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cinema cinema:tamil Essential viewing remake

A STRANGENESS MORE THAN NIGHT

A CK and MM Review Mystery

Thoongavanam-Movie-Poster

Caustic Kumar  looking for a face he could recognize through the controlled darkness of the pub, mouthing something he had been thinking over and over again, “who keeps a meeting in such a place?”

“We do”

It was the chief, his thin frame had been accentuated by the darkness, pencil in the night. His white David Lynchian hair bent forwards when he spoke.

“Important night CK, someone just told me that the Laureate must be prepared for a hostile takeover”

“What! I can’t see any one reason anyone would want to buy The Laureate!”

“So did I”, said calmly the chief “But it is in this pub that I am to meet the informer, I had called you to tell that if things go the wrong way, let the piece on Thoongavanam be the last one you write for us”

CK did not understand, this could have been conveyed by a simple text message, an even easier free Whatsapp message, more importantly he could not come to terms with the fact that that the only establishment that thought him fit to be employed is actually being taken over, could this be the end?

He turned to convey the same to chief, but the chief had silently slipped away, a near distant light showed the location of the bar, legs moved involuntarily.

“Thoongavanam” CK repeated

MM appeared out of nowhere, like a genie waiting for a keyword, he shouldn’t be here, but CK was willing to put down everything in the disbelief component of his brain.

CK: “I’m sure you’ve seen it too Mod” (looking visibly disturbed)

MM: not once, but twice, and I absolutely loved it.

CK: this is even after seeing Nuit Blanche (the movie on which the latest Kamal movie is based)

MM: Look here, CK; we are the only ones who have seen the French film and we wouldn’t have seen it if not for the fact that Thoongavanam was in the works, but I guess I like Thoonga more.

CK: Nuit Blanche was a straight-jacketed action thriller, engrossing and feverishly cinematographed and leaving no room for extensions

MM: unless of course if Kamal Haasan takes up scripting duties…

CK: when I saw Thoonga for the first time, I was only doing mental comparisons scene by scene, how Thoonga is different but at the same time retains much of the core of Nuit Blanche.

MM: the detailing, the back stories, in NB the hero is a regular detail-less action hero, but here CK Diwakar is played by Kamal and that means that he will have issues, women, children and morals

CK: Kamal has rarely written and played any character without any noticeable motivations, remember that line from Vishwaroopam ?

(“I have a lot of emotional baggage”)

MM: Yes digging a little deeper, here in the improved screenplay there is a bit of detailing for everyone who partake in the back story of Diwakar and in that we are able to connect with the problem of the hero, like his wife, his colleagues and even his adversaries; but then again the characters Kamal play are increasingly becoming like ‘him’

CK: that is only scratching the surface type reading of a film, let us look at it this way, how much of value has been added when Kamal has taken up scripting duties, obviously you are not going to touch the action sequences

MM: which were done exceedingly well, I might add, finally had moments on screen when I was bothered who was getting hit and by whom

CK: and why is that? Because we know the characters, at least to the extent of what Kamal is willing to tell us, like say the importance of soya milk or how cell phones have replaced watches, when all this happens, when you put in characters of flesh blood in a setting much like this pub, you actually feel for their lives, dismissing them as extrusions is quite troubling for me, Kamal just uses his ‘Kamal-ness’ to get the feeling about

MM: I wouldn’t still agree to the whole self-referential for a reason argument, but there is still something that is there in Thoonga that is very much absent in Nuit Blanche, the humour.

CK: Absolutely!

MM: But then at points I thought that this was in a way dampening the overall tension, this mixing of the genres, this trying to appease different sections of the theatre

CK: Mod, my only response to you for that will be that you are forgetting that you are watching a Tamil remake of a French film. Yes maybe strictly speaking in this type of a film there must not be any place for humour, but there has been films like Die-Hard…

MM: Oh no, wait! You are bringing up Die-Hard….

