- Uttama Villain (The good villain)
- O Kadhal Kanmani (O love, my dear)
- Tanu Weds Manu Returns
- Tamasha ( The spectacle)
The four films that earned my applause and repeated viewing in 2015.
OK Kanmani’s music has nothing on Alaipayuthey’s music, it instead has something completely different, unique, and inventively mesmerising on its own.
It is difficult to be generous with my words on a keyboard when you only have one and a half hands to function with. But I guess that is how much I owe my will to persist to my inspirations- Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman, that I have to review their latest offering, OK Kanmani.
Many comparisons have been made between OK Kanmani and Mani’s 2000 film Alaipayuthey, owing to the fact that the film retains the same youthful romantic spirit last seen in a Mani film 15 years ago. But knowing Mani and AR Rahman well enough and having followed their careers together over the past 23 years, these two never offer a repeat dish on a platter. OK Kanmani’s music has nothing on Alaipayuthey’s music, it instead has something completely different, unique, and inventively mesmerising on its own.
Kaara Attakara (Dinesh Kanagaratnam, Saasha Thirupathi, Darshana)
The theme song that had accompanied the trailer for the film, the album starts as refreshing and breezy as we had expected, with a full-on whacky rap number interluded with melodious breezy renditions in the middle.
Dinesh is in top form, while Darshana gives him great company. Shashaa Tirupati comes in with dialogue based whispers in the middle. This is like the Endrendrum Punnagai of Alaipayuthey, breezy, and trend setting.
And of course, it looks like it will go with the image of a young man in love riding a Royal Enfield in the middle of a massive city. (rings a bell?) This song will definitely run through the movie.
Aye Sinamika (Karthik)
Bring in those light touches of guitars strumming, Karthik behind the mic, and AR Rahman orchestrating the whole arrangement to lyrics penned by Vairamuthu, then well, you have- a gem.
With minimal use of instruments, Aye Sinamika is an unique expression of love just like the masterful Usure Pogudhey from Raavanan. Though not the same intensity, it is another demonstration of Karthik’s talent of owning and handling an entire number like this with perfection and restrained intensity in his voice.
This song might take some time to grow on you-but once you get used to its irregular qualities, you won’t stop being hooked to it. A perfect song to be imagined along with Mumbai’s coastline. Redefining and full of soul, and what other combo can bring such an effect?
Nee ennai neengadhe.
Mental Manadhil (AR Rahman Male Version, Jonita Gandhi Female Version)
Like-a-like my Laila!
The most groovy, youthful number of our times, of course, has been doing rounds for sometime now since it was released as a single. AR Rahman is in top form as both singer and composer in the the energetic male version of the song. A definite chartbuster!
The female version by Jonita Gandhi is sung using Jonita’s own talents and unique voice modulation. This is Jonita having fun with a stripped down version of the instrument heavy male version. Equally catchy, equally appealing, and added with with some class too. Equally, and uniquely, good.
Parandhu Sella Vaa (Karthik, Shashaa Tirupati)
Just like that- what a composition. Masterpiece in simplicity. Paced ever so subtly, sung with such clarity, almost seductive voices, Parade Sella Vaa is the diamond of the OK Kanmani album. The minimalistic vocals at the background are accompanied with stunning variety in the modulation for both Shashaa and Karthik. We knew how good Karthik was for over a decade now, but to see the quality Shashaa offers on the vocal range is nothing short of pure magic.
Karthik brings the song to another level by enlivening it with a second half ballad accompanied ARR’s genius touches that brings you to a zen mode.
An absolutely stunning piece of work. The Pudhu Vellai Mazhai reinvented with a modern touch, 23 years later.
Naane Varugiren (Shashaa Tirupati, Sathya Prakash)
Again, Shasta’s voice immediately grips you with its class and she owns this number throughout. Laced with contemporary touches based on very classical raagas, Naane Varugiren is AR Rahman at his inventive, fusion best. The song takes its own sweet time to pick up, but two minutes in, the quality is splattered all over it, before Sathya Prakash comes in with beautiful classical notes in the interludes.
Naane Varugiren reminds one of Snekithane from Alaipaayuthey on so many levels- only that they don’t sound the same, at all.
But the effect and the quality of it is pretty much at the same level. This is musical beauty in its purest form.
Threera Ula (AR Rahman, Nikita Gandhi)
Probably the only song in the album that is filled up with mostly electronic touches, but even in that Nikita Gandhi comes in with classical interludes making this another fantastic fusion number. This song sounds more like a situational number than one with lengthy picturisation, but it is very good nevertheless.
Malargal Keatten (Chitra, AR Rahman)
Remember the Alaipayuthey Kanna number from Alaipayuthey? Just like that, this sumptuous number starts with complete classical notes before ARR weaves in his magic with his brand of fusion. It is refreshing to hear Chitra sing a song for an ARR composition after a long gap. The touches of the flute in the middle is the work of a genius.
Vairamuthu’s lyrics are also brilliant for this song. AR Rahman has a small bit at the end, and at times, this number also reminds one of Enge Enathu Kavithai from Kandukondein Kandukondein.
OK Kanmani is another inventive, ground breaking offering from Mani and ARR as they attempt to define modern day romance set in a metropolitan city in 2015.
AR Rahman is in top form, as he always is for a Mani Ratnam flick, while the lyrics are sumptuous. There some gorgeous vocals from Karthik and Shashaa Tirupati especially, not to be missed.
I would pick the whole album for a complete experience, but my personal favourites are- Parandhu Sella Vaa, Naane Varugiren, Mental Manadhil (Male), Malargal Kaetten, Aye Sinamika, and Kaara Attakara.
Er, that’s pretty much the whole album, isn’t it?
Recognising the most spellbinding tales of the year.
1. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Run Milkha Run)
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Writer: Prasoon Joshi
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Meesha Shafi, Dev Gill
Music: Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsan Noorani, and Loy Mendosa
There can be very little arguments about what is the best movie of 2013 when there is work that encompasses creativity, dedication, hardwork, and also finesse- all packaged together to near perfection. Once in a while, you watch a movie that you feel is not worth reviewing, not because it’s bad, but because it would be an injustice to pick on the flaws of the film due to the magnitude of the presentation.
Inspired by the real life story of Indian runner Milkha Singh, BMB moves beyond and above being a story about runner who made it big- instead, this movie’s telltale rather is that no matter how much you achieve and come through in your life, the biggest challenge you could ever face was probably to exorcise your own demons- now matter how small or trivial they are.
BMB does not glorify the olympics or the commonwealth games in which Milkha participated, rather the insignificant friendly race in Pakistan which meant little to the rest of the world, but meant everything in the world for Milkha, as he was busy killing the demons that have haunted him his whole life.
Farhan Akhtar’s inspiring performance is not limited to his immaculately toned body or his real time sprinting alone, it is rather encapsulated with the way he amalgamates the fear that consumes the Milkha Singh, his heartbreak, and his yearning for his family.
Rakeysh Mehra returns after a four year hiatus with another movie on par with his 2005 masterpiece Rang de Basanti, and when I say a film is as good as RDB, there are no arguments as to where this film will stand in terms on annual rankings. This is one for popular culture, and also to remain a fond memory for years to come, like how RDB remains dear to Indians till today.
2. Vishwaroopam (Image of the world)
Director: Kamal Haasan
Writer: Kamal Haasan
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Rahul Bose, Andrea Jeremiah, Pooja Kumar, Shekhar Kapur
Music: Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsan Noorani, and Loy Mendosa
South Indian numero uno talent Kamal Haasan’s worldview and philosophy, especially in issues such as terrorism, has always been a little different from the mainstream. Kamal, who has humanised almost every other mainstream perception in a career spanning over five decades, including the last two decades of continuously pushing the envelope with films such as Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam, and Kurudhi Punal to name a few, this time serves a dish tinged with slight masala and with the heavy presence of the fine details any Kamal admirer would notice.
Vishwaroopam earns its brownie points with Kamal’s succinct portrayal of the Afghani life and also the portrayal of terrorists and being humans who retaliate to acts committed under the name of “war on terror”. While the mainstream narration presents this as a stylish thriller, the nuances and dialogues are peppered with so many ideological and philosophical questions that will make you sit up and take notice. Kamal’s own performance, at the age of 58, is unmatched whether as the half hearted Afghani terrorist, the soft spoken Kathak dancer who bats his eyelids in the most effeminate way possible, or as the man who transforms to a professional killer within 16 drops of water. (arguably the best action scene of the year).
Vishwa may not be as good as Hey Ram, a previous Kamal offering which was a masterpiece, but Kamal shows he has learnt his lesson of great films tanking at the box office, so he chisels here a very good film that made both money and also satisfied knowledge hungry minds like mine.
A blend that offers plenty of joy to the back row clappers and the intense viewers, here is hoping the sequel would dare to go up a notch and tell a more profound, though provoking story while retaining a mainstream format.
Not to forget, Rahul Bose was pretty good as the villain.
3. Raanjhanaa (Beloved One)
Director: Anand L Rai
Writer: Himanshu Sharma
Cast: Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol
Music: A.R. Rahman
Anand Rai’s previous offering Tanu Weds Manu was a bundle of joy, but it hardly stayed with you after a first viewing. But with Raanjhanaa, aided by a spellbinding musical score by one of the greets musical legends in India, AR Rahman, Anand Rai takes romance drama to a new realm with his heartbreaking story of one sided love.
One sided love stories often made for very boring, repetitive, cheesy movie outings, but Raanjhanaa packed so much emotions and subtlety thanks to a brilliant script, melodious music, and a sweet portrayal of life at the city of Banaras (Varanasi).
Watching the movie will make you understand why Anand Rai insisted on waiting eight months to give southern star Dhanush, who doesn’t conform to the mainstream Bollywood definition of a romantic hero, a Bollwyood debut with this movie.
Like how Shah Rukh Khan owned Baazigar, Dhanush owned Raanjhanaa with his array of emotions, from love, betrayal, and guilt.
Abhay Deol and Sonam Kapoor only need to the their minimal best, as the trio of Anand, Dhanush, and Rahman have made sure this tale will stay with you for sometime after watching. The final montage is a melancholic tragedy worth being on par with all other great romances that we have seen on screen.
4. Special 26
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Writer: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpai, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill
Five years ago, Neeraj made one of the best intense dramas Bollywood has ever produced in the form of “A Wednesday”. He returned this year with an equally taut script for Special 26, which starts slow but never lets you off the hook till the final moments.
A story about a bunch of conmen who dressed as CBI officers to conduct fake raids (inspired from a true event), Neeraj slowly lets you grow into the characters and their personal lives while bringing his own dimension to the portrayal of Manoj Bajpai as the police officer hot on their heels.
This a-la “Catch Me if You Can” narration is spellbinding barring a couple romance moments between Akshay and Kajal Agarwal which delayed the pace of the film. Otherwise, when you have actors like Akshay refraining from any heroism, along with known performers such as Anupam and Manoj, you won’t get this wrong.
The best thriller of the year.
5. Lootera (Robber)
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Writer: Bhavani Iyer and Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha
Music: Amit Trivedi
After making the critically acclaimed Udaan, Vikramaditya returns with Lootera, a slow, painstakingly built tale of love set in the 1950s between Varun Srivastav (Ranveer Singh) and Pakhi Ray Choudhary (Sonakshi Sinha).
Posessing arguably the best on screen chemistry this year, Ranveer and Sonakshi give so much life to their characters that you are immersed in their romance and tragedy despite the monotonous pace of narration.
