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cinema:tamil

Likeable Wannabeism : Project Agni from Navarasa (2021)

Of all the films in the new Netflix anthology series that I’ve seen (yet to see them all), the only one that does some justice to it’s rasa theme is Karthick Naren’s Project Agni. 

It’s the rasa of wonder and it works for me because it is not an all encompassing wonder theme of something beautiful which is hard to dislike, but a specific wonder that only wannabes experience.

Technically everyone is a wannabe, so the wonder in Project Agni should work for all; but then even those genuinely experience wannabeism are chided for behaving like wannabes and then are forced to lose it to put on the garb of refined taste and culture. Cursed to consume pretentious content for the rest of their lives.

While I have lost my early wannabe animal to growing pains, that animal still lurks and takes more pains when I call out on other peoples wannabeism- like we did when we did the FRS of Mafia, Karthik Naren’s previous film. 

That’s how people drop their wannabe avatars, their curious instincts lost to ex-wannabes constantly telling them so, it is in a way a loss of innocence. 

I am not asking you to embrace wannabeism here, I am well aware of its pitfalls- like not growing an own voice and constantly in awe of any swaying ‘in-thing’. I’m just trying to say that there are levels of wannabeism which are tolerable, when it does not go along for long, when it is really not on the nose- it is likeable wannabeism. 

Likeable Wannabeism is a group of friends (not more than four) sitting in a restaurant talking about the opening scene from Reservoir Dogs (I mean), but of course not for hours but just the right length until one ex-wannabe can groan (predictably) on how Tarantino is overrated (yawn) and then switch on to Scorsese or Antonioni or some such etc. 

Likeable Wannabeism is the goldilocks of Wannabeism and in the realm of cinema, in recent times, it is usually spent in the discussions of films of Kubrick, Nolan, Tarantino. It’s talking about references to and inspirations from, it is looking at important concepts of life, universe and everything through the lens of movies. Obviously it cannot go on for long, because probably your peer group has only seen Inception and the more you go on talking about it, the more they are going to order the main course. 

All I’m saying is, just allow the wannabe their time, don’t call them out on it (always, only when on the nose) and with age and when life happens to them, they too will read the Russian classics, watch Kurosawa movies and listen to Mozart or Beethoven, the generally accepted boring trifecta of books, movies and music or in other words culture. 

But when it is short and snappy, there is nothing like Likeable Wannabeism, it could actually get you noticed, it might actually make the Wannabe an interesting person and not a self suffering movie nerd.

For example, in Project Agni, when Karthick Naren’s short-movie is how we shouldn’t totally chase our obsessions because going too far could lead to tragic consequences and then he name drops a thread from Room 237, the Shining documentary where people almost spend their entire life studying the Kubrick’s movie for meanings to their life and losing it completely: some hair stood on end. 

The connection. The goosebumps. The wonder. 

The wonder that Project Agni goes for is not the general perception of what beauty is or what wonder is, but just speaking to a small subset of movie nerds (not cineastes- urgh what a term) who watch movies not as entertainment or as dinner conversation fodder (although they do end up talking all about movies at dinner- I meant in a non transactional way) or as means to acquire high culture cred but simply as a channel to understand things. Movies as a means to higher purpose. 

It’s why they (movie nerds) go into the details, the set designs, screenplay structures and director interviews- they really want to know what all this is about. Please don’t confuse this with the thala-thalapathy first look poster trailer decoding that things are reduced to on youtube today, what I’m talking about is something in the lines of NerdWriter or Patrick Willems (whose long videos ofc becomes unlikeable Wannabeisms- exactly the point). 

An obsession becomes wonder- when something is figured out and that is the wonder I feel Karthick Naren is going for and he even does some flexes by making the right references and combining genres all within 30 mins while others in Navrasa are not even able to maintain one single mood for ten mins. 

Yes the acting really does help, Arvind Swamy was born to give to exposition dumps and most of the movie is just Arvind Swamy and Prasanna sitting down and talking about the stuff they are obsessed about (another movie nerd attribute of being meta comes to the fore, it’s something we like). And Prasanna is so good that you wonder how good he will be with twice the screen time. 

Also admirable that Karthik Naren chose to go with almost all english dialogue, which the story does demand- try translating ‘subconscious world’ in Tamil and inserting it 25 times in the script, then you’ll know. For some subjects english really works and kudos for Karthik Naren for being himself, it’s a brave thing to be oneself, especially in Kollywood. 

