Categories
cinema

COBRA (2022)

There would have been a time when I would have loved a movie like Cobra. 

There would have been a time when I would have contributed to the FRS of a movie like Cobra. So you all know what an FRS is right?

Now is not that time. 

There would have been a time when I would have loved a movie like Cobra, that would have been in 1993. 

In 1993, Gentleman released and for long stretches of growing up, it was my favorite movie. 

A series of mysterious crimes happen-an unknown hero-an officer is on his tail -their lives intersect and then we learn of the hero’s backstory and his motivation to be involved in these crimes. 

Will the hero succeed? 

Ascribing any sort of invention in cinema is usually wrong, but Shanker really did re-invent this sub-genre for the Tamil screens and he doesn’t usually get credit much.

Gentleman, Indian, Anniyan, Ai even 2.0 have the same story structure, it provided the perfect skeleton to warrant a big star and Shankar smartly could also up the budget and indulge in indulgences. 

There would have been a time when I would have contributed to the FRS of a movie like Cobra, that would have been in 2015.

Guess it’s not a subgenre after all, it is only one if others too are able to make effective additions. 

Movies in the above class made by those who are not Shanker, somehow feel very derivative and uninspiring. 

Shanker himself effectively killed it with Ai, but like after Sati’s death, her body was scattered all across the country, elements from this subgenre make their place in other Tamil films.

I can also see why Vikram would have had no problem in agreeing to Cobra, not only does it have an interrogation scene which is reminiscent of Anniyan, there is the noble motivation of helping orphans along the way, even though he has to assassinate many state heads in outrageous costumes. 

No hero has never turned down an orphanage helping hero. It’s our version of saving the cat.

Now that’s a trope when done badly gives the viewer a headache. 

I got a headache, paused the movie and reached out to get my Amrutanjan.

When the movie began again, even Vikram’s character had a headache, it was because the heroine was in love with him- she was also a math teacher. 

Okay, so if you start playing Cobra bingo every time someone says “Math Genius” in this movie, you might have to shell out more money to print more bingo cards. 

I was almost convinced that this was a Shanker clone, till I found that director Ajay Gnanamuthu had his fingerprints all over the film. If you remember an annoying kid from his previous movie, there’s an annoying student in this one. 

Before I realized why the student is in the picture, I applied some more Amrutanjan. Yes, the girl stays in the picture to give a circuitous connection as to why the movie is called Cobra. 

Just before mid-way, the director discovered hackers can also be geniuses and introduces another character and the movie turns into one brother protecting the other much like Aalavandhan. 

By that time I was out. I fell into a black pool along with my Amrutanjan bottle, mathematical formulas danced to the tune of Thumbi Thumbi as they chased me. 

I kept falling till I reached the Cobra’s lair. I was not surprised that it spoke, because nothing would surprise me more than Irfan Pathan playing an interpol officer called Aslan in a tamil movie called Cobra.

The Cobra spoke. I asked it to stop and bite me instead. It understood that I needed sleep, deep sleep and it granted me the gift of dreamless sleep. 

Categories
OTT

Tamilrockerz (2022)

It’s an irritatingly ironic thing that a series that aims to showcase the ills of piracy, might actually be helpful in bringing out the case for the pirates.

When the Sony Liv series was announced, it had enough intriguing elements that made me seek it,

First was the writer-director Arivazhagan who has, in my book, one of the best thriller filmographies in recent Tamil cinema.

Next was the comeback of the storied production house AVM, whose last theatrical release was in 2011.

Finally, the story of Tamilrockerz, a renegade pirate group who had gained popularity for releasing pirated versions of Tamil movies on the same day of release.

As usual in this never-ending cycle of “expectation-leads-to disappointment”, none of the expected elements fired to push this thriller to even the bare minimum of what could be termed as thrilling.

Instead, what we get is for the 700th time in cinema, a police officer with a dead wife, running a rather uninteresting race against time investigation.