Lootera’s production design is flawless. The first half’s innocent, flirtatious nature is reflected with the colours of Manekpur and the Bengali culture. The second half, in reflection of a tragedy, is set in the hill station of Dalhousie, where its winter, and its snowing profusely, leading to the depression of the characters involved.
Vikramaditya does most his story telling through visuals, a glance, a smile, an acknowledgement. But all that pent up emotions were delivered in a bulk with such effervescent restraint in the film’s poetic, heart wrenching climax.
A love story given a treatment of Shakespearean proportions, running like a poem on screen.
6. Madras Cafe
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Writer: Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya
Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri
Music: Shantanu Moitra
After his successful Vicky Donor, Shoojit ventured into rather unknown territory in making an edge of the seat thiller about politics and war. Unlike many other Indian movies, Madras Cafe does not make the grave error of nationalising the issue of war in neighbouring countries, and instead looks at it at a macroscopic level, probing the consequences of war to all those involved. Set in the early 1990s at the height of the Sri Lankan civil war, the film takes on the Indian government’s role in the war, the betrayal that caused the death of India’s prime ministerial candidate, and also the external hands that played a part in the war.
Madras Cafe is blessed with an arresting plot, more so if you have a basic knowledge about the events surrounding the Lankan civil war, especially during the early 1990s when tensions were high. It paints most of its characters, bar a few, as being gray, and this is something that removes it from a national realm and places it in an international realm. The discrepancies between reality and fiction are pretty obvious, but those can be ignored on the basis that the director has utilised his creative license without wanting to get too close to some controversial real life characters, especially LTTE leader Prabhakaran.
John Abraham is brilliant as a covert Indian intelligence officer, while the relatively fresh supporting cast provide ample support to the narrative. Nargis Fakhri looks much more comfortable playing a British journalist, instead of her attempt at looking desi in Rockstar previously.
While it is debatable as to how much Madras Cafe buys into the conspiracy theory surrounding the war, the movies does make you think and largely works due to plain good filmmaking.
7. Soodhu Kavvum (Evil Engulfs)
Director: Nalan Kumarasamy
Writer: Nalan Kumarasamy
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Sanchita Shetty
Music: Santosh Narayanan
In possibly the most convincing directorial debut this year, Nalan Kumarasamy stole the show with his Soodhu Kavvum, a dark comedy thriller about a group of wannabe kidnappers and their quirky leader, and also about a too honest to be good state minister who becomes a victim of their rather amateurish plans. Executed with style and panache, coupled with an apt background score from debutante Santosh Narayanan, Soodhu Kavvum works as a solid thriller, with every character playing their part despite not being household names at the time of the film’s release.
Soodhu Kavvum also finishes with a great, bold climax that is a true ode to a neo noir crime movie, and is peperred with a generous amount of dark comedy that will leave you hooked to your seat.
8. Maryan (Immortal)
Cast: Dhanush, Parvathi Menon
Music: AR Rahman
Intense performances from lead actors Dhanush and Parvathi Menon, alongside picturesque camerawork, detailed direction from Bharatbala, and also a timeless musical score by AR Rahman makes Maryan a melancholic, visually arresting film to watch. It has its downfalls in terms of its snail paced narration and its lack of surprises, but that was not what the director and writer of this story intended for anyway.
Maryan is about capturing the spirit of a man’s will to live against the odds, and an attempt to capture the passion and drive of love. From the waters of Neerodi, to the setting sun, and the harsh desert in Sudan, Bharatbala uses everything at his disposal- from the actor to the music to near perfection to bring about the spirit of a man who refused to die when he could and should have.
9. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (Youth is Crazy)
Director: Ayan Mukerji
Writer: Ayan Mukerji
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Kalki Koechlin
In the slew of serious movies in this list, JHD is a full on fun and frolic film that is typical of modern Bollywood, but at the same time does not quite confine to the typical formulas. Foot tapping music by Pritam is aided by great dance sequences full of colour and live, while the chemistry between Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone scorches the screen. Supporting cast play to their own strengths perfectly, and in so many ways, the film captures the restlessness of modern youths.
Ayan Mukerji made nice, coming to age movie in Wake Up Sid in his first outing, and while his heroine is not as grounded and humanised like Konkona Sen Sharma was in that movie, and his narration not so subtle, the little extra dose of masala did work for the film while intervowing emotional coming of age sequences in the second half.
This was quite an entertainer.
10. Neram (Time)
Director: Alphonse Putharen
Writer: Alphonse Putharen
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Nazriya Nazim
Music: Rajesh Murugesan
The final film in this top ten list is the small budget, yet pleasant to watch Neram, a comedy thriller about events that unfold in a single day in a man’s life. Newcomers Nivin Pauly and Nazriya are both charming, while the slew of supporting characters were no less towering with their performances. The script keeps you going until the final minute, with plenty of natural comedy in between, making it another promising debut for a directorial talent in the south.
The sound of a slingshot reverberated in the now silent, almost ambient desert. The sword was perched on the ground, next to the weak, giant body.
The Prince, still considerably small compared to those of his age, looked up from his brazen balcony. He looked at his palms, which were smeared with dirt and wounds. “Aah,” he grumbled, as his glance stole away at the wieldy figure of that peasant’s son. He was well built, as soaring heat reflected the muscles that went along with the sweat.
A loincloth around his waist, that boy- one-year younger than the Prince- was flaunting his muscles. The boy wasn’t grumbling. There were scratches in and around his body; The Prince knew it. Because it was The Prince who minutes earlier had gotten into a brawl with the boy. The Prince knew he had no chance of winning that muscle-match, that boy was a giant compared to his own puny size. They fought at the far fields, beyond anyone’s eyesight. The Prince was trampled on the ground, well and truly beaten. He could still feel the taste of raw earth in his mouth. He should not have fell facedown. He fervently rubbed his nose, and sneezed, and he could almost see small particles of dust traveling in the thin air from his body as he did so.
