From Jessie to Priyas- Yearning for liberation

I have in the past championed the cause of more matured female portrayals in the film, and apart from VTV, no other film had the capacity of portraying a very real, next-door female character. But yet while Gautham was consciously trying to break those grounds in this film, he also seems to consciously have some convenient aspects of characterization.

Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya has been showered with praises aplenty since the movie hit screens almost one year ago. The film particularly had a personal impact on me, just like how it did on thousands of other Indians who have watched this film the world over.

So I was pretty much unable to pass any in-depth comments when I first watched the film last year when it was fresh in theatres. It wasn’t until a television rerun recently that I chanced upon the movie and managed to watch it fully for a second time, and this time in a more detached manner.

But there was one thing that I agreed with a friend of mine (who is also a cinema connoisseur) when the film was fresh off the oven, and that is VTV (the abbreviation it goes by) is not a better film than Gautham’s previous film Vaaranam Aayiram.

It seemed though that for being more politically correct, VTV earned more approval from elite critics rather than Vaaranam. My friend somewhat unfavorably pointed out that the Indian audiences are so used to larger than life sentiments that they basically never find it appealing when a film tries to glorifies the subdued contribution of a father towards a son’s life. Both Abhiyum Naanum (though this film has a great problem of its own that I’m very critical of) and Vaaranam shared a similar fate in terms of its response from the audiences.

Believe it or not, many people’s grudge with Varanam is one major loophole in the film’s narration, whereby Surya travels to United States to meet his love even though it was well-documented prior that his family is struggling for complete financial liberty.

Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya is, in its own right, a well-intentioned, perfectly suave, elegant movie that celebrated the beauty of love, even if the relationship couldn’t have a happy ending. In an industry where our audiences are so used either the fairytale triumph against all odds and barriers, or a rather morbid, blood shed, heartache ending, VTV treads in between both, it’s simply en ending that resonates life’s natural law and beauty.

It’s the kind of attempt that would please any Tamil cinema lover and critic like me, and be embraced with both hands by the same. The film also related greatly to many of the lovers outside there, and thus attained a cult film status.

This is probably owing to the fact that the film is a true story (according to some sources, it is the true story of one of Gautham’s assistants). It related greatly to real life situations, and it beautifully narrated how life sometimes doesn’t let two lovers unite. It is also arguable that Gautham drew inspiration from the cult Hollywood flick 500 days of Summer, which had a similar undertone and capacity of looking at life’s bad endings in beautiful way.

The film’s positives have been waxed lyrical about in the past, so I would not go there for a first. VTV has many positives, but also has its shares of shortcomings.

I have in the past championed the cause of more matured female portrayals in the film, and apart from VTV, no other film had the capacity of portraying a very real, next-door female character.  But yet while Gautham was consciously trying to break those grounds in this film, he also seems to consciously have some convenient aspects of characterization.

In 500 days of Summer for example, the female character isn’t your conventional one. She is deeply flawed, uncertain to a certain extent, very independent, and has been with men before prior to our hero here. In VTV, Trisha is yet another in the long line of heroines in the ‘naan entha ambalai kudayum palaganatha ille’ stereotype. We had had this kind of characterization countless of times in Tamil films, so much that it tires me.

We need to note that most ‘good’ films in this industry are set in rural backdrops, so it’s not often we get gems like VTV. In fact, like some point out, it’s probably the first film since Alaipayuthey to genuinely act as a story about two people. When some films charter the urban territory, filmmakers seem somewhat afraid of portraying the complexity of urban women and the history comes with it.

You have to admit that in the current urbane climate, even in Chennai, the ‘entha ambalai kudayum palaganatha ille’ types are hard to come by. Mani Ratnam’s Meera character from Aayitha Ezhuttu is probably the most in-depth female character in Tamil cinema, and yet it was short-lived.

And of course there is the whole love at first sight aspect. While the film presents itself as being so realistic, the way the two characters fall in love looks a tad out of place, though it can be forgiven thanks to a great song (Hosanna) and subsequent tempo.

Real love hardly happens in a similar way, and there is an element of disconnectedness about the movie there.

Probably I’m setting the bar too high, but it has been some ten years since Alaipayuthey hit the theatres, and we are somewhat at crossroads in terms of developing maturity in our films, and thus it is also a crucial time when our filmmakers can attempt to be a tad more bold. It’s time to push envelopes and test waters. If such hesitancy remains, it might take ten more years before we can take one more step forward, and thus wait ten more years for another genuine love story.

One of the best illustrations of female portrayal in regular Tamil films can be viewed through the films of one of the industry’s most recognized hit directors- Hari.

I had the chance of watching both Vel and Aaru in recent days and it dawned on me pretty quickly that the director’s perception of the female gender and his interpretation of ‘good’ to be as shallow as any.

In both films, one can witness countless of innuendos towards ‘skimpy dresses’ and interpretations that only girls who cover up as considered as ‘good’.