CK: I thought I would bring up the Shining as well, it is not that Thoongavanam flanks these movies, but strangely yes occupies the same mind space as these two, even more so in the case of the Shining, the hallways with doors that lead to unimaginable places, the restriction of the setting itself, here a pub named Insomnia and there The Overlook; the setting does things to the main characters. Movies should remind you of other movies, if the remembrances are good, there you go, if they were bad then I really don’t know what to say…

MM: And Die-hard because of the one man in the building against the villain type, yes I do think there is quite a bit of humour in most block buster material, still strange this mixing of genres and thoonga is hardly blockbuster material

CK: yes it is quite a strange film, which kinda gets more enjoyable when you know what is going to happen, because you sit there and see the other things like how a change in radio channel is used to denote time of day, the dripping ceiling denoting time past, plush interiors that somehow feel dreamlike and characters who walk in and out, just like that?

CK: Mod? Mod?

He calls out again to see no one respond, only again it is the barman who motioned for another drink.

CK: have I been talking alone all the while?

CK’s phone lightened up the dark place, obviously it was a Whatsapp message which read as thus

“No one is buying the Lowly Laureate, that’s the bad news; but I’ll kill you if you don’t send the Thoongavanam review, as it is you have declined doing a Vedalam review, because of your principles our readership is threatened . Add few nice words on the cinematography, engrossing music by Ghibran, Hollywood style making etc etc, send them soon, I mean by tonight, SOOON- Chief”

The chief didn’t realise that he didn’t need to sign himself in a whatsapp message, this old fashioned-ness made CK smile and he went to work, and it would be a sleepless night.

Categories
cinema cinema:tamil Essay Music

IT WAS SHOT HERE

An attempt to view Madras/Chennai through its songs          

 madras1

Who knows what type of day it would have been, but trust the Madras resident to come conclude that it would have been, like every day: a very hot one. The imaginative residents would have even got to the extent of picturing a sun burned and sweating exploring officer of the East India Company, pausing at this small and then insignificant sand bar on the Coramandel coast.

He could have gone further, but then he stopped.

The officer on duty was Francis Day, one of the neglected founding fathers of the city; the city they once called Madras and now we call Chennai. There are many tales as to why Day stopped here, it wasn’t even a natural harbor, so essential for the works of the company; the story of Madras is perhaps the most cinematic one; the one never told or explored by the dream spinners who now work in what widely circulated newspapers call Kollywood, a name which sounds so odd that you would like to say something nice after you mouth it.

But there has always been the beach, the coast that made the travelling Englishman stop has churned the memories of many a Tamil filmmaker. C.V. Sridhar often heralded as the first modern Tamil director shared Day’s enchantment and used to write all his scripts on the Marina and would shoot at least one scene there, his classic comedy Kadhalikka Neramillai (No time for love) was set entirely in the southern mountain retreat of Chinnamalai but that couldn’t prevent Sridhar from shooting this opening song on the sunny beach overlooking the Madras University, it is one of the most happiest openings in Tamil film and Sridhar’s sentiment with the Marina would continue all through, not far away a bridge named after a 19th century city Governor Francis Napier, the distinctly red lighthouse and the Indo-Saracenic architecture of the university buildings has also served countless location managers, the stretch of the Marina would be the most exploited, mostly for songs providing walking space for leading couples to ad lib while the composer’s music played out.

When the Marina is used, can Elliot’s be far behind; the city’s second favorite hangout has an added advantage of having a cenotaph to decorate the panoramic shots.

 

I do agree that there has been repetition in the Madras that appeared in songs; after all there can only be so many places of interest, so we can afford to forgive Mani Ratnam (who incidentally has a company called Madras talkies) for using the Chennai Museum complex for a dance recital and as a court-house. He famously used the college of Engineering for the same, but that is another matter.

