Where to begin a story which has no beginnings, or an end?
An arrival is often followed with a marker for when, but here it is why. Under the hands of a director comfortable with blockbuster cinema, Arrival has the maximum potential; 12 alien ships arrive on earth, no one knows why; except of course America. Yes, this too is an ‘America-saves-humanity’ movie. Only that it was directed by Denis Villeneuve.
And it is bound to frustrate those seeking blockbuster entertainment, because of the very visible slowness, take for example the usual money shot of earth realizing that it has guests, showed here simply by Amy Adams(she is simply brilliant here!) walking away from a group of students crowding around the television. Absolutely no hurry, even when there enough opportunity to create tension, something like a Dr. Strangelove kind of situation; Villeneuve refrains.
Arrival is adapted from a short story titled ‘Story of Your Life’, not Armageddon or Apocalypse, this is one of the most personal films I have seen and maybe the slowness is to make us understand there is no concept of time; where there is no such concept of time; slow and fast are deprived of their meanings. Even beginnings and endings are just empty words.
Arrival is about being alone and being together, about being human and alien, about the teacher and the taught and about the nature of knowledge itself, and how we are all going about in circles, literally. Denis covers all this and without hurry and completely removing drama, treating aliens and humans with respect, the movie is neither dark nor filled with popcorn aggression (again much scope for this is there when a world prepares for war), nor does it squeeze the aliens into blobs of horror or sentiment.
Arrival is perhaps the most tranquil of alien invasions.
Before getting down to praising Aandavan Kattalai, let me first get down on the system; innumerable films have taken on the system, whisking out heroes who break the system, become the system even; but rarely acknowledge it.
Even in Manikandan’s film, the cheekily named Gandhi wrestles with the system and with the truth much like his Gujarati-namesake. Like everyone else, he doesn’t want to be seen as the one who is not smart enough not to take a short cut.
This mindset has served us well right from our daily commute, right up to the get rich quick plans we invest in. Short cuts have been ingrained into our skulls as an Indianism, street smartness is something even companies look for in candidates.
It is time to drive away this smartness.
The Messengers (or who says these things in the movie)
Vijay Sethupathi, in his fifth appearance on screen this year! (Surely this must be a criteria for TIME person of the Year) plays the small town guy in the big city with absolute plainness, there isn’t any special characteristic, there is no extraordinary back story, Gandhi could be anyone, Gandhi could be me or even you, maybe that’s why. So this isn’t much of a performance but more of an appearance.
But this appearance serves him well especially in the comic portions of the film, but the problems in Aandavan Kattalai is unusual because you really don’t know who to follow on screen, obviously Vijay Sethupathi drives it forward; but the supporting characters are not so much a supporting but actually essential.
I am a supporting character sympathizer, as in if there is one movement I would like to be part of, it would be for the ethical treatment of “hero/heroine’s friend” in Tamil films. First there is Yogi babu as the not so constant companion, he is luckier than our hero, which almost never happens in films, he gets the best lines as well; then there is the Srilankan refugee in search of his family but has to play dumb, the friends at the theatre crew and the intrepid journalist who also happens to be the heroine.
But my favorite would be the senior and junior lawyers at the family court, a truly unusual comic relationship, at least something I haven’t seen in Tamil films; the closest I could pair them to: the similar comic duo from I heart Huckabees, totally brilliant, yet so fitting in the atmosphere.
Most of the characters seemed lived in, not just turning up for the shoot, but these aren’t serious roles which would require an entire long read on ‘method acting’, these are just everyday people in highly non everyday surroundings and that is how the humor is brought about. I could just go on about the other supporting actors as well, because this movie is a triumph in terms of casting, characters and dialogue.
A major win in a time, when giving a character a name and a job is seen as writing (something which is referenced in the movie)
Now to the message (Or what is being said)
A message movie is one troubling thing, not everyone will be empathetic enough for it to go all the way or sometimes the message itself might not be presented in a way to create impact, or hidden behind subtexts later to be brought forward by others. But there is something in every movie for everyone, it might not be the one that the director intended, but there is something; because that is why we watch a film.
Most of the times the message is lost in the telling. Here in Aandavan kattalai, the director puts first dart bulls-eye from slide one (This is a message movie #hehehe)
We (or you) can infer whatever you want, but this director is telling you not to take the short route, in fact there are no short routes, in fact (v2.0) the short route is the longer one and the one with thorns and no GPS.
No don’t take the short route.
Fill your own forms. Don’t break the line. Don’t ask your colleague if they know anyone anywhere. Don’t refer anyone from anywhere. Don’t break the process or try to bypass it. Just fill the form and wait.