PS

Blue Sattai Maran refused to review the film because it was mostly an English film, maybe this is the solution that the industry has been waiting for to get Maran to stop talking about things he doesn’t understand- just make movies in english, he won’t review. But we would rob the world of much humor.

I know Project Agni won’t appeal to a lot of people, but that is the point of it. We have already killed culture by making it so that it will appeal to all folks. Let this one be.  

So instead of commissioning the usual FRS for Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru, I thought I’ll just write about the stuff I liked. 

Categories
cinema cinema:tamil FRS

FRS: JAGAME THANDHIRAM (2021)

So you all know what an FRS is right? Right?    

Disclaimer: We can only begin an FRS, we can never finish it convincingly.

And so we begin, with our invocation against gangsterism

Yes it is a genre of film but we don’t have to like it.

Yes it does seem cool, but all of us here at the FRS are in this endless process of ageing, which automatically means that we are against cool stuff like coloured jackets-wearing-beedi-smoking-at-the-same-time-smirking-gangsters.

Maybe you can sense there is some hate or you can also take the logical reasoning about how when you make gangsterism the main vehicle of your film you can give any reason to justify it, where lies all our problems with gangster movies. Yes it’s a genre and we (FRS writer’s room) don’t have to like it because supposed cinematic greats have an affinity towards it and even to risk earning the wrath of all film bros.

So yes gangsterism is against the law, whatever is the reason.

+101: No Narration. Good call.

<Trivia Thagaval Sponsored by Wikipedia>

The first half (divide as you will this is a direct OTT release) is very much a reworking of ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’ which itself is a remake of Yojimbo, which in turn Kurosawa said might have been inspired by the pulp novels of Dashiell Hammett.

#PulpisGood

</Trivia Thagaval Sponsored by Wikipedia>

It is the story of an outsider who comes to town where two warring gangs compete for control, the smart outsider plays one against each other, of course for personal benefit.

Here the town is London and the man with no name, actually is named Suruli.

-45: In trying to paint the character of Suruli colourfully, the director has forgotten even to sketch the rest of the characters.

Even the most paraded character of London gangster Peter, here played by James Cosmo, who unceremoniously gets added to the list of foreign powers who pose no challenge.

-34: Reinforcement max: movie, characters keep saying that Peter is a racist and white supremacist, while we already got it with his nameplate which reads “WHITE POWER” and random Ku Klux Klan outfit in his room.

His introduction too shows that how immigrants fear him, but somehow Peter is not able to face the problems posed by the gang headed by Sivadoss (Joju George)

-69: Obsession with intros: the first ten minutes of the film is just intros, some with ultra-text splashed on screen ala Tarantino- most movies take time to introduce their characters and that’s not a fault by itself. But in Jagame, with every powerful intro, the acceptability reduces proportionately.

For example, you show Peter as the most powerful gangster in town, but then in the rest of the movie he hardly does anything menacing.

We don’t know anything about his philosophy, every dialogue of his is just reinforcing that he is a xenophobe, which as pointed out, has been already established.

This begs the question, was this really the character that Karthik Subbaraj wanted Al Pacino to play?

+21.9: Reasons: While the idea to make a cross over gangster film needs to be appreciated, the reason to take Suruli from Madurai to London is one of the flimsiest even by Kollywood standards.

+30: Intelligentally Eli: Hero finds out everything including complex smuggling networks about rival gang within one week which other gangsters (who are in the same smuggling business) could not for years

Suruli can start an online course on competitive intelligence; we would surely pay for such things.

-5: But if hero could find out such things, he could have surely been able to find out why Sivadoss’ gang is smuggling gold etc.  

+78: Mahatma Gang Leader:  For a gang leader, Sivadoss is too trusting.

Boss, like your job description to not trust anyone.

-34: Movie proceeds as thus, till it becomes about immigrants and the Tamil Eelam issue.

While there is nothing wrong in trying to address larger issues in films, but maybe if they had been portrayed with more conviction or convincing actors would have helped the cause.

D is an accomplished actor, the transformation Suruli goes through in the film feels more like the character’s ego trip rather than real internal change, we really cannot say more without spoiling the film.

-450: A Host of Issues: If immigration issues are not enough, movies marries another going nowhere plot for speaking against private prisons, the need for identification and living a free life without borders.

Hmm yeah, maybe that’s why every minute of Jagame feels like two minutes.