 

Repetition too has some beauty, but that lies in the mind of the reciter,  a song which begins with a sombrero wearing Manorama aptly titled Madrasa Sutti Paaka Poren (I am going to see Madras)is your quickest guide to the city, even makes fun of Lord Ripon after whom the Corporation headquarters is named; the same year (1994) also came Shankar’s Kadhalan (Lover)a song which quickened the pulse of a nation and also managed to capture Prabhu Deva taking over Madras from the top of distinctive green buses while people watch, mesmerized from the sides of the High Court and the LIC buildings, which I should take time to mention as Chennai’s Empire state, it is not much, but still it is ours.

Staying on the topic of LIC building as a symbol of the city, for years that umm…modest skyscraper and the Central Railways station has been used to the change in setting of any film, from the village to the big bad city; going to Pattinam(as Madras was called in the villages then) was considered an ill act.

Here in B&W Madras, the villager ponders over skyscrapers and how irresponsible the citizens are, the trend continues to this day; in a time where Tamil Cinema is moving southward to the raw rustic surroundings of Madurai and elsewhere; Chennai is often seen as a city of IT professionals who live fake lives and always speak English to the uneducated.

But the city silently bears all that, waiting for that rare moment where even the immigrants;  these protectors of Tamil culture pause for a moment and realize what a ladder this city has been for them, on the other hand new blood from the city have not been silent as they had to deal with inter-zonal conflicts; eternally dividing the city into one of the haves and the have-nots; after all which city does not have boundaries.

But what many cities do not posses is a tongue of its own, rumored to have borrowed equally from English, Tamil, Sanskrit and Hindi, perhaps even German (who can say) is the Madras Baashai, no Tamil film attains completeness without a Zaam Bazzar Jaggu having his bichua knife ready to slice or singing songs on the banks of the foul-smelling holy Cooum: our ever unclean-able.

But how can I finish with the Cooum, so I return one last time to the cool Marina where it all began. Sivaji Ganesan here walks past innocently in search of a better tomorrow where his majestic statue now stands; a merger of worlds of sorts.

The clips in this document is far from complete, but have been assembled to give a fleeting glimpse of the city, many great songs and sites have been left behind and there are still many corners in the city to be explored and filmed, for who would have thought that the famous banyan tree in the Theosophical Society would have given ample shade to silent lovers or that a gully cricket match between the RA Puram Sharks and the Royapuram Rockers would mete out an amusing tale, if not for cinema. We will wait.

For mine is a laid back coastal city, till only recently sprouting signs of competing with the hustle of its colleagues; but somehow maintaining the warmth and air of welcome, I have never been anywhere else; but I have always been welcome at home. Maybe that is what made Francis Day stop, he probably felt home.

Categories
cinema cinema: hindi cinema:tamil Essay genres

THE AGE OF EMPIRES

baahubali-teaser-copy

There is an anecdote of how Queen Elizabeth went up a tree as a girl and came down a Queen, to put the story of Baahubali in a single line will be on similar lines, like say, the boy who went up the waterfalls and became a prince.

But stories are best told in their entirety with flourish and detail and the stories of kings and queen require something else, magnificence.

Magnificent as they may be in text, the trouble lies in the realisation of these visuals from the mind and this is where we come to the ‘is technology taking over our movies’ part of the discussion, in a film like Baahubali yes, a computer really does aid your/the director’s imagination.

From a country that routinely decries its films for not making movies with better graphics, we are very much left behind in the technology debate as well, especially in a time when StoryBrain came up with what he calls the Weta Effect last month; which is in other words that movies with better graphics do not really resonate well with the audiences.

Personally, the inability to make graphics seem seamless in only a temporary worry and can be overcome with training and investment and Baahubali is definitely a step in the right direction, the best graphics film is a film that you can sit and not worry about the graphics (remember Kochadaiiyan), also miraculous that we have moved so far away from Kochadaiiyan in a span of two years. And that is all I have to say about Baahubali’s graphics which went from non-troubling to quite spectacular, but let us first attack the mind/heart(don’t know which does which job, not a doc) of Raajamouli which I guess is filled with fascinations for the epics and long forgotten stories from Chandamama back issues.