Vel flaunts most of this shallowness, where Surya’s character will charade with ‘pass marks’ for well-clad women while doing his supposedly ‘detective’ job. If that is the requirement in order to evaluate a girl’s ‘goodness’, one doesn’t need to be a detective in order to diagnose that fact. This mentality has already consumed our Indian culture like a vulture and any man with a half-baked brain would tend to make similar judgements when judging which is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ girl.

It certainly doesn’t help that our film condone rather than trying to clamp down on this dangerously consuming mentality.

I don’t need to go very far aback in order to name two films that best epitomize the mentality that clearly exists within the film industry itself when it comes to the male-female dynamism.

As recent as last year, we saw Vishal play a Casanova in Theeratha Vilayattu Pillai. Only in our industry will we witness films desperately trying to glorify a Casanova act as being forgivable, and at the same time the heroine who gets the guy at the end of the film will be well-clad, well-covered homely girl who will forgive and accept because of the genuineness of the Casanova.

If this bias doesn’t convince you, then Manmadhan will. The 2004 film was a runaway hit. The film tries so hard to justify a man’s Casanova murder acts because the girls whom he beds and subsequently kills are ‘bad’ girls who ‘cheat’ on guys.

Let me ask this question- what about the very lead character? He too beds multiple women in order to murder them, what makes his supposed goal and ambition more ‘pure’ than the woman who cheats?

What then about the countless amount of guys (and obviously larger amount) who cheat on their women?

Could a female Casanova a-la Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct come on the screen, strip, bed, kiss them and later kill this men. Would she be celebrated a-la a hero and have a guy genuinely love her because she is contributing to a pure cause?

Would our audiences make such a film as big a hit a Manmadhan-, which is an immature, shallow, one-sided film, made by a 21-year-old young adult (Simbhu’s age back in 2004) who is probably just bitter about one past failed relationship?

Unless a day comes when we have the maturity to reject an entertaining film because of its blatant chauvinistic attitude, our industry will linger with the same biasness that has haunted us for years.

7 Khoon Maaf- Music Review

On the whole, this is the Vishal Bharadwaj show, and that’s all I’d say.

Vishal Bharadwaj. Oh, that name sends chills down my spine. I remember watching Omkara with the haunting ‘Naina’ song so many years ago. It was a combination of both- of the haunting music, the Shakespearean aura (the movie was an adaptation of Othello) and also the picturization. The mood and the tempo of his films are unmistakable. He tells a tragedy and yet I come out of the theatre every time feeling I have got my money’s worth.

Kaminey saw him depart to slightly ‘brighter’ territories, but heck, he doesn’t always have to please the ‘intellectuals’ don’t he? That movie was a blast for its genre. You’d think the concept of twin brothers at different ends of righteousness would be a bygone concept, but he redefined it.

Of course, ‘Dhan Te Nan’ and the criminally-good ‘Pehli Baar Mohabbat’ numbers helped them a great deal, but well, he is going to take all the credit will he not? For both music and film belonged to him. What this multi-talented storyteller can’t do?

So now, he is trying something so sinister- a story about a woman who marries (and presumably murders) all seven (!) of her husbands. I haven’t got my hands on Ruskin Bond’s novel (of which the film is based on) so I’m quite curious. I know he’s going back to Omkara days.

This is no adrenalin-rush ala Kaminey. This will be darker, and I love that fact.

So, here’s the music review, for a start:

The album starts with Darling, which by now should have been famous because it appears in the trailer. This song pretty much sums the whole film up- unconventional. Usha Uthup (yes, Madhavan’s mother in Manmadhan Ambu) shows her true potential here with great crooning. It sounds like a song a woman who sing just before she pulls a trigger mercilessly on a man. Well, we have seen male villains do this on women on screen and become classic psychopaths in the hall of fame, but here we have a woman doing it. Listen to it again, watch the trailer, and slowly when the images stick you’ll like this song.

If you will like that song, you’ll definitely love Doosri Darling. It literally means the ‘other’ Darling. It means another version of course. This song is based on a Russian ballad (Kalinka is the name if I’m not mistaken) and this number stays loyal to the original by including Russian lyrics at the beginning. But once again, Usha Uthup takes over and the result is phenomenal. This number is higher on tempo and sounds like an orchestra that would fervently play when the woman is choking her husband to death (is my imagination going too graphic?)

In every Vishal album, there is that one cult song (Beedi Jalaile, Dhan Te Nan), but there is also one antithesis slow one (Pehli Baar Mohabbat, O Saathi Re), so we have our antithesis here in the form of Bekaara. Oh, I’m jealous. Not content with composing, directing, producing and what not, he sings this number as well. I personally think only ARR and Vishal understand the importance of using minimal instruments and natural sounds to make a romantic song really hook a listener while and transport them to another world. Here, you hear slight sounds of running water, and the whole song seems like one you would listen on a rainy day while watching the rain. Fall in love, that’s all I’d say.

