Category: cinema:tamil

Ponmagal Vandhal

As The Swivel Chair Spins #9

It’s the sort of film that could prove to be a downer. It’s not something that is a pleasant Friday evening watch, heck it is not even a Tuesday afternoon watch.

Psst... more about Tuesday afternoon watch phenomenon later, maybe on brighter days. Days when I don’t have to think and write about films like Ponmagal Vandhal.

I know it’s me, not the film. I know the problem lies at my core and nothing with the film; I just switch off when I realize that item sold is empathy.

It’s a word thrown around so easily, this empathy that everyone speaks of, this act of truly being in the shoes of others to know what they ‘feel’. Smart people will realize that this empathy concept is only used in relation to pain and not happiness.

And so they say, I can only know someone’s pain if I empathize with them. But I do need to know myself first, to try and understand what the other person is feeling. If that is even remotely possible.

Empathy is media’s potent tool, but unlike using it like a Brahmastra, it is used like your regular everyday astra. Thousands of words are written about how the goal of everything that I did for fun, namely watch movies and read books, was to inculcate this latent empathy.

<Sighs>

I can identify with someone, I can aspire to be someone, I can be tolerant of some actions and I can even be considerate but is it even possible to grasp in its entirety at what goes on in another person’s mind?

There are levels of trying to understand other people, but all those gradations are lost when someone throws the empathy argument to counterbalance a logical point.

Often the case is such that empathy is the last resort of those without an argument. And the word “empathy” has been so fortified, that few raise voice against its easy use.

Ponmagal Vandhal doesn’t do much differently, it again places empathy as evidence in a court of law and it talks a lot about justice too. So that’s where I lost the film. It’s also a social message film and not very intelligent in conveying it.

Ooty lawyer Venba (Jyothika) has just reopened a 15 year old multiple homicide case, she raises doubt that there were things that were brushed under the carpet in the initial investigation.

Clues that were smudged by the act of power.

Power here is embodied by Varatharajan (Thyagarajan), naturally as this is a Tamil film, he is an industrialist and Venba plays the everywoman who still believes that real justice still exists in this world, the David to Varatharajan’s Goliath.

The problem here is that David seems to be unprepared for a case that she had been brought up literally her whole life to argue. Her questions are shot down and her witnesses vanish, while I sit and wait for a clever move from either side, all I am presented with is empathy.

Courtroom drama is an exciting genre, a battle of wits, half of which in this film is brought by Rajarathinam (R Parthiban) while the other half of wits goes missing even with a galaxy of supporting actors (Bhagyaraj, Pandiayarajan & Pratap Pothan) whose brief seemed to be “just show up in court”.

Maybe I should have waited and not jumped onto streaming it immediately but kudos to the producers for taking the over the top route to releasing a film. Bold move, really.

Like charity, empathy begins at home, ok that didn’t explain what I wanted to say.

I meant like the first step in to being considerate (empathy is still far away and comes with its own problems) to others is to know oneself better.

Clearly I didn’t know what I wanted on a tiring Friday evening. I should work on this more by watching Hellzapoppin’.

Hellzapoppin’ now that’s a Tuesday afternoon movie and a Friday evening movie.

Ponmagal Vandhal is now streaming on Amazon Prime

On Visu

Was dreading this for sometime. Writer-director-actor Visu no more

His films were the first I could sense a real director’s touch, later I came to realize the confidence he had in his plots and characters as a screen and dialogue writer, no matter what criticism was kept against him. Like a mother he would defend his films till his death.

Visu had his own way to show the problems of the middle class even when KB was still making movies. (KB even produced some of Visu’s works). KB made ‘better’ movies (Visu would probably disagree), KB approached it from the head, while Visu would bring his bleeding heart. It wasn’t just sentimentality, but also with humor.

In a video on what makes a great movie, critic Mark Kermode noted that how words like sentimentality and humor where not used in the charitable sense by movie critics because movie criticism was purely treated as an intellectual enterprise. Emotions were not treated as part of the craft.

In my view Visu was most disadvantaged by this, he did not receive the appreciation for his craft, when he needed it the most.

Critics would carry KB to another generation, but Visu would be largely ignored by critics, but even more by his audience, whom he lost to either apathy or television.

Even at the earliest viewing of Kudumbam oru Kadambam I could see that Visu was not offering solutions- the movie was basically a debate on whether men should marry women who worked or women who stayed at home. The movie really stacks up arguments on both sides and the solution is left to the characters themselves- it depended on that family.

I still think this is one of the most mature ways to approach a domestic issue and by the time we come to the end I would have cried and laughed a dozen times.

Visu had made me see these characters as he had seen them or created them, I think this by itself is the greatest achievement for any creator. Visu sir, you rocked in your time.

