Ext- Jil Jung Juk Bar + Garden Restaurant
It was just another pretentious bar with fuzzy neon lights where underpaid mid-life professionals pretended to act like low-life gangsters in the hope of gaining street cred or breakthrough into screenwriting.
All the inhabitants however knew, both goals are impossible.
There’s an 80s Rajni song playing in the background, it’s an otherwise forgettable song, made unforgettable only by the Thalaivar fan urge to never let such things die.
It’s not an immediately recognizable song, if it had been then this would have not been a pretentious bar named after a pretentious movie.
Enter Moderate Manohar or MM in slow motion
Moderate Manohar is now 40 years, obviously he has put on weight, he still tucks in his t-shirt and replies to messages in his family WhatsApp group. There is nothing inherently wrong with him, except of course the fact that he is a foreign film critic for the Chicago Sun Times. His specialty is writing about the intersection of gender, culture, politics and religion- which was a nice way of saying that he could write about anything.
Nobody really liked MM, but he was polite, so people didn’t tell him openly that they didn’t like him. They had separate WhatsApp groups to make fun of him, however.
Enter Caustic Kumar or CK in slow motion
CK is 37 years old, but he looks like he is 52. On his Aadhar card he looks 55, because it’s his father picture instead of his. The government didn’t care, father-son, all the same.
CK is not a Gandhian, but is known to speak his mind. Nobody really likes CK too, but they enjoyed telling him that. He is now immune to such comments and often takes it with a smile, later he would run such people to the ground through his secret twitter account.
Years ago, CK and MM were a duo of sorts, under the Chief, they were allowed to publish anything under the column: movie reviews.
It came as a shock to the Chief that when the publication was sold off to a corporate house with the promise of ‘repurposing’ content, the company left out all the movies CK and MM covered.
After selling the publication for a small fortune, the Chief turned to drinking, MM had secured a cushy review job and CK was left on the streets, while he returned to his roots: cooking. He came from a family of Cook-u Kumars, including the one who had made a Dosa for Queen Elizabeth when she had come to Chennai for the launch of Marudanayagam.
He now was the parotta master at Jil Jung Juk Bar, he was surprised that it was more comfortable than his previous job, paid well and his customers didn’t complain.
MM Meets the Chief (and CK)
Chief: I want you guys to unite, we can do the reviews again, we had a vision, a dream, we can make it big again.
The Chief was an exceedingly positive person, especially for a person who resorted to drinking after making a small fortune.
MM: Let’s be practical chief, nobody reads reviews anymore and to be honest, you cannot afford me.
CK: He can’t afford me neither.
CK: Oh, hi MM! I read your piece on the loss of innocence in Pandiarajan films of the 2000s midway…and…
CK: Oh, before I finished it, the boys in the kitchen used it for wrapping vadais, pandemic you see, we are using whatever we get.
MM: Umm, you seem to have done well for yourself (MM was surprised)
CK: There’s no business like Manchow business! Try our soups.
Chief: No guys, seriously, we can publish on those new newsletter sites and accumulate and audience and ask them readers to pay for our reviews. You have no idea the kind of things people pay for nowadays, surely, they will pay for reviews.
Chief: Oh, come on, you are not the Beatles and there is this new movie called Mahaan that you will surely want to write about.
CK and MM Get Back Together in slow motion
MM: Do you want to go first and give us a peek of your Mahaan Vanmam
CK: But how did you. But of course, you follow me on twitter.
MM: No, I generally guessed based on past experience that you hate 99% of all things.
CK: Well, done, MM. Good to see you thinking. Good to see anyone thinking these days.
MM: What do you mean?
CK: I mean… if someone had thought about it, Maahan would not have been made.
MM: Seriously, it’s not that bad
CK: Good, now you accept that it is not good and I only have to convince you that it’s bad. A small tilt. But I have to get back to being the parotta master.
Let’s continue in the kitchen
CK and MM in the kitchen, various others going about their cooking business, ambient cooking noise and Tamil FM music
MM: So, you were going to say that the movie was longer than it should have been?
CK: No MM, my observations are often on point and not general, that’s one of the reasons I didn’t do well as a movie critic.
For example, I would say stuff like, Karthik Subbaraj, we get the irony, we get the irony like a Gandhian being a liquor baron, it’s there in your script, you didn’t have to spell it out to us in the form of dialogue especially after driving home the point that hero’s name is Gandhi Mahaan.
MM: That is true, sometimes too on the nose.
CK: Yeah, just like the Gandhi glasses, I thought like that was pushing too much. Gandhians wearing caps okay, but wearing same glasses, especially were those for sight or you know something like cos-play.
