Categories
cinema:tamil

Naval Oru Thodarkathai

What Bama Vijayam Can Teach Us About Resisting Modernity 

When someone asked Naval Ravikant what the biggest collective challenge for people over the next ten years, he replied with “resisting modernity”. 

Naval has regularly pointed out the ills of modernity which makes us live our lives a million times in our head before we live once in real, slowly eating away our lives, making us live as celebrities, perennially depressed. 

Turns out, like most truths, Naval’s words could be found in other sources too. Naval Oru Thodarkathai is hopefully a continuous exploration of such thoughts. 

I would like to clarify, modernity is not defined only in the view of adopting technology. Modernity also encomapsses growth, urbanness and competitive rat-race and celebrity culture.

Naval has regularly pointed out the ills of modernity which makes us live our lives a million times in our head before we live once in real, slowly eating away our lives, making us live as celebrities, perennially depressed. 

Resisting modernity cannot be achieved by reverting to an earlier state. It is human tendency to assume that opposites will solve problems, as though if we go back to an earlier time, adopt then prevalent methods, our current problems will move away, oh how life was simple and how happy we all were? (rhetoric)

Question: If modernity is our biggest challenge going forward, what is it the challenge to?

Answer: Happiness. 

Right, you do not agree with my definition of modernity? 

I agree, haven’t been quite clear, let me try again. 

Cut to 1967. 

In the black and white images of K Balachander’s Bama Vijayam, I rediscovered what Naval was trying to say (or my understanding of it). 

Bama Vijayam is a story of an entire family trying to resist modernity. Naval should watch it. 

And Bama, the actress, is the personification of modernity and celebrity culture(the 1960s equivalent of it), her arrival (Vijayam- good use of the word) brings with it a lot of changes to this simple family unit headed by Ethiraj(TS Balaiah).

This simple family unit, which has three caring daughter-in-laws who are content with their modest lives, with their modest working husbands and overall believable ‘cinematic simplicity’. 

They wash together, they cook together, they play together, they work together and they laugh together. Oh what fun. 

Kannadasan also sneaks in “oh what good does a pearl do to a happy woman?” 

It’s a great way to begin a movie about a family going downhill, show them at their idealistic best, show them in a way that their goodness shines through. 

“For what use are these riches being earned?” asks one of the trio, the other replies “some for our children, the rest for the whole wide world.”

So good they are! Even in their striving lower middle class setting,they have the exact goodness that some want to return to now in 2020. The comfort of the joint family, a benign patriarch, dutiful husbands, the good memories that children bring and the principles of living within one’s means. 

Cut to now.

So good right? Why did we lose all this?

Cut to 1967

But wait, they lose it too. 

When Bama comes in, first the family unit which now consisted of three couples slowly starts to break, suddenly being a neighbour to a cinema star brings on them-the need to progress socially, they borrow, they lie, they steal, they even betray. 

Since this is a comedy, all this is played for laughs.

What we are witnessing is the scene by scene destruction of a simple happy family unit that we so yearn to return to, while facing daily life in the present. 

In effect, the problem of resisting modernity is perennial, that is my extension to Naval’s quote and it does not depend on setting or status. 

When modernity tempts, few can resist, even the most simple and happy minded. 

Hey, we never said it was going to be easy, but there is way.

Resisting modernity might be our biggest problem, because it takes away our happiness, reducing us to playing never ending status games in our local celebrity cultures(which is what Bama Vijayam is also about). How prescient! 

But this modernity fellow is like devil and will surely crop up in other disguises like virtues and resisting it is not a complete solution but only an act of delaying. 

Focussed work is really the complete solution, and those who have seen Bama Vijayam will know. Work brings freedom from comparison, contentment and time and a calm mind to chose happiness over despair. 

A return to ideal state is possible in the movies as it is guided by the mind of the screenwriter.Not so easily attained in real life where the devil is more relentless and our real minds are much more fragile to temptations. 

In reality, there is no turning back, there is only moving ahead. 

Nandri. Vanakkam.

