The monk who found his Caravan

I wanted to settle. I wanted to compromise. I wanted life to be made simpler, easier. I wanted to operate in my small little world which was never supposed to change.

It has been almost one year and six months, or 18 months, since I had written anything in this website. For second consecutive year, I made a payment for my hosting services while questioning the rationale of maintaining this blog (or website as I call it, just because it has a .com prefix to it). But doing away with ramyuva always felt like the ultimate act of self destruction, a button that signifies my frustrations with the world (my world) has finally boiled over and that I had accepted defeat in my quest to express my art and my works to the larger public. 

That gradual sense of defeat that came with adulthood was documented so well in the archives here. I used to share serialised versions of my short stories here when I first started out, I used to write meandering poems (I would never quality myself as a poet) when I felt I had a punchline to deliver. 

Slowly, that process was dumbed down to analysis of movies, before eventually morphing into its most simplistic form- movie reviews. But the moment I walked out of the cinema after watching Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai last year, that urge to write suddenly died. There had been good movies that I enjoyed watching in the past 18 months, and my delectable taste in movies had never changed. There had been a bloom of talented young filmmakers in the interceding period as well, but none of that got me to write. 

Facing a reality in which I was stuck in a job that was so far removed from the film world, in a country that has very little appreciation for the arts; I somehow succumbed to the possibility that I would never become the person I thought I could be. I had to accept the new me, and that person is someone who relies on the likes of Mani Ratnam and Imtiaz Ali to appease the intellectual neuroses.

However, in the past year, every film that I had great expectations for failed to deliver the inspiration I was seeking. Sure, Jab Harry met Sejal meandered rather pointlessly at times, but I took these disappointments so personally because I had placed all my creative burdens on these men who I had never met; they will bring the piece of me that I always aimed to bring to a story with moving images. They are supposed to. But they didn’t. I thought Imtiaz understood me so well- I am that Ved, becoming an adventurer for brief periods before conforming to a life that is so monotonous simply because I am bound by circumstances. And because he understood me so well, my stories will be there in films made by him and his peers. But that hasn’t been the case. 

That’s because no one tells your stories better than you do. You can’t pass the creative burden of telling your story to others- especially when you are the storyteller. My 20s had taught me only one major yet seemingly simplistic lesson about life- there are only two types of people in this world (and no, I am not saying that in Amitabh or Shahrukh’s voices)- those who can live with compromises, and those who can’t.

This isn’t about ambition or passion.  There are a group of humans who are so restless, and so defined by what they believe they are and can be, that they can’t live their life any other way. There isn’t a halfway point- it is essentially a zero sum game- you got to be who you feel you are. It took me 14 years to realise I am part of that grouping, because I tried, and secretly long, to be in the other category- those who are fine with making compromises. 

I am Malaysian Indian, brought up with such conservative pragmatism that being middle class with small pleasures and huge doses of compromises is always seen as a good thing. So while I dreamed, all my physical efforts were concentrated in securing the conventional safety nets- good job with a good pay, a comfortable home, a car that screams middle class, a moderate partner whom I was sure of marrying. If all this worked out according to plan, like it had for so many people I know, I would probably be sleeping peacefully at night, content in being an unpaid movie critic. But life is chaotic, and none of these supposed safety nets worked. Friends didn’t stay, partners didn’t stay, the material possessions did not provide the kind of satisfaction I thought they were supposed to provide. 

I wanted to settle. I wanted to compromise. I wanted life to be made simpler, easier. I wanted to operate in my small little world which was never supposed to change. But unfortunately, the world is restless even if the people in it don’t want to be. And a creative mind is the pinnacle of that restlessness. Things that were supposed to calm me down when I thought I was settling didn’t. I started losing sleep, literally. Inertia drove me crazy. 

I always said that I was lucky to have known what my gift was when I was 16 years old- it was writing, filmmaking, storytelling. I narrated stories to schoolmates while sat outside our house porch. I spent most of my time at Indian CD stores, hoping to connect with a random like-minded connoisseur. I rewrote movie plots as short stories for my school essays. I recreated a movie plot device to simply connect with a girl. 