And then he smiled. The memory that was coming to him now was the memory he wants to keep in his head for years to come. That boy was smiling, laughing actually. Laughing at the Prince for trying to beat him up, and not giving up after so many little shoves by the boy left the Prince on the ground helplessly.
And then it happened. The Prince tugged at those arm muscles, pulling him down. The boy threw a grain of sand straight into The Prince’s eyes in retaliation. The Prince was blinded. He could not recall nor envision what he did next. When The Prince finally managed to open his eyelids, the giant was defeated on the ground, and The Prince delivered one last kick straight into his chest.
The boy coughed out aloud, and crawled slowly, trying to protect his well-built body. The Prince took out his sword, which is now stands at half his height, and spun it around in the air.
The sound of a slingshot reverberated in the now silent, almost ambient desert. The sword was perched on the ground, next to the weak, giant body.
Minutes ago, the boy argued that size matters more than anything. The Prince said no, it does not. The Boy laughed.
“Size doesn’t matter,” The Prince said, realizing that his speech was slightly funny. His rolled his eyeballs down towards his lips, pouting his lips. They were swollen and bleeding. The Prince knew it was only the tip of the iceberg. They were countless of physical wounds on his body.
But it doesn’t matter. He hit the boy where it matters most- his ego.
The Prince’s moment though was almost ruined by the sword, which was perched so deep he could not pull out of the sand.
He almost sighed in utter relief as it came out in a gush, pushing The Prince a couple steps back and tumbling on the ground. He looked up carefully at the boy. He was still busy mending his ego on the ground. The Prince smiled. His enemy did not notice his moment of baboonery. He put the sword back into its place and walked off.
Ah, the feeling of glory, The Prince thought to himself.
The Queen stormed into the room. “What happened?” she screamed at the top of her voice. “I fell off trying to ride a horse,” the answer came out almost as naturally from his twisted lips.
He legs aren’t long enough to climb a horse without doing a summersault and falling at other side of the bewildered animal.
“Your legs aren’t even long enough to do that!” she said.
Yes, he knew that already. But he will not stop trying.
The Queen was forever on about playing safe and taking the safest route and taking the safest course of action. All he had to do in life, according to her, was to study well so that he could take over the administration when The King retires.
The Prince does not know what actually he wants to do, but he felt like doing anything but just study and take over from his father.
He looked out of his balcony again, as his mother desperately tried to make him look towards her.
“You are not going to ride a horse into a battlefield anytime soon, so stop trying,” she said, shaking his body as if to re-affirm her stand.
Oh, how he loved proving people wrong.
“Let’s make ourselves as loud as possible,” The Elder Prince said, as he entertained the idea of having an intruder in the palace, who is probably trying a thief intent on stealing valuables in the palace. He has heard plenty of stories about what such thieves can do, and some of them can be very dangerous. He thought about the stories he heard, and told The Prince about how the thieves steal away hard-earned valuables even from normal people and leave the people in a lurch as their earnings are stolen without any kind of justification.
The idea was simple- make as much noise as they can possibly make to convey to the intruder that there are people in the house, and that he should leave after being aware of their presence. The thief probably has entered the palace thinking that everyone from the palace have left along with the king’s entourage, they reasoned.
But The Prince had a different urge, he wanted to thief to appear in front him, to be caught somewhere in the act, he wants to face the thief with the latter thinking that small princes can’t possibly do anything to him, and that they would be small fries, only to discover that they can, in fact, hurt him. The thief needs to learn a lesson, he thought. “We need to prepare,” The Prince said.
“We need a plan, and we need to prepare how we are going to face the situation if the thief manages to get up here and face us. The most valuables are here, so in all probability he would come here,” The Prince said. The other two princes blinked, and nodded. They could see reason and logic in his explanation; they felt that he made perfect sense. “But, how, we are just..small,” the Young Prince said. No matter if that statement made sense for the other two princes, it definitely made sense the The Prince’s case, because he was physically the smallest among all three of them, and if there was anyone who was small, it was him.
“So, we need something, something to hit him back with, something to fight with, something that will surprise him,” The Prince was continuously eager. He realized that the room which stores the palace equipments, most of the extra ones which are made but are kept in reserves, is near to the room they were in, and it wouldn’t require anyone to get down and face the thief in order to access the equipments.
The three of them rushed to the room, and began pondering over the equipments, trying to make the right choice and devise the right tactics. The Prince picked a metal rod, which is used to shape knives, swords, and shields. It was thick, and heavy. He knew, that if he could deliver one full-forced blow on the thief with this rod, especially on the thief’s head, the thief might never wake up again after that. He smiled slightly and made his choice. “I’ll beat him with this,” he said.
The Elder Prince was ahead of him in terms of devising a tactic. “Yeah, you can beat him, and I will tie him,” he said, already holding a thick rope that looks as good as any in his hands. The three of them walked back to the room, but realized they can’t rely on two weapons alone, they needed another one. “Go and take a knife, something you think is good enough,” The Prince told to the Young Prince. The Young Prince walked into the equipments room and went through whatever knives he could find. Finally, after sometime, he walked back into the room, and on his hand, he was holding an old, yet ferocious looking knife, one that butchers use to butcher meat from dead animals. “That’s how we get good meat,” The Elder Prince said. “You want to eat him?” The Elder Prince asked the Young Prince. The Young Prince starred at the knife. “But that’s a good choice,” The Prince said. He had a cynical smile on his face, so did the Elder Prince.
From then on, they waited until the moment the supposed thief would come barging up for more valuables, and face their wrath. But The Prince was getting impatient, as they could hear sounds from down below, suspicious sounds all around them- and it crossed his mind that maybe the thief is already getting what he wants from down, and might not come up afterall, and he would definitely get away with anything he’s getting from there.
