Categories
cinema cinema:tamil

Sulthan (2021)

As the swivel chair spins #16

So someone in Kodambakkam finally took director Myskkin’s advice to heart and sought inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. 

Just think of Sulthan as Seven Samurai written by Baahubali writer Vijayendra Prasad, which would mean that it would increase in scale (seven samurais become eighty loveable thugs) and that the focal point of the film will always rest on the hero (in spite of the eighty loveable thugs) . 

The set-up is also a fertile ground for Kollywood  to preach to the world about agriculture (pardon our pun). 

It’s the kind of movie you know will begin with the mythical birth of the hero (here in between a fight between two rival gangs) and how his arrival is supposed to change everything. 

It’s the kind of movie that makes you see the frame over which it operates, in a way it feels like the movie itself is smirking at you, this is what you asked right? 

Kollywood continues to, in my opinion, errantly glorify thugs, rowdies and gangsters and presents them as an alternate justice system, while I am not making a social comment on the presence or absence of such a system, I merely want to point out that this is a residual Godfather effect. Like since Hero belongs to a certain gang, it is seen as an affable gang of alternative justice seekers but not as violent killers, this by itself is not wrong; but the enemy (who shares the same characteristics) is the enemy just because the hero is not born into them. 

To give credit where it is due, Sulthan does go into the effects of living a violent lawless life and actually presents a way of life (agriculture) for the waywards. 

 The initial humor and general likeability of the Hero’s gang is established by the fact that they bring him up (teach him fighting and take him to school type of thing) but yet he grows up to become a Robotics engineer but his foster dads (?) continue to be knife wielding thugs for his real father. The montage of him growing up with the gang is interspersed with the gang doing unspeakable things including murder, but all this played with a joyful BGM, so that we recognize that these are the good guys. 

Or relatively, good guys. 

Loyalty too, as is often the case, an underlying pressure point, the fact that the 80+ rowdies listen and play-act in the presence of Sulthan because they pledged their allegiance to his father is even more backward than the dismal affairs of the village that this group wants to set right. The person who wants to break away from this loyalty prison is portrayed as a secondary villain. 

There are things that Sulthan does well, it too takes the video game format (done so well in KGF) and makes into the movie, each villain is a level, unfortunately there are only two levels in Sulthan. There is also an insistence that efforts take time to achieve (like agriculture) rather than resorting to the often followed immediate success template. 

But after a point it does not matter, if you do not really connect with ‘the gang’ or see through the frame, as I did. Movie creates and defeats the purpose of pitting one person against the other when I don’t know who to really root for. 

The director expects me to root for ‘this gang’ because Hero is part of it, but then I have seen a lot of movies and like how Velan says in Singaravelan, I have seen a lot of the same type of movies. 

Sulthan is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar

Categories
cinema cinema:tamil

On Vivek

(1961-2021)

1999’s Unnaruge Naan Irundhal was a marker of how Kollywood comedy would be shaped, at least for the next few years. Headlined by Parthiban, who was largehearted enough to take up roles which provided room for most supporting actors of the comedic variety as yes he could vibe well with them, being a humorist himself. Unnaruge Naan Irundhal had Vadivelu, as the village drunk who Parthiban’s character encounters, the scenes between them are indicative of their partnership which would reach peak in next year’s Vetri Kodi Kattu. 

Vivek joins the party much later, as is typical how this movie could have been made- a collection of random humorous sketches and a thin story to string it all together. As a frustrated actor-director who comes to the village to make a Rambha film (yes this is the Meena-Rambha movie ) , Vivek steals a movie really did require stealing, it was after a long time when the industry made fun of itself- he covers night schedules, late coming actors, sentiment scenes and Telugu style dance steps (Paniyaram Paniyaram Paniyaram anyone?). The short time he is on screen would earn him his first Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Comedian. 

Let’s come back to the indicative part, while Vadivelu was excelling in the comedy situations that left him feeling like fool or left him beaten black and blue; Vivek would take up an issue and deconstruct it, even within the framework of the sketch comedy that the films that was being offered to him, allowed. Unnaruge Naan Irundhal is like a fork in the road where Vadivelu and Vivek parted. 