But knowing what you have and knowing who you are is not a parallel process. I spent my 20s somewhat abusing this talent and gift in a reductive way- the speed and accuracy of my writing was well appreciated in the world of journalism. While the physical effort involved in getting stories was no small matter, I was so detached from the simplistic forms I was writing in. And writing is just one element of the storytelling gift that I feel everyday. 

It wasn’t luxury that made me take a decision to leave this world behind me and venture into a new one, or, basically, to rebuild my world. It was a sense of responsibility. If I don’t tell my stories, who will?

I had done plenty of introspection in the past one year- leaving and starting over would mean that I am accepting my 20s as a failure in the larger scheme of things. But then again, I had never truly subscribed to society’s pigeonhole definitions of success and failure. This wasn’t a success or a failure- it was simply my story. My gift enabled to write and curate so many stories of so many other people when I was in my teens and twenties. But it wasn’t until now that I realised the value of my own story. 

The best story in the life of a creator will probably never be filmed, acted or be documented anywhere. He or she would have lived it. That is the real masterpiece, and that story doesn’t conclude until you have breathed your last. 

And now, here I am, writing again after 18 months. The last time I went on a hiatus and returned, I credited the return to Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani. I will do no such thing now. No new film inspired me to return to this lair of mine. I am only returning because I acknowledge that no one inspires you better than your own strength. 

Knowing I was a storyteller at the age of 16 was a gift. But preserving the gift and the ability over the following 14 years was a test of character. I had remained a storyteller despite my circumstances, not because of it. 

That signifies strength.

This is me coming out of the closet- I have dreams. I will write books. I will make films. I will recite a poem, and then on a stage someday, I will tell you how the monk found his caravan.

Kaatru Veliyidai- Music Review by Ram Anand

Personal note: Two years ago, when Mani Ratnam’s last directorial venture OK Kanmani was about to be released, I was out of commission following an accident. The music review for OK Kanmani was the first time I found motivation to write anything, despite my hands not being fully functional, and the quest to watch OKK was the first time I had walked and stepped out of my house in close to two months. Similarly, Kaatru Veliyidai is helping me come out of what is also a rather difficult moment emotionally for me. And just like how their works inspired me to start dreaming 13 years ago, Ratnam and Rahman’s magic somehow keep that dream alive for me regardless of what beatings I take in life. And for that, their works will always mean something more than just a movie or a song.

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MANI Ratnam is a name that is largely credited with transforming the face of Tamil cinema. Soft spoken, media shy, and a man of few words- Ratnam has built an aura that completely contradicts his demeanour as an individual. The incoherence in his public speech is a contradiction to how his screenplays has flowed over the years. It takes a moment to appreciate the genius of Ratnam when you count the amount of films he has actually done. With Kaatru Veliyidai (Breezy Expanse), he reaches what is actually his first notable milestone in the amount of films done- it is his 25th film, some 34 years after he debuted as a filmmaker.

KV is only Ratnam’s seventh film since the turn of the millenium- and only three of his six previous ventures had been successful. But the fact that his name alone takes in such a following in an industry that often sees the name of actors and superstars to identify the value of a movie speaks volumes. KV’s release also marks 25 years since AR Rahman, the man Ratnam brought into the music scene in 1992, made his debut.

Rahman’s indisputable genius somehow seems to be able to bring an extra flavour and authenticity to the musical score whenever he works with Ratnam, and with KV, his first original album of 2017, the expectations does not seem to be misplaced. 

Nalla Allai (Sathya Prakash, Chinmayi)

The album starts with a bar raised high enough to cause a musical hangover. Just like Moongil Thottam (Kadal) and Parandhu Sella Vaa (OK Kanmani), Rahman delivers another poisonous ballad with an element of journey with Nalla Allai. Sathya Prakash, who shot to recognition after singing the delectable and hugely memorable Raasali last year for Rahman, does an exceptional vocal in the vocals, accompanied delicious percussions and sound arrangements- including the perfectly tuned strumming of the guitar in the background.

