all the talent that is made to become a sports superstar. 

Except he didn’t. Not even close. 

The danger with these word driven professions and relationships, is that after a point people start believing in their own bullshit, it’s easier at stage when the storyteller is able to discern which part of what he/she says is the truth and which part is the shit. But when they keep doing that for years, it becomes difficult, as in the case of talent scouts looking for future recruits in the film. 

There’s a scene where Brad Pitt (who plays Billy Beane) is sitting at the end of a table with half a dozen talent scouts, the Oakland A’s have just lost their marquee players and are looking for replacements. 

X,Y & Z players are chosen not for their ability but for reasons such as how pretty the player’s girlfriend is. He’s been fed all these narratives and no real solution to build a team that will win. 

That’s the thing with professional bullshitters, they often forget the problem they have been employed to solve, but circle around intangibles not willing to face or seek the truth. 

Billy Beane could have been a top executive somewhere far away from professional bullshitters had he taken up the offer from a top school and not followed someone else’s gut instinct, but you cannot really blame these tale spinners entirely, they have been doing it for long convincingly, drowning in their own stories and overestimating their ability in every step, even when the data points the opposite way. 

They are the ones who need help, too. 

The Difficulty of Being Honest

One of the best things that the movie Moneyball does is that it addresses how difficult it is to be honest in the real world and how civility and pleasantries weigh in on every conversation, but thankfully it also shows how an honest conversation can bring about real change. 

Every conversation that Billy has with those who are up the power chain (his boss, his ex-wife with whom he shares a kid, the team manager played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman)is laced with needless affirmations of positivity, half-truths to somehow sneak in what he really wants to say. 

But when he is the one holding the power chord in conversations (to her peers, the talent scouts, the players ) it’s always business, always to the point and always with a result. Never an indecisive moment. Never an extra word wasted on a pleasantry.

The more honest he gets, the more his team wins.

With data powering him, Billy Beane is able to make the most dramatic decisions in the mid-season of play, but hardly seems dramatic while doing it. The lack of drama is due to the absence of charged up confrontational scenes, and what do confrontational scenes bring? Yes a lot of words in full volume. 

The Oakland A’s go onto create a record number of wins, a team that could hardly hope to retain its key players at the start of the season managed to go high places because its GM chose to cut out the bullshit and focus on what is to be done by careful analysis. 

That’s the story. 

It doesn’t need embellishment, it doesn’t need narrative constructs, it doesn’t need the ‘instinct and gut’, it doesn’t at all need words, it doesn’t definitely need storytellers.

Which is why it surprises me to see Aaron Sorkin’s name on the credits of Moneyball, it surprises me even more to know that he was nominated for a writing Oscar for this film. It doesn’t surprise me, however, to find that he shared a screenplay credit with Steve Zaillian.

Moneyball is the most non-Sorkinesque of the Sorkin films, there is hardly any walk and talk, there is no high pitched emotional venting, there is not much smart quipping at each other moments. Very less confrontation, very less words. 

It’s all very quiet, the dialogue is on point, nothing more than the scene demands. Although I could see the ‘screenplaying’ in the form of the relationship between Billy Beane and his daughter, it doesn’t divert the attention away from the story. Though I acknowledge that there is a lot of Sorkin in one major three way phone call scene. 

Which makes me wonder, was Sorkin compelled by the inherent forces of the story to tone himself down or was he having a crisis of faith? Was he losing his words for the search for the truth? Moneyball, after all is mostly the truth, these things happened. 

(I don’t have to make everything about myself, but hey this is my blog)

By asking that question I know I am playing down a lot of things, like say the involvement of director Bennet Miller,the contribution of Steve Zaillian and Stan Chervin who wrote the script and story respectively.

But to answer that here’s what Zaillian told Sorkin during the time when Sony Pictures asked for a rewrite “Listen, do me a favor, don’t change the movie. Just write more of it.”

Sorkin could have and certainly had the power to make the movie another Sorkinesque film, after all he had just written The Social Network! 

But he didn’t. He stuck to the story.

Following Moneyball, Sorkin wrote an adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s monumental Steve Jobs biography and this video hints that Sorkin is back to his ‘language’ days. And Moneyball seems to be just a one-off for him, the one time the story was saved from the storyteller.  

Moneyball can be seen from the outside world of sports and analytics too, like this piece called Who’s On First by Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler. 

While here I am typing away and trying to connect seeking truth in life and seeking truth in movies, with Moneyball playing example, but the events did happen right? Oakland A’s did win all those matches and other teams did start to adopt Billy Beane’s method of team building, it did force the talent scouts to reduce their guessing games and kitchen counter speeches and go behind numbers, it changed something and so there must be some truth in it. 

All great movies (despite the words), reveal a personal truth to the watcher and for me Moneyball did during this rewatch. 

So all is not in vain, if you have read this far, hope you did get something out of it and not empty words.

There’s a lot of challenges for many of us right now and we don’t know what the world is turning out to be, but Moneyball offers a warm blanket of a solution too and when followed moderately can lead to happiness. 

Categories
cinema FRS

FRS: Sadak 2

It’s good to be back!

So you all know what an FRS is right? Right? 

-20: Movie begins with “ millennial represent “ Alia Bhatt’s character Aarya sneaking into an Ashram of a Baba and (what else) drawing graffiti on one of his giant cut-out with the word Badla. 

Nothing innately wrong with this, millennials are often shown to be using graffiti as their preferred mode of expression, but seconds later the same millennial burns down the whole cut-out, which doesn’t make sense. 