+23: Cameron-Kanni Spotted: Movie at some point shows a burning merry-go-round which we feel is a reference to Terminator 2: Judgement Day and so we are giving positive points like these.

Yeah like random.

+91.5: Cut to the Combat: It almost feels that the director and crew only wanted to film the final blast everything in our way to the villain’s room shoot-out.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s really done well with slow motion and all that, but it almost seems that the rest of movie, the emotions of characters, are just a ruse(wink wink, nudge nudge)to get us to here.

Well atleast you enjoyed filming that.

Maybe the Thandiram in Jagame Thandiram is to get us to watch 2:40mins of uninspired filmmaking for the last few moments of inspired action, if that was the intention, then we have a winner.

<Winks winks, nudges nudges>

Subam

Team FRS

Categories
cinema:tamil

FRS: Eeswaran (2021)

So you all know what an FRS is right? Right? 

FRS: Eeswaran

+120: For the director for keeping the movie to a runtime of just 2 hours and that’s perfect, without the songs this would be the ideal Tamil movie length standard.

Let us explain, deep down there is a hole in the OTT watcher’s heart to watch these template big hero films, call it the comfort of the familiar or just Stockholm syndrome or Madras day celebrations, but while watching it rationality kicks in (irrespective of which stock we are from) and us FRS writers especially worry about the time that we spend on these things. 

2 hours is perfect. Let’s save this and give it to the next generation as heirloom. 

<Auto Pinnadi Ottalam Stuffs- segment sponsored Vivek & Co>

Any Big hero movie above 120 mins, must be miniseries. 

</Auto Pinnadi Ottalam Stuffs> 

-45: Narration, director begins by introducing the entire Periyasamy (Bharatiraja) clan,again and again we have told bhai, why make movies when you can make audiobook types. 

This syndrome comes from “basically all humans are storytellers” type romantix. Please. 

+11: inspired casting of Manoj Bharatiraja as the young version of the legendary directory

+22: Infact Manoj and senior B are few of the good things in Eeswaran.

-13: Hero has the tendency to slap someone inadvertently.

Hey watch your hand buddy

-70.9: No amount of justification will make you believe why a hero is so hyped in his village, in fact when you get to know the reason you question the hype even more. 

But we do agree, this is a slight improvement in writing from the other films in which hero is hyped in his village/town/city/nation/gated community just because he is hero. 

+101: Josier Ex Machina 

Raymond Chandler used to have a tip for writers which went like, “if you don’t know what to do next, have someone with a gun come in.” 

Suseendran replaces the man with the gun to the astrologer with the cowrie shells, who sets things in motion 

All this provides a good setup, but when the director does it again, it felt like this was the only idea in the film. 

-45: Movie uses Covid as a setup to get the main characters together but the pressing reality and need for social distancing and masks are reduced to comedy, it almost as though feels that the characters are not serious about the pandemic.

Josier has more influence than the doctors, that should tell us something about society bhais.  

Example: heroine believes that hero will not get covid because he is hero and in effect their kids wont too. 

Example 2: Family closely interacts with covid positive patients but miraculously, all of them, test negative

Yes, the movie was made after the first wave, and it is still a movie, but thought we should point it out. 

-101: Pandemic movie has no characters wearing masks

-67: Romance as character detail: Heroine has nothing to do in her character sketch, hence she falls in love with the hero.

+98: Movie is a callback of all movies which are callbacks of the times when all family members lived together, the times when cousins played yard games and the men drank their way to happiness and women toiled in kitchens to put up feasts. Those times, yes. 

-40.6: Eeswaran seems to have some kind of nervous issue, is it Tourette’s syndrome? He shakes his head and fingers with vigor before he says anything important like a punch dialogue, but mostly the negative points are for taking such medical conditions seriously. 

But we cannot help but ignore such things in a film which was shot during the pandemic and has a comedy sequence literally on the symptoms of covid 19

+33: It’s not an STR movie unless someone makes a reference to his coming late in films. 

+22: Hero and his friends think that speaking fast is comedy.

-92: Snakes are not going to like this film. 

-43: Nolan brothers are not going to like this film, we mean… they spend years to come up with ultra complicated plots and other visual elements to get us to the theatre, here’s Susi just saying a simple revenge is plot enough to make a film. 

Send a man to jail and he will come back to kill your family, all the rest is just STRisms and a Dsir bait scene in the trailer. 

Eeswaran help us all! 

Subam. 

Team FRS

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: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