In the new millennium, Vivek found an immediate place as the funny friend of then up and coming youth heroes, Vijay, Ajith, Vikram and Madhavan- but the frustration in his comedy remained (recollect the Shaeey! Kadhalukku silai vekkuranga, nee elai vekkure from Minnale ) and he elevated himself to the position where he could make fun of the heroes themselves (later Vivek gave up this position to Santhanam) but never would he miss out to include issues ( as in daily travails that the youth faced- ahem of the time) like mobile phone bill, petrol prices and even boring art films (Kadhal Jothi in Eyy Nee Romba Azhaga Irukke!). He strived to not reduce himself to a meme. 

A combination of factors including the multifold ‘image’ growth of the above mentioned heroes and the game changing Winner- well, we all know what happened after that. 

It is this short period between 2000 and 2003 that Vivek shone, he would talk about enrollment in caste societies (Dum Dum Dum), brahminism ( Saami) , ills of city life (Run), advertising ( Eyy Nee Romba Azhaga Irukke- Ullam Ketkume Beer) but it never seemed like he was making a statement for the sake of it, only all round good natured humor. 

Vivek couldn’t go full on into body language adi-dhadi comedy ( he tried that too for a while when we clearly see that Vivek was Vadivelu stand-in such films) , he couldn’t go into insult comedy of his predecessors, but he found his niche in the mix of pop-culture (Mission Impossible, Indecent Proposal all found a place)- harmless imitations (mostly Kamal, Sivaji, Kalaignar and Vairamuthu), social awareness and daily irritations. Sadly this golden period, like all golden periods, only lasted for a time. 

He would do them at a bigger scale (naturally) in later Shankar films which still had the smell of early 2000s in them. 

Like all good artistes,Vivek  reinvented himself by occasionally playing against type and because comedy is the most difficult of arts, he could do everything else, the most recent of which is Vellai Pookal, a well made thriller set in Seattle- an example of how he could carry a film with relatively unknown actors.

Of course, there are many Viveks (within the screen and outside) that are worth of public adulation, it could be his mission to plant one crore saplings or his quest to further the memory of APJ Abdul Kalam in the state or in general the goodness of his twitter account. 

Many will write about those facets and rightly should, but these are where my memories begin. 

No end card for you Vivek sir , this could be just another ‘Take Diversion’ and thank you for the humor.

Categories
TV

The Irregulars : An unkindness in London

Not your regular types

Stephen Fry in his introduction to the Hound of the Baskervilles (audible) observed that Conan Doyle did well to separate his preoccupations in the supernatural and the perceptive nature of his super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes. 

For Holmes, it was always logic and reason.

Eliminate all which is impossible, then what remains, however improbable, must be the truth. 

The new show, ‘The Irregulars’ aims to mix the supernatural with the super sleuth of whom we don’t see much of in the first episode. 

Just the legs, maybe the next episode might give away the hand, then a smile and then finally the eyes, much like a hero introduction from a Kodambakkam film.

But this series is not about Holmes, it’s about the struggling kids in his neighbourhood. The Irregulars be four : Bea, Jess, Billy and Spike living in a cellar, awaiting the winter and unable to pay rent. 

Bea, cool and confident, our lead is almost like a mother to the other three, but has just now turned 17. It’s the workhouses, they prepare you for anything, even being chased by an ‘unkindness’ of ravens. 

Then, there is Leo, he of royal blood (ahem) but whose blood or the non-clotting of it is why wishes to escape the stuffiness of his palace (?) and into the streets to breathe in the city air (pollution levels unknown). 

Naturally, he takes a liking to Bea, well, of course at the first instant. 

The first episode of the Netflix’s Irregulars, seems to have been written with a gun to the head of the writer, who in the lack of time uses elements from other films (Antman, Hitchcock’s The Birds) to move the story ahead. 

It isn’t much of a mystery, which is quite sad for a Sherlock based show, but there is room to explain the supernatural part. Speaking of that part, it’s when the series goes all Stephen King, a girl has the ‘gift’ and a guy who can summon ‘all the birds’ in England by thought. But I do fear that the show will take a teen love turn, it’s inevitable.

Hmm, so then it brings me back to the first Stephen Fry quote, maybe there was a reason why Conan Doyle didn’t mix the mystical with the mystery.

The Irregulars is now streaming on Netflix and it could very well be the name of our blog considering our posting schedule. 

Categories
cinema cinema:english

Can you ever forgive me? (2018)

As the swivel chair spins #15  

In a dusty, not often visited corner of Disney+ Hotstar, far away from Marvel and Star Wars is the 2018 film about a down on luck and life writer forging her way through the New York literary elite, only to pay her rent and feed her cat. 