He took hold of his wooden sword, and tested the edges; they are still sharp in spite of being made of wood. He carried the rod, which must have weighed at least quarter of The Prince’s own weight. He looked at the other two princes. It was almost as if they knew what he was thinking in his mind, and they nodded. Without much warming, in the deep night, The Prince descended down the stairs and disappeared into the pitch black castle.
He got down as fast as he could; the rod and the sword were giving him many problems, but he was intent on carrying on, he would see the thief anytime now, he is where the thief is, and he has to face him. But as The Prince went on searching he could not fight a thief anywhere in sight. He climbed back up, sweating. “Nowhere, nobody,” he said, panting, finally resting the rod on the stairs. The other two princes were appalled for a minute, and after that they laughed about it.
Two days later, when the other two princes have returned to their respective homes, The Prince’s palace was found burglared. The King woke up early that day and found that even before the sun greeted them, many valuables and gold kept down are now no more where they are supposed to be.
Frustrated that he could not catch the culprit earlier, whom he was sure he saw two days prior, The Prince walked past the palace gates, into the woods nearby all on his own, as the family were grieving the loss of valuables.
And as The King was starting to get worried about The Prince’s whereabouts, The Prince appeared from the jungle, having recovered three coins of gold from trailing through the forest. The King was relieved, but The Prince was disappointed that it was all he could do about the whole episode.
The thieves had committed burglary at a time when everyone was indeed in the palace. They are much more brave than he originally thought. He knew they were dangerous, and that it is not just one person. For all the rods and knives the princes carried, the thieves might have had much more than that. He stopped to think what could have happened if he had met the thief in his adventure two nights ago. He had a wry smile on his face.
The Elder Prince dropped by, patted his shoulders, and reminded the same. What would have happened? They did know, but they did know that The Prince, without much ado, went down to face the thief. He asked himself if he would do the same again given the chance. He could hear himself saying yes.
And from that moment, he stopped feeling small.
By the time he was growing up to be a teenager, The Prince had a very striking habit, a habit that he was not conscious about. When the sun showed itself in the morning, The Prince would spring awake when the dawn starts setting in, as early as the peasants and palace workers sometimes.
Even though The Queen had prepared for him a glaring silk curtain to prevent the sunray from gushing into his chamber, he had the habit of leaving the curtain open for the night, and hugging himself tight to fight against the cold breeze of the night. And when sunshine comes, his eyes would open and stare right at it. The Prince felt good. He felt he had the entire day ahead of him to live for- all the more today will be a special day.
He walked to the verandah and looked up far ahead into the mountains- since his verandah has the best horizontal view compared to the rest of the castle. He saw a tiny dot somewhere beyond the mountains, a tiny dot that he knew was moving. A smile appeared on his face. His rested his chin on the railing, and looked on intently, wondering if that small moving dot represents the distant arrival of a person that he has been anticipating for of late.
But he wouldn’t find out if it is that person or not, because The Queen had barged into the chamber, and had called him for breakfast. By the time The Prince had finished showering and having his breakfast, he would hear the chatter at the palace’s gates, and he knew they have arrived. But whether they were the small dot that he saw in the morning, he did not know. That was how The Prince was, always that little wonder etched in his mind.
But that wonder did not stop him from running ahead of The King and The Queen to greet the person he was waiting for- The Elder Prince.
The Elder Prince is The Prince’s cousin, but a very close cousin, whom he regards as his own brother, given the fact that The Prince himself did not have a brother to begin with. Even though still relatively young, The Elder Prince had his way of being independent, The Prince thought. He had arrived is a small donkey that suited his size, beside his parents who have their own horses. This is the time of the year that The Prince loves the most- when the Elder Prince arrives to spend a short holiday here.
The Prince had plenty of relatives, both through The Queen and also The King, but many are individuals who are living a more grandeur life that The Prince, and The Prince hardly found himself feeling at home or comfortable in such surroundings. There were only two cousins with whom he feels comfortable- with the Elder Prince and the Young Prince, who is yet to arrive.
The Elder Prince loves to taunt The Prince, but at the same time, shares a lot of common enthusiasm with The Prince. He too, like The Prince, arrives from a modest background, and does not come from a grand kingdom. This is why the three of them form a great group, because all three are not pampered princes, but rather belong to modest backgrounds, and do not mind mingling even with the peasants’ daughters and sons whenever they are together.
The Young Prince comes from the most modest background of them all, and is very well versed in all the activities that the peasants’ sons and daughters take up to. He does not sleep in the comfortable chamber, but instead prefers sleeping in a patterned rug in the palace’s living hall. He also had a peculiar habit of attracting accidents. He had the same wondering habits that the Prince possessed, but he was rather adventurous and liked to try out few things much more physically rather than standing at the verandah and looking at sceneries. Instead of looking, he’d rather try to track and figure for himself what these sceneries have to offer from close.
For this very reason, they had the habit of sneaking out when the night begins to set down, and try to find out what is around and beyond the kingdom gates. But they would succeed in only one of the ten attempts they take, as most of the time they would be caught red-handed by their parents.
The Young Prince would, from time to time, poke his fingers to anything he finds peculiar and gets himself hurt or bitten, most of the time with generous amount of blood. The Prince and the Elder Prince have gotten so used to the habit that they would laugh every time such an incident occurs- instead of putting up a worried face. Even the Young Prince had the habit of laughing off any mess he gets himself into.
The three of them would often gather at the Young Prince’s generously built independent house. The Young Prince lives in a village, and not a kingdom. His village is much secluded, and his house a rather big one, with plenty of space to accommodate all the relatives from The Queen’s side who would often come and stay in the house during festivities.
Fireworks, imaginary camps, group activities- these were the best times The Prince had during his early youth.
This particular morning though, The Prince and the Young Prince have come to accompany The Prince through the night as their elders make a trip to the northern borders to meet a famed healer to cure certain health problems. The princes blinked at each other with the prospect of having the whole palace for themselves.