Vishal knows how to rock as well, if Dhan Te Nan hasn’t already proved that to you. So he goes on to rock with Oh Mama. But the effects are quite different. This isn’t a club number, this is yet another moody number which tries to give the haunting effect in quite a different way, and it suceeds. Kay Kay returns after a long time, paired with Clinton Cerejo, and they both, well, just rock. Good.

If you think he hasn’t rocked well enough with Oh Mama, then you got your boon with Dil Dil Hai. Suraj Jagan just explodes in front of the mike and this one song will pump in so much adrenaline in comparison to the whole album put together. Rock it! To bad its just 3 odd minutes long though.

Yeshu is quite a sinister number. It’s slow and much more situational compared to the rest of the album yet its mood fits the whole album’s tempo. Nothing special here, but still good.

If one romantic ballad in the form of Bekaara isn’t enough, Vishal applies a more traditional touch with Tere Liye. This is yet another close-your-eyes-and-listen number, and Suresh Wadkar does an exceptional job by crooning with subtlety. Great.

Awaara has a sufi touch to it, and is yet another very good number (Vishal is one of a few composers who hardly ever churn out a Bad number). Master Saleem is in his forte here, and the song leaves the kind of impact it should leave for its genre. It’s a sufi number but to add Vishal’s touch, this too is haunting.

The album concludes with a different mix of Oh Mama, and here Vishal is a criminal. He takes out the rock element and the song now turns into a love ballad, wonderfully sung by Suraj Jagan. And then it ends, after just a minute or so. Talk about travesty.

On the whole, this is the Vishal Bharadwaj show, and that’s all I’d say.

Album rating: 7.5/10

I’ll add the trailer too: (a trailer I rate 10/10)

The Malaysian Tom, Dick and Harry

I have been blamed and crucified for purportedly not giving our local film industry a chance to impress. Truth is when the approach itself doesn’t impress me, nothing else will.

“This is a locally made movie. I hope the audience have the will to support the local film industry.”

How many times have you heard the above quote uttered by some local filmmaker? Understandably you probably hear it more times when you visit Batu Caves for Thaipusam annually than anywhere else, but then again, have you ever been made to feel you are not ‘supportive’ enough of the local industry?

I have. I have been blamed and crucified for purportedly not giving our local film industry a chance to impress. Truth is when the approach itself doesn’t impress me, nothing else will.

Firstly, those harping on about ‘Malaysian’ movies should quit using that term. The most blatant fact of our industry is that there are no ‘Malaysian’ movies. Senario is a predominantly Malay movie, Ethirkaalam is a predominantly Tamil movie, and Great Day is a predominantly Chinese movie. Where is the Malaysian movie in this? Not content with our divide and rule political system (one MIC, one MCA, one UMNO), we seem to having a similar divide into three different categories. And then filmmakers, especially the Indian ones, grumble about lack of support.

It’s simple Mathematics, if I could enlighten the industry’s ‘greats’. We are a tiny little puny country, we are so puny that even a state in the US or India is bigger than us, and definitely one of the smallest secular country in the world. So, dividing your target audiences isn’t a smart idea. Those Indian filmmakers are targeting only the Indian population with the way they make movies, so are the Chinese and Malay. So what kind of windfall hit are you folks expecting? Oscar?

If you really think overseas folks are going to appreciate our locally made movies, then I’d hang myself. The only reason great films have great international acceptance is because they carry a nation’s flavor. Slumdog Millionaire and Dilwalia Dulhania Le Jayenge, though both belonging to different genres, are not only quality products, but they are films that brought home the essence of a country- ‘India’. Item numbers, masala elements, Switzerland song locations- these were the cultural innuendos of the Indian film industry- in India. If something from Malaysia is going to make people sit up and take note, it has to blend the Malaysian flavor- not by aping an already successful Indian film industry in another country.

How is the world going to accept you when you don’t have an identity for yourself? When you target is so shallow, you deserve what you get. Period.

Of course, there are those rare good breeds of Malaysian (note) filmmakers. The most consistent one of them was Yasmin Ahmad. She’s no more with us. You take a long look and see if there is someone to make our films earn respect globally. You’ll realize there is no one after her. There were a couple of talented filmmakers, but they too become a passing memory and have not appeared since.

The problem definitely lies with the people of the industry. The sad fact is that in our industry, especially the Indian ones are people who treat being in films as part of a business. It is just a day job with certain amount of profit and liberty. Films made in India boasts the likes of AR Rahman, Kamal Haasan, Aamir Khan, and many more. We hardly have one standout personality whom we can say is on par with international standards.

Art is an intricate business, first of all in order to be involved you need people who are creative, talented, and above all, sincere to the art itself. There are people who dedicate their lives to make a batter form of art, a better form of creativity, yet here we can’t boast to have any individual who shows any amount of dedication to art, or is creative or talented. When the majority of people who are involved in our industry are people who don’t belong here, how will the industry prosper?