Shitting on Tom Clancy

Lee Israel, 51 year old former New York Times best selling author walks with trepidation into a party, only to be schooled by Tom Clancy holding court and talking about writer’s block. 

“It’s something invented by writers to cover up their laziness”, he says, something to that effect. 

This hits Lee hard, she has not been able to come up with anything of worth in the recent past. But hey, she is going through one of the worst times in her life- fired from her job (for drinking), broke up on a long term relationship, her agent is not interested in what she submits and even cat doesn’t respond to her. 

How would the words come?

And here is this multi million dollar writer with a winning smirk talking about ‘writer’s block’ being an imaginary thing. 

Umm, it hit me hard too, this was a saturday evening, here I was settling down to watch a movie after surprisingly finding it on hotstar, after a guest casually mentioned it on a podcast and so on. 

The premise drew me in. It was about a struggling writer. ‘I’m sure I could learn something about the writing life’, I told myself and that’s when Tom Clancy (or a fictionalized version of him) delivered a good warm slap on my face about his theory about writer’s block. 

I should have been writing. So should have been Lee Israel. 

But it’s not my movie. Later on when Lee gets to know that this red scare flaming, right wing jingo bullshit writer (psst she meant Tom Clancy) is getting paid millions while she cannot even afford treatment for her cat, she flips out. 

Naturally. 

But the lesson was lost. 

The words will come, only if you sit. 

Finding a voice

“Can you ever forgive me?” is not about this moment, it is not even about the debate between what’s popular and what’s literary. 

It’s a sweet film about Lee Israel who along with her friend indulges in some literary deception by faking the words of Lillian Hellman, Noel Coward and most importantly Dorothy Parker to basically get by.  

Over the course of the movie, I came to realize that Lee Israel forged over 400 ‘literary’ letters to a select clientele and some of these even made it to the official biographies of the said authors. Such was her ability to replicate authentic voices. 

While there is little to doubt about Lee Israel’s ability or writing talent, it is lost behind either the voice of others. If Wikipedia is to be believed her bibliography consists of four compact line items, three of which are biographies and the fourth is ‘Can you ever forgive me’, arguably her most famous work. 

Clancy on the other hand wrote a novel a year till his death and has his own mini media universe (Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell & ofc Jack Ryan), so maybe Tom knew what he was talking about when he did say those lines while at the party. 

But then again, the movie is not about quality vs quantity creative debate, I make it to be so and I keep saying this because that is what I derived from the film. Apart from the fact that Mellisa McCarthy and Richard E Grant are absolutely marvellous and it sort of feels like a sin that they didn’t win more awards for the film, two barflies circling around each other when it seems that most of the world has given up on them.

Other people’s projected lives are not to be stood on podiums and to be judged upon, but a movie about lost potential is always the harbinger of doom in the lives of the viewer. 

Viewers are not doers and those who are not doers, and not doers are doomed to be left in the state of lost potential. 

This is not an indictment of what Lee Israel did, a brave soul who faced prosecution and even braver one when she overcame her fears and finding her own voice (and the one she is memorialized in celluloid for) by penning this memoir, this is just another wake up call to face the uncomfortable unknowns of our lives.

‘Can you ever forgive me?’ is streaming on Disney+Hotstar 

Image credit: The New York Times

Categories
cinema

12 Rules for (the Review Reader’s) Life

An Antidote to Cinematic Chaos

I’ve been writing reviews for 10 years now (coughs), reading them from as long as I remember. As years pass, I think there is a lot of obfuscation that goes around within the columns of movie reviews, it either ends up describing something else and leaving the reader in the lurch. 

As a reader first (and writer later), here are my rules for review readers esp those who want an antidote to the chaos that is film reviews (also try and make sense of them).

Rule 1: Almost always, when a reviewer says if a movie is socially important, it most certainly isn’t.

Social importance, historical importance, cultural importance are acquired over time, it is most certainly not acquired over the popcorn counter at Devi Theatre and especially not immediately. What’s relevant now, is not relevant next Friday, so yeah.

If a movie captures “this-very-moment” then it’s just that, look for signs of ascribing importance just because the movie addresses current events. 

Rule 2: Almost always, when a review says that the movie can never be classified as good or bad, it can surely be.

This limbo state only represents the inability of the reviewer to share his/her true feelings of the movie at the time due to whatever compulsion.

While there is a set who focus on what are apparently good and bad elements within the film, if they are not able to make up their mind about the film, it is not the film’s fault. It is the writer’s. 