They played, shouted, ran around and ordered the peasants as they wished- they were the kings of the day. They did not sleep when the whole kingdom went to sleep. They stayed through the night, chattering and exploring and doing whatever they can do to further spend the night awake. And as The Prince strolled down to the living hall from his chamber where they were camped, he saw a white figure whizzing past him into another chamber. He was taken aback, shocked.
The other princes asked him what was wrong; so The Prince told them what had happened. But none of them shrugged it off as just an imagination. They dared to take the matter seriously.
“We need to do something,” The Elder Prince said. And they were set to do something- they felt important. They were the kings, they will be the heroes.
It was a quiet morning for The Prince. Which is not unusual. He is separated away from the clusters of peasant daughters and sons due to the fact that he is of the royal clan. He did not know how special being a royal clan was. Except for the fact that he gets this view- on the gold-laden verandah from where he could see an entire township.
But his eyes were not gazing the kingdom’s spreads, but rather, the terrains beyond, which are also abundantly visible to him. The prince let out a small sigh. He feels small, outnumbered, marginalized, not because of losing friends, but because he is stuck in this small kingdom. He wanted to know more, to discover more. But he was hardly the size of a warrior let alone a prince. The Prince, as the nomadic healers have already professed will suffer reduced growth rates due to his illness while he was still a baby.
“You survived it, Thank God,” The Queen told him countless of time while tucking in a new dress for The Prince to wear. But The Prince’s thoughts were already wondering elsewhere. “Why was I spared?” he asked.
The Queen would stop in her tracks. She had no answer to these appalling questions. The prince seemed to have made a habit out of asking such questions. She wondered to herself, is this his way of mocking her, knowing that she would not answer every time he comes up with those questions? Or is it just his innocent self?
The prince is increasingly taken to the idea that life has much more to offer than what it is currently offering. That the questions he is busy asking now are the very questions that everyone should be asking, rather than the ones that his educators have been asking him. This is life, afterall.
“He’s being immature,” The king would shrug off everytime the queen went to him with her deepest concerns that her son is asking tricky questions. “He will grow up,” he would add. That was their reprieve. He would grow up and finally start asking questions that really matters.
One evening he was sitting on the verandah again, and thought to himself that he needed some action. He felt he saw much more that was the other kids saw in their imaginations when they were at their playgrounds.
He made sounds. He played with himself. He imagined people playing with him. He had an imaginary friend- he had many imaginary friends. The verandah was his sanctuary. From that verandah, he imagined travelling beyond those unknown terrains and subsequently conquering the world at his own whim.
And then he realized what he needed. He knew he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the castle, that the time hasn’t come for him to make a journey away from this place, he had to stay no matter what.
He walked towards his father- the king.
“Tired from playing today?” the king asked, in his usual casual manner.
“Tired from playing alone,” he said. He was looking at his father right in the eyes, partly shivering with his nerves. Will he get scolded? Will he be reprimanded? Will he be punished? He did not know, but he knew what he wanted.
“So you want to play with the kids, prince?” The king promptly asked. He was expecting a straightforward yes. The king had given it much thought. Though he wouldn’t blame the peasants for setting the prince aside, the king would personally go and advise his peasants and their children to include the prince in their games, as the prince is feeling lonely. That was how the king was, he was a blunt honest man, who was unafraid to be honest about his own child even to those who were serving under him. He was prepared to show the prince, who is also the future king, as a vulnerable, normal human being to his people. He would do it- how long will the prince have to live a solitary life?
“Father, I want a sword,” the prince asked, seated on a grand chair across the king. The prince’s legs were hardly long enough to extend beyond the large seating canvas. And he was asking for a sword.
“Sword?” The king’s voice went up.
“I want to play with a sword,” he voiced out further.
“Sword is no playing matter,” the voice raised even further.
The prince kept looking at his father, acutely, without flinching. The king was a vulnerable man himself- though stern, he had taken a vow to himself to provide everything the prince would ever ask for, at least when the prince was still a young boy.
“Sword?” the king was softer now.
“I promise I’ll only play with it, just for a while,” he continued blinking at his father.
The next evening, as the sun was setting across the vast sky, what has become the prince’s favorite time of the day, he stood at the verandah, and carried a sword that was a quarter of his weight, and only an inch or two shorter than the prince himself. He carried it aloft. He closed his eyes.
He saw images, he saw warriors, he saw horses, he saw a great battle, he saw evil. He flinged his sword to his right and then to his left.
The queen was walking into the room when she saw her son with a shining silvery wood that he was playing with all alone. She let out a howler at the king.
“How could you? Don’t you event think? Why are you spoiling him? What if something happens? Won’t he hurt himself? Will you give if he asks for it? Isn’t there a limit to what you give?” she asked.
The king tried to open his mouth, but chose against it. He knew he wouldn’t win any argument.
The prince looked disappointed once the queen grabbed the sword away from him. The king thought of a better idea.
“Mare,” he called out to his swordsmith.
“Make a sword like mine, but make it of wood, of precise shape,” he yelled from his verandah.
He turned back and saw the prince smiling at him, and so he smiled back.
He felt his satisfaction as a father. The prince felt his satisfaction.
Silver, gold, platinum or wood doesn’t matter. All it matters it was that tool. That tool that triggers him to dream. And he would dream for every single day for the rest of his life.
The prince was ill. His eyes were yellow, and almost his whole body had the same color. The King and The Queen were two very worried people. They did not like the fact that their only son, whose very birth kept them together, has fallen ill not very long after arriving full of life.
The King was angry at all the nomads who supposedly knew medications, men with herbs, and women with healing powers. And it all ended when a nomad came out from bed on which the little, tiny prince was treated, and told The King- ‘your highness, the prince shall not make it’.