The actors spend most time wearing gold chains, trying to ape one Indian actor after another, speaking every dialogue in a melodramatic fashion, speaking every pedestrian dialogue as if it is a punch dialogue. The music directors do nothing but compose what sounds like sub-standard Indian cinema songs. Our whole Malaysian Tamil industry is nothing but a poor man’s Indian cinema. How then would you expect people to support our industry, when our movies are not even financially cheaper (RM 15 per CD? I’d rather have Briyani. RM 5 is better for that quality) than those Indian films while at the same time being so inferior in quality?

Some would complaint about limited budget, why wouldn’t it be? When your target audiences are so shallow (remember we are less than 10 per cent of the population in this country), what do you expect, RM 10 million of budget? We have so often associated budget with quality and I’m not the only one who will say that’s wrong. Aamir Khan’s Dhobi Ghat is on theatres now as I speak; Shot entirely in one location using four actors and a guerilla shooting technique. Yet you feel the quality of the film is superior than most CGI aided films- while it was made on a shoestring budget. Then there was Yasmin Ahmad’s Sepet to talk about. Did that film cost a fortune to make? Nothing works like authenticity, and making an authentic film doesn’t cost you so much of money.

A majority of our filmmakers attempt ala Hollywood thrillers and CGI animated movies without ever getting the basics right. India had its time under the likes of Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal before they slowly, and recently, began pushing boundaries for CGI aided films. Apart from Yasmin Ahmad and a couple of other films here and there, what have these other filmmakers did to capture authenticity? Without authenticity in the first place, every CGI aided film will just look, in one word, fake. That’s how almost all the films in our industry looks and feels. You have no connection with the characters nor with the storyline. They don’t tug at your heart. You feel detached from the films. Because they all lack souls.

Our filmmakers have begun harping on pushing boundaries without ever discovering a common soul to their films. It’s back to basics. The Malaysian industry needs some soul searching, and they need to do it from the scratch.

There are some great individuals who have pioneered the arena of films prior, even in Asia. Our filmmakers can take some time to bother learning more from them. Wouldn’t it be beneficiary for them to go overseas and serve as an assistant at least to some of the great filmmakers before they make movies here? Wouldn’t that earn respect and look good on their CV?

On a lighter note, nobody will be impressed if your special press release (during a film’s premiere) is typed out in plain A4 paper from Microsoft Word’s most bland fonts, and that too with the world’s most sacrilegious grammar punctuation. And by the way, no Tom, Dick or Harry would ever type out his or her whole story (yes, till the end) in the synopsis. You should always know where to stop in order to make people feel intrigued.  That’s just, turning off.

You should also learn to use full names if you are delivering a press release. Don’t put in funky names (Amigoz Appu, seriously?) because it really doesn’t impress. The real, proper name, something as lame as Sreenivasan, sounds way better. Pseudonyms are intended for filmy purposes, which could be used in credits, but not in detailed press releases that are supposed to be fully informative.

How can I end this article without mentioning our wonderful 1Malaysia concept, where we must have 70 per cent Malay content in order to have a film funded by FINAS (what a joke of an organization)? I have nothing to say about that though.

With such guidelines, the FINAS folks can go fly kites with the RM 200 million I-want-to-help-our-film-industry-become-better allocations. Or even flush it down the toilet. Please, don’t forget to flush your brains along with them, politely.

All I would say, resoundingly, is, what is NOT wrong with our film industry?

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)- Movie Review

I am pretty sure there will be many Aamir Khan fans who will wrestle for tickets of this movie when it got released a couple of days ago in Malaysia, but many of them will return home not feeling any kind of satisfaction of watching it. But the unique thing about Dhobi Ghat is that Kiran Rao (yes, the director) knows this fact too.

“I know this film won’t appeal to the general audience,” this was what she bluntly put forth when interviewed recently. She already knew the target audience would be connoisseurs of art-house cinema, and that’s why the film has been doing rounds in film festivals ever since its debut in the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) back in September.

Running at less than 2 hours, Dhobi Ghat is like a chapter from a thick, epic observatory novel called Mumbai Diaries (the film’s alternate English title). Dhobi Ghat isn’t about the entirety of those diaries, but instead just showcases a chapter of the lives of individuals involved in it.

The film is the story of four people: Arun, Shai, Munna, and Yasmin.

Arun (Aamir Khan) is a divorced, lonely introvert painter who had just shifted apartments. At his art exhibition he meets Shai (Monica Dogra), an American investment banker who is on a sabbatical in Mumbai, and has a one-night stand with her. He subsequently explains to her that he has no intention to take the relationship further, and though she concurs, she is smitten by his charm and begins stalking him.

At the same time Shai meets Munna (Prateik Babbar), a dhobi cleaner who does odd jobs to make his ends meet while at the same time aspiring to be an actor. Munna requests Shai to do a portfolio photo shoot for him and she does. He begins to get attracted to her.

At the same time, Arun, in his new apartment, finds some random tapes of a young woman named Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra), a Muslim woman who has just arrived in Mumbai after her marriage to her city-dwelling husband, who was also the previous tenant in the apartment Arun currently rents. Arun watches every tape that she records in her videocam and later starts to attempt finding her whereabouts.