Chinmayi makes one of the best vocal cameos one can make without having a single line- her humming in the middle stanzas elevates the melody of this number. Vairamuthu, as he has done so many times, pens lyrics with excellent depth and beauty. 

Oligalil theedal enbathellam mounathil mudigindrathe, mounathil theedal enbathellam gnaanathil mudigrindrathe. 

Nalla Allai is however only four minutes long, and with such flawless arrangements, ends as soon as it starts. A breezy expanse is encapsulated with the start of this album.

Azhagiye (Arjun Chandy, Haricharan, Jonita Gandhi)

The romance gears up into a modern, playful territory with Azhagiye, but with equally addictive results. Azhagiye gets going with an energetic guitar base and the tone is set the vocal imitation of birds and the “bang bang” chorus. Rahman sumptuously balances the art of fusing energy and the same time retaining a heavy dose of melody with this song- building up nicely with the infusion of English words such as “marry me”, “flirt with me” and “get high with me.”

And right at the middle stanza, Punjabi folk music makes a surprise entrance, and Rahman transcends immaculately to Jonita Gandhi’s slow hum, setting the tone for some beautiful poetry and melody in the middle stanza. 

Thulli kaalam ketten, thulli kaadhal ketten, thulli kaamam ketten.

Madhan Karky has written lyrics for this number- and does an admirable job infusing the modern juggernauts in the opening lines, but the same time doing some seriously good writing in the middle stanzas. Arjun Chandy and Haricharan’s vocal combination works so well it is difficult to tell who is leading the singing at any one point of time. Definitely the song for an upcoming wedding season, or even a few proposals. 

Just like Nalla Allai however, Azhagiye is just under four minutes long and makes for a breezy and effortless listen.

Vaan Varuvan (Shashaa Tirupati)

AR Rahman is known for his slow poison numbers- songs that seems too ordinary at first but grows years, or even decades later. But Vaan Varuvan is a little different- its a poison that works pretty fast by his standards. Three or four listens in, the full appreciation of this beautiful composition comes easily to fore. Sashaa Tirupati, who has been behind the vocals of some Rahman’s best numbers in recent years- including Naane Varugiren from Ratnam and Rahman’s previous collaboration OK Kanmani, does not get a single vocal chord wrong and carries this song almost entirely with  beautiful voice.

The film’s setting the chilly northern hills of India such as Ladakh can almost be felt in the way Vaan was composed- paced not an inch too slow nor inch too fast. Rahman starts with soothing piano base before introducing the flute, and then infuses the middle parts with ever-so-subtle techno beats. This is the kind of song that Rahman often speaks about- where you feel a certain “connection”. 

Something that definitely should be done in a Coke Studio setting, similar to what Rahman did with Nenjukulle for Kadal (2013), another Ratnam film.

Saaratu Vandiyila (AR Raihanah, Nikitha Gandhi, Tippu)

Can a semi-erotic piece of poetry be a wedding song?

That appears to be what Vairamuthu, Rahman and Ratnam have combined to do here, with some phenomenal results. A special mention has to go to Ratnam for the way wedding songs have been picturised in his films over the years. Ratnam’s films are known to include songs that celebrate the act of lust, and shot ever so sumptuously too. After the likes of Yaaro Yaarodi from Alaipayuthey, he has clearly recreated that playfulness and mischievousness with Saaratu Vandiyila. 

Rahman walks a fine line- at times, this is like a throwback to the 1990s AR Rahman, which an entire state grew to love and adore. But he makes sure there are enough tweaks and little surprises to take the listener of a fresh journey. Rahman’s sister AR Raihanah brings her unique voice to the table, accompanied by Tippu, who returns to the mic after a notable absence, and nevertheless brings his own playful flavour to the song.