Ok let’s write an investigative thriller.

What should our police hero be called?

It must be one single name.

How about Rudra?

Super. Rudra it is. Basic police hero name. Ajay Devgn also used recently.

What should be his motivation?

A masked gang kidnapped his wife and killed her. Basic police motivation.

Super, put that in.

So, he becomes rogue and executes fake encounters at will.

Why?

Because we need to have at least one chase and fight for our hero.

What happens as a result of this fake encounter? Do they reprimand him?

No, he is in fact given the task to round up Tamilrockerz.

Yes, this series is as cliched as the Z that comes in Tamilrockerz.

Ok theek hai, that they didn’t have enough time to write better characters, maybe they spent that time in trying to find out how piracy networks work.

Nope!

But then that is too not the case, in fact the film is not about the inner workings of the piracy network, it is another careless revenge thriller.

Tamilrockerz are not faceless villains who wrecked the Tamil cinema industry, but it was all a personal score to settle with a certain producer. Someone from the producer’s past badly lip-syncs his way to become the villain of his future.

The Kollywood producer victimization meter too is turned to a 11, constantly trying to remind the audience that production of movies is both risky and noble.

Guys, feel for the producer.

Think about the families!

Think about the 300 people working on set!

Kollywood Victimization reaches peak when Arivazhagan decided to drop MS Baskar into the mix, as a failed producer who has lost it all.

In the 1970s this would have been considered cute. Cute but with tears.

It’s the magic of the movies, guys, it could lead you to madness. Don’t you get it?

Think about all the families!

But what about telling a story? What about characters? What about cutting down the bullshit?

Uh…um…think about the families!

Of course, there is no point in expecting a balanced take or even an in-depth take. Kolly simply doesn’t do depth.

Kolly also doesn’t give credit when it ‘adapts, nor is it fully accountable to the taxman, and fully exploits the emotions of fanboys but somehow wants us to feel for them producers.

Them producers who from their Audis and AC rooms want to convince us of their noble intentions.

Think about their families!

Tamilrockerz is streaming on Sony LIV.

As the swivel chair spins will return.

Categories
cinema:tamil ck and mm

CK and MM watch Mahaan (2022)

Ext- Jil Jung Juk Bar + Garden Restaurant

It was just another pretentious bar with fuzzy neon lights where underpaid mid-life professionals pretended to act like low-life gangsters in the hope of gaining street cred or breakthrough into screenwriting.

All the inhabitants however knew, both goals are impossible.

There’s an 80s Rajni song playing in the background, it’s an otherwise forgettable song, made unforgettable only by the Thalaivar fan urge to never let such things die.

It’s not an immediately recognizable song, if it had been then this would have not been a pretentious bar named after a pretentious movie.

Enter Moderate Manohar or MM in slow motion

Moderate Manohar is now 40 years, obviously he has put on weight, he still tucks in his t-shirt and replies to messages in his family WhatsApp group. There is nothing inherently wrong with him, except of course the fact that he is a foreign film critic for the Chicago Sun Times. His specialty is writing about the intersection of gender, culture, politics and religion- which was a nice way of saying that he could write about anything.

Nobody really liked MM, but he was polite, so people didn’t tell him openly that they didn’t like him. They had separate WhatsApp groups to make fun of him, however.

Enter Caustic Kumar or CK in slow motion

CK is 37 years old, but he looks like he is 52. On his Aadhar card he looks 55, because it’s his father picture instead of his. The government didn’t care, father-son, all the same.

CK is not a Gandhian, but is known to speak his mind. Nobody really likes CK too, but they enjoyed telling him that. He is now immune to such comments and often takes it with a smile, later he would run such people to the ground through his secret twitter account.  

Years ago, CK and MM were a duo of sorts, under the Chief, they were allowed to publish anything under the column: movie reviews.

It came as a shock to the Chief that when the publication was sold off to a corporate house with the promise of ‘repurposing’ content, the company left out all the movies CK and MM covered.