So, as you can see, this is not a love triangle, instead it’s a square. But here there no rejected proposals, every character has there own fears, their own hesitancy and so on. This is probably the subtlest film you will ever see in the history of Bollywood.

There is also the character of the neighboring aunt of Arun’s , who simply observes and says absolutely nothing- just like Mumbai. To add to that, the story starts when Arun shifts into his new apartment and ends when he shifts out of the apartment to a new place. That’s the thread of the story. It simply tells you what happens in between his shifting from one place to another.

Prateik Babbar, almost a Siddharth look-alike, is brilliant as Munna. He debuted as Genelia’s brother in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, and with this performance, he proves beyond doubt that he is an actor for the future. It’s almost a certainty that producers will line up at his door having been exposed to both his good looks and considerable emoting skills as a slum dweller.

Monica Dogra and Kriti Malhotra are both great finds by Kiran Rao, as they fit their characters seamlessly. Aamir Khan, the ever-reliable actor, once again shows his selection prowess. He hardly speaks in the film (due to his introvert nature), but he leaves behind a telling impact and the only point that triggers you to shed tears in the film is also due to his brilliant emoting when he finds out about Yasmin.

Do not expect to be immersed too much in the film, as the film is as detached as it could get. It simply observes without interfering into the characters, more like documentary. And the only engaging moment arrives when Arun finds out about Yasmin, and the film ends soon after. Kiran Rao has written a script specifically for that purpose and she does exactly that.

For a debutant, she shows abstract maturity that is not seen in many present day directors, and although the financial cinema world would expect her to be more engaging and aggressive with her next attempt, being passive and detached in the way she arranges her sequences requires a craft, a talent of its own, and that is something she definitely has.

Sometimes it’s easier to make a film aggressively and have the characters laugh, smile, shout and cry to tell their emotions rather than making a film using a character’s long stare into an empty space, their hopes, their dismay, their loneliness, their insecurity, their selfishness, the tragedy of being wretched from the inside.

Kiran Rao captures loneliness in a way no-one has ever done prior to her.

If you accept Dhobi Ghat for what it offers, then it is indeed a masterpiece.

For those who could not comprehend these genres of films, there is no disappointment to be taken home with this film.

As confessed by the filmmakers themselves, the film was made on a puny budget by the filmmakers themselves. They did not run the financial risk either. The film was shot entirely in Mumbai- there are no stunt scenes, no song sequences, no expensive studio sets- just Mumbai- and all about it.

The film did not even use huge tripods set up to shoot on location, as it was shot using the guerilla technique (real time, support-off, hands-on shooting on the go).

The question is- what have you got to lose? Open your minds towards a different cinema experience, watch it at least once, and if you don’t like it, just accept that this particular genre is not yours.

There’s nothing to like or dislike about the film, just whether you accept or don’t accept.

As for me, all I would say is I would go to Kiran Rao’s next movie.

Rating: 7.5/10

Aadukalam- The rooster mark is one you can’t erase

When the central idea is so novel, you are almost excused to make flaws because it is a path that no-one had ventured into prior to you.

Places like Madurai have become a flavor camp for many filmmakers in the Tamil film industry of late. It all stared with Ameer Sultan’s Paruthi Veeran few years ago and since then we have witnessed a mushroom of films such as Subramaniapuram, Poo, Mynaa, Naadodigal and many more, all of which were set in rural and dusty backdrops- Films that were made, as some would put it, in naked India.

Aadukalam saw yet another venture into the Madurai heartland, albeit this time one can sit up and say the film is anything but another one in the long line of films mentioned above.

Of course, there is no pun intended on the makers and even the quality of the previously mentioned films, which were hits and acclaimed entertainers in their own rights, but with Aadukalam, Vetrimaran brings forth and explores a henceforth unchartered territory in Tamil cinema- and that is rooster fights.

A film that has a distinct Shakespearean smell, Aadukalam works and slumbers at different levels, but the core idea of the film is so engaging that the flaws are rendered virtually insignificant.

Karuppu (Dhanush) is the loyal rooster fight ‘jackie’ for Madurai’s most respected and skilled rooster fight mentor Pettaikaran (Jayabalan). The local police inspector Ratnasamy belongs to a rooster fighting clan in his own right and has been unable to beat Pettaikaran his whole life. This leads to Ratnasamy chirping in all sort of tricks to win a rooster fight with Pettaikaran, which he does not succeed in doing.

However, as Ratnasamy fails, he somehow manages to stoke jealousy in the eyes of Pettaikaran, who gets unsettled by the outshining brilliance of his own student, Karuppu. As Karuppu grows larger in stature in the rooster fight world, it is his own mentor who rears an ugly head, hell bent in turning his student’s life into a nightmare.