Why vandalise if you are going to burn the whole thing down?  

I guess we will never understand millennial-represents, maybe the negative points are for us. Ok, it is for us. 

+12: Aarya uses the split second available before she is chased by the authorities to capture this flaming act of protest in an insta live. Opportunistic characters are opportunistic. 

+2: Director goes into a flash montage of the happenings of Sadak 1 , good for those who missed the first film, which includes most of the FRS writers room. The important takeaway is that Pooja (character played by Pooja Bhatt is dead) 

FRS Trivia Thagaval 

Vasanth’s tamil film Appu starring Top Star Prashant is a remake of Mahesh Bhatt’s Sadak 1 which itself was based on the Martin Scoresese movie Taxi Driver, which some critics opine as being inspired by John Ford’s The Searchers

FRS Trivial Thagaval brought to you by Wikipedia 

+20: Ravi seems to have done well by himself in the last 20 years, from being a taxi driver to the co-owner of Pooja Travels which has many Audis in its fleet. They also seem to have in possession of prime real estate in Mumbai, but the movie of course doesn’t want to focus on the positive aspect of the story but more on the still depressed taxi driver Ravi. 

Does Ravi fear the rise of cab operators like Ola and Uber,which could potentially eat into his business, we will never know. Movie is not interested in such things. 

+35: Millennial Aarya instead of booking Bla Bla Car or some such ride sharing service goes back to good old Pooja travels for her trip to Kailash to be completed before she turns 21.This could be seen as a hipster thing, like people picking up board games to reduce time spent on apps.  

-35: It so happens that Driver Ravi also meets Millennial Aarya at the hospital, the day before, expected movie co-incidence is expected. 

-101: Hero will deny the journey to be taken but will somehow be convinced to go on the journey, because “screenplay”. Also the audience knows this will always happen because they know the runtime of the movie.

+56: During the course of the journey we learn that millennial Aarya is also the founder of an activist group called India Against Fake Babas, it is an awareness group that meets sometimes in cafes and tells people that they do not need interpreters and can directly speak to God. Down with blind faith boys.

-22: Unfortunately, India Against Fake Babas is not against all Fake Babas but only one, namely Gyaan Prakash, whose cut-out we wrote about earlier. 

That begs us the question, how does one know who the fake babas are? Never mind, movie is not interested in such stuff anyway, if movie tells baba is fake then we must accept it, blindly. 

+101: Millennial Meet Cute- movie is very innovative in ways to make its lead characters meet. In the age of the online trolling (of which Sadak 2 is also a victim, wait for our FRS Trivia Thagaval again) Aarya seeks out Vishal (Aditya Roy Kapoor) who is the constant web irritant to her cause, India Against Fake Babas and demands a public apology. 

This being a movie, both fall in love at first sight. 

We although fear that this would encourage twitter trolls to think that if they do keep hounding celebrities that they might actually fall in love with them. 

-25: Movie makes an attempt at equipoised storytelling that champagne liberals behind causes don’t add much to the cause other than themselves, movie then abandons this line of storytelling because hero falls in love with heroine.

-57: India Against Fake Baba’s other outreach strategy is to distribute handbills to people on the street and see if they call them back, movie itself makes fun of this strategy. LOL

-101: For a movie called Sadak, almost 90 pc of the movie takes place inside rooms, maybe they should have called it Sadak 2: Now in Kamra 

That now reminds us of Chennaiyil Oru Naal 2’s unbelievable tagline. 

-122: Movie wants us to think Ooty is some Himalayan hill station, boss

-60: Movie also wants us to believe in its blatant “screenplaying”, one girl gets a father, a father who lost a daughter gains one, a man who lost interest to live found a cause etc, yeah yeah but why do you also say it in dialogue too? 

-33: Aditya Roy Kapoor always carries a guitar on his back, this made us fear that when he will break into a song and our fears came true 

That was really the most fearful moment in the movie for us, because every obstacle introduced in the movie is resolved easily in the next scene itself. 

-24.6: usual something something twist happens and everything comes to an end and millennial Aarya makes an appeal to the government saying that bringing light to all corners of the country will not do much good, but dispelling darkness by chasing away fake Babas is the true path to greatness. 

We wondered if she would dedicate her entire fortune to fighting fake babas and mythbusting, but no such announcement was seen in the movie, which made us think about Aditya Roy Kapoors abandoned comment about Champagne Liberals. 

All the best for India Against Fake Babas

FRS Trivia Thagaval 

At the time of going to press (lool we think of ourselves as one publication), Sadak 2 was the second most disliked trailer on youtube, which is why we mentioned that it was a victim of concerted web abuse, the first most disliked video is the YouTube Rewind 2018 

FRS Trivia Thagaval brought to you by Wikipedia

A short interview with our editor about the new section FRS Trivia Thagaval 

Journalist: Why did you introduce this new section to your old review format FRS?

Editor: We believe that people should learn something when they go to the movies

Journalist: We are hearing rumors that this is because of falling traffic to your blog site

Editor: It’s not a rumor, it is the truth, but we don’t add sections for such things like web traffic

Journalist: That’s big breaking news

Editor: Lool, never blogged eh? 

End of interview 

All numbers are incidental and arbitrary , except the facts provided by our data analytics team

Subam

Team FRS

PS Mahesh Bhatt’s Sadak 2 is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar

PPS Venkatesh Bhatt’s Idhayam Thotta Samayal is now streaming on his youtube channel, just saying.

Categories
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.