After selling the publication for a small fortune, the Chief turned to drinking, MM had secured a cushy review job and CK was left on the streets, while he returned to his roots: cooking. He came from a family of Cook-u Kumars, including the one who had made a Dosa for Queen Elizabeth when she had come to Chennai for the launch of Marudanayagam.

He now was the parotta master at Jil Jung Juk Bar, he was surprised that it was more comfortable than his previous job, paid well and his customers didn’t complain.

MM Meets the Chief (and CK)

Chief: I want you guys to unite, we can do the reviews again, we had a vision, a dream, we can make it big again.

The Chief was an exceedingly positive person, especially for a person who resorted to drinking after making a small fortune.

MM: Let’s be practical chief, nobody reads reviews anymore and to be honest, you cannot afford me.

CK: He can’t afford me neither.

MM: CK!

CK: Oh, hi MM! I read your piece on the loss of innocence in Pandiarajan films of the 2000s midway…and…

MM: And?

CK: Oh, before I finished it, the boys in the kitchen used it for wrapping vadais, pandemic you see, we are using whatever we get.

MM: Umm, you seem to have done well for yourself (MM was surprised)

CK: There’s no business like Manchow business! Try our soups.

Chief: No guys, seriously, we can publish on those new newsletter sites and accumulate and audience and ask them readers to pay for our reviews. You have no idea the kind of things people pay for nowadays, surely, they will pay for reviews.

MM: Well…

CK: Hmm…

Chief: Oh, come on, you are not the Beatles and there is this new movie called Mahaan that you will surely want to write about.

CK and MM Get Back Together in slow motion

MM: So…

CK: Yeah…

MM: Do you want to go first and give us a peek of your Mahaan Vanmam

CK: But how did you. But of course, you follow me on twitter.

MM: No, I generally guessed based on past experience that you hate 99% of all things.

CK: Well, done, MM. Good to see you thinking. Good to see anyone thinking these days.

MM: What do you mean?

CK: I mean… if someone had thought about it, Maahan would not have been made.

MM: Seriously, it’s not that bad

CK: Good, now you accept that it is not good and I only have to convince you that it’s bad. A small tilt. But I have to get back to being the parotta master.

Let’s continue in the kitchen

CK and MM in the kitchen, various others going about their cooking business, ambient cooking noise and Tamil FM music

MM: So, you were going to say that the movie was longer than it should have been?

CK: No MM, my observations are often on point and not general, that’s one of the reasons I didn’t do well as a movie critic.

For example, I would say stuff like, Karthik Subbaraj, we get the irony, we get the irony like a Gandhian being a liquor baron, it’s there in your script, you didn’t have to spell it out to us in the form of dialogue especially after driving home the point that hero’s name is Gandhi Mahaan.

MM: That is true, sometimes too on the nose.

CK: Yeah, just like the Gandhi glasses, I thought like that was pushing too much. Gandhians wearing caps okay, but wearing same glasses, especially were those for sight or you know something like cos-play.

MM: These are like the points the FRS writers would come up with. I was thinking more like this was a critique of those who follow any ideology intensely, hence they were the butt of the jokes.

CK: Exactly MM, you found the point. Always look at what they are making fun of, that’s the easiest way to find intent from a creator.

There are obviously different levels to this and some critics might say that intent does not really matter; but all along I was feeling that this ideology extremists vs let me just be free and have a drink is not thought through well.

It assumes that ideology has ruined more people than alcohol has, well of course the director does not want to engage in more research, he has made it with the stance that ideology is somehow more dangerous.

MM: Well, I wouldn’t blame him, anything in the extreme is bad

CK: Typical of something you would say isn’t it; well, I would like to differ to know something you really have to be fully into it. The idea must consume you for you to completely believe in it. I’m not saying that we should overlook the downsides of ideology, but to say that it is better to be a liquor baron than be committed to ideology is like elementary school level logic.

MM: But intent itself does not the drive the movie, these are inferences that you make.