Shading away the typical black-and-white, hero and villain portrayal, the film renders a grey area for all the characters involved and that’s where it succeeds. The film’s biggest strength, and probably for some it’s biggest flaw, is its maintained pace.

Giving space to more characterization to take place, Vetri Maaran patiently sows his glittering product, and in the process makes next to no compromises. He doesn’t attempt to try and justify every death, or every turn of event that happens in the film, instead, lets the camera role as if its observing life unfold in front, almost in the form of a documentary.

Dhanush gives a lifetimes performance, probably standing next only to his brother Selvaraghavan’s celebrated Pudhupettai some four years ago, but this time Dhanush adds in invaluable maturity and assuredness into his performace.

He might not have the looks to die for, but he has matured so significantly that he is now able to cover the plugholes of the film almost single-handedly with his performance.

Having gone through a time when his fight or dance scenes would be greeted by sectional jeers from his detractors, it is amazing to realize that he can now carry the film on with the same filmy elements, even if his looks had stayed the same.

Taapsee Pannu is endearingly cute, and doesn’t attempt to show off any flesh in her Tamil debut. She takes the effort to get her dialogues right even in Tamil and that is a commendable sight in this age where the like of Shreya are celebrated as if they have acted their hearts out whilst they can’t even remotely lip synch appropriately. She seems to be a welcome change among debutants.

But flanking Dhanush in terms of performance is definitely Jayabalan, the Sri Lankan poet. His portrayal was so realistic that we never realize the fact that Radharavi was the person who was dubbing for Jayabalan throughout the film. Kishore as usual is highly dependable and commands any scene that he is part of.

GV Prakash is maturing in leaps and bounds in spite of his young age of only 23, and after a year where he had two masterful creations in the form of Aayirathil Oruvan and Madrasapattinam, he adds Aadukalam to his gallery. The songs Yathe Yathe and Ayyayo are both master compositions.

Aadukalam admittedly has its flaws, but the film packs a solid punch overall because Vetri Maaran, just like how he wowed everyone by developing a story using a motorbike as its central character in his first film, uses a much unheard-of rooster fight culture to move this creation of his.

When the central idea is so novel, you are almost excused to make flaws because it is a path that no-one had ventured into prior to you.

I need not go further than the film Ghajini to illustrate this, because even though the film were riddled with so many flaws it could make Aadukalam look like a timeless classic, the film turned out to be  hit as the people somehow oversaw the flaws.

But Aadukalam won’t need the audiences to compromise so much. The film is almost indefinitely realistic in every frame and that is enough to give you the satisfaction of watching an epic film based on a novel idea.

Very Good.

A Kamal life

Kamal Hassan has given a very expensive value to success indeed.

A few days ago, as I was watching Kamal Hassan’s 50 years in cinema commemoration event; Mamootty was giving a simple and straightforward speech about the man himself- stating that if so many people can praise and humble themselves in front of him, the sole reason that he is an actor, an artist of great caliber doesn’t justify all the praise Kamal gets, but instead, Kamal must have been a ‘great human being also’ in order to justify all that people shower on him.

I have read in various spaces how people constantly have waxed lyrical about Kamal’ s achievements and his credo that has taken him to great heights, and how his attempts influences and induces courage in some, and admiration in others. But how many of us had really given any kind of credit to Kamal Hassan for the man that he is, the person that he is?

It takes a very brave man, especially in an easily vindictive society like ours; it does take a very brave man to carve out his life entirely based on his ideologies. And that man was Kamal Hassan. One a many wouldn’t prefer to go to those areas which they consider ‘grey’ about him and discuss about it at any length, but I am more than happy to do so- and praise him with it as well. And the reason I had already stated above- it takes a very bold person to base his life upon his ideologies.

Kamal’s biggest point of controversy, as has been pointed out all these years- is that he was an atheist. First of all, let us acknowledge that fact that none of us, lest you or me, are aware of the entire truth as to what life breaks down to and what it is all about. All of us are travelers searching for that same faraway answer, and those hints we get, we keep them in our knapsack. Some of us have more hints (knowledge) than the others, but none, I can heartily and boldly state, knows the whole truth of it. Some find their calling and their purpose within the realms of religion, and Kamal finds his (as per his own words) in the society itself. There is nothing wrong in embracing those than you can see and attain a spiritual viewpoint based on that point itself. For the record, I’m not an atheist. But I will give all the credit in the world to Kamal for his ideas and his stronghold of them. I always say it takes a very strong person to be completely spiritual in a religious realm and also to be an ideological atheist. The former is because it takes a great man to be humble, non-assertive and completely submit himself to the powers that be above him. My friend once remarked to me that religion is a foundation and which we can fall upon, usually in times when life seems to be out of our control. All of us face hardships in life, but it does take a great man to discard that foundation so early in his life. What would that man fall back on? To entirely keep faith all by himself- that quality is as admirable as any.

