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.

Best four of Indian cinema- 2015

The four films that earned my applause and repeated viewing in 2015.

  1. Uttama Villain (The good villain)
Cast: Kamal Haasan, K Balachander, Andrea Jeremiah, Urvashi, Pooja Kumar, Parvathy
Director: Ramesh Aaravind
Plot:
Manoranjan is an alcoholic middle aged South Indian superstar. At the premiere of his latest film, he discovers that he is suffering from a brain tumour and also discovers that he actually has a daughter from a previous affair that ended tragically.
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Now married with a son while at the same time maintaining an affair with his family doctor, Manoranjan confronts his mortality by returning to his cinema mentor to make one last movie, while at the same time reconciling all the relationships in his life- including his long estranged daughter who resents him.
My take:
Uttama Villain wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who had taken a liking to the film, it is highly likely to feature high in their list if they were ever to make one such list for 2015. Written by the ever versatile Kamal himself, Uttama Villain is an unique cinematic experience, there is an intense family drama, a deconstruction of fame, and a half-satire about mortality all rolled into one film.
This is something South Indian stars had almost never done before, deconstructing their own fame to a human level and even putting out their flaws out there for everyone to see. Uttama Villain was almost a self parody of the enigma that is Kamal Haasan himself and how he views his own life story- with ambiguous, albeit very personal, spiritualism.
And the way the screenplay weaves in all the relationships he has- with his wife, with his son, with his family doctor, his mentor, and also his past love affair which resulted in a daughter, is subtle and poetic, and the same time without judging or preaching about a flawed man’s life.
Easily the most delectable piece of work in Indian cinema for 2015.
  1. O Kadhal Kanmani (O love, my dear)
Cast: Dulquer Salman, Nithya Menen, Prakash Raj, Leela Sampson
Director: Mani Ratnam
Plot:
Aadhi and Tara are two South Indian youths plying their trade in India’s financial capital Mumbai. They hit it off immediately after meeting at a friend’s wedding and their whirlwind romance ends up with them living together under the same roof, albeit sharing the space with Aadhi’s middle aged landlord, who cares for his wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
But as time passes by, Aadhi and Tara must confront the realities of living together in a largely traditional society, while at the same time choosing between chasing their individual dreams or staying with each other.
My take:
Mani Ratnam, the man credited for revolutionising Tamil cinema, has not had pleasant outings with his last two movies- Raavan and Kadal, even though the former remains an all time favourite for me.
OK Kanmani, in so many levels, is Ratnam going back to a turf he had not touched since his timeless romantic drama Alaipayuthey, which was made 15 years ago. But it also completes an unique romance trilogy that displayed his mastery as an auteur.
In 1986, Ratnam broke into the scene with Mouna Ragam, which explored the relationship between a couple who had got into an arranged marriage half heartedly and how they try to make it work. 14 years later, with Alaipayuthey, the central theme was about a couple who elope to get married without their parents’ consent.
With every movie, Ratnam had documented the changing societal landscape in India, which is still largely traditional. OK Kanmani explores live in relationships in the context of India, and also brilliantly juxtaposes it with the relationship of an older couple who are devoted to each other.
It also raises a crucial dilemma for the youths of today- being torn between chasing individual dreams and trying to reconcile them with a partner. Of course, above all this, is the ability of the 59-year-old master filmmaker to capture the pulse of the young generation in the way he develops the romance between the two leads. The dialogues are minimal yet exquisite, the shot compositions are typically masterful, and the overall mood of the film are in the hallmarks of a legendary filmmaker.
Mani Ratnam is back.
  1. Tanu Weds Manu Returns
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, R Madhavan, Jimmy Shergill
Director: Anand L Rai
Plot:
Four years after Tanu and Manu’s marriage, their romance has petered off, leading to consistent fights. Manu finally has a meltdown, resulting in him being admitted in a psychiatric ward. When he does get discharged, he is ready to divorce Tanu and in the process meets Tanu’s doppleganger, Kusum.
Things between Manu and Kusum proceed quickly and ends up in them being set for a marriage, but Tanu is not prepared to let go so easily, even though she initially starts dating other men in her effort to get over him.
My take:
If Tanu Weds Manu was sweet, twisted, and funny, it’s sequel is just double in dosage, thanks in no small part to Kangana Ranaut, who plays a dual role in this film.
She again steals the show as Tanu, but this time, she is not competing with with any other actors but herself- the other role- Kusum. And by the time credits roll, it’s difficult to tell which role packed a bigger punch.
TWMR is also packed with brilliant, quirky subplots that makes you feel like you are watching a Shakespearean stage comedy play. The pacing is brilliant, the acting exceptional, laughter aplenty, and a fitting ending to go with the tone of the rest of the movie.
TWMR is a pure, classy riot of an entertainer.
  1. Tamasha ( The spectacle)
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Plot: 
Ved and Tara meet in Corsica during vacation and their romance takes off. They make a pact never to meet each other again post the vacation, but Tara could not get him out of her head despite four years passing by.
She tracks down the man she fell in love with in Corsica, who is a sales manager by professions, but is slowly confronted by the reality that Ved in Delhi was not the same Ved she had longed for from the French trip.
At the same time, Tara’s presence reveals Ved’s struggle with his inner creativity, his childhood frustrations, and his yearning to come out of a box.
My take:
The most beautiful movie of the year. Tamasha had the best music of 2015, by the timeless AR Rahman, and of course a filmmaker, Imtiaz Ali, who had made a glowing career by making each and every film with an element of self discovery.
Tamasha is the crescendo of what Ali has been building up over the years- here, he sheds conventional, methodical storytelling traditions, and weaves the screenplay like a stage play- divided into acts.
It is also a musical, filled with gorgeous music that flows seamlessly with the narration.
Ranbir Kapoor is immense as Ved, as the sales manager and the creative storyteller yearning to express himself. Deepika Padukone’s Tara shares excellent chemistry with Ved and holds her own in the scenes she is involved in.
Tamasha is just a beautifully made movie. And a movie that was made right from Imtiaz Ali’s heart.

