cinema cinema:tamil Essay Music


An attempt to view Madras/Chennai through its songs          


Who knows what type of day it would have been, but trust the Madras resident to come conclude that it would have been, like every day: a very hot one. The imaginative residents would have even got to the extent of picturing a sun burned and sweating exploring officer of the East India Company, pausing at this small and then insignificant sand bar on the Coramandel coast.

He could have gone further, but then he stopped.

The officer on duty was Francis Day, one of the neglected founding fathers of the city; the city they once called Madras and now we call Chennai. There are many tales as to why Day stopped here, it wasn’t even a natural harbor, so essential for the works of the company; the story of Madras is perhaps the most cinematic one; the one never told or explored by the dream spinners who now work in what widely circulated newspapers call Kollywood, a name which sounds so odd that you would like to say something nice after you mouth it.

But there has always been the beach, the coast that made the travelling Englishman stop has churned the memories of many a Tamil filmmaker. C.V. Sridhar often heralded as the first modern Tamil director shared Day’s enchantment and used to write all his scripts on the Marina and would shoot at least one scene there, his classic comedy Kadhalikka Neramillai (No time for love) was set entirely in the southern mountain retreat of Chinnamalai but that couldn’t prevent Sridhar from shooting this opening song on the sunny beach overlooking the Madras University, it is one of the most happiest openings in Tamil film and Sridhar’s sentiment with the Marina would continue all through, not far away a bridge named after a 19th century city Governor Francis Napier, the distinctly red lighthouse and the Indo-Saracenic architecture of the university buildings has also served countless location managers, the stretch of the Marina would be the most exploited, mostly for songs providing walking space for leading couples to ad lib while the composer’s music played out.

When the Marina is used, can Elliot’s be far behind; the city’s second favorite hangout has an added advantage of having a cenotaph to decorate the panoramic shots.


I do agree that there has been repetition in the Madras that appeared in songs; after all there can only be so many places of interest, so we can afford to forgive Mani Ratnam (who incidentally has a company called Madras talkies) for using the Chennai Museum complex for a dance recital and as a court-house. He famously used the college of Engineering for the same, but that is another matter.


Repetition too has some beauty, but that lies in the mind of the reciter,  a song which begins with a sombrero wearing Manorama aptly titled Madrasa Sutti Paaka Poren (I am going to see Madras)is your quickest guide to the city, even makes fun of Lord Ripon after whom the Corporation headquarters is named; the same year (1994) also came Shankar’s Kadhalan (Lover)a song which quickened the pulse of a nation and also managed to capture Prabhu Deva taking over Madras from the top of distinctive green buses while people watch, mesmerized from the sides of the High Court and the LIC buildings, which I should take time to mention as Chennai’s Empire state, it is not much, but still it is ours.

Staying on the topic of LIC building as a symbol of the city, for years that umm…modest skyscraper and the Central Railways station has been used to the change in setting of any film, from the village to the big bad city; going to Pattinam(as Madras was called in the villages then) was considered an ill act.

Here in B&W Madras, the villager ponders over skyscrapers and how irresponsible the citizens are, the trend continues to this day; in a time where Tamil Cinema is moving southward to the raw rustic surroundings of Madurai and elsewhere; Chennai is often seen as a city of IT professionals who live fake lives and always speak English to the uneducated.

But the city silently bears all that, waiting for that rare moment where even the immigrants;  these protectors of Tamil culture pause for a moment and realize what a ladder this city has been for them, on the other hand new blood from the city have not been silent as they had to deal with inter-zonal conflicts; eternally dividing the city into one of the haves and the have-nots; after all which city does not have boundaries.

But what many cities do not posses is a tongue of its own, rumored to have borrowed equally from English, Tamil, Sanskrit and Hindi, perhaps even German (who can say) is the Madras Baashai, no Tamil film attains completeness without a Zaam Bazzar Jaggu having his bichua knife ready to slice or singing songs on the banks of the foul-smelling holy Cooum: our ever unclean-able.

But how can I finish with the Cooum, so I return one last time to the cool Marina where it all began. Sivaji Ganesan here walks past innocently in search of a better tomorrow where his majestic statue now stands; a merger of worlds of sorts.

The clips in this document is far from complete, but have been assembled to give a fleeting glimpse of the city, many great songs and sites have been left behind and there are still many corners in the city to be explored and filmed, for who would have thought that the famous banyan tree in the Theosophical Society would have given ample shade to silent lovers or that a gully cricket match between the RA Puram Sharks and the Royapuram Rockers would mete out an amusing tale, if not for cinema. We will wait.

For mine is a laid back coastal city, till only recently sprouting signs of competing with the hustle of its colleagues; but somehow maintaining the warmth and air of welcome, I have never been anywhere else; but I have always been welcome at home. Maybe that is what made Francis Day stop, he probably felt home.

cinema cinema:tamil Essay


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Time is of the essence.

How does one begin to write on a film such as this? Is it even a film? The closest equivalent of this is when the person sitting aside you, waiting for time to pass, tells you his/her life. There comes a problem into classifying life into genres, there is a bit of it all, comedy, action, romance, sometimes all at once.

The best of art probably mirrors life and life is not without interruptions; for movies having poignant moments, are not expected to make you laugh at the same time, that we all do in retrospect.

