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cinema:tamil FRS

FRS: Ponniyin Selvan I (2022)

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

-101: Narration, even if it is by Kamal Haasan. 

Gather around people, as Tamil Nadu’s most visionary director takes the narration route to set things up. For an entire length of film. 

So exciting. Yay!

The comet’s tail tells a deadly tale

At the beginning we are introduced to the Cholas before the glory days. The elder son is fighting in the north, the younger son is fighting in the south and the king is bedridden in Thanjavur and a comet appears bringing with it bad news and assassins. 

By the end of PS 1 the set -up still remains, the elder son is still fighting in the north, the younger son is still in the south and the king is still bedridden. 

Hi to all screenplay writers and arc trackers. Technically nothing happens in this movie, I mean technically. Should have just released part two after Kamal’s voice over.

-34: Repetition 

The two sons and one father situation gets repeated by every other character in the movie to make us care for them, which makes us feel that the Kamal Haasan voiced intro would have been an afterthought and something that they could have very well avoided. 

Vandiyathevan also keeps saying who he is to every character he meets.

+45: As the smoke clears, Vikram walks into the frame- one of the few dreamlike moments in PS, but nobody really told us that he was reprising his role from Ravanan. 

Should we reduce points for this? 

Honestly having Vikram enact middle age angst and longing is one of the better creative decisions in PS- hope he wins a National Award. 

-50: Unnecessary battle which is neither cinematic nor makes us care about our heroes is unnecessary. Battle also acts as an intro spot for two other characters. 

-21: Rashtrakootas are not going to like this film. 

-2PiR: When two people are engaged in conversation, the camera starts to move in a circular manner – as though Mani sir is done with shooting two people talking, giving new meaning to the phrase going in circles. 

This again repeats with other characters as well, by now some critic would have written a 3000 word article about the inner meanings of said circling. 

<overheard but unverified excerpts from PS1 sets> 

“No no, my fans will expect something cinematic, just go around them and don’t keep still Ravi. Go Ravi go!”

<overheard but unverified excerpts from PS1 sets>

-20: Poor judgment on the part of Aditha Karikalan as he hands an important task to Vandiyathevan, who himself says, he does not know the way around Chola country, in a time when Google maps did not exist. 

-51: JeMo, the dialogue writer tries to make a pun joke with the word Madhusudhanan, nobody in the audience caught it, but we did hence the negative. 

+201: Experience Happy Chola country in this song where every village along the way not only knows the songs composed by ARR but also the dance steps. 

Of course, there is a distinct lack of Tamil Nadu-ness in the proceedings, which Mani-philes would praise as not only intentional but also international. Needless to say that there is very little about the people of time and the customs.

Guess only the best among us become Mani-philes. We are just FRS writers, so no such pressure for us. 

204: Every dialogue a question-itis 

Who is that on that boat?

Where are you going? 

Won’t you carry my message? 

How great Tanjore looks? 

Umm that’s actually Jaipur, or Jodhpur or some such pur (loop back to the biggest movie about the biggest Tail empire has very little Tamilness in it)

Adapting a thousand page epic did not give the screen writers even one inspiration to write inspiring dialogue. Someone told us that this was a passion project. Considering this is Madras Talkies, maybe even the passion was subtle.

-61: Vandiyathevan abandons his horse Semba, apdiye after trying to sell us that it was his most prized relationship

That should tell us a lot about character development in Maniyin Selvan. 

< FRS will continue immediately after this short non commercial rant on character development>

FRS writers are no fools, they usually spend their weekends watching Glitz, Woods, and Galatta videos of the movie that they are asked to rate- this however comes at great cost to their normal lives- but it is only in these videos they discovered from a Jeyamohan interview that Ponniyin Selvan could be reduced to Vandiyathevan moving from one place to another. 

While yes technically yes, everything is technically correct but we must be able to feel something about the characters before we go along with them from one place to another. Shouldn’t we?

PS is like most epics filled with journeys , but then you have to love the hobbit and his fellowship for you to even reach Bree. 

But here, a result of superstar casting, none of the characters do come alive. And any impression we made were based on pre-existing notions about the ability of the artists themselves- Karthi is case in point. 

PS needed unknown casting where Vandiyathevan’s resourcefulness, Arulmozhi’s resoluteness and Nandini’s tempting nature comes to foreground. 

Here it’s just Karthi, Jayam Ravi and Aishwarya Rai who fill the screen leaving enough space for characters. 

<FRS continues>

-232: Pandians are not going to like this movie. 

They shouldn’t, their discreet assassins are shown here as tactless who attack in broad daylight. 

Success rate of Pandian assassins should be called into question, if this is how they plan to kill the princes then Pandians must recalibrate their strategy for the next movie- they should probably work with Accenture. 