OK Kanmani- A Mani Ratnam love letter

OK Kanmani was Mani Ratnam’s love letter to the wind. The pleasure is ours that it has been translated scene by scene, and immortalised through a camera for generations to come.

In OK Kanmani’s second half, there is a scene where the young, carefree, commitment phobic, living-in couple Adiyta Varadarajan (Dulquer Salman) and Tara Kalingarayar (Nithya Menen) bring back their landlord’s wife Mrs Bhavani (Leela Sampson), who suffers from second stage Alzheimer’s and had forgotten her way home.

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The landlord, Ganapathy (Prakash Raj) is tending to Bhavani, who’s curious to know what is wrong with her and does not want to hear Ganapathy gloss over her health problems. He finally relents and admits that her Alzheimer’s has gotten worse, after she says “I am losing my memory, not my mind.”

The door to the room in which the middle age couple are having this subtle conversation is slightly ajar, and the younger couple who stay in the same house are witnessing it from the small opening from the hallway. As that conversation progresses, Tara and Adi, who made a pact to just live together until they go their separate ways to pursue their ambitions, move closer to each other while eavesdropping.

At last, Bhavani asks Ganapathy the most packed one-liner question- “will I forget you one day too, Ganapathy?”. At this point, Tara, close to tears, is leaning on Adi’s chest.

That’s Maniratnam- his composition of a shot, his composition of minimalistic dialogues, and his composition of his characters’ body language. More often than not, his characters convey more through body language rather than dialogues.

This is the man who revolutionised Tamil cinema in the late 80s- the man who showed that its possible to make movies with minimalistic dialogues in an industry where lengthy dialogues and over the top drama ruled the roost. This is the man who could shoot songs in a single room by playing around with lighting and plethora of aesthetics. This is the man who perfected even the most simple scenes. Decades later, spanning three decades, Mani Ratnam had never shot a song abroad despite the fervour among many filmmakers to fly their crew to exotic locations for a song and dance sequence. He only broke the rule once to shoot a song in Turkey, that’s because a portion of the story in “Guru” took place in Turkey.

In his 1986 classic Mouna Raagam, Mani Ratnam told the story of a couple in arranged marriage who tries to come to terms with the fact that one of them had been in love with someone else before and could not change their minds just for the sake of marriage. It was an exploration of a changing social landscape. In 2000, Alaipayuthey explored couples who eloped and married without their parents’ consent and how learnt to deal with their issues later on. OK Kamani, in keeping up with the times, he explores live-in relationships and the dilemma many young couples face- the need to sacrifice their careers for the sake of a relationship or otherwise.

Tara, Mani’s effervescent firefly, an absolute beauty who ranks at among the most loveable female characters he had carved out in a glorious career, sums this up when her landlord asks her if she would choose between Adi and her career.

“If you asked me six months ago, I would say Paris for sure. Now, I have become a little too greedy. I want both,” she says.

Can we have both? Do relationships always have to mean compromising goals? As goals grow bigger in today’s world, can an institution like marriage evolve itself to be a supplement rather than a hindrance to youth ambitions?

