Category: Movie Notes

Parking Lot Notes: N.T.R: Kathanayakudu

An enduring aspect of Indian mass movies owes a lot to NTR, the aspect where everyone sees their hero as a divine being.

Sample this: Asia Week’s posthumous story on MGR was titled pretty much the same, a song from Kuselan harps about how cinema was the first to ‘show’ God on screen, it persists even today in the eyes of the people of Mahismati when they see Mahendra Baahubali. (also see Maya Bazar climax)

While the others in the list crafted an image playing heroic characters, NTR played the Gods themselves.

NTR is still my favorite on-screen Krishna (sorry Nitish Bharadwaj), I can exactly pinpoint when the movie Karnan (sorry Sivaji fans)  turns into the fun epic that it is, the moment NTR literally walks into the screen as Krishna (a similar scene is recreated in this movie) and of course Maya Bazar; arguably the greatest Indian film ever made (sorry Sholay fans and also looool sholay).

Sadly, NTR’s movies are not the focus points in this biopic.

The movies are just occurrences which pinpoint how great NTR the person was. Most of the dialogue is either a prophecy (which we now recognize as true) or a set-up for the sequel Mahanayakudu, which promises to trace the political life of the screen icon.

Knowing myself, I have already lost interest in the sequel. I am more interested in the man who played God and want to know more about the mythological movies, like how Daana Veera Soora Karna was shot in 43 days.

Balakrishna eases into the life of his father and the performance betters with surprising restraint  as the character ages. In-a-only-in-the-cinema-of-India-kind there is a meta moment when baby Balakrishna is born to the real Balakrishna who is playing his father and ends up naming himself!

Vidya Balan makes her Telugu debut, in a nothing much to write about already over played pillar of a support wife that most bio pics have.

While Balakrishna gets to play his father, Sumanth gets to play his grandfather Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR); in some portions it does feel like it is a story of these two actors lighting cigarettes, exchanging notes, reworking their careers, and collecting relief together. These are the portions that have stayed with me.


Now that you are here, why not see NTR and ANR in Lahiri Lahiri and wonder along with me, why no one is making a movie about how Maya Bazar was made!

Extra Notes

NTR and ANR featured themselves in a late career film called Chanakya Chandragupta, in which one actor called Sivaji Ganesan played Alexander the Great! I mean, yes!

Jai Mahismathi! I mean….Jai Pathalabhairavi!

First Reformed

In silence, a moving camera slowly stops at the entrance to a church; the First Reformed church in New York, the setting of Paul Schrader’s film.

The lack of camera movement is striking, the lack of music drowned by cawing-cawing creates an unsettling atmosphere; my movie mind immediately reclines to the mode of familiarity, that smug sense of the mind jumping ahead of the story.

Oh, but how wrong my movie mind was and how happy I am. It is not that I have not been wrong before, the lord knows I have but it is not often that the feeling of being defeated is accompanied by indescribable happiness.

First Reformed is nothing like anything I have ever seen.

Movies are a visual medium, meaning they communicate to us through the eyes and when that sensation is achieved, we have in our hands what is often called a visual treat.

First Reformed goes beyond all that. Schrader forgoes cinematic mastery for spare but sure-footed direction and lets his main character wrestle with the theme of the movie.

From the very beginning it concocts a headache giving mixture of hope and despair, headache giving because it confirms simply that there can be no hope without despair. But what should one do when those tasked with reigning us out in times of despair are themselves sinking in doubt?

Ethan Hawke in a career defining performance plays Reverend Ernst Toller, a former military chaplain who is now faced with convincing an environmental activist who strongly believes that we are headed for the worst of times and it is all our doing.

The restraint in film-making and lack of score, automatically puts the weight of the film on the actors and the success of the themes on the lines that they speak. Hawke is excellent and we must take time to thank the lines on his forehead, which jump from disinterest to doubt to finality of despair.

A spiritually moving and transformative film, which made me feel the truly small nature of our collective existence and how helpless we are in the great problems that we create for ourselves.

Finally, it felt like a great movie.

Vishwaroopam II: Tinkered Tailored Older Spy

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Let’s start with the ending
The thing that struck me about the first Vishwaroopam, a film for which I crossed state borders covertly to watch(much like an espionage operation) was the abruptness in the ending.