But time is of limited scope here, not only as the running time of film as seen on the censor certificate, but in our lives as well; so in a similar telling moment when a wife understands that her husband probably still loves someone else and that she had been an obstruction in his life, we are supposed or expected to wet our eyes; which does happen with an actress like Uvashi in place, but simultaneously your eyes wrinkle and you break into a chuckle at the very moment. A real moment captured for eternity, well that is limited as well.

This is a very difficult film to write about Mr. Kamal, I am unable to fathom the difficulties that went into writing this film. So I will not spend precious words and time writing about how brilliant this film which you have given us is, I do not want to write about this film in the whole scheme of Indian films and how ambitious it is. That is for others.


It was only yesterday we were speaking how Avengers should be a talking point because how easily it spreads itself across genres and here is one of our own, who has made a film which leaps out of the screen and splashes onto our lives like muddle splatter leaving a mark, one difficult to erase even with detergents. Uttama Villain is not just a film, it is a sort of a love letter Kamal has written to himself, and yes there are love letter part of the plot as well.

Kamal Haasan often parodied for doing almost everything in a film, does almost everything in UV (Uttama Villain) and rightly so, often seen as intrusive and controlling but not so often seen as one man’s love for all things cinema, but that debate is for another time, which I need not remind you is in very limited quantities.

The bottom line is Uttama Villain contains more Kamal-isms than probably the entirety of his career and my God (hope u are there somewhere) these are extreme fun to watch. The physical and the verbal compete with each other to provide entertainment in one segment, while the weight of emotion neatly folds you like a paper readied for origami in the other, but both these segments say the same things.

Time is of the essence.

Uttama Villain is Kamal’s seemingly last love letter to everyone with a mail box of an open mind, it is also a love letter to himself, and mostly a letter of deference to his mentor KB.

To see moving images in the eyes of the great but now dead man is one of the most moving images I have seen, maybe that is why this is called the motion picture industry. But who would choose life, if death itself is so beautiful. (Again the theme of the movie)

Personally, I feel that there can be no more fulfillment in life than that deafening thing that happens to you after you see a film, and that does things in your head than you can never explain, but then you really want to and then when words come rushing out, your mouth refuses to open. Uttama Villain is something like that. Maybe, we are all more emotional than we would like to admit.

Time is of the essence.

Most of us on this planet end up living nondescript lives, however great we may think the things we achieve are, it really would mean nothing in the long run, but as Gandalf says “ All we have to decide is what we have to with the time that is given to us”

Even If I don’t achieve anything, atleast I am happy I decided to be a Kamal fan.

A great undoing for an artist is to be unrecognized in his time and even greater undoing is to be misunderstood in his time, whether Uttama Villain makes money or goes otherwise is the least of my concern as it would not matter in the years to come. Maybe it takes time for people to understand the weight of it all, but time is of the essence.


Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya

I know it is quite late, quite can be substituted to mean more than a year and I have nothing but my stupidity to blame for it. After much arguments and an unusually tired day I watched Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya( will you cross the skies <for me>? shouldn’t there be a question mark somewhere)

I hit my head with my own hand after a few minutes into the film, It is not my opinions on Mr. Menon really matters nor does my inherent dislike to mountains of sweetness and sadness love stories, which I was expecting and as usual I was wrong.

Most of Menon’s films begins with a voice over by the protagonist, in VTV it is Karthik who while sitting almost tear eyed asks around why he chose Jessi of all the women in the world, a similar observation was made by Humphrey Bogart  in a much loved 1942 film but that concerned gin joints too but essentially the same thought. Emotions are universal, there is no logic involved. Logic came into the movies only as to propel stories into an ending, but VTV defies conventional storytelling.

I remember during one of the promotion interviews, the director himself humbled his film as ‘one line story’ and that talking about would only be a giveaway, but what does one expect in a love story?

Rephrasing the question what should one expect in a love story? Should it be an encyclopedic and complex plot winding and winding till there is a climactic moment at a mountain top or river bridge? Or should it have extremely loveable lovers and tinsel free love.

Ironically the part of the film is actually about Karthik getting a break in films and yet the content would put ‘realistic’ directors to shame, personally never having realized any romantic relationship  I felt if this what love is all about then I’m all game for it.

Never mind the age difference, never mind the opposite religions. These are just to bring about a storm between the leads just like the emigration papers in Casablanca, it could have been anything. The problem could have been about the naming of their dog to create a rift; the film would still have been great. Karthik and Jessi would have fallen in love even otherwise, it was written; not by the director but something a higher force which brings together and separates people at will. This is what a love story should be about, lovers and their love. Not their problems, everything else should be given minimum importance.

Never has music went so well with the visuals, it seems as though the camera composed the notes while filming the water, especially the hollowness of ‘Aaromale’ which also acts as the main leitmotif is simply amazing and the sudden burst of the Nadaswaram in ‘Anbil avan’ adds to the mystery that is music and the experiments of Rahman, in the same song Thamirai writes the most poignantly happy lines

‘Nee vanavil aaga,aval vanam ezhaaga,

andha vaanam veedaga maaradho  maaradho’

The above appears as the refrain in the song, pointing the few happy moments between the lovers and how ‘their’ world celebrates it, the simply genius poetry takes the film to (use the word again) poetic heights along with the sadness of the ending, the sadness which splatters on the screen, a display of Karthik’s loss. Indeed sadness is infectious than happiness, but this sorrow is not only mind narrowing but uplifting, uplifting that unseen air which seems to rise from the heart. If it is not uplifting, then is it love?

Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya is a film about love.