CK: I’m trying to say it plainly here, Karthik Subbaraj’s Mahaan is just another film which pushes the one life live it large philosophy, he tries to bolster this by saying that people who are committed to ideologies are dangerous and it is better to have a drink and ruin your life and those who depend on you.

MM: You’re reading too much; this is just a film about repressed desires of a guy who’s been caged for 40 years.

CK: So, the dream of this freedom seeker is to wear color clothes and have a drink.

Wait, this movie is more dangerous in the way it defines freedom: which is the pursuit of local pleasures which is drinking.

By defining freedom as just the freedom to drink, it is another throw of the hammer at family, in fact that is what happens to Gandhi Mahaan’s family.

MM: No wait, don’t you think that how Nachi reacted to her husband’s one night of drinking too much? It’s not realistic.

CK: Wait on one hand, we talk about having relationships wherein we don’t have to tolerate each other and that people should move away from such relationships, while you feel that Nachi is over reacting?

MM: But hasn’t she brought up her son with vengeance in his heart?

CK: Again, Nachi is the only one in the movie who has brought up a son who has amounted to anything, to become a police officer; it’s only because the director feels that this vengeance drives him to psychopathic acts, we feel he is wrong.

Movies are always from the POV of the director, like how many movies had the only motivation as vengeance and we did not even bat an eyelid.

Wait a minute, even Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta was about vengeance across generations.

MM: But that was when Nawazuddin gunned down an entire clan

CK: Here too Mahaan orders a killing of an IAS officer

MM: But you cannot seek lessons for life from movies, they are movies CK, they are meant to be enjoyed. I agree, we do see from the point of view of the director.

CK: Isn’t that an easy argument? My inference is that in Karthik Subbaraj films, morals do not matter and those with any sort of those are mocked. Even Satyavan who has a telling scene and answers to God and realizes that there are defined things such as good and bad and not everything is grey, is made fun of.

Always look at who they make fun of, the intent is revealed there.

MM: And you still have problems with grey characters

CK: Mahaan is not a grey character, he kills for business and runs illegal gambling bars, he kills seven other police officers, he does not even a have a moral reason to get into this ‘business’ like how Velu Nayakan does.

All this exists only to satisfy slow motion fetishes of the makers, to make us believe that this kind of life is actually freedom and we should pursue it.

MM: See this is why, we cannot have any fun, everything is brought within a moral framework.

CK: In that case the movie should not opine on ideology vs freedom, it should probably openly say that I am really fascinated by gangster growth and I will shoot it the best way and idolize it.

MM: Umm…it’s not like that

CK: Only to make the bad guy look cooler and in control, the ones with ideologies are made fun of. And only coolness sells, if Mahaan had been cooler by himself.

MM: Is that your final take? You barely went past the core idea that the movie deals with and I believe the movie is much more than that, for me how the thread of how three friends are connected through life’s ups and downs very interesting and the devadoothan fight had real punch in a Tamil movie fight scene in a long time. The ending of course is too constructed to the point you can see the name of the TMT bars used in the construction.

CK: Yeah, the Daylight Devadoothan fight scene was really something, will have to watch that alone multiple times, but the rest of it I could never go past and marvel at the way the film was told when I could not buy the central idea of it. It seemed unusually light at moments of great weight, almost insincere.

CK turns around another Parotta and MM calls it a night, so that he can go home and listen to Nino Rota. The chief as usual didn’t know what to make of their conversation, but he published it anyway.

At the time of publishing, he wore an Editor’s Guild T shirt which said, “Find someone who can reject you”

CK and MM will return with another movie conversation.

Mahaan starring Chiyaan Vikram and directed by Karthik Subbaraj is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Categories
cinema:tamil FRS

FRS: Anbarivu (2022)

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

We would like to start by wishing all our readers a very Happy New Year, let’s just hope there are less movies with narration this year.