These are the motifs of this new Mani Ratnam celluloid artwork, accompanied by his trademark appreciation of emotions without ever being judgemental towards the choices his characters make. I would run out of space if the scene highlights of this movie needs to be listed down- frame by frame, this is one of the most beautifully crafted, yet simple, straight-from-the-heart movies you will ever see. And the most important part is that you will see yourself, your wife, your husbands, your boyfriend/girlfriend/ex-partners in at least several scenes.

OK Kanmani epitomises stunning teamwork. Dulquer Salman enters the long list of the overtly charming, middle class, carefree, NRI-ambition laden Tamil youth archetype that Mani often creates in his movies. Compared to his Tamil debut Vaaya Moodi Pesavum, this is a massive upgrade on all levels. Prakash Raj as Ganapathy is endearing, and inspires the narration just as crucially as his appearance in Kannathil Muthamittal (2002) did.

But it is the women who own this film. Nithya Menen soars as Tara. Her eyes speak volumes, his mischief is unparalleled, and her dialogue delivery makes you feel like reaching out your hands and hugging her if Tara had existed in real life. An actress could have not asked for a better character to cement her standing and boost her career.

Leela Samson as Bhavani too has some of the best dialogues in the movie, and owns the scenes in which she is involved. This was one hell of a casting masterstroke by Mani.

PC Sreeram showed once again why he is the brilliant cinematographer that he is. His collaborations with Mani had always produced gems, dating back to the 80s, and the way the two of them set up aesthetics to shoot the best song in the movie, Parandhu Sella Vaa, within the confines of a simplistic lodge room is stamp two legends at their very best. There is also a gorgeous scene in Ahmedabad when Adi, from a high floor, converses with Tara, who sits on the ground floor at the edges of a cascading body of water, shimmering under the sunlight.

He also captures the pigeons of Mumbai with such beauty, in a scene where the huge flock of birds original to the coast metropolitan fly above the gorgeous Tara and Adi rides his Royal Enfield into the frame while she is feeding the birds.

Then, of course, there is AR Rahman’s music. Parandhu Sella Vaa, the recurring Naane Varugiren, and the sumptuous Hey Sinamika are all done justice to the way only Mani Ratnam can do, while the background music is faultless.

Even the voodoo game- Mumbai 2.0, is created with such great perfection that it did not seem like haphazard work.

The dialogues are like a long-list of collectibles that can be used and re-used in romantic situations in your life, and that is an amazing feat for a director who turns 59 this calendar year and had survived two heart attacks resulting from the high pressure environment he creates on the sets of his own movies.

There’s a long list of celebrated filmmakers across the world who make great movies well into their later years- Martin Scorcese, Clint Eastwood to name just a few.

But Mani Ratnam is not only the director who explores the juxtaposition between right and wrong atop a cranky bridge in a dense forest, as he did in Raavanan (2010)- n0 matter how old he gets, he hasn’t lost that ability to be young again and to be able to understand how the current generation negotiates love and relationships in a social and cultural context.

This understanding from a filmmaker of his age and calibre is astounding. Mani Ratnam did not direct OK Kamani, he packaged it straight from his heart. That’s a rarity very few can emulate.

OK Kanmani was Mani Ratnam’s love letter to the wind. The pleasure is ours that it has been translated scene by scene, and immortalised through a camera for generations to come.

Hence, that’s why Mani Sir is the legend that he is. Hence why he is a trendsetter. Now, anyone cares to call for his retirement again? (I just had to do that).

Rating: 10/10 (C’mon, I can’t give it any lesser).

O Kaadhal Kanmani- Music Review by Ram Anand

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.

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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.

Ya man!

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.

Truly classical.

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?

Rating: 9.5/10

Inspirations at 25

The filmmaker inside me might not have a shot a single scene since 2011 (when I shot a music video for a friend), but this is not my trade for me to be rusty after two, or even five years. This, is my talent.

Sometimes, when you reach a certain age, you are no longer able to differentiate between a half empty and a half full glass. It’s a mixture between enthusiasm and also fear. But gladly, for me, the fears do not revolve around job security, future, finances, or marriage.

Instead, it is about making my dreams come true that still consumes me and morphes into my greatest fear and also my greatest enthusiasm at the same time. It scares the shit out of me but yet it is what keeps going with passion and zeal every day.

But I choose to feel proud, over the fact that 2014 will mark the 10th anniversary since I first decided that I would eventually become an author and a filmmaker. Of course, I can somehow, in my own twisted way, call myself an author, thanks to my self published 2011 novel The Rainforest Unicorns, and also my unpublished 500-page saga Last Man Dreaming, which I completed back in June.

