Tag: Kamal Haasan

Calling The Cops

Or what I found when I kept Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu and Thanga Pathakam side-by-side

Even the meanest of Gautam Menon critics (some of whom, write for this website-gulps) will agree that the “kanna nondi eduthaanga da” opening sequence is among his best. 

It also presents a good template for us to study hero introductions.

Hmm, then I found something, from a 1974 film. 

The Open Challenge

“Bring me the eye of DCP Raghavan!” 

Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu (VV) begins with Royapuram Mani, who would never appear again in the course of the movie – putting out an open challenge after being pushed to a corner by the police specifically Raghavan. 

He wants to run his ‘business’, but of course he cannot do it with Raghavan giving him the heat around the corner. Mani needs Raghavan dead- no, he wants more, he wants his eyes. 

Good setup, so now we know who our hero is and what his goals are without even showing him- and close. 

“Bring me the head of SP Chowdary!”

25 minutes into 1974’s Thanga Pathakkam (TP- to pronounce it properly go here); director P Madhavan is faced with a challenge- how do I reintroduce the hero? 

As I said 25 mins of the film has already run its course, the usual familial introductions have been made- including the wayward son, the doting wife and the family friend around whom the movie would revolve. 

Probably P Madhavan feels the present state does not give enough ‘weight’ to Sivaji’s character- so I hope he would have asked the writer Mahendran ( who would later make Mullum Malarum, yes that Mahendran) to come up with another introduction. 

Here too there is a character who never appears again in the form of legendary villain actor RS Manohar-but the difference is he wants SP Chowdary’s head. 

The Point Of Entry

Both Madhavan and Menon keep it simple here, just them heroes occupying the frame shot from below- memorable in each case. A point of detail is that Kamal kicks the gate open (which would again allow a nice cycle back to ‘gate a moodra’ later)

Let Them Talk  

The impact is in the action, but the build-up is always in the words. Both our heroes are unarmed when introduced, while Chowdary mentions it, Raghavan hands over the only knife he brought to Royapuram Mani. 

Normally one would expect Sivaji to win this hands down, he is after all the most gifted when it comes to dialogues, but sadly I believe as this could be a hastily written scene- it is more “Aeis and Deis”, which belong more in the cinema of today. But maybe SP Chowdary is more brute force than brain force. 

There is a half hearted attempt at humor and then Manohar gives in immediately but the good thing is, Sivaji gets to slip in a “tholachuruven badava” before the final fight.  

Raghavan on the other hand is shooting bullets like line starting from the just-like-that “en kannu venumnu kettiyam?” then easily evoking one accent from his many to give us “ romba thondru panraan” and pausing to make a lol worthy comment on Royapuram Mani’s arithmetic skills. 

My personal favorite is of course to the other assembled goons, “neengellam vera vela paathukonga pa”

Kamal is in quipping best, the dialogues and the camera always on him, half the screen is Raghavan’s face only- really makes the movie worth watching, although his quipping reduces considerably. 

And Action!

The stuff we have been waiting for, one man against an entire set- in Thanga Pathakkam it becomes a silambam fight while Vetaiyaadu keeps it hand to hand in a contained location before going for an opening song and sets the ball rolling.

Same introduction template. But two completely different movies.

Side by Side

Often we see how new filmmakers take time and pay homage to an earlier film or filmmaker, entire podcast episodes are dedicated to this, but I wouldn’t know if Menon is paying homage to Madhavan. A director cannot cross a tamil cinema police movie list without Thanga Pathakkam- it may have come to his notice or suggested by an assistant with an encyclopedic mind- and there is the question of Kamal being in the movie itself. 

But it is practically the same narrative structure for introducing a cop hero-maybe both Mahendran and Menon borrowed from a common source.

It doesn’t really matter, what matters is that these things strike out or should I say leap out from the screen and what I have left is this confidence of a slight bond. It is a difficult feeling to describe, something like discovering an entire new branch in a family tree. 

Watching movies and seeing other movies in them is by itself a rewarding feeling-makes me feel like a small shareholder in the big scheme of things. 

Parking Lot Notes: Kadaram Kondaan

There is something more frustrating when a movie comes close to greatness and then falls short- it is when a movie is perfectly flat and gives me not enough reason to hate it. 

Rajesh M Selva’s follow up to Thoongavanam is the cinematic equivalent of what is referred to in corporate appraisal meetings as “barely meets expectations”. These meetings don’t end badly, but neither are they the source of future happiness or gross percentage increase in salary. 

It is like just doing enough to avoid being hated by the manager. 

Doubly frustrating if you can relate it to our writers at the Lowly Laureate- this could have been an FRS. 

Lucky for the director  that he has the script from the french film which saved him from doing stuff from scratch- ideally would have given him more time in character development- but who cares what I believe. 

“Let’s just have Vikram walk in slo-mo and hope the audience go bonkers and maybe they will use indeterminables like” chiyaan swag etc.” Let’s also have him smoke a cigar because that would add to the style right? 

Ghibran could add some “BWAAAAH”, that dark knight type music? Ok cool. 

Character development done. 

Somewhere along the line, a set of characters do an exposition dump in the middle of a car ride- this is just after they discover the mysterious KK (vikram)  in the police database. Of course he is ex-special forces, double agent and expert safe-cracker and no one on the robbery unit couldn’t recognize him on the go, because Malaysian police are nothing without their databases. 

I thought maybe the movie should have begun with something like “In a world where everyone in malaysia speaks Tamil” that would have been crazy and fun, but this movie does nothing crazy(or fun), even the tired ‘twist’ comes before the halfway mark. 