-10: Narration, there goes our new year wish, all the best to us. This is not a complex story, as in, this is just another village vs village story and there are at least 3000 ways to tell this without having to have narration.

Since we are blog that does not just raise questions but also provides solutions: makers can actually name the movies with the same premise so that audience can directly connect

-5: Narration by Vidarth, who is kind of like the principal antagonist, beginning with his narration almost feels right as the movie progresses, but then this narration comes to nothing and his narration is also not followed through.

I wish to start a new business by sending a daily whatsapp/text reminders to directors and writers on set, it would just read the following.

Daily Reminder: People are not dumb.

That seems like a good segue to our next point

-50: Twins

If you thought that the village vs village was a done to death in Tamil cinema then you are in store for another repetitive story jumping off point- separated twins.

It doesn’t bother us that Anbarivu picks up familiar themes, it only bothers us that the director is brazen with the- “yeah yeah, we know you have seen these movies before, but did it have Hip Hop in them?”

Yes Hip Hop is the differentiating factor in the film, but not always differentiating factors are good. And this time he comes in twos.

-300: Napoleon plays a quote-unquote majestic village headman, where people ‘respect’ him for what he is, his weekend hobby is to fight in riots with neighboring village folk.

There is undeniably a caste angle here and an intent to show that caste violence is a sickening thing and slip in a message about equality, but how does the director think that a two hour 45 min film which glorifies such violence for two hours and 20 mins expect us to believe that such a transformation can happen in the last 25 mins?

Hehe, it can, possibly with powerful filmmaking. Run time is not an indicator of impact, but here it seems almost like a casual turn the movie takes towards the end.

Also the Napoleon character is applauded in the end, because he ‘accepts’ that he was wrong etc. Boss he must also be in Jail, so must the Anbu character.

-120: Generic Maduraikarans: funny like one specific thing becomes relatively mainstream it completely loses its specificity, ever since Maduraikaranisms were taken up as major characters in tamil films, they have ever since been reduced to stereotypes who spout words like Sambavam, Rathabhoomi etc

Tiring.

-60: Ragging in Canada university

-23: Hero’s dad becomes president of IDFC or something in Canada and this is celebrated by Canadians on TVs and billboards etc

-101: Hero gets slow motion entry because he is hero and most of the village cheer him because he is hero, do educate us city types, do villages like these exist?

Also village celebrates hero’s birthday with Jallikattu, of course there was going to be Jallikattu in this movie

+45: Murattu Kaalai Ex Machina

If you know, you know

-25: Heroine thinks that all foreigners are in open relationships, hero thinks that all village love is true and pyoor etc, so he must marry a pucca tamil girl etc

+56: Irritation as a plot propulsion device

Somewhere I feel that the director is very perceptive, he understands that the material at hand can bring about much irritation to the audience, so much so that he incorporates this as a theme

Arivu irritates his thatha in the village

Anbu irritates his appa in Canada

So yeah, that’s about it.

-20.9: Delayed Thaai Paasam Gratification + with Amma song

-59: Movie is confused max, it believes that it needs to be a commercial film and hence needs to add commercial elements but also realized that these commercial elements are also regressive, so movie cannot make up it’s mind, so it makes one of the twins a woke reformer (something of the sort)

+30: But I would also like to come clean, that on a Saturday with an impending lockdown, the second half of this movie was quite calming even though the first half (my division not the movie’s) was quite aggravating.

The second half gives chance for all the characters that were introduced to come together and in their own ways complete their respective arc. It’s not the most organic of stories but somehow seemed “well-set”, Anbarivu also benefits from a good supporting cast who can sell this story and make up for whatever is lost by the casting of the leads.

And in this Vidarth really was interesting.

-87: It’s not a village movie unless there is a foreign corporate power trying to take over the lands of the people

Etc

Yeah I know.

Subam

Team FRS

Anbarivu is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar

Categories
Netflix OTT TV

Decoupled (Netflix, 2021)

What if you could really say what you think? As opposed to what if you could really say what you feel?