But the ambition of becoming a filmmaker has somehow been neglected and has taken a back seat in the midst of me focusing on my increasingly consuming yet fruitful career in journalism, while balancing it with my hours doing creative writing.

It is a bit of let down for a man who wrote his first full film script at the age of 19, which I still have today, six years later, and could still use with minimal tweaks, to make my first full feature film (if anyone would give me that money). It is also a bit of let down for a man who first envisioned a science fiction story spanning a trilogy at the age of 16, (a story that I later re-developed twice in the form of novel drafts, and plan to write a three-part book sometime later).

Circumstances, though, aren’t the same for everyone. Being born in Malaysia and harbouring these dreams are not easy. You know, you kinda have to make a living, and nobody will tell you that pursuing these dreams will put food in your mouth when it matters.

Of course, it’s not easy anywhere in the world, but here, we don’t even have decent opportunities to explore our filmmaking ambitions to begin with. It’s a pain in the ass to get a proper team with proper technical knowledge, and it’s an even bigger pain in the ass to get actors who can actually act given that drama schools are run as though they are for the elite (read, for those who can afford that extra time which doesn’t pay). The rest, we all rot in our offices, slowly clobbering our passion to death with each passing punch card.

Given all these factors, I woke up yesterday to being told that it’s my birthday and I’ve failed to reach the target I set for myself ten years ago, which is to become a director by the age of 25.

But then again, I bask in the fact that nothing has changed- the enthusiasm remains the same, the passion remains the same, and the inspirations come in abundance. The filmmaker inside me might not have a shot a single scene since 2011 (when I shot a music video for a friend), but this is not my trade for me to be rusty after two, or even five years. This, is my talent.

The 16-year-old still lives inside me, and that my spark of inspiration, and the many inspirations after that, remain vivid in my thoughts till today. Looks like no amount of years can eat away into that passion.

Luckily, my passion is still alive. Now, I owe to myself to take it by the scruff of the neck and start making real progress. I might have starved my passion, but now is the time to feed it again.

And, in a rush, all minute moments of inspiration that made me who I am today comes rushing back to my fodder of thoughts, and my fodder of writing.

My moments of inspirations with those teachers of mine whom do not even know they have been guiding me all along:

1. That English teacher whose name I do not remember- when I was 16 and in Form 5. This was when I attempted to write a story and pass it off as an essay for my SPM trials, and she gave me 48 out of the 50 marks available. She attempted to get me to write for the school magazine, but that failed miserably (because I always exceeded the word limit), and she finally gave up while warning to keep my words in check when I write the real examination. But my overzealous self did not listen of course, I wrote a story for 1,000 plus words for my SPM essay and flunked with a B because I gloriously exceeded the word limit.

2. A Biology lecturer I vaguely remember from my short stint at Nilai college, who saw me writing a short story at 8am in the morning in the lab, half an hour before a Biology class during my American Degree Programme course there. He told me, you don’t belong here. He couldn’t have been more right, though I never had the time or maturity back then to thank him.

3. Kamal Haasan, for teaching me what real acting was. For Anbe Sivam, in which you never missed a single twitch in your jaw when you played a man disfigured from a serious accident. For having that innocent smile on your face, for redefining what is joy and also loss, on screen.

4. Mani Ratnam, my guru, for those title credits and the first scene of Aayitha Ezhuttu which stirred something inside me, the building tempo of background music, and the almost careless way with which you portrayed the character of a hit man, ranting on about his wife, moments before committing murder. For giving me that first moment inspiration.

5. Mani Ratnam, again for that climax in Raavanan, which keeps playing in my head as if it’s a form of poetry in motion, for the thoroughly brilliant portrayal of shades of grey in both the perceived evil and the perceived duty bound man in today’s world. For blurring the lines, for making Seetha come close to touching Raavan but pulling him away at the last moment, without ever showing what happened next. Thanks, for being a genius.

6. Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman for those numerous times in which you showed that I’m not a over romantic fool for dreaming about making Indian movies and not Hollywood movies like how the rest of the world seems to think. For showing that art exists even in our song sequences, for showing the songs in Indian movies is not about running around trees like how some self-absorbed tools think, but is rather a great vehicle to tell a story within a story. For shooting Pachai Nirame, which portrayed the different colours of love with such effervescent beauty, for Usure Pogudhey, which could make any filmmaker worth his salt take his hat down and applaud with sheer jealousy as to how it was shot, conceived, composed, and written.