His ideologies are universally adaptable- you can tell them to a Christian, a Muslim, A Hindu, and a Buddhist and it would ring true every time- Love is God. I have seen plenty of people who know perfectly well how to love God, but are the worst when it comes to loving those around them. Love each other- that credo is the same in every single religion in this world, and Kamal lives beyond the confinement that keeps us separated from each other with sensitive barriers. If everyone takes that credo and believes Love is God, will there be any terrorists left in the world? Will there be Any soul that would wield a knife and stab someone without being wretched by guilt for what he has done?

Some like to point to his family life as an indication of his imperfection- but which of us are perfect? The path Kamal has threaded was a path that he wants depending only on his passion and his ideologies. It wasn’t a familiar path- in fact I might say, he alone took up that road and travelled in it. He is bound to have made mistakes along the way- and lest I assert that he has paid the price and faced the consequences of his own mistakes. I have visited layman houses in India and find they do not think highly of that man just because he was married twice and at one stage of his life;was having children out of wedlock. But still for the young generation that would like to travel that same path, his journey is marked before us, so that we know what mistakes we could avoid to reach his heights. Normally we point at a loser and say- ‘Look, don’t do what he did, and you’ll be fine’. And yet today, we stare with such glaring amazement at the pinnacle of a mountain- despite stumbling, and being discredited along the way, he still conquered that mountain, and he has left for us the indication on what mistakes we could avoid, so that our journey is a much smoother one.

To those who still wish to criticise him, he still managed to create a family like this, and how many of the so-called flawless men have managed to create such a family?

There is a saying in English- Success is measured by how much others measure their success using you as a yardstick. Kamal Hassan has given a very expensive value to success indeed, and me, and many other who adore him, use him as a yardstick to measure ourselves.

A great person is someone who manages to inspire and teach one of his students; but what do you call Kamal when he inspired me and many other (among my friends), whom he had never seen or heard about in his life? The mark of his legacy lives on us, for we acknowledge that flawed human that he was, and the great pains he took to improve himself and come out of that rut and proceed to his destination. And we know that even if Kamal has already conquered that mountain; he is already setting off to conquer another, and we shall continue behind him. Whichever path we may take when our calling comes, we do not know, but lest assured a piece of him will live on in those paths.

What have I expressed here is my personal testimonial of Kamal Hassan. Some may have assumed that I am a wannabe actor, but lest you are wrong. I am only a wannabe director, and a novelist, but nevertheless in terms dedication to the profession you are involved in, and as the complete artist that he is, he is still my idol. As Vivek so rightly asks in his poem of Kamal- ‘Is there any department that you do not know?’

I apologize beforehand if I had offended anyone with my views, but nevertheless I felt the necessity to express my views. And I take my leave with another one of Kamal’s credo- ‘No pain, no gain’.

That, in as simplest as four words could do, sums up Kamal Hassan- the person, the legend, the actor and everything else.

Best works:

Legends are those you cannot describe in words of. Of course Kamal has several avatars, in terms of his acting, this has to be his best work. No matter how cheerful I am, this is the only scene that can ever make me cry, without the help of the whole movie.

Look up at 3:18. Can anyone act like that?

The Lost Genre- How good is Dan Brown?

It has been an awfully long time since I did this and being back in my hometown seemed to have done the trick. Even though it is not the most conducive environment to thrive as a writer (more like developing ideas in an idle, relaxed mind), it has proven to be conducive enough to read a book. Big time.

After all the hype subsided, I spent the final two days of 2010 poring over Dan Brown’s latest offering ‘The Lost Symbol’, which came out sometime last year. I know the book and Brown’s prose style has received overwhelming praise from critics, and rightly so.

As with normal routine, TLS sticks to Brown’s favourite plot timeline, events unfolding within the space of 24 hours, and in frantic pace. At around 600 pages, Brown delivers an absolute page-turner.

Robert Langdon is summoned in the face of crisis again, but this time rather unwillingly. Set in the American capital of Washington D.C, Robert finds himself running aimlessly all over D.C with a CIA officer insisting there is a national security matter of ‘unimaginable proportions’ that Langdon needs to give priority over the safety of his friend and mentor Peter Solomon, who is being held captive by a madman wanting access to the Freemasonry secret brotherhood’s greatest treasure.

First of all, Brown should be praised for the amount of research it would have taken him to fill in the details of this particular plot. Truth be told, there is nothing novel about the story alone, it is a tried and tested hostage plot. But Brown’s ability lies in the fact that he stretches a simple single-line idea into a book stretching at 600 pages, and fills the book with details of a secret brotherhood, and ancient mysteries that very few of us would ever heard of.

It took Brown six full years to come up with a new book after the success of the Da Vinci Code back in 2009, and the strains show in the amount of details and historical accuracy that spans through the book. Robert Langdon appears almost superhuman in his own way, as he seems to recall symbols and signs that relates to religions and cultures of ancient times across the world.

I know peanuts about Freemasonry myself, but reading the book, I could not ignore Brown’s rather positive and upbeat portrayal of the Freemason brotherhood (its all over the book of course). This one factor obviously is enough to gibe Brown’s critics a field day against him.