MM: These are like the points the FRS writers would come up with. I was thinking more like this was a critique of those who follow any ideology intensely, hence they were the butt of the jokes.
CK: Exactly MM, you found the point. Always look at what they are making fun of, that’s the easiest way to find intent from a creator.
There are obviously different levels to this and some critics might say that intent does not really matter; but all along I was feeling that this ideology extremists vs let me just be free and have a drink is not thought through well.
It assumes that ideology has ruined more people than alcohol has, well of course the director does not want to engage in more research, he has made it with the stance that ideology is somehow more dangerous.
MM: Well, I wouldn’t blame him, anything in the extreme is bad
CK: Typical of something you would say isn’t it; well, I would like to differ to know something you really have to be fully into it. The idea must consume you for you to completely believe in it. I’m not saying that we should overlook the downsides of ideology, but to say that it is better to be a liquor baron than be committed to ideology is like elementary school level logic.
MM: But intent itself does not the drive the movie, these are inferences that you make.
CK: I’m trying to say it plainly here, Karthik Subbaraj’s Mahaan is just another film which pushes the one life live it large philosophy, he tries to bolster this by saying that people who are committed to ideologies are dangerous and it is better to have a drink and ruin your life and those who depend on you.
MM: You’re reading too much; this is just a film about repressed desires of a guy who’s been caged for 40 years.
CK: So, the dream of this freedom seeker is to wear color clothes and have a drink.
Wait, this movie is more dangerous in the way it defines freedom: which is the pursuit of local pleasures which is drinking.
By defining freedom as just the freedom to drink, it is another throw of the hammer at family, in fact that is what happens to Gandhi Mahaan’s family.
MM: No wait, don’t you think that how Nachi reacted to her husband’s one night of drinking too much? It’s not realistic.
CK: Wait on one hand, we talk about having relationships wherein we don’t have to tolerate each other and that people should move away from such relationships, while you feel that Nachi is over reacting?
MM: But hasn’t she brought up her son with vengeance in his heart?
CK: Again, Nachi is the only one in the movie who has brought up a son who has amounted to anything, to become a police officer; it’s only because the director feels that this vengeance drives him to psychopathic acts, we feel he is wrong.
Movies are always from the POV of the director, like how many movies had the only motivation as vengeance and we did not even bat an eyelid.
Wait a minute, even Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta was about vengeance across generations.
MM: But that was when Nawazuddin gunned down an entire clan
CK: Here too Mahaan orders a killing of an IAS officer
MM: But you cannot seek lessons for life from movies, they are movies CK, they are meant to be enjoyed. I agree, we do see from the point of view of the director.
CK: Isn’t that an easy argument? My inference is that in Karthik Subbaraj films, morals do not matter and those with any sort of those are mocked. Even Satyavan who has a telling scene and answers to God and realizes that there are defined things such as good and bad and not everything is grey, is made fun of.
Always look at who they make fun of, the intent is revealed there.
MM: And you still have problems with grey characters
CK: Mahaan is not a grey character, he kills for business and runs illegal gambling bars, he kills seven other police officers, he does not even a have a moral reason to get into this ‘business’ like how Velu Nayakan does.
All this exists only to satisfy slow motion fetishes of the makers, to make us believe that this kind of life is actually freedom and we should pursue it.
MM: See this is why, we cannot have any fun, everything is brought within a moral framework.
CK: In that case the movie should not opine on ideology vs freedom, it should probably openly say that I am really fascinated by gangster growth and I will shoot it the best way and idolize it.
MM: Umm…it’s not like that
CK: Only to make the bad guy look cooler and in control, the ones with ideologies are made fun of. And only coolness sells, if Mahaan had been cooler by himself.
MM: Is that your final take? You barely went past the core idea that the movie deals with and I believe the movie is much more than that, for me how the thread of how three friends are connected through life’s ups and downs very interesting and the devadoothan fight had real punch in a Tamil movie fight scene in a long time. The ending of course is too constructed to the point you can see the name of the TMT bars used in the construction.
CK: Yeah, the Daylight Devadoothan fight scene was really something, will have to watch that alone multiple times, but the rest of it I could never go past and marvel at the way the film was told when I could not buy the central idea of it. It seemed unusually light at moments of great weight, almost insincere.
CK turns around another Parotta and MM calls it a night, so that he can go home and listen to Nino Rota. The chief as usual didn’t know what to make of their conversation, but he published it anyway.
At the time of publishing, he wore an Editor’s Guild T shirt which said, “Find someone who can reject you”
CK and MM will return with another movie conversation.
Mahaan starring Chiyaan Vikram and directed by Karthik Subbaraj is now streaming on Amazon Prime.