The initial romantic portions between the leads Abi Hassan and Akshara Haasan (not related) too look like they have been inspired by a real estate ad asking young couples to invest in a new apartment so that they can claim subsidy from the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana ( but then this scheme is not applicable in Malaysia). 

Maybe I should not be expecting anything. Maybe I should not be so mean. 

Easily one of the worst RKFI films. 

Siri On You Crazy Diamond

Crazy Mohan: A Remembrance

“Margazhi thingal!

Adutha line enna?”

“Margazhi sevvai”

I think my life changed when I picked up a cassette of Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam (CTIP) in a basement book store..

Ok strike that that out, life did change really and I would never be able to listen to Thiruppavai without a chuckle.

The golden age of Tamil Drama was well behind me, I have heard only stories- the ones I had listened (not seen) by that time featured Sve Shekar.

 Natakhapriya cassettes would be bought, to be exchanged with another friend who could recite “Alwa / 1000 Udhai Vaangiya Aboorva Sigamani” at will, when teachers looked the other way. I marveled at his ability.

But this Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam cassette was something different; it did feature Sve Shekar but claimed to have been written by Crazy Mohan. I never knew, honestly- a rare and perfect combination- the timing of Sve and the dialogues and situations of one Mr. Mohan, who I had known from multiple collaborations with Kamal.

By this time MMKR was curriculum.

Perfect because of the coming together of talents.Rare because this is the Tamil comedy drama equivalent of Eric Clapton playing with the Beatles and like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ it was pure gold; there was a joke in every line, hell there was a joke even when there were pauses. It was that good.

Within 5 minutes I knew that this would trounce”Alwa” or such in any discernable comedic aspect and I took it upon myself to memorize it and became a quoting repository.  Despite the cassette being a live scratchy recording complete with a wailing kid and continuous laughter probably from the seventies!

I didn’t know it was Mohan’s first play and I didn’t realize its importance, then.  

Oh I love the movie dialogues, don’t get me wrong- but I believe everything started from this heist comedy at Palavakkam. Mohan had the ability to begin with situations that seem quite normal – like for example the perpetually jobless hero (Uppili) but add increasingly crazy elements to it.

In Crazy Mohan’s world situations are more important than the story, the situations that are formed in his head knows no bounds because imagination does not come with an input cost.

A character reading the newspaper is his favourite and I know translating into English won’t help, but nevertheless will attempt.

<Situation: Kuppusamy is convincing Sudarsanam to purchase a house in the outskirts of Chennai and asks his son, the foolish Uppili to read aloud a particular advertisement from the newspaper>

Kuppusamy: Uppili come on read the advertisement from the paper’s 4th page

<pause>

Kuppusamy(dissing his son) : Do you know number 4? It is the number that comes after 3

<Mild laugh>

Uppili: OoooOooo number 4? I thought the one that comes before 5

<Still more laughs>

Uppili continues: Nonsense Appa, do you think I don’t even know 4.

<Pause>

I have studied till SSLC

<Pause>

I can count till 10

By this time the whole auditorium is laughing. Also count me giggling with my Walkman on multiple train journeys, this was my Hamlet. I should internalize it.

 Uppili then goes on to read murder stories and inappropriate advertisements for the next five minutes till they come back to the situation of buying the house.

Uppili continues to my greatest hero- he says the most random things-makes insane movie references- and is a master in irritating others and doesn’t really want to work. It’s probably Sve’s best role and he carries the persona into his other plays, but albeit without Mohan’s situations and the dialogues.

Personally, CTIP is worth obsessing over for a lifetime(again, my Hamlet). It features kind thieves- a kidnapping gone wrong- deaf assistants and literally a Vinayakar Ex Machina and countless jokes in between. The fact that Uppili thinks Sholay is a Malayalam film is absolute looool material.

Mohan would also take many things with him from CTIP to the movies, including ‘Ekalyvan’, a reference which would continue till his last collaboration with Kamal(Vasool Raja MMBS). It is a work which will sow the seeds for many Crazy variants.

Has there been a more fruitful writer-star combination (well Kamal is not just a star) than that of Kamal and Crazy?

There have been and will be too- many impactful working relationships, but I doubt if there would be anything that would reflect the quality with which Kamal and Crazy would produce.  All 11 of them gems, designed to appeal to different types of humor seekers; there can be no one clear favorite.

Come to think of it, most of the stories that Kamal would have pitched Crazy are inherently sad ones and heavy drama material that could on any day fit Kamal’s serious part of the filmography

  • Panchatantiram: hero is unable to overcome the separation from his wife
  • Avvai Shanmugi:  hero somehow wants to win back his child
  • Kadhala Kadhala: two orphans must succeed in life to help other orphans
  • Thenali: hero is unable to come to terms with the reality of losing his homeland

Amazing how they developed situations over each of these- they throw in some Wodehouse-there’s some classic Hollywood screwball- and some Keaton/Lloyd/Chaplin-there’s some Nagesh too. It’s a professional relationship made in comedy heaven. They literally completed each other’s sentences.

Mohan would continue to be one among many of the crown jewels at Kamal’s RKFI court contributing to other movie discussions.  

Just a crazy thought/prophecy: MMKR will live forever and when the future cineaste digs up the others in the list is bound to be surprised.

“They made MMKR and made these too? Mind-blowing”

A body of work which is also a gift that keeps on giving (laughs).

Will we find someone crazier?

 But that how do I know sir?

Thank you Mohan for being Crazy.