7. Kamal Haasan, again, for making Hey Ram, which showed it is possible to make world class movies in Indian cinema.

8. For that random chance with which I got my hands on a Paulo Coelho novel back in 2007, which taught me a great lesson- that I’m not a filmmaker alone, but rather a storyteller. For showing me that I had an author inside me.

And above all, a thanks to my continuously superficial self which listed eight inspirational moments in my life (being born on 8th, and having already made eight as my favourite number).

Not to forget, to all my friends, well wishers, family and loved ones who, over the years, have stopped laughing at my dreams and have instead nodded in subtle recognition of my talents.

Despite the fears that may envelope me and those who care for me, this should be the year for me to start making a dash for my dreams. I’ve walked on the sidelines for long enough, it’s time for enter the competition and start sprinting.

For that “director sir” inside me.

Kadal- A Mani Ratnam legacy

Ratnam has actually elevated his intellectual level of filmmaking to a new league that only requires understanding, not judgement.

Disclaimer: This is not a movie review, because as someone whose formative years were defined by moments inspired from Mani Ratnam films, I do not feel I have the right to judge a good or a bad film. Honestly, I don’t think any of us have any right to criticise Mani after what he had contributed to Tamil cinema over the past two decades.

I am sorry, Mani Ratnam. I am sorry because I allowed myself, for even a moment, to doubt that you have actually made a bad movie, judging by all the reviews and the critics’ verdict in the first few days since Kadal’s release. I remember walking into Raavanan as one of the first viewers and being mesmerised by the film, though the entire world seemed to think otherwise when the verdicts started coming out.

When a young Thomas starred at Chetty with contempt at the latter’s house, and the screen froze to give way to title credits, I knew that Kadal has so much to offer- only question whether the viewer is able to discern Kadal’s offerings and cherish them.

To begin with, Kadal is obviously an indirect sequel to Mani’s previous offering, Raavanan, which I considered to be a wonderfully made movie and will hold true to that no matter what some smart critics think about it.

As Bharadwaj Rangan had aptly put in his review, Mani Ratnam is already a legend- he has nothing left to prove. What he is doing now is building legacy, and that means finally making films that matters to him on a personal level, probably in a way probing his own faith in the grey shades of humanity, and in the process, making movies that are way ahead of their times.

I have said during my Raavanan review itself that the film will probably be celebrated 10 years from now (like how Iruvar became a cult classic a decade after its release), and the same holds true for Kadal- in fact, Kadal’s offerings are much more complex than Raavanan.

Understandably though, pulling off something like Kadal with reasonable entertainment quotas is no mean feat- the film is obviously inspired by the Biblical stories, and unlike Ramayana (Raavanan) or Mahabaratha (Thalapathi), the Bible’s parables are a combination of different stories, and Ratnam has tried to incorporate all of that into one movie.

This is where the problem comes with Ratnam’s new filmmaking avatar, people who watched Raavanan and Kadal think he should retire and that he has run out of ideas for a movie plot, but the reality remains that Kadal is made for a niche group of viewers, and that Ratnam has actually elevated his intellectual level of filmmaking to a new league that only requires understanding, not judgement.

Kadal’s plot incorporates so many elements and explores so many different shades of faith that even the critics who commented that the movie was an extremely predictable good vs bad story, in my view, were badly mistaken. In fact, Kadal’s trump card appears in its much criticised climax, which many felt was a letdown.

Here are the things that I took away from Kadal:

1. Being a priest does not define goodness and being someone who commits murder does not define Satan. In the climax scene, Father Sam overridingly loses his faith in his own kin and God, to finally decide to commit a murder by killing Bergmans, but the man who comes out of that entire climax with his heart in the right place is actually the young Thomas. Mind, Thomas is no angel. He is someone who had walked with both the angel and the demon. Human are a bit of both. And in the tussle between angels and demons, it is human’s capability to forgive which shines through the gloom of the situation.

2. The problem with religion and mankind is that men tend to become subjected to blindly follow religious texts without ever exercising their discretion to love a fellow human being or show compassion. While Father Sam’s character was impeccable, he was the one who created the Satan in Bergmans that he ends up battling in the entire movie. Bergmans is a reflection of Father Sam’s inability to merely forgive a fellow man’s indiscretions- and an insistence to follow the book of religious principles- an insistence that leads to him raging and being prepared to kill Bergmas at the end of the movie. Like Bergmas so validly points out- ‘God doesn’t say you cannot have fun’.