The TV which depleted his audience did some good deeds by fate or design by repeatedly showing his movies which made it possible for me to catch it, enjoy it repeatedly. Yes they had some issues in quality, but never in confidence or the lack of color in characters.

Kudumbam Oru Kadambam.
Dowry Kalyanam
Varavu Nalla Uravu
Manal Kayiru

These are his movies that made an immense impact personally and of course he wrote Simla Special which for me is the gold standard in friendship movies in Tamil Cinema.

He would have liked to have read this perhaps, but alas I should have written earlier. Obits don’t matter to those for whom it is intended.

As an affected party (audience), the first duty towards a creator is a mere acknowledgment and I am guilty of being late and I will do more to write about his films.

Go well Visu sir. Om Shanti.

Vartuthapadala, vendapadala, kavalapadale, perumapadren to be your fan Visu Sir

Calling The Cops

Or what I found when I kept Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu and Thanga Pathakam side-by-side

Even the meanest of Gautam Menon critics (some of whom, write for this website-gulps) will agree that the “kanna nondi eduthaanga da” opening sequence is among his best. 

It also presents a good template for us to study hero introductions.

Hmm, then I found something, from a 1974 film. 

The Open Challenge

“Bring me the eye of DCP Raghavan!” 

Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu (VV) begins with Royapuram Mani, who would never appear again in the course of the movie – putting out an open challenge after being pushed to a corner by the police specifically Raghavan. 

He wants to run his ‘business’, but of course he cannot do it with Raghavan giving him the heat around the corner. Mani needs Raghavan dead- no, he wants more, he wants his eyes. 

Good setup, so now we know who our hero is and what his goals are without even showing him- and close. 

“Bring me the head of SP Chowdary!”

25 minutes into 1974’s Thanga Pathakkam (TP- to pronounce it properly go here); director P Madhavan is faced with a challenge- how do I reintroduce the hero? 

As I said 25 mins of the film has already run its course, the usual familial introductions have been made- including the wayward son, the doting wife and the family friend around whom the movie would revolve. 

Probably P Madhavan feels the present state does not give enough ‘weight’ to Sivaji’s character- so I hope he would have asked the writer Mahendran ( who would later make Mullum Malarum, yes that Mahendran) to come up with another introduction. 

Here too there is a character who never appears again in the form of legendary villain actor RS Manohar-but the difference is he wants SP Chowdary’s head. 

The Point Of Entry

Both Madhavan and Menon keep it simple here, just them heroes occupying the frame shot from below- memorable in each case. A point of detail is that Kamal kicks the gate open (which would again allow a nice cycle back to ‘gate a moodra’ later)

Let Them Talk  

The impact is in the action, but the build-up is always in the words. Both our heroes are unarmed when introduced, while Chowdary mentions it, Raghavan hands over the only knife he brought to Royapuram Mani. 

Normally one would expect Sivaji to win this hands down, he is after all the most gifted when it comes to dialogues, but sadly I believe as this could be a hastily written scene- it is more “Aeis and Deis”, which belong more in the cinema of today. But maybe SP Chowdary is more brute force than brain force. 

There is a half hearted attempt at humor and then Manohar gives in immediately but the good thing is, Sivaji gets to slip in a “tholachuruven badava” before the final fight.  

Raghavan on the other hand is shooting bullets like line starting from the just-like-that “en kannu venumnu kettiyam?” then easily evoking one accent from his many to give us “ romba thondru panraan” and pausing to make a lol worthy comment on Royapuram Mani’s arithmetic skills. 

My personal favorite is of course to the other assembled goons, “neengellam vera vela paathukonga pa”

Kamal is in quipping best, the dialogues and the camera always on him, half the screen is Raghavan’s face only- really makes the movie worth watching, although his quipping reduces considerably. 

And Action!

The stuff we have been waiting for, one man against an entire set- in Thanga Pathakkam it becomes a silambam fight while Vetaiyaadu keeps it hand to hand in a contained location before going for an opening song and sets the ball rolling.

Same introduction template. But two completely different movies.

Side by Side

Often we see how new filmmakers take time and pay homage to an earlier film or filmmaker, entire podcast episodes are dedicated to this, but I wouldn’t know if Menon is paying homage to Madhavan. A director cannot cross a tamil cinema police movie list without Thanga Pathakkam- it may have come to his notice or suggested by an assistant with an encyclopedic mind- and there is the question of Kamal being in the movie itself. 

But it is practically the same narrative structure for introducing a cop hero-maybe both Mahendran and Menon borrowed from a common source.

It doesn’t really matter, what matters is that these things strike out or should I say leap out from the screen and what I have left is this confidence of a slight bond. It is a difficult feeling to describe, something like discovering an entire new branch in a family tree. 

Watching movies and seeing other movies in them is by itself a rewarding feeling-makes me feel like a small shareholder in the big scheme of things.