Until then Pandian Abathudhavis sleeps with the fishes. (pun intended)

-100: To us for making a Pandian meen kodi fish bilingual pun. 

+85: Maniratnam decided to repurpose his own content from Nayakan – Nila Adhu Vanathy chi Vanathu mele feat. Poonkuzhali and just like that we are in Pattaya, chi, we mean Sri Lanka. 

-1917: Again needless war based introduction to another hero , we don’t know who Arunmozhi Varman is and immediately we are asked to partake in his sudden victory.

There was a brilliant intro to Arun (in the books) which is again there in the movie but by the team we know who Arun is and the scene loses its importance. 

Seems as though Mani had to forgo all his creative freedom to push two battle scenes, just for scale and for the intro of his leads. 

Again we spend our weekends watching glitz and woods videos where the director explicitly states that the idea was to keep things grounded and not blow up the scale. 

Realistic was the word, oh we love that word. 

We do appreciate closed chamber drama like the average next PVR popcorn popping person person, but the movie never makes up its mind whether it wants to be an epic or just a pic. 

The supposed big moments don’t hit the high notes and the small quieter moments are hardly your “savor-this-moment-so-that-it-ultimately-lives-on -as-whatsapp-love-status – at arms length from every teen in search of expression“.

Take a break as we reduce more points for the song and dance in this movie. 

72: All songs are unnecessary and are expertly placed at times when you can just close your eyes, take deep breaths and think about existence and stuff. 

Maybe you can also use the break time to think about the average Chola fighter who has not to not only fight for his blood thirsty emo teen now turning 40 Aditha, but also has to learn steps from Brinda master so that he can dance in some Rastrakuta fort to Chola Chola?

Man being a Cholan soldier, tough. 

300: When we imagined about the average Chola soldier, our imagination also leapt from the screen and went into the books and wondered what team Mani did with the 300 songs that Kalki had in the text?

Ah but never mind, you get a glimpse of acclaimed dancer Shobana’s dance drama here pushed as Ratchasa Mamane which no one expected. 

Since we all got things we never expected, the only way to acclaim this movie is to say that Team Mani has successfully subverted audience expectations. 

+101: Something something happens and everybody talks the plot so that we end up in a somewhat thrilling climatic sequence on a burning ship. 

Again, Pandian assassins are not going to like this film. They might not like the sequel too.

And now for our new segment called, readers write-in

Gentlereader2002 asks: Hey FRS writers, why are you so full of vanmam (hate), your vanmam spills from the screen onto my laptop keyboard and every time I need to get myself Colin’s cleaners to clean the system of vanmam.

Don’t you have anything good to say about the movie? Come on now, it grossed over 500 crores le? 

Thank you gentlereader2002, yes it is true that in the FRS writers room hate is not a bad word, it is what connects us. 

Funnily we try and convert this vanmam into posts – it is the only way we can cleanse vanmam from our systems. Maybe FRS is our internal Colin’s cleaners. 

To answer your second question, of course if you look hard enough, you can find goodness even in the most dullest things, like if Kollywood spends time in reading the FRS for a long time they might also have some point worth taking home. And like that we found that within the short time given, it was actually Sarath Kumar who brought a sense of majesty to the proceedings, we also liked Vikram’s portrayal – so like the rest is there for us to make fun.

Vanman can be a force for the good.

DonChera from Puliyoor writes: You write so disparagingly about the Cholas and you are so sentimental about Pandian abathudhavis, so you must be a secret Pandian, am I right? 

Us: We also rued the fact that Ponniyin Selvan’s big moments were not big like RRR or Baahubali, does that make us English speaking spies of the Vijayanagara empire? 

Guess we will know when Maniyin Selvan is back next year.

Team FRS

Subam.

Categories
cinema:tamil

Putham Pudhu Kaalai

As The Swivel Chair Spins #13

Anthologies are almost average at 3 out of 5. 

This three is not comparable to the three given to a novel. For the longer form of literature it could mean a “could have been better for all the effort”.

For a short story anthology , the three is a sign of the mixed bag, you never know what you are going to get, and you never know what you are going to like and when you are going to like. 

As days pass perhaps, a singular revisit might have me appreciating what was left behind and quietly accepting that segment for which I  once was over enthusiastic about, was just because of the age and frame of mind I read it in. 

Putham Pudhu Kaalai is also a three on five. 

But it safeguards itself in the sweetest way, so that there is nothing I could overtly dislike, but there was nothing which I was fond of too. Maybe it’s my age. 

Maybe it is about the fact that these stories are really not about anything, they are only placed together because they all revolve around the lockdown. 

I believe (and the Big Book of Jack The Ripper Stories sitting quietly in my Kindle would agree) that anthologies are not meant to be read at one go,they are after all mood pieces, so that’s there. 