The King crushed into pieces upon hearing the news. He could not take it, neither could The Queen. They did not console each other, they blamed each other, when they were told that the cause for the illness is the fact that the baby was never exposed to sun enough and was kept for too long in the comforts of the kitchen, and this has made it sick when The King finally felt it was safe enough to being the Prince to the palace balcony, and hold him aloft to the crowd of people who were cheering and having the first sight of their prince.
The Queen and The King were not happy with each other’s role in the events that led to The Prince to be bedridden now. And the worst part is, for all their might of forming this small kingdom, they were unable to do anything to rectify the situation.
The King and The Queen refused to speak to each other subsequently. The palace was silent, in gloom, almost as if it has already lost The Prince. The workers could not do anything as nobody spoke to each other, as if the overwhelming silence between The King and The Queen had made them fear that any conversation even among the workers- even a crinkle of laughter that is head within the palace can upset The King or The Queen. The situation was that fragile.
And then one day a nomad came and told the two of them that the situation is irreparable, and hence The King and The Queen should consider ending The Prince’s life so that they can move on and probably have a new Prince to carry their legacy. The King did not like it, but he bowed alas. They agreed to finish The Prince’s life while the small creature was still fast asleep with his yellow eyes.
The whole palace gathered around The Prince’s bedside, as the travelling nomad held in his palms the herbs that would strike the final bow and rest The Prince once and for all. Sounds of sobbing were heard, and the nomad, with his trembling hands, proceeded to feed The Prince with the herb. And suddenly The Prince opened his eyes. It startled the nomad so much that he fell backwards, puring the herb all over himself in shock.
He wasn’t expecting the Prince to open his eyes that quickly, or was he expecting him to wake up anytime soon. His job has just gotten tougher. The King looked at him with uncertainty. Killing his baby while his eyes are still wide open doesn’t seem like a healthy proposition.
The nomad came up again and looked at the Prince. And he stopped.
“His eyes…,” the nomad started.
Everyone looked at him intently.
“They are white,” the nomad said.
“So?” The King asked.
“It is a cause for celebration, my majesty,” the nomad proclaimed. A gleeful cheer broke in the room, and the prince, nestled on the small bed frame, clapped his hands with a toothless smile seeing such jubilation around him, though he never knew for what reason.
Little did everyone know that; that particular moment has just changed history. Cheating death was just the beginning of a habit; that you shall know later in this once upon a time tale.
The Prince lived thereafter, but the yellow disease had its side effects, as his growth was slightly affected. Despite his relative small size, The Prince wielded the sword and practiced and honed his art at a very young age. He believed in greater purpose. He asked ridiculous questions. And he was smart.
The King and The Queen opted against personal tutoring. He was sent to a guru who was teaching the children of peasants, palace workers, nomads, and natives. The Prince was just one among many. And even then, he was smart. He had a hunger to be the first, a hunger for knowledge. He outsmarted everyone else; as The King and The Queen consistently stressed that he come on top in his studies. And he did. He was the first, and mostly the smartest.
The other children struggled to match up to him, and he seemed to fulfill expectations with ease.
One day, as he saw the sun setting down, he turned around and asked The Queen.
“Why was I born?”
She only ever heard mischievous ‘how I was born’ before. But he asked a completely different question. She starred at him, not knowing how to answer. The Prince knew, there and then, that the answer was outside the palace.
The journey beckons…
At Rutnam’s heroic burial during the dusk of that battle-ridden day, very few tears were shed, there was more of a lingering uncertainty as to the direction this small community had to take upon the passing of a leader who had served for 50 years in the ruling committee, and 22 years as the sole leader of Aasman.
Everyone looked beleaguered, unsure as to who will take Rutnam’s mantle. And then the wily old aide of Rutnam stood up feebly from his chair and declared, in his feeble, breaking voice- The one who conquered Rutnam in the war should succeed him as the leader of the nation- that little nation in the form of Aasman. And so The King in his eventful voyage had found his own kingdom alas.
“We will progress,” The King proclaimed, after spending a good hour mulling over and digesting his new position as the leader. He looked cautiously at his people, his new commands, knowing that he is planting upon them an idea that they were not used to for decades.
There was utter silence. Suddenly, the same wily old aide of Rutnam clapped, as if the proclamation by The King was the best he had ever heard in his life. And today, the kingdom of Aasman was formed. It still retains the same small community size, but it has a more comfortable lifestyle thanks to The King’s progressive thoughts.
The old man who clapped died one week after he openly declared The King as the new King. His potrait still hangs over the main ballroom, as The King pays tribute to the one who had appointed him to be who he is today. But as The King looked at the portrait on this New Year’s Day, a small flicker of thought appeared in his mind. How would he explain about this portrait should anyone ask him what is the significance of the man in the portrait? What if his own son asks it?
The King has been doing too much of thinking of late. He is nervous. The time is drawing closer. The New Year has just dawned. It’s time to light the lamps, and make this a colorful event. As the palace workers and guard set about to do exactly that, The King still has the worry seeded in his mind.
And then a guard’s quick steps down the stairs were heard. Out of the many workers jostling around the castle and the noise outside of it, The King instinctively knew that this guard’s steps are the steps he was awaiting for. A female cook came about and served a platter of sweets right on The King’s face. There was a brimming smile of the guard’s face.
“You have a prince,” the guard said. The King took a sweet and munched delightfully. A fellow palace keeper bent down and lit a divine lamp at a corner of the ballroom.
And so our story begins- with the birth of this prince. Because this tale belongs to the prince, and not the king- as the title might have suggested to you so far. The prince was born exactly when the sun was rising steadily on the New Year’s Day for Aasman.
The kingdom greeted the prince’s arrival with much enthusiasm, and renewed hope and vigor spread through Aasman, like a disease quickly spreading on every other person. The prince quickly became the most adored being in the whole of Aasman, despite only being days’ old, but without his knowledge, his arrival had already served a greater purpose.