It ends with Wisam telling that there is more to the story and what we witnessed is not really ‘the end’, but it did not have the niggling hook that would keep me guessing on what the next part would explore and moreover it did not really help that Kamal himself is delivering this as exposition and not a visually striking image of say a (too use the often used) Kattappa killing Baahubali.


Even looking at the first part in a facile manner which is a spy navigating between complexities and saving the world; the film did provide enough closure.
{Bad guys plans a series of attacks on a city and a team of spies unearth and thwart the operation.}
But Vishwaroopam is not a superficial spy thriller, at least it aims to do more.

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At the core of it all is Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri, a spy who believes in his cause someone who does not treat his license to kill as target practice and is empathetic to those he might have to kill.


Case in point is the friendship between Omar Khureshi, Salim and Wisam which takes up much of the middle of the first movie and these threads need to be addressed.
(not necessary a universal requirement, but more like universal hero’s requirement)


That brings us to Vishwaroopam II, which works more as a companion piece to the first film and not as a sequel; filling in for things that better explain the Indian spy’s motivations.


While the movie does go deeper into things that were throwaways in the first film, especially effective is Wisam’s relationship with his mother.(Waheeda Rehman in a brief role, last seen in Tamil cinema in the 1956 film Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum). Wiz temporarily returns to being Vishwanath in a teary moment dominated by Alzheimer’s (second medical ailment in the franchise after killer cancer in the Roopam I), when the movie is just about casting away the role of the dancer.


Needless to say, Kamal is on top form or is it like displaying all these nuances in half-awake mode now? The other story machinations like how Wisam became Viz are less successful, a London mission before the intermission seems like a very long stop-over before Wisam and team reach the national capital.


I love the spy films in all forms, they lend themselves to the multi dimensional entertainment, the genre comfortably accommodates modern action films like the Bourne movies, cinephile-treasures like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the wink-winks like The Kingsman, send-ups like Paul Feig’s Spy and Oscar favourites like Argo and these are only from recent memory. All of them add to and derive from the construct of the spy thriller.


Vishwaroopam II draws from all the aforementioned sub-genres and naturally the result is not a satisfying mix; for a moment it a mission-driven-race-against-the-ticking -bomb-action-film, a few scenes later it is a musing on the futility of war and even further down the run-time it is an examination of loyalty and nationalism.


There’s isn’t time for all this, boss. Omar waits with one more bomb around the corner. (A bomb around the corner would have a been a better title to this piece, #justsaying)


There simply isn’t time and it shows, the action seems too rushed and the globe-hopping locations which usually adds to the excitement and romance to these spy films here are just tailored to suit exposition dumps.


The lack of resources too very evident, with the actors limited to performing in moving cars or in an uncharacteristic hotel suite and the number of times toilets conveniently appear in this film only made me think about how constrained the production would have been ; a stark opposite to the expanse of Afghanistan which was reiterated multiple times in the first film.


As though to make up for all the above, there are genuine fun sequences in the film and director Kamal draws me in with a cracker of a title sequence which is a crash course of things past in freeze time played to new version of Nyagabagam Varugiradha.

The story is also in the telling, the nonlinearity is intact and Wisam still gets to sweat about his past. Packed with multiple “woohoo!” moments and timely call-backs to the first film (Namaz panna poriya!). In Kamal’s world even a blood splatter can dissolve into a map.

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But Omar bhai takes precedence over everything and Rahul Bose is absolutely fantastic as the villain who thinks he is the hero and wait a minute, he isn’t even in the movie till the third act.


I loved how the movie returned to the outrageous-ness of Roopam I, when he came back on screen giving Wisam something really challenging to work with, because until then Wisam was just putting bureaucrats in place with his wit.


Yes yes, I also know that the movie tries to deal with larger issues like how education is important, how war creates more problems than it can solve etc, how nationalism cannot be ‘instilled’ etc but OK this is not the blog site for all that boring stuff.

But this is the kind-off blog which will stand-up and applaud at the inane moment of the villain’s glass eye popping out and rolling on the streets of Delhi. Movies like these are hard to come by and need to be savoured probably with steaming jilebis.

Good luck Wisam! Hat-tip to Munnavar!

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