Fifty and a half years back, we were making such movies, often large studio productions involving the matinee idols from the states below the Vindhyas, swashbuckling stories of slaves who become kings, banished princes, scheming uncles and whispering corridors, occult magicians, tender princesses and giggling harem girls and not to forget the scenes of war.

With the advent of the so-called realism and the Dravidian movement, these movies dwindled, but the spirit of the classic fantasy lived on but not quite so rightly on the shoulders of mega stars, the characterisations would only fit a mythical time: the masala film.

Somehow a hero jumping between cliffs sits well within a royal story rather than a modern entertainer. Rajamouli’s Baahubali is set in the mythical nation of Mahismathi covering diverse geographies (waterfalls, mountain avalanches, vast dry lands and imposing palaces) and populations ( tribes of different types, assassins, barbarians and royals of course) deserves mention because most of the time the mind limits, and these are how epic stories are built, it is never about one person, it is about all those who live and die in the space that you create and this is where the modern formulaic films go wrong.

Testimony to this is one scene which can also be called “the moment of realisation” , the ground is covered by all those who have shaped the hero’s life, direct and indirect, friend and foe.

While the effect of visuals has considerably increased since the times of Paathala Bhairavi, Mandirikumari and Uttama Puthiran, the excitement in telling these stories has been thankfully retained, which I think is the next greatest triumph of Baahubali (the first being the director’s bold imagination).

mk1 best-films-set-in-ancient-rome-spartacus-cover

Palaces made of sandstone or software are nothing without the people, here Mahismathi which resembles Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings is populated by a league of able actors  who mouth refreshingly well written lines.

The empty throne of Mahismati resembles a widow’s forehead” a minor character says, enough to make me sit up, the fact really was that I was wide eyed straight from the beginning, even the initial dragging set up seems justified for what is to follow.

Patience in actors like Satyaraj is truly rewarding, one of the finest Indian actors alive, catching your eye even when bowing down to someone in deference; but the film truly belongs to Ramyakrishnan, the God Mother who breast feeds both the scions of her clan, it is said that Romulus and Remus; the founders of the Roman empire were nourished by the same wild wolf and that comparison here only seems right. A performance to savour.

Ramya-krishna-in-Baahubali

Baahubali is in no means a perfect film, making a film this scale is in a sense like building an empire, but is a start, a beginning as the title loudly says. Post Gladiator, there was an active public interest in the Roman classics and the sword and sandal genre itself, if only Baahubali could do the same; then we could have a cinematic age of empires ahead of us.

bahu

Jai Mahismati!!

Categories
cinema cinema:tamil Essay

DEATH BECOMES HIM

uth copy

Time is of the essence.

How does one begin to write on a film such as this? Is it even a film? The closest equivalent of this is when the person sitting aside you, waiting for time to pass, tells you his/her life. There comes a problem into classifying life into genres, there is a bit of it all, comedy, action, romance, sometimes all at once.

The best of art probably mirrors life and life is not without interruptions; for movies having poignant moments, are not expected to make you laugh at the same time, that we all do in retrospect.

But time is of limited scope here, not only as the running time of film as seen on the censor certificate, but in our lives as well; so in a similar telling moment when a wife understands that her husband probably still loves someone else and that she had been an obstruction in his life, we are supposed or expected to wet our eyes; which does happen with an actress like Uvashi in place, but simultaneously your eyes wrinkle and you break into a chuckle at the very moment. A real moment captured for eternity, well that is limited as well.