The real winner here is however Rahman’s sound arrangement- the use of traditional percussions, including flutes and tablas, to set a wonderful wedding aura. And Vairamuthu accompanies that mastery with a semi-erotic assortment of lyrics- the kind of lyrics that can make you baulk if you realise the meaning behind a series of beautifully arranged words. Vairamuthu and Ratnam have done this before- as recent as Parandhu Sella Vaa in OK Kanmani. 

And Vairamuthu proves yet again how the beauty of poetry can describe even the most mundane acts into a grand celebration. 

He says ratham sudu kolla paathu nimisham thaan raasathi,

And then she says aanuko pathu nimisham thaan, ponnuko anji nimisham. Go figure!

And this is truly the AR Rahman- Mani Ratnam “Baani” (style).

Tango Keelayo (Haricharan, Diwakar)

A salsa-melody (as the title implies), Tango Keelayo sounds experimental in the first few listens, but is a gem that has some exceptional act of fusion that displays Rahman’s musical range. The number starts with a heavily influenced usual tango music, with the initial parts handled ably by Diwakar. But soon Haricharan enters to infuse a little melody with lines like “Unnai Pirindhaal” and “Nee Ennai Maravai”.

And at 2:50, a little bit of magic happens- tango beats accompanies Haricharan as he stretches his vocals to his melodic best setting the listener into a pretty quaint zone. And suddenly, what initially sounded experimental, now looks like a deliberate work of genius.

Probably there’s very thin line between being experimental and being a genius. Rahman constantly threads this line and has made a career out of being able to come out of it being the latter and not just the former. 

It takes two to tango- and here Rahman’s music sensibilities pairs that tango with the sensibilities of the avid listener. An underrated and underdog of a number.

Jugni (AR Rahman, Tejinder Singh, Raja Kumari)

Just like Tango Keelayo, Jugni (Firefly) does not immediately fall into place. Sung mainly by Rahman itself, the song however clearly seems to be the most important pivot for KV’s plot, describing the polarisation of both the protagonists. 

Jugni does not have much in terms of lyrics. It is mainly filled with minimal Hindi lyrics, with two lines sung by Tejinder Singh. More of a journey song, Rahman also mostly repeats two lines- ha-chalengi ha, na-chalengi na. 

Just when it seems to become a little monotonous, Rahman ropes in Raja Kumari, the American-Indian rapper, with fantastic results. Raja Kumari elevates the middle stanzas with her subtle rapping- you’re there, you’re not there.

Though clearly a number that would carry the mood of the movie, Jugni’s juxtaposition of a little bit of Punjabi music, rap and techno beats is delectable to the ears.

Kaatru Velliyidai continues in the vein of every Mani Ratnam-AR Rahman combination, setting higher than usual standards and offering songs that each in their own right could develop a cult following. Only six songs, and none too long- but when four of them are absolute masterpieces, you can only call the album one thing- gorgeous.

Now, to wait for the movie.

AR Rahman 50- The 10 best compositions of all time

This is also his year silver jubilee year. And to reach the silver jubilee, Rahman had swept away all possible awards that he could possibly obtain to recognise the quality of his work- from the Indian National Award to the coveted Academy Award.

Allah-Rakha Rahman, known popularly as AR Rahman, turned 50 two days ago. Come May 11, he would have completed 25 years, or two-and-a-half decades since he first burst into the Indian music scene (Roja, his debut movie album, was released on May 11, 1992).

This is also his year silver jubilee year. And to reach the silver jubilee, Rahman had swept away all possible awards that he could possibly obtain to recognise the quality of his work- from the Indian National Award to the coveted Academy Award.

And he had never changed his trademark saying for 25 years- “Ellam pugalum iraivanekke.” (All praise belongs to God).

Needless to say, listening to his music has been a spiritual experience. When I got my very first Mp3 player when was 16 years old, the first album I purchased was a cassette for Aayitha Ezhuttu (2004).

My own personal journey with AR Rahman’s music began then, via Madushree’s effervescent “Sandaikozhi” and Rahman’s own rhythmic hum halfway through the song.