Stay tuned for more such nonsense explorations of twitter truths and pedestrian philosophy through the lens of non threatening and non current entertainment. 

Until then, listen to this amazing song in which Kannadasan-MSV are just hitting it out of the park. 

Kavignar Kannadasan would have made an interesting and insightful twitter account, hmpf, if only.

Categories
cinema cinema:english

Naanum Citizen Kane-um

Invocation

I pray to the uninitiated to go watch Citizen Kane and I pray to the Movie God that they be allowed to see the movie without having to think about the weight that Kane carries and enjoy it in all its brilliance. 

I am just going to believe that Citizen Kane released the day before yesterday. That’s it. Here I am writing about it with the same misguided enthusiasm that I have whenever I write about a new release. 

The castle’s not a welcome sight, a very dark place, a palace possibly going to waste, seen better days? Doesn’t seem so, it seems it was quite hopeless from the start, unsettling in ways that sometimes open spaces can be. There’s also the sign, “no trespassing”. 

Somewhere deep in this castle lies Kane,at least he seemed to have seen better days? Or is he too like his castle, unsettling and doomed to be depressed always. That’s the feeling I get, as the only light in the castle goes out.

“Rosebud” 

And a snow globe gently glides down the bed and shatters. 

Life is not a snow globe

A house in winter, captured as the snow rains, set for eternity. But life is not this captured mountain scene in a snow globe, nor does it rain snow always, nor can it be controlled and enclosed within a glass dome. 

Someone should have told Kane that, maybe they did, but would he have listened? 

Who was Charles Foster Kane?

The castle, Xanadu, a monument to himself, unfinished. Ah yes, I can see where my discomfort comes from, a monument for yourself, now that seems pretty sad. 

Consider the narrative of Citizen Kane.The story’s been sullied by multiple narrators, all of whom are suspect and been wronged by Kane at some point. Heck, even the “News on the march” segment (which is basically the whole movie in 10 mins even before the movie begins) cannot be trusted, for example, it shows him at once a friend to the workers and the other time a cold capitalist. 

But what sort of a man was this Mr Kane? 

Orson Welles’ genius is that he keeps posing the same question all through the movie, who was this Charles Foster Kane? 

Was he a mountain child wishing only to play in the snow all day? 

No but he also liked taking over loss making newspapers and building an empire, so was he interested in the news? 

Or was he interested in the business of news? 

Did he marry for love? Or did he hope to find love in the President’s niece? 

Did he really love opera? Or did he just build an opera house because he can? 

Yes cannot be the answer for all of these questions, but what is affirmative is that a man or a woman is not wholly knowable, definitely not from the impressions that they have left behind. 

These residuals are simply not enough to truly like or hate Kane. Any additional information only deepens the mystery, leaving us with no answer to what sort of a man Kane is. It’s not the question we should be pursuing.

Welles himself hints at the answer, towards the end, when one of the many reporters tasked with finding out what Rosebud was, says one word can never sum up a man. 

What could Citizen Kane be about? 

I, like the reporters in this movie, could spend years trying to know what was in Kane’s mind and not care about what’s hiding in plain sight. 

To me, Citizen Kane is about: desire leads to suffering.

Let’s look at this way.  

Kane desires the Inquirer to be the most read newspaper but he also desires to be appreciated by the editorial of the serious folks at ‘Chronicle’, his suffering here is he loses his only friend to this contradiction. 

Kane desires more people to love him, runs for governor, doesn’t make it because of his affair with a ‘singer, his over estimation blinds him and he suffers a severe damage, never to fully recover again. 

Kane desires to be seen as a patron of the art, again pushing through, trying to make a non singer shine, suffers more damage and loses his only personal connection. 

Kane desires to build the most prized private collection of arts in the whole world, and no one wants to live with him in it. 

If there is one thing that the movie keeps establishing is this. 

It’s not about the unknowable persona of Kane but that even the most fulfilling desires are not so fulfilling.And where do we go from there?