A niggling three where you can never quite say what you didn’t like, but also cannot remember what the previous story was about. 

Which is exactly what happened when I was watching director Gautham Menon’s Avarum Naanum, Avalum Naanum (ANAN), the second segment, I forgot about Ilamai Idho Idho. 

Slightly zoned out I was, I guess, also maybe because there was a voice over in the first movie about ‘Kadhal” by R Madhavan, always a non starter. 

Also this is the one with Amazon Prime product placement with Alaipayuthey? Almost thought this was the GVM short, but it was not the Mani fanboi but in fact a Madras Talkies alumnus, Sudha Kongara about how love has no age and all that (insert yawn here) and love makes everyone look younger and all that (can we have another yawn here or is it too short?).

But when the scientist grandpa appeared in ANAN, I was awake, just earlier had slightly thought about sleeping again because the heroine character was doing classical GVM  by way of telling the story through voice over. 

No doubt, M S Bhaksar, is a spectacular artiste (notice how he says spectacular in the movie, haha got you there) and the short almost entirely rests on one of his monologues, but that’s about it, I didn’t get to know about the scientist more. 

While GVM only gave the skeletal frame to chew on, Suhasini Maniratnam’s next is the one with most characters and surprisingly we get to know a lot about them and even more surprisingly it was the one that spoke to me the most, I have my reasons. 

Coffee Anyone? 

I theorize this is the ladies of the Haasan family telling the stories of the brothers, it almost seems like it, I don’t know if Suhasini has spoken about this in any of the promotionals for the movie, but think about it, this short has three sisters Hasini, Anu and Shruti (as opposed to Charu, Chandra and Kamal) trying to grapple with the illness of their mother. The youngest daughter was born when the mother was almost 50, they say, another well documented Kamal family story and how he looked up to his brothers as parents. It’s a similar situation here along with the inversion, okay let’s just say I bought it because of the Kamal reason and some nonsense theory I was making in my head. 

I said reasons, so there is one more, because this is the one that feels almost like a horror film (and not another ‘kadhal’ short) and again with an inversion, which I would not like to spoil. 

There are things in Coffee Anyone which again doesn’t allow itself to punch its weight, like for example the dialogue till we will settle down with the characters and since it’s a short, well you know, it’s over. 

Reunion by Rajiv Menon has much in common with the two preceding shorts about the power of music to change lives (insert classical yawn) but it is also ‘of the moment’ because it deals with the problem of how difficult it is for celebrities to get drugs during the lockdown. 

I mean… 

Of course Oooo Lalala , music is the saviour. 

Even in the next one titled Miracle by Karthik Subbaraj, music (this time by Ilayaraaja) acts as a connector, it’s the most amusing one but falls into the category of ‘slice of life-fate’, you know the ones when you see it, A goes to B via C types. 

Types, I love using the types. I apparently also love typing, the document now indicates that I have written 800 words about Putham Pudhu Kaalai, I hope it means something to someone. 

<Read in Rajeev Masand voice> So I am going with 3 stars out of five for Putham Pudhu Kaalai, because…. Hmm… four of them looked like ad shoots for Bru (filter coffee? Idhu Bru Ma types) and one even had coffee in the title. 

Putham Pudhu Kaalai is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Categories
cinema:tamil

Kamalum Hashtagum

A sudden rush of excitement and then normalcy returned.

Today takes me back to some evening in 2006, when a two part poster joined together in the center with a cool cop like Kamal Haasan asking the onlooker (including me) “Chinnapasangala Yaar Kitta?” was stuck outside our wall. 

It was a line from his recently released film “Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu”, it was also probably a poke at then other younger stars he was (is?) competing with. 

My mind rushed back to that very moment on seeing the hashtag on the latest announcement from Alwarpet; it said #KamalHaasan232. 

Loool I said to myself. 

The simple audacity of it, when even now Ajith and Vijay fans are creating a mindless riot over twitter expecting updates for their stars’ 60th something films. It is doubtful with their current productivity that they would reach two hundred films in total. Here was KH at 232.

Loooool I said again, he is still saying “Chinnapasangala Yaar Kitta?” 

A sudden rush of excitement, I shared the poster online and then normalcy returned. 

Meanwhile…

Media has successfully juvenilized Kamal too or current environment necessitates such hashtags. 

It was happening for sometime now, the definition of being a Kamal fan had changed this decade too, possibly it will change in the next. 

Being a Kamal fan meant that you would have to swallow the saliva in gulps when he released Guna with Thalapathy, being a Kamal fan meant honing individual tastes, being a Kamal fan meant that by default it was going against the crowd, being a Kamal fan meant you never know what you are going to get. 