The reasons could be anything and we don’t need to go into that. 

Rule 3: Never trust a movie review that captures audience reaction. Sample: “at that every moment half the audience had their jaw hitting the floor”

Urgh Hmm it shouldn’t matter. Maybe the writers were not hitting their word count.

Extend this rule to providing trivia, and then assigning value to the trivia, so that the overall importance of the film increases. 

The rules fundamentally rise from the fact that reviews have moved away from being observations but into the realm of accreditation, hence assigning momentary importance. 

Assigning importance can be done subtly in many forms, like social norming, by describing how people were howling in the theatre makes us immediately believe that there could be something ‘important’ at the moment. 

Rule 4: Always disregard should have/ would have criticism. 

“They should have killed off the Amudha character early in the movie, like in Psycho” like samples.

This is the “I watch so many movies so I know how better to make them” mode. Much like “how I go on a field trip to Sriharikota and the next month advising ISRO on what they should do on Mangalyaan” mode.

Rule 5: Almost always do not take seriously anything about shot division, color grading, production value , cinematography, sound mixing, box office predictions

Rule five deals with technicality. If reviewers were technically sound, they would (you know) be making movies etc. Especially now, when anyone can make and upload a movie, while here they are uploading umm reviews?

While I do not deny there could be observational critics who could get a sense of how a technical element informs the story element, they are few and far in between and from what I have read, they now function with an arsenal of adjectives, that when overused come with diminishing ‘awe’. 

Rule 6: Semblance of truth can only be found when reviewers write about what they felt while watching the movie.

It ties to some of the earlier rules, reviewers tend to go into social importance, audience reactions, limbo wording when they are not truly able to come to terms with what they feel about a film.

Rule 7: Almost all observations about how the story made the reviewer feel should always be the most important part of the review.

This is because humans have been reacting to storytelling for centuries, it’s built into us. That’s the power of story. So yeah that’s the only valid point to keep reading reviews. Whether the story engaged the reviewer or not. also since reviewers are humans too 🙂

Rule 8: When reviewers tell that the movie-story is predictable, they are thinking that the audience sees the same number of films as they do. 

It is also an addition to rule 7, it only proves that this movie story did not engage reviewers so saying predictable etc.

Rule 9 All of decoding should be avoided, completely.

A movie is a contract between the maker and the seer, and the maker puts in interesting elements consciously and mostly unconsciously. Let the seers make their own connections. When we make our own meanings, imagine the possibilities.

Rule 10 Treat with suspicion, those who say film reviewing is an art form.

Reasons people give to themselves stay in certain professions should not be treated as fact. A film review has high depreciation value. Only the best of the best survive and that too because the movies are great. The movies are always greater than the impression.

Rule 11 You must consider a possibility that you are in the wrong part of the forest if you are reading the reviews for the words and falling in love with it.

Any movie can be simply expressed without much adoration, ornamentation, alliteration, turns of phrase. These are things writers do to keep themselves interested. 

Stay vigilant, sago, reviewers also slip in “we”, when they mean “I” and immediately make us believe that we also fully buy their versions.

Vigilance is key. 

Rule 12 Always read reviews only after seeing the movie.

Please do not settle down and fill your head with opinions before you watch something. If you need recommendations to catch/thrash it then it means that you are better off not seeing something that friday. 

Movies don’t run away. There’s always time.Let movies collect days and dust. 

In our brief period on earth, each person gets to see a finite set of movies. The good news is we can make this a unique playlist. Do not fall for friday fever.

But of course obvious exceptions for some of the rules apply and I can be accused of breaking almost all of them. But this is my observation over the years

This is not an imaginative piece like ” a world without movie reviews” Of course not. But these rules will question the unnecessary ones (them reviews) and strengthen those who seek guidance in understanding them.

Take it or leave it. 

Honest story based impressions are the best form of reviews. And even these represent the frame of mind of the reviewer at that point in his/her life.

Reviews always tell more about the writer-commentator than about the movies itself. So movies first, reviews next. 

It is also important to have specific taste, and such can be developed only when not overly influenced by others.

For those asking: logical fallacies and plot holes are still game in good reviews as they fall very much into the story. While watching a movie, we are first following the story. Discovering a well hidden plot hole/ gap in a movie is like uncovering a magic trick!

Thank you for reading. Hope it was useful.

Thanks to Alex on Film for the Mayor Ebert image from the movie Godzilla