The King and The Queen, prior to the prince’s birth, were having a rocky relationship. There was always something about the other that had caused dissatisfaction between them- always a point of contention. It seemed not right to the extent that The Queen took a quarter of the township with her as she travelled back to be with her sister across the sea, in a different place altogether.
It wasn’t until she got pregnant that the The Queen decided to finally return to the palace, under a very subtle request by The King, to make her delivery here.
“How is The Queen?” The King asked, still munching his sweet, temporarily halting in his actions. “Very fine, my majesty,” the guard retreated, still wearing a smile on his face.
It was a difficult task to keep Aasman relatively silent and small yet progress at the same time, thus the challeneges that the The King face was enormous even though there was very little threat from any other greedy kingdoms aiming to spread their wings. It kept The King busy.
That was when, impressed by The King’s success, his mother travelled all the way across the sea to come and witness how her second son is faring. She made it quite clear to him on what her assessment was. He was still moderate in comparison to the success that his brothers have achieved. But The King’s mother liked the fact that The King is ruling a kingdom of relative peace and largely low-profile, it served her well to go about walking and taking her own sweet time, doing the things that she had always loved doing. She loved the Prince as well.
The Prince would spend a huge amount of his childhood with his grandmother, who would cuddle him and cater to every little need that he has. But she had problems with The Queen. There was always about The Queen that dissatisfied her, and she would go around and narrate to the normal citizens of Aasman what a bad queen The Queen actually is. That she had left her son and ran away when situations got difficult. That The Queen is such and such.
But Prince did not know all of these things that are happening, he was still that little baby, hardly learning how to walk, who loved his mother and grandmother equally as much.
That was until one morning, as The Queen woke up from her retirement, and walked to her baby to greet him with her normal morning smile. Watching his smile would make her troubles fade away. But his skin was yellow; The Prince’s eyes were swollen. The smile disappeared.
To be continued…
Once upon a time there was a little empire called Aasman. Make no mistakes, it was indeed a little empire, but a rather comfortable one. The king took good care of the people, and most, if not all of them lived in relative comfort. These were the days when swords, bows, arrows, shields, and horses were still prevalent in human lives.
My story starts on a particular calendar day that they had called their own New Year. Of course not according to the Roman Calendar. Every other empire had their own dates and ways of counting dates and years in this era. Aasman had theirs. This was their New Year.
The King was a riff-tiff of a person, he built his small empire from scraps after going through a rather eventful youth. It wasn’t until he married The Queen that he finally managed to find his footing. Having been unable to decide on where he would build his livelihood, The King once found Aasman when it was a tiny little village occupied by people who lived in the oblivion. Aasman was a land that provided enough resources to provide healthily for a small community, but the people there were never too eager to divert any attention to their town.
There should be a battle in the story of every King. There is one here too. Let me tell you how it all happened.
The King came from a modest background- that of a cluster of warrior families. His mother and father have both come in from a different land, a land believed to be much bigger than this land, but they were stripped off their warrior priviledges when an enormous army called The White Army attacked their land many, many years ago. The White Army once were conquering an entirety of land. Aasman was in their grasps too, hardly any area escaped their sight.
Under their rule, everyone was the same. People were transported from one place to another as they attempted to feast in on the vast resources that all the countries had. The King’s parents, and in fact, The Queen’s parents, were both transported from that homeland to come to outlying areas around Aasman.
The King has two brothers. Just like the one biologically sandwiched between the other two, he was always somewhere in the middle his entire life. His brothers surpassed him in every way possible. His younger brother is an advisor at a major foreign empire that is spreading its wings across the sea, beyond the unknown lands. His elder brother does live across the sea, where he had built formidable regime based on a dictatorial rule.
The King was hopping from one place to another, and even had an unpleasant stint working under his elder brother before he married The Queen. The Queen had seven siblings. All of them come from modest backgrounds. Now The King needed to provide a stable livelihood as he has a family to support. So he wandered around and stumbled into Aasman, where the people are friendly enough to take in two more neighbors.
Aasman had its own principles. The people did not believe in moving forward too much, they preferred to let things stay as they are. The village leader was a wily old man named Rutnam, who implemented laws to punish those who attempt to expose Aasman and its resources to greedy kingdoms. The White Army was destroyed and disappeared some years ago, and since then no other kingdom had come nowhere near Aasman.
There is a new rule across the seas now. Kingdoms had agreed that legitimate, announced war would be the only way to conquer new kingdoms- and that even upon conquering, no people should be treated like slaves. They called it something like ‘human rights’. Though at large, the people of Aasman know that greed supersedes everything and those in power can still run people down into the ground and have no questions asked of them.
And one fine day, The King had told Rutnam that life has to progress. Rutnam had gotten angry. The people grumbled. But that was when The King, who had been a hot tempered man his whole life, became articulate.
He told the people that it is possible to progress without compromising their values. Rutnam was a stubborn old man. He had an army.
The King was insistent, and thus Rutnam challenged him to a war. A war that involved only 13 soldiers. 10 on Rutnam’s side and only three of the villagers, all young men, on The King’s side.
They had bows made of wood, sharpened with hand, and rusty weapons to be used as their instruments. They all gathered around in tandem and marched against each other. Both sides were allowed, as urged by the residents, to have an arrow flung into air to start the war.
A young man on The King’s side let go of his arrow at the same time a wily old aide of Rutnam did. Everyone had their eyes fixed on the sky as they wanted to be aware the arrow doesn’t hit on any one of them as they prepared to begin the war.
The arrows disappeared into the sky, and both side let their eyes drop to their enemies, as they drew their scantily-made swords. They too, were made of wood. All of a sudden, Rutnam, seated on a slightly higher chair than the rest to reiterate his position as leader, fell on the ground with a thud. All of them saw the arrow pierced through his chest.
He had not flinched his eyes to see where the arrows were heading to. And he lost the war, and died.