It was not that KH did not command following or fandom, but the successive movies that he made where he did not fit himself in the hero template when faced with the onslaught of peak Rajnimania in the 90s.

This meant that the fans still retained in their head-individually and not as a group, why they loved him and for different people KH meant differently.

I’ll explain, for some when they say they like Kamal

  1. it was his film making (gumbal identifier for this is – Kamal is best screenplay writer/director, but Sivaji is best actor)
  2. It was his acting (gumbal identifier is – Kamal should stick to acting and let others to the directing) 
  3. It was his off screen views (gumbal identifier- KH has constantly inserted his politics as kuriyeedu in his films- xyz kuriyeedu) 
  4. It was his serious films (gumbal identifier- KH is the only true independent Tamil filmmaker we have)
  5. It was his comedy films (gumbal identifier- Why did he not do more films with Crazy Mohan?)
  6. It was his social service (gumbal identifier- do you know how many litres of blood Narpani has donated?”)

<Psst gumbal means group, I know I can use group, but using gumbal is more fun.>

These are just the six gumbals I wrote off the top of my head based on impressions on Kamal and that too only from the 90s.

80s gumbals will have their own qualifiers, because this man has been around for so long that not only different generations have hot takes on him, but within these generations there would be sub groups with hotter takes and more often these sub groups don’t see eye to eye.

There is also a growing generation of kids who might probably know him as BiggBoss tamil host. 

Which can mean only one thing. No single fandom. 

There is no combined KH fandom as it is for other template stars like MGR, Rajni, Vijay, Ajith and so on. Even if their stars go out of their grain and do a one-off film, their fans know that Rajni and Vijay have AR Murugadoss on speed dial to make the next total enmasse entertainer. 

To be a fan of the others, is to completely buy into the persona of the star, to see oneself in them. 

That never happens in a Kamal film, it is very difficult for a group to identify with the character that Kamal is playing on screen, also always it is a different Kamal and it is through the story or his acting or the other skills that he has that takes away our attention. 

So no singular fandom, but KH might be the biggest niche star in Indian film history. 

Allow me that one generalization now. 

Since Kamal was unique and he tried to make his unique movies, his fans too got unique bits of his persona which they clung on to, depending on how much they liked him over the years. 

Which brought me back to the hashtag. 

Lokesh Kanakaraj is a self confessed Kamal fan, he even speaks about Kamalism. 

Which takes me back to the launch of Kamal’s political party MNM, on the stage of which he said “isms dont work” 

Would Kamalism be another ism? Would it work? 

If so which gumbal would be able to fully appreciate the said Kamalism, is it his creative choices, is it his filmmaking, is it his insistence on doing quality stunt sequences (an underrated Kamal element even by gumbal), is it his offscreen comments or the newly adorned political character coat? 

I don’t know what Kamalism stands for at any point of time, guess it keeps changing like KH himself. 

Which was when the normalcy returned. 

Lokesh Kanakaraj has directed three films, two of them have seen the insides of a theatre, one is hoping it will pull us into one, post the pandemic.

Honestly, I liked both Maanagaram and Kaithi (hmm), but only till the movie run time and I have never since wanted to see it again and sometimes even worry about the fuss when I see the general acclaim. They are perfectly serviceable vehicles of entertainment, but neither moving to the mad cap extreme to develop a cult following nor pushing tamil cinema to the other side of art. 

Neutral films with an interesting premise. (Hmm)

When normalcy returned, I thought about the times when fans got to make their films with their idols, more recently Karthik Subbaraj with Petta, Atlee with his Vijay film trilogy and Prithviraj with Lucifer. 

Forget Lucifer, it is a great film, very rewatchable and Mohanlal can insert himself into any persona. I have seen Lucifer thrice in the lockdown alone, so forget Lucifer when I group it Petta etc. 

Sorry but my choice does help me illustrate the  contrast with the others viz. : if I don’t buy into the fanboy nature of the movie I won’t be able to appreciate it fully. 

Allow me one more speculation. 

Is Kamalism going to be like the 2021 version of “Rajnified” or will it be another Lucifer?

But why make another Lucifer? (hmm, lot of guns in the poster with a ghost like hero) 

This was when my normalcy dipped into sadness. 

Ok then I came back to a steady state and said to myself,”let’s wait for the movie, hobbitses”. 

And then I jotted all this down. 

The End.

PS

But I do know one gumbal who will be very pleased with today’s announcement: which is the “Kamal must submit himself to a young visionary filmmaker” gumbal. (single quotes over visionary)

Lool, I thought to myself, Kamal will never submit, go see the climax of Drishyam. 

Categories
cinema cinema:tamil Essay rewatch

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 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. 

Categories
cinema:tamil Parking Lot Notes

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.