This is a very difficult film to write about Mr. Kamal, I am unable to fathom the difficulties that went into writing this film. So I will not spend precious words and time writing about how brilliant this film which you have given us is, I do not want to write about this film in the whole scheme of Indian films and how ambitious it is. That is for others.

uttama-villain

It was only yesterday we were speaking how Avengers should be a talking point because how easily it spreads itself across genres and here is one of our own, who has made a film which leaps out of the screen and splashes onto our lives like muddle splatter leaving a mark, one difficult to erase even with detergents. Uttama Villain is not just a film, it is a sort of a love letter Kamal has written to himself, and yes there are love letter part of the plot as well.

Kamal Haasan often parodied for doing almost everything in a film, does almost everything in UV (Uttama Villain) and rightly so, often seen as intrusive and controlling but not so often seen as one man’s love for all things cinema, but that debate is for another time, which I need not remind you is in very limited quantities.

The bottom line is Uttama Villain contains more Kamal-isms than probably the entirety of his career and my God (hope u are there somewhere) these are extreme fun to watch. The physical and the verbal compete with each other to provide entertainment in one segment, while the weight of emotion neatly folds you like a paper readied for origami in the other, but both these segments say the same things.

Time is of the essence.

Uttama Villain is Kamal’s seemingly last love letter to everyone with a mail box of an open mind, it is also a love letter to himself, and mostly a letter of deference to his mentor KB.

To see moving images in the eyes of the great but now dead man is one of the most moving images I have seen, maybe that is why this is called the motion picture industry. But who would choose life, if death itself is so beautiful. (Again the theme of the movie)

Personally, I feel that there can be no more fulfillment in life than that deafening thing that happens to you after you see a film, and that does things in your head than you can never explain, but then you really want to and then when words come rushing out, your mouth refuses to open. Uttama Villain is something like that. Maybe, we are all more emotional than we would like to admit.

Time is of the essence.

Most of us on this planet end up living nondescript lives, however great we may think the things we achieve are, it really would mean nothing in the long run, but as Gandalf says “ All we have to decide is what we have to with the time that is given to us”

Even If I don’t achieve anything, atleast I am happy I decided to be a Kamal fan.

A great undoing for an artist is to be unrecognized in his time and even greater undoing is to be misunderstood in his time, whether Uttama Villain makes money or goes otherwise is the least of my concern as it would not matter in the years to come. Maybe it takes time for people to understand the weight of it all, but time is of the essence.

Categories
cinema:tamil reviews

WHAT THEY DO UNDER THE BLANKETS

CK AND MM AT THE MOVIES: O KADHAL KANMANI

Okay_Kanmani_film_poster

Moderate Manohar approached the end of the corridor with much hesitation, in his hands was an envelope, the fine-ness of it indicated its foreign nature. As the door creaked to an open, he could see Caustic head down on the table, the room only filled with the soft electronic buzz of an unsaved word document.

“CK, the appointment has come….” Began Mod quite loudly.

MM: CK, the appointment has come!

CK: huh…what?

MM: the appointment from Chicago Sun Times, it came in the mail just now.

CK< widens smile>: IS it? Wow when are we leaving?

MM: Not we.

CK: huh?

MM: It’s only me they want, as in…they can only accommodate me right now.

<A little background here, CK and MM quite fed up with their lives in Chennai had applied for the post of resident movie reviewers in Chicago, although CK was sceptical about working abroad, he finally realised its importance and was quite looking forward to it, now everything had just fallen flat for him>

CK took a moment, or maybe even shorter than that to recover and went ahead and patted MM on the shoulder.

CK: “Great, you are taking this up right?”

The room was again filled with MM’s hesitation and the soft electronic buzz.

Some higher power intervened in the form of the editor who barged in unannounced like he owned the place, in fact he did.

Aye Sinamika Tamil Lyrics – OK Kanmani

“CK!MM!, OKK review on my table, fifteen minutes, already every major media and everyone with a Facebook account has already written a lot about it. We shouldn’t miss out.” The editor walked out with the same pace.