I avoided the word feel, because Arya Iyer in the new Netflix relationship series Decoupled doesn’t seem to care much about feelings.

He is an observer and a thinker and by virtue of being the second best selling Indian English author in the country (huh), he is able to achieve this special status.

In India, it must really be normal to say what you think, after all it is guaranteed in the Constitution, but as an earlier Manu Joseph (the same who created Decoupled) column would go on to say:  freedom of expression is always subordinate to someone’s freedom to take offense.

Netflix marketed Decoupled as a divorce comedy that looks at marriage in urban elite India, which it is, but it is also mostly not.

Arya Iyer, a stand-in for Manu uses Decoupled as a platform for social commentary. All evidence points that way that, starting from the Dravid vs Tendulkar argument, the constant state of being riled at Indian bullshit jobs, the users of certain words and the general dissing of economists and art films. It’s all from his columns.

In modern marketing (an upmarket term that marketers use to prevent themselves from being identified as digital marketers), seniors would often throw around the term ‘content repurposing’ which is shorthand for ‘we don’t have any new ideas.

There you learned something which you can use in your next marketing meeting. See here, I’m being meta about my day job while using a film blog as a platform to spell out my irritations. Decoupled does the same.

The observations from Manu’s mint column which are visualized, some of them prescient like an offhand comment on how like Israel everyone in India should have 2 years military training and many hilarious like literal Greta Thunberg costumes, Gurgaon working women’s book club and the concept of live-art.

But what’s the point?

People (mostly men) have a lot of irritations, but mouthing them would land us in trouble, increasingly so when each word has to be measured in the fear of offending anyone. So much so that it is often portrayed that expressing such observations (however superficial) is somehow insensitive to others.

The threat of being offended looms large and most opinions are not expressed. Be civil, agree to your mainstream, smile when you have to, salute when you have to, give for the causes everyone gives to etc. In a sense it is the freedom of collective expression that prevails over the freedom of expression.

While the better thing to do would have been to air the opinions however stupid or profound and be done with it. It’s an opinion for God’s sake, it can change and it should offend.

Arya Iyer is a creation of an irritated mind, he cannot exist in reality, he cannot exist in the sectors of Gurgaon or in any Indian gaon; but Manu goes beyond just creating an irritating character but allows him to pursue his irritation into actions of small pleasure; it is as though in this universe: the irritated must irritate, the annoyed must annoy back and therein lies the sweetness of small-time revenge.

And Madhavan is a revelation as Arya Iyer, offending everyone, he is self-assurance personified and when he does say these observations (The Indian way of having one gate closed- haha), it does come off as a person who wishes to be seen as smart.

Punching in all directions

There is an unwritten rule that farmers and poor people should not be made fun and the joke should always be on the rich and the famous. Decoupled boxes with this rule in some episodes. When the driver Ganesh tells Arya that the smell on his body is actually the smell of the land (the sweat from agriculture), in a usual film or series this would be an inspiring-emotional moment but here it is played for laughs.

I wish this season had gone into establishing that rich or poor, we all come with our quirks, malice and goodness and true representation is showing them as they are and not feigning respect or sympathy for sakes. Ganesh does get the best lines in the series after Arya, maybe a tad bit too late.

Decoupled also does not give me enough of Shruti, played by Surveen Chawla who displays a keen understanding for the character but has very little to do, again until the very end. The writing also becomes lite when the series tries to be an Indian version of Seinfeld (Arya and his friends pitch something like a show about nothing to Netflix) and suddenly the gravity of the lead characters decoupling takes over episode 7 and 8.

The series is important to me also because after a long time felt watching a show which did not try and appeal to everyone for the sake of distribution. The creation of the niche shows was what was promised in OTT land but even the good ones took the broad-based Bollywood approach to storytelling.

Decoupled is specific in its targeting and interesting in its premise, funny in its happenings and is a very easy watch.

All episodes now streaming on Netflix.