3. The definition of ‘sins’ is extensively questioned in the movie. The act of sex, extramarital affairs, prostitution, and even murder are shows and later described as sins. But an ingenious Beatrice smiles at this list despite being a Convent, and in a childlike manner cleans the slate and merely warns: “Don’t do it again.” This is the movie’s most pivotal scene. The burden of sins is created my men, and it is entirely up to us to be able to forgive and levy that burden to pave way for a more harmonious life.

Humans are indeed capable of very bad things and very good things at the same time. But humanity is about being both an angel and a demon yet being able to find that little ray of light at the end of the day, whether you define that as Hope or God, whichever that suits you. Kadal is all about that- it is raw, it is life. Life, like sea, is not scripted. It’s out there, in the open. It’s vast, it has plenty of stories to say, but only if you are prepared to listen. It is full of stories of normal people’s indiscretions and mistakes and also normal people’s great acts. But the only depth that we are left savouring is humanity.

There’s something very subtle about humanity- the triumph of humanity is not in a good or bad context alone- it’s uniqueness is in the ability to err and then to forgive. The emotions of letting go. In so many ways, that’s how we surmise the emotions we experience in life.

Kadal, for me, is a classic, and there is no judgement call on who acted well and who did not. It is a story about how humans are capable of offering hope. That’s all there is to it.

If you do not understand it, you are the one missing out. If you hate it, then I feel sorry for it. If you are one who says the movie, along with Raavanan, will ‘flop’, I’m pretty sure Mani Ratnam lives a far more comfortable life and is much better off than those who actually think movie making is all about hits and flops.

If you don’t like Kadal, kindly bugger off and respect the maker and those who actually like it. If you don’t understand it, you are nobody to pass a judgement on the film.

Thank you to the Kadal team for this small marvellous piece of work. It may not be appreciated today, but like Kamal Haasan so famously said in his emotional press conference two weeks ago, ‘If I fall, I will fall like a seed. I may not experience the benefits but the seed, is mine.’

The seed is yours Mani Ratnam. The seed is yours. Thank you for everything. I hope you never fear being ahead of us, ever again.

Kadal music review- Soft like the sea itself

ARR’s sounds and music have been as vast, ambiguous and serene as the sounds of waves that crush against rocks and sweep through sandy beaches.

THE title may sound ever so simple- ‘Kadal’, which means the sea, but I don’t think one word could ever sum up the career of AR Rahman better than ‘Kadal’, and who better to give this project to ARR than the unimitable Maniratnam, the pearl who unearthed Rahman, and has collaborated with ARR for every film he has made over the past two decades. ARR’s sounds and music have been as vast, ambiguous and serene as the sounds of waves that crush against rocks and sweep through sandy beaches. Combined with the fact that this movie represents a fisherman’s relationship with the sea off the coasts of Rameshwaram, where Mani had briefly portrayed the situation there with refugees from Sri Lanka in his 2002 classic Kannathil Muthamittal (also composed by Rahman), expectations for Kadal runs high for people like me (read: people who literally melt at Rahman’s creation and have grown up with it).

Nenjukulle- Sakthishree Gopalan

Of course, this song had been heard numerous times ever since Sakthisree crooned it with amazingly honest emotions in a MTV Unplugged clip under the watchful eyes of Rahman- a video that was released over a month ago. While the live version was bare with its emotions with limited orchestration, the studio version polishes with soft touches of the piano and violins that accompany the song throughout. I often run comparisons for Rahman’s compositions with his past numbers, but Nenjukulle seems to somehow stand out on its own compared to all his previous composition- thanks in a large part to the fact that very few movies have actually documented the lives of those in Rameshwaram, where the language flavour has an added Eelam influence to it. Nenjukulle is full of soul, and Sakthishree gets every stanza and every word right in expressing a village woman’s romantic feelings. This is as beautiful as a romantic song gets, something that you can listen to time and again if you are watching the rain and just feel like indulging in your thoughts. Soon enough, you’ll realise that you can’t quite get the tune or Sakthisree’s infectious voice off your head. Too bad there isn’t a male version to this one.

Chithirai Nela- Vijay Yesudas

There’s an unwritten rule for Indian albums, regardless of language, that the best songs often have to be the romantic ones, because of their potential to be infectious and melodious- probably a composer’s boon. But AR Rahman is probably one of the first ones to have redefined this rule- beauty in his composition is all encompassing- you can find it even in a song preaching about patriotism, or a quirky meaningless number. Chithirai Nela celebrates the birth of a baby, and by the end of the number, you will probably feel that the baby sobs had grown into a confident man- because the number improvises itself and surprises you with every stanza. Vijay Yesudas handles this transition just like an expert can- it takes two legends to tango- and this song demonstrates just that. This song will be underrated for some time, but some time in the future, it will go in the annals of Tamil music as one of the most genuine, genius compositions to have graced this music scene. If I were to find a word to describe this- then it’s simply majestic.