Because the system might just be easier than the short cut.
Hey, I’m not saying this, the movie is.
Movie(s) of the year
Every movie blogger who thinks he/she is worth something will come up with a list of ‘movies of the year’, we are not exceptions; but we would like to do things differently.
Is Aandavan kattalai our movie of the year?
Our answer is “not quite Oru Naal Koothu” *
The movie begins with eighties style kaleidoscopic images, nice touch but I couldn’t see how they connect to the overall theme
*Pitting movie against movie is a very bad thing and I’m sure we will be punished for this.
Yes let us begin with railways.Last week when the Gatiman Express was launched and proved to be only ten minutes faster than the quickest of trains we already had, I groaned. That’s it?
Kabir from Ki and Ka would have been amidst those who would have complained about the ever reducing experience of the rail road or how forms of transportation seem to be converging based on just one parameter: speed.
Ki and Ka is one of the most well written films in recent history, it pays to notice that their back stories don’t seem like one liners scribbled in the corners of a script; but that which actually lends character.
A standing testimony to “two good characters and it’s a movie!”
Since we have already begun with railways, let us stick with Kabir; the one who is seen crying for his dead mother in transit, no he is not the spoilt-Singhania (Bansal actually) heir but a deeply sensitive man who misses his mother whom he feels has been thoroughly under recognized for the work she has done.
So we have a mama’s boy, trying to tell the world(and his father, no mainly his father; world comes later) that home making is an under appreciated art and that women almost daily have been denied of this credit while their men work away to corporate glory which has historically been called ‘work’. If women are truly the pillars to a man’s success, then in real time they are rusting only.
Kabir also likes trains, ‘likes’ here is a severely subtle description.
Son thinks he is continuing mother’s good work (also the story of Psycho, oops!) and combines his mother’s passion with his own (art meets art) and what we get is a dinner table served by a locomotive and a bed room that resembles an 80s waiting room (wow), see layers. A really fleshy character, i mean fleshed out character.
An act of God, in Bollywood land.
It would also help to notice that Kabir also thinks, his actions are driven by thinking.
Kia doesn’t want to be a pillar, she wants to be a CEO; at first she does seem like the one who would do anything to get ahead, and her back story is not as detailed as that of her better half and depends entirely on how Kareena(brilliant) plays it, she is genuinely curious and visibly tired of meeting the same old men who are seeking pillars, so meeting Kabir on an aircraft was indeed godsend.
Good movies are about two people talking and they become better when what they are talking about is more interesting than who is speaking those lines, the first set up in Ki and Ka is genuinely engaging. The characters need not be yugapurush-es( I dont know the stri-ling equivalent of yugapurush) when they are created and any sort of character development that happens during the course of a movie is like the well mixed flavored popcorn that one encounters when one reaches the very end of the basket.
Ki and Ka is a modern film for a truly modern audience, does it play around with stereotypes? Yes, but only to get to the point, I could not see this as a regular gender/role reversal film, I felt the film had risen above these problems; because it would have become a Ramany vs Ramany* episode otherwise.
To further strengthen my point, the problems that Ki and Ka puts forward are solved without much issue or drama. This film is not about career driven women trying to not have a baby without guilt because this problem gets solved within minutes.
Films are a reflection of what our society is or what society is moving towards, there could be people like Kabir out there who needs a Kia to function and there could be many Kias running away from becoming pillars and yearning to be architectural structures of beauty by themselves. (Kia ends up becoming the CEO of a construction company, nice touch there)
Ki and Ka is not about role reversal and it is definitely not a broad comment on man and woman, but an intimate look at two individuals post marriage. This is not about who gives up what or which profession is better; this Ki and Ka is actually Yin and Yang.
A well made modern film for the modern Indian, hopefully should inspire more Kis and Kas in real life as well.
Also officially now Arjun Kapoor is my favourite Bolly hero, the kind of restraint he brings to a character that would have become a caricature is absolutely magical.
Hey! Yes, they take the train back home, so finishing with railways as well.
CK, MM and somebody else watch the spy comedy called “SPY”
CK got out of the auto, rushed towards the newly laid granite steps of theatre only to be shocked.
CK: What the efff are you doing here?
Well you can’t really blame the usage of the expletive, after all no one expects your writing partner who hurried away for a career break in the US to be standing outside a theatre in Koyambedu.
MM or Moderate Manohar as he is known in certain circles or Mano as he is known in domestic circles looked cheerful to see his partner, but his face also gave away a hint of sadness.
