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cinema:tamil

Putham Pudhu Kaalai

As The Swivel Chair Spins #13

Anthologies are almost average at 3 out of 5. 

This three is not comparable to the three given to a novel. For the longer form of literature it could mean a “could have been better for all the effort”.

For a short story anthology , the three is a sign of the mixed bag, you never know what you are going to get, and you never know what you are going to like and when you are going to like. 

As days pass perhaps, a singular revisit might have me appreciating what was left behind and quietly accepting that segment for which I  once was over enthusiastic about, was just because of the age and frame of mind I read it in. 

Putham Pudhu Kaalai is also a three on five. 

But it safeguards itself in the sweetest way, so that there is nothing I could overtly dislike, but there was nothing which I was fond of too. Maybe it’s my age. 

Maybe it is about the fact that these stories are really not about anything, they are only placed together because they all revolve around the lockdown. 

I believe (and the Big Book of Jack The Ripper Stories sitting quietly in my Kindle would agree) that anthologies are not meant to be read at one go,they are after all mood pieces, so that’s there. 

A niggling three where you can never quite say what you didn’t like, but also cannot remember what the previous story was about. 

Which is exactly what happened when I was watching director Gautham Menon’s Avarum Naanum, Avalum Naanum (ANAN), the second segment, I forgot about Ilamai Idho Idho. 

Slightly zoned out I was, I guess, also maybe because there was a voice over in the first movie about ‘Kadhal” by R Madhavan, always a non starter. 

Also this is the one with Amazon Prime product placement with Alaipayuthey? Almost thought this was the GVM short, but it was not the Mani fanboi but in fact a Madras Talkies alumnus, Sudha Kongara about how love has no age and all that (insert yawn here) and love makes everyone look younger and all that (can we have another yawn here or is it too short?).

But when the scientist grandpa appeared in ANAN, I was awake, just earlier had slightly thought about sleeping again because the heroine character was doing classical GVM  by way of telling the story through voice over. 

No doubt, M S Bhaksar, is a spectacular artiste (notice how he says spectacular in the movie, haha got you there) and the short almost entirely rests on one of his monologues, but that’s about it, I didn’t get to know about the scientist more. 

While GVM only gave the skeletal frame to chew on, Suhasini Maniratnam’s next is the one with most characters and surprisingly we get to know a lot about them and even more surprisingly it was the one that spoke to me the most, I have my reasons. 

Coffee Anyone? 

I theorize this is the ladies of the Haasan family telling the stories of the brothers, it almost seems like it, I don’t know if Suhasini has spoken about this in any of the promotionals for the movie, but think about it, this short has three sisters Hasini, Anu and Shruti (as opposed to Charu, Chandra and Kamal) trying to grapple with the illness of their mother. The youngest daughter was born when the mother was almost 50, they say, another well documented Kamal family story and how he looked up to his brothers as parents. It’s a similar situation here along with the inversion, okay let’s just say I bought it because of the Kamal reason and some nonsense theory I was making in my head. 

I said reasons, so there is one more, because this is the one that feels almost like a horror film (and not another ‘kadhal’ short) and again with an inversion, which I would not like to spoil. 

There are things in Coffee Anyone which again doesn’t allow itself to punch its weight, like for example the dialogue till we will settle down with the characters and since it’s a short, well you know, it’s over. 

Reunion by Rajiv Menon has much in common with the two preceding shorts about the power of music to change lives (insert classical yawn) but it is also ‘of the moment’ because it deals with the problem of how difficult it is for celebrities to get drugs during the lockdown. 

I mean… 

Of course Oooo Lalala , music is the saviour. 

Even in the next one titled Miracle by Karthik Subbaraj, music (this time by Ilayaraaja) acts as a connector, it’s the most amusing one but falls into the category of ‘slice of life-fate’, you know the ones when you see it, A goes to B via C types. 

Types, I love using the types. I apparently also love typing, the document now indicates that I have written 800 words about Putham Pudhu Kaalai, I hope it means something to someone. 

<Read in Rajeev Masand voice> So I am going with 3 stars out of five for Putham Pudhu Kaalai, because…. Hmm… four of them looked like ad shoots for Bru (filter coffee? Idhu Bru Ma types) and one even had coffee in the title. 

Putham Pudhu Kaalai is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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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. 

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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

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cinema:tamil

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

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cinema cinema:tamil Essay rewatch

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.