Adiye- Sid Sriram

This song says ‘adiye enge nee kutti porre?’ (where art thou bringing me). That’s probably the same question we can ask ARR as this number goes on. You will never, ever find a more unconventional romantic song in Tamil, because it has such such strong Gospel singing influences! But that doesn’t mean it makes for an awkward number- this works like a charm if you have an ear for beautiful music. This is as full of soul as anything ARR has ever come up with it- and mark my words- only AR Rahman can do something like this. Sid Sriram deserves special mention for doing such an impeccable job behind the mic, and the chrorus no less sensational themselves. It’s as though you are sitting in the middle of a Western concert- only with an eccentric and original Indian touch to it. If you listen to it often enough, maybe you’ll find it difficult to stop yourself from clapping along when the chorus comes.

Anbin Vasale- Haricharan

The church plays a big role in the plot of Kadal, and nothing gives that fact away more than this song- which is a true celebration of Jesus Christ. In the past, we have seen ARR compose beautifully for Islamic spiritual songs- (Khwaja Mere Khwaja, Kyun Faaya Kun), and also Hindu ones (Pal Pal Har Bhari)- and this song probably makes that CV of Rahman’s so complete. Christians probably now have an ARR composition that helps them keep in touch with their spirituality. ARR very rarely gets his choice of singers wrong, and Haricharan handles this song with a touch of finnesse- while the chorus compliments him perfectly. It might take some time to get hooked to this- but for those who have enjoyed church singing in the past- they will celebrate this one peach of a beauty.

Magudi Magudi- Aaryan Dinesh Kanagaratnam

It is quite ironic that I am listening to this number one day after I heard Dinesh Kanagaratnam perform at a concert here in Malaysia, in which he was introduced as the guy who sang a song for ARR in Kadal. That was probably the endorsement any singer needs on his CV- that he or she has sang for ARR. Magudi will surprise you if you were in a melancholic and soulful mood thanks to all the previous numbers in this album- because this is a hardcore techno number, one that infuses energy and makes you tap your feet. ARR’s innovativeness even for a techno song shows as the sound arrangements makes sure the tempo is maintained throughout. But the only downside for this song would probably be the fact that it doesn’t have much going for it in terms of lyrics and the word Magudi was repeated a tad far too often.

Moongil Thoottam- Abhay Jodhpurkar, Harini

A throwback almost to the Rahman of the 90s. He uses minimal instruments and allows Abhay and Harini to strike a crooning chemistry is rendering this slow-paced melody duet. It’s the first real number in the album that is a duet (and the only one actually)- and it turns to be a textbook ARR melody with the minimal usage of electronic instruments. In many ways, it resembles songs like Dil Gira Gaaftan and Tum Ho. The suckers for such slow romance would love it, and expect this song’s significance to be heightened with its visuals during the movie.

Elay Keechan- AR Rahman

Save the best for the last, shall we? Once you hear AR Rahman’s ‘Aye’ in the background, you just know you are going to croon to this for a long, long time to come. Again, this is something that only ARR can do. This is a song about fishermen and their lives, but its just so catchy that the fishermen would probably be celebrating this song for a long time. AR Rahman sings the way only he can do- and the song in some ways reminds you of Veera from Raavanan, only that the more subtle touches in the composition and ARR’s voice makes sure than this is both catchy but also breezy at the same time. And expect Mani Ratnam to do full justice to this special number. This will the life and soul of ‘Kadal’ and will run through as the thematic number for the whole number. The Eelam touches in the song also brings resonance of the Senore song from Kannathil Muthamittal, which was one of the most underrated numbers in the past decade.

All in all, just say ‘ithu pothume’ and listen. Because it’s not everyday that you get AR Rahman coming up with a authentic, heavily southern flavoured album. And when there’s Maniratnam involved, expect pure magic.

Rating: 8.5/10

The timeless pearl- Mani Ratnam

The year was 2004. I rushed into the cranky, old pathetic excuse for a theater that we used to have in our hometown after I managed to get a ‘premier’ ticket despite the last-minute buy.

My Mathematics book dangling by in my little bag, and the image of my bald tuition teacher getting ready to kill me played again and again in my head. Yet, at that moment, all I did was to thank God for getting a ticket upstairs and not downstairs. It was a matter of pride. Poor people watch movies from downstairs, which is only RM1 cheaper, and where you need to tilt your head upwards all the time to watch the full movie screen. From upstairs, you can relax your head whichever way you want. Until some uncivilized baboon decides to go ballistic during a scene in front of you, and starts jumping and shouting at the sight of his favorite hero.