CK: Mod! You look like you have been chucked out of the Chicago Sun Times
Was the first thing CK said to MM.
MM: I’ve been chucked out from the Chicago Sun Times.
CK: What? Why, you don’t need to say that just to make me feel happy.
MM: I’m not, in more ways than one that is the truth, but now I’m back. Took back the job this morning, bargained hard for a raise but chief wouldn’t budge.
CK( now feeling all brotherly) : Typical of Chief! Let’s get cracking now.
MM: We are supposed to meet someone now, we have been assigned to one more writer.
CK: What? Already two’s a crowd, no offense Mod, but three will be the Kumbh Mela, how are we to converge on opinions.
MM: That’s the whole point CK, we are not, the magazine plans to bring out a 360 degree view on film, all our views on it.
Just then when everybody else had retreated into the theatre and only CK, MM and the cleaners who had turned out to be extremely punctual for the next show remained, a motorcycle drove in and from beneath the government imposed helmet emerged a head and that of a woman.
CJ: I was supposed to meet you two here, outside the theatre, chief sent me.
<CJ said to the cleaners>
MM: Hey! It’s not them, it’s us, we are the reviewers here.
<aside> For God’s sake CK please dress better than a domestic help.
CK made an irritating face, but morphed into an adequate smiley for the informal introductions. For sake of integrity we will not describe how CJ looks like.
CK <to MM>: Her? I don’t see this happening
CJ: I heard that
CK and MM are not yet fully aware of CJ’s super hearing as hey bolt to the screen just in time for Mellisa McCarthy’s name beam into prominence from the title sequence of Spy. And so it began.
When the lights came back and the three realised they were the only fellows left in the theatre, apart from the cleaning staff; they decided to utilise this time to discuss what they should be writing about.
The usually “I will not tell my point till prodded” CK was the first to mouth, understandable because CK is usually excited when he witnesses such a film, especially if it a spy pastiche.
CK: I would eat my words if you don’t think this movie is worth your time
MM: I would have thought similarly if only it hadn’t fallen down to the level of fat woman falling down type jokes
CK: Hyeshh! those were funny…<realises CJ’s presence>
CJ: Look I don’t care if you laugh at a woman falling, my question is only if there are enough men falling from motorcycle jokes that irks me…
CK: Well you can’t really be counting the things that we laugh about and in SPY they were just a minimum, we must see it like a bit from America’s funniest videos or something
CJ: It’s not a bit, it is a gag, an easy one at that. Make the woman, run, fall, hit cake on her face
MM: Oh come on, for the sake of comedy
CJ: Let someone try that on you, look guys, I get context and all, this IS comedy and anything goes and over analysis is kindoff banal here and to be true I did think this was funny, but I guess there is something for everyone to laugh at
MM: Apart from the easy jokes, which were sprinkled, I liked that part where the female characters try and establish a connection between themselves, the bumbling detectives, the deputy chief of CIA and the agent, even the villain and the spy, I thought that was really sweet.
CJ: That’s what women do, establish connections, refreshing to see the genre from a different stand point
CK: I love this genre, just everything about it, the trumpets, the silhouette models, the cracking action scenes; the relationship between spy and villain reached dizzyingly different levels of satisfaction, I think to the level between Goldfinger and James Bond is not at all a wrong analogy when you are speaking about Susan Cooper and the villain played by Rose Bryne
MM: Well, odd that you notice the soundtrack, I never got much out of it except of course when compared to Kingsman, which is a movie that we should be comparing a lot too
CJ: Too many spy movies, just too many funny spy movies. But atleast Susan Coop gets the job without any smiling prince ‘aiding’ her, Jason Statham here exactly trying to be that character but failing all the time
MM: I thought he was brilliant, a type of supporting character that doesn’t actually support.
CM nods in agreement.
CK: I don’t think this should be taken in comparison with Kingsman just because it is a spy film, Kingsman was a Bond homage propah spy film, also more of a comment on class. This is a comment on women’s work rights masquerading as a spy comedy.
CJ: I wouldn’t take the women’s work rights angle but probably we should write something about this and Mad Max, something under “Rise of the feminine flicks” or something like that.
MM: The chief might like that. Let’s just say that we love this film, but only various degrees of love.
<MM starts on a tone that resembles lecturing, while CJ and MM make ‘let’s get the hell outta here’ face>
Cleaning Staff: Guys!
All three: Yep, we are leaving
Cleaning Staff: Next time wear distinguishable clothes
<Theatre Door SLAM, roll credits>
CK<pssting to MM>: psst Mod, can I use “a supporting character who actually does not support line?” that was really good.
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.