Welles doesn’t cast Kane as a villain or a hero, but a sad figure of history who achieved so much and still so little, it is an optimistic tale on what a person can achieve in a lifetime, but it is also a cautionary tale. 

Citizen Kane asks us to choose your desires wisely, because we must be willing to suffer for it. Kane’s early fortune in the mines made it possible that he could afford to take all the suffering that life put in his way (honestly he added most of the suffering himself) but not all of us are blessed with a choice of businesses to run and a personal treasury. 

Kane probably thought that happiness and satisfaction can be got from being successful, being popular and being loved. To his credit he pursued all of it with his talent and charm. 

But it’s not a very happy ending, alone filled with memories or maybe I am reading too much and leaning into some imaginary rule that allots more weightage to how a person died than how a person lived.

I wonder from where the citizen part of “Citizen Kane” came through, probably it is from the notion of the American Dream, a broad affirmation of what America stands for, a land where an individual can live a richer and fuller life when they reach the best of their abilities. Kane did that, he did reach the pinnacle of what was possible for him, it maybe made him richer, but not fuller. 

Forget Rosebud it’s an imagined mystery made eternal on screen, but the suffering is real.

PS: The Sight & Sound Magazine has been publishing the greatest 10 films of all time list, spaced by a decade since 1952. Citizen Kane was on top of the list from 1962 to 2002, only to be replaced by Vertigo, a movie about a singular obsession and how that too leads to suffering. 

PPS: I pray the knowledgeable to forgive this amateur, there has been a lot written and said about Citizen Kane, while mine may not add anything to it, I hope it does not scar the reader’s memory or spoil any existing scholarship. 

All images from youtube.

Categories
cinema

Rebecca (2020)

As the swivel chair spins #14

The second Mrs. De Winter sighs as Mr De Winter arranges granules of sand on her back and says something to the effect that if memories are life perfume, it could be saved within a bottle and the mere smell of it could be used to recapture the moment. 

Mr De Winter, played by Armie Hammer, however wishes to forget his past. If only the unnamed second Mrs De Winter had known before being whisked away to Manderley. 

Fortunately, I had no problems remembering or forgetting here, I had not read the Daphne Du Maurier novel nor seen the Oscar winning Selznick production, famously the only time a Hitchcock film won Best Picture at the Oscars. So let’s say I could watch the new film without the weight of the past, a state that Mr. De Winter would kill to be in. 

Heroes who could never move into the present because of their past weightage is a story that is of special personal interest, it is also at the core of another Hitchcock film, Vertigo’ but I was also thinking a lot about Uyarndha Manidhan, in which Sivaji Ganesan lives a suffocated life due to a burning incident in his past. 

Yes, the new Netflix production is designed to be dull and hence over the two hours I thought about other story strains that could have been inspired by Rebecca. It’s not spooky nor it is creepy, but what it is, abrupt, but mostly it is a shame, because I love creepy mansions and the ghosts that inhabit them. 

Which brought me to Manichitrathazhu, yes, the similarities were striking, both have mansions that hide more than they show, whole wings that are out of bounds, repressed feelings, alienation and bookish heroines recreating a classical painting (literally) . Hmm that’s more similarities that I thought.

Rebecca of course doesn’t have a Sunny Joseph or  Brad Lee’s disciple Saravanan to guide us through it. Although the Netflix film does have Kristin Scott Thomas in the supposedly scene stealing role of Mrs. Danvers. 

The parallels between the two movies are an interesting rabbit hole to pursue, considering the claims that Manichitrathazhu’s origins lie firmly in the royal family histories of Travancore and not a 1930s novel by Du Maurier. It’s even more interesting when I realize that today is Durgashtami, coincidental? Is this a sign from above?

Durgashtami or not, any day is a good day to watch Manichitrathazhu. 

Rebecca is now streaming on Netflix

Manichitrathazhu is now streamin on Amazon Prime Video

The fact that Sivaji was denied Best Actor at the National Awards for Uyarndha Manithan is a reminder that best work is often unrecognized. So yeah that’s there.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.