Here, I am charting down 10 best AR Rahman compositions (in my gestation), in chronological order of the song (album)’s release:

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Best five of Hindi cinema- 2016

Dangal was truly a case of saving the best for last as far as 2016 was concerned.

2016 wasn’t a particularly rich year when it came to fine filmmaking in Bollywood, so picking the best five movies seemed a relatively easy task given that there was a smaller pool to select from. Quite literally, the best bit of filmmaking that demonstrated the best of what the industry can offer came early on in the year, and late on, with so much left to be desired in the mid-year stretch.

The order of the films below are in chronological release date order, and in no particular order of preference:

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Dangal- Movie Review by Ram Anand

But when the curtains draw, Aamir’s dedication in preparing for this role and actually ensure his character does not overshadow the narration is the mark of craftsman par excellence. And just like in Rang de Basanti, Dangal is so much about what Khan underplayed as opposed to what he overplayed.

“AND finally, after 10 years, we all hear what we have been waiting to hear from him,” Dangal’s self parodying narrator, Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan)’s nephew, says towards the end of the movie. Continue reading “Dangal- Movie Review by Ram Anand”

Dear Zindagi- Movie Review by Ram Anand

Dear Zindagi is a promise that delivered.

It does not trivialise the fears, tears and the breakdowns that Kiara has. Gauri allows the screenplay to flow, unmasking one fear after another, slowly charting her transformation from a woman who constantly questions her own imperfections to someone who actually embraces them.
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Mohenjo Daro- Music Review by Ram Anand

The way ARR has spread so much richness into a soundtrack with limited vocals goes to show the meticulousness that has gone into every recording.

Eight years. That was how long it has been since one of India’s grandest filmmakers, Ashutosh Gowariker, has teamed up with AR Rahman. To understand the significance of their collaboration, one has to look at the films they worked on together in the past- Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar- all three critical and musical successes. Since Jodha Akbar, Ashutosh’s films without an AR Rahman soundtrack seemed devoid of a soul and failed to live up to its the expectations of the three epics mentioned above. Continue reading “Mohenjo Daro- Music Review by Ram Anand”

Acham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada (AYM)- Music Review by Ram Anand

Bask. Enjoy. AR Rahman is a promise that keeps on delivering.

This is probably the longest wait that fans of Tamil or AR Rahman’s music has had to experience between a chartbuster single and a full album- six months to be exact. After a combination like Vinathaandi Varuvaaya, which soared up the chartbusters, box office, and also people’s hearts, Guatham Vasudev Menon and AR Rahman coming together again set expectations at a very high bar. Coupled with the fact Silambarasan has returned as the main protagonist, just like VTV, Acham Yenbathu Madamaiyada had big shoes to fill.

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Iraivi- Movie Review by Ram Anand

Iraivi isn’t about bonding. It is about unbonding. It is about rain, and getting drenched in it. The film starts with the shots of three women- a young school girl dreaming about the man she will marry, an educated woman hoping her marriage will be different than other marriages, and an old woman complaining about her husband’s neglect of her.

A protagonist of Iraivi, Michael, learns about the feelings that his friend had harboured for his wife all along, and true to the stereotype of men, he stutters his way into asking his wife if she reciprocated his friend’s feelings and if she had slept with him.

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24- Music Review by Ram Anand

Sid Sriram, in an AR Rahman composition. Has that combination ever gone wrong? No AR Rahman Tamil album is complete with even the least of Sid Sriram’s voice nowadays, and Mei Niagara comes across as the best song of this album.

For once, I was not particularly aware regarding the audio release of a new AR Rahman album until I chanced upon a review in one of the flimsy film sites calling the album of “24” a surprise- in a negative way. First of all, I would never understand how anyone who calls themselves a thorough reviewer can attempt to write a judgement on an ARR album within a couple of hours, and after listening to the tracks merely once. In fact, I’ll go even further and say this actually applies to the work of all musicians worth their salt.

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