We did not buy any drinks or food, we had decided to bunk our Mathematics tuition even though our teacher was obviously the fiercest man in the whole of the town (there is a big love affair between him and the habit of caning, twisting people’s ears, just to name a few).

And when the title credits of the movie I came to watch begun playing, I forgot all the hassle and troubles. Frozen on the spot, I did not know that will be the moment which will change my life forever- the moment when Mani Ratnam’s Aayitha Ezhuttu played its opening credits- with a slow haunting music accompanied by sounds of cars whizzing by in a highway.

Prior to this title credit, I always wanted to do something meaningful with my life. By that I don’t mean losing count of my As, going to a freezing atmosphere to study medicine, get stuck with science and chemistry for the rest of my life, earn good money, marry someone for the sake of it, and drive a posh car. No, that wouldn’t surprise anyone. I needed to surprise people. I was always the odd one out among my friends. That small Ram, that little Ram. If an oaf wants to brag about how many As he’s got, I would be the obvious target. Whether it was for my size or my cheesy smile or my soft heart, I never knew. Very few thought I was strong.

Of course I’d never win a fight with any of them. I didn’t bother getting into a fight when my friends were busy piling up on each other, clenching their fists, or bragging about slapping another heart. Strength is in the heart- or so I said for my own convenience. But I was never more right in life. I heard countless of times people saying I would not make it big, that I’m nothing but a ridiculous day-dreamer. I wouldn’t have blamed them- we were all living in Sitiawan, a place from where you can only dream and nothing more.

But that moment changed everything. The next a friend asked me what do I wish to become- pilots, engineer, doctor all went flying out of the door.

“I want to become a film-maker.”

Jaws dropped. Some laughter emanated from behind me. And I was aware of all that. Not once was I so lost that I was oblivious of what people thought of my ambition. But those title credits sparked the confidence in me, it gave purpose for a young man who was searching for a purpose. Something major was missing from my life- and that was discovering what my dream was- having a concrete ambition. The moment I knew what I wanted to do with my life, rest became history.

This article perched here on this website is a testament to how far I’ve come, even though I might still have some distance to cover before I cross the coveted finishing line.

But I never turned my back on one name, which played an instrumental role in sparking my dreams- Mani Ratnam.

Whether or not he revolutionized the Indian film industry, he definitely left a timeless impact in my life and dreams. With a parchment of honesty attached to every story he narrates, this man always represents a curious perfectionist- someone who always tries something new without having a formula to tell him whether it will work or not work.

He has had an equal share of successes and failure in his glittering career, but while people will be busy talking about Roja or Bombay, I know there is one work he never got proper recognition for- and that is Iruvar.

A film with no traditional ending or a beginning, portraying the ego of two talismanic personalities is no easy task. But to do so while providing entertainment and an engaging screenplay will go down as one of the greatest cinematic achievements in India- one that was never spoken widely about.

Now celebrating his 55th birthday, Mani Ratnam stands at a crossroads of sorts- he hasn’t, in the eye of the masses, produced a masterpiece ever since Kannathil Muthamittal nearly a decade ago. He had one hit and two major box office duds, and many had written him off as someone who is on the wane.

But sometimes in life you reach a stage where you don’t need people telling you whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing. We don’t have to tell him whether he had produced a good work or not- be it Raavan or Yuva, because we were the very same masses who outright rejected his Iruvar many years ago.

Today, it is hailed as one of the best films ever, and I know for a fact that Iruvar is Mani’s personal favorite. Similarly, Mani’s legacy will only live on if he continues doing things as he please and not give in to demands of the audiences. No matter how much we demand, we are not the ones breaking our sweats to make a film.

People may write you off today, but tomorrow they will be eating their words because you can do one spectacular work that would amaze all those who thought otherwise. This has been the story of my life- and Mani, who is no stranger to amazing people and triggering adulation- definitely will deliver one big bang that would shake everyone before he takes his final bow.

It could be next year, the year after, or a decade from now, but talent is one thing that never wanes. And you can never put a good man down.

For,

My celluloid guru,

Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam Iyer.

Mani Ratnam had, in  career spanning nearly three decades, become the guru for Academy Award winning composer AR Rahman, actor R Madhavan, Aravind Swamy, national award winner Saranya Ponvannan and India’s most famous female celebrity Aishwarya Rai- to name a few.