MM: Let’s discuss the movie first, later perhaps…

CK: Nevermind…whenever it suits you.

MM: Should we start with the bit about how bold Mani Ratnam is, making a film on live-in relationships?

CK: No….this isn’t about that, I mean at least I feel so, it isn’t.

MM: Should I wait for you to tell what’s it about?

CK: It is about validation of love, this whole live in relationship thing is to keep it all contemporary and all that… you know like that skype call and the iPad song

MM: So contemporary that they have T.M Krishna’s latest book “A Southern Music” in the shelf somewhere in PrakashRaj’s house

CK: Understandable, considering the fact that Leela Samson plays an Alzheimer’s affected Carnatic singer, oh my god their walls are the same colour as the zari of the Kanchipuram sarees that these singers wear for concerts, so much richness. Also Thanjavur painting, it is the stuff upper middle class dreams are made of

MM: let’s come to the production design bits later, let us get back to the validation of love part, I think that this is a new concept, the exploration of live-ins

CK: No..no ..Mod, that’s what the director wants you to believe, to linger on the surface, the whole movie is about Tara and nobody else. Tara is the updated version of the Mouna Raagam Revathy.

MM: hmm..wild, willing to break rules and attracted to rash lover boy types and bored with domesticity etc…

CK: exactly, but she is also in a way the Agni Nakshatram Nirosha, not giving a damn because of a troubled past. Tara here hates marriage because her parent’s divorce affects her even now.

MM: But she falls for Aadi….they both fall for each other.

CK: Yes, but she never thinks much of him, atleast he is thankfully never full of himself, he just says “he will become rich like Gates etc”, she doesn’t think much of his game development career also when compared to her overtly passion filled love for architecture, she really doesn’t want anything serious.

MM: so when she really does realise she loves him anyway, he is about to go and he has already done something, but still she will only want him to say it. < “Marriage”>

CK: Yes enough instances to prove that this is a Tara fuelled relationship and not a flirty boy meets serious girl cute love story. First call back, first kiss even, all initiated by Tara.

MM: I see…where this is going, but what about Bhavani and Ganapathy, where do they actually fit in?

CK: they are clear examples for Tara to believe that a traditional relationship can work, she seems to be the one who is most affected by the happenings in their lives. Again a validation that she requires for secure love, in the end she isn’t clear about her career.

MM: So this is how is it going to be written? I mean this line of thought?

CK: What other is there? Isn’t this plain as daylight?

MM: No…no…what about the actors? The setting…the music and PC’s camera work, he seems to have let out this beast of a camera on this couple and the writing itself?

CK: Isn’t it what the others will also be saying? Mumbai trains and rains, mornings with pigeons flying, tastefully lighted blanket interiors and characters who alternate between sophistication and words of yore (“ummanamoonji! Kadavul”), the director’s insistence that friends of protagonists be as beautiful as them, etc, isn’t it what the others will also be writing or already written? OK we can write such stuff as well.

MM: Hmm..yes I think, I haven’t read any of them…in totality I liked the film, even from this love-validation-security angle you are coming from

CK: that’s the only angle I like the film from, and also Nitya Menen’s eyes.

MM: Surely we will throw in a bit about Nitya Menen’s eyes and what about Mani Ratnam’s comeback?

CK: What about it?

The editor walked in again, looked at the manuscript and said, “Throw in a few words about Nitya Menen’s eyes and about Mani Ratnam’s comeback, also meet-cute love story of our times etc”

MM: Yes sir, it’s there

Editor: Good, good Manohar, so this will be your final filing for my magazine…congrats on your appointment in Chicago. As for you CK, you are stuck with me for life.

CK: That, I am, sir.

CK went back to his table to file the final copy, but in the ruckus that the foreign appointment had created, he forgot to mention that the video game within the movie had a more interesting storyline than the movie itself and about The Shining reference he had caught in the film.

It was at this time MM said, “We need to talk”