It also seems Brown had spent a good amount of time in Washington visiting its most famous monuments, and nearly a quarter of the chapters begin with skyline and scenic descriptions of few of Washington’s most historical buildings.

This is in fact the first Dan Brown novel I have read, and as a neutral, I have to say that he is neither. He is not a master storyteller like how his fans would claim and neither is he an overrated writer like how his critics would suggest.

He just writes books that sell. Reading the Lost Symbol is almost like watching a Hollywood thriller if you would picture every scene that occurs in the book, even the hanging chapter conclusions.

Brown leaves so many chapter hanging on their threads, yet predictably returns to explain the hanging threads a couple of chapters later. The book has a clear pattern, and Brown follows it in an almost uniformed manner. I do not know about other readers, but as the story sauntered towards its final act, no plot twists surprised me any more (with the exception of the villain’s true identity).

Brown also commits the very apparent little flaw of trying to recount old stories in bits and pieces. After setting such a small time window, he tries hard to give a peek into the entirety of the characters’ past lives with incidents recounted in bits and pieces. Sometimes they work for the story, and sometimes against it.

After setting such a high-octane thriller as the plot, reading sometimes gets tedious and the reader is urged to scan through a page without reading it properly due to the way in which the character recounts a past story at a time when the plot is hanging in utter suspense.

That said, the book has a solid idea that tries to drive into our minds, unlike the Da Vinci Code (I know the story), which was of a conspiracy theory-based book. But this plotline moves beyond the shallow conspiracy-theory mindset, and tries to go to the very bottom of existing mysteries and myths.

The Lost Symbol is Brown’s imagination of what it could be like if the myths and mysteries were to come any close to unveiling themselves in the current era. He puts across solid ideas such as the origins of Science and how our ‘evolvement’ in terms of science might actually be just a discovery.

These are no mere theories, but in fact a large slice of reality that we face today. However, it seems like Brown never really had the details of the scientific researches that ‘could change the world as it is’- just like how Katherine Solomon says it. In fact, in the whole book, Brown tries to get away with only a single nod of example.

Well, that is the risk you run sometimes when you have large imagination and try to drive home a point without any evidence as of yet.

Probably the book’s cardinal sin is that it hypes itself overtly at most times. When the plot thread is left hanging, it is left hanging with words such as ‘shock’ and ‘diesbelief’. I probably felt a jolt for only half of the threads when I finally knew the full story. The other half, I saw it coming.

I do not know whether I’m being too critical due to the fact that I’m currently writing a science-fiction thriller myself, and I know how tricky it is to navigate while narrating a detailed thriller that is creating completely within the realms of your imagination. It’s not easy, especially so when you try to merge fact with fiction. It’s easier to go to a separate magic world than it is to blend fiction and fact seamlessly.

But mastering that art is a difficult one. Dan Brown’s TLS is a great attempt. But not the best.

That said, I feel it’s a book worth reading and buying, but only once. There are no marbles to be found in re-reading. Read it that one time, and be engrossed.

To be honest, this particular thriller fiction genre has been long dead with the current rate of less than talented writers being given the right to write gibberish that are nothing but just an extension of what we already see on Hollywood screens.

Not to mention the boringly written self-help books.

Dan Brown brings life back to a dead genre. Just like how he ends the book, he brings back hope to the genre. If you are looking for a good modern fictional thriller novel, then Dan Brown is the best bet you’ve got.

He might yet perfect the art in coming times.

Manmadhan Ambu – Movie Review

Known for delivering laugh-riot hits such as Avvai Shamugi, Panchathanthiram, and Thenali, Kamal Haasan and KS Ravikumar have both teamed up for the fifth time, though this time they have returned to the light-veined rom-com genre after the heavy, yet below-par Dasavatharam.

I was among one of many who wailed in agony about Kamal’s decision to stick with KSR for Dasa a couple of years back. A script that was potentially worth weighing in gold seemingly got lost in translation as KSR was caught out of his depth trying to direct an utterly intelligent, meaningful movie.

The heavy dose of humor in Dasa literally saved the film from being a sinking ship, since it got the important elements all wrong. Dasa was not supposed to be a comedy film and yet it looked like one. And that’s a cardinal sin.

So I was questioning Kamal’s decision to go back to KSR instead of reviving his home production Marmayogi. I had taken Unnaipol Oruvan as the ‘light’ film Kamal often does after a heavy one a-la Dasa. I was not expecting another light venture from him, even though judging by the budget allocated for this flick it was anything but light.

MMA starts by piloting straight to the point. You get introduced to vital characters and one important element of the plot that would resurface later on flashes by without any time wasting. From there on, the story flows seamlessly.

Here is the crux of the story:

Madanagopal (R. Madhavan) is the ever-suspicious lover of Ambujakshi (Trisha), a film actress who goes by the pseudonym Nisha. After he suspects her having an affair with fellow actor Suriya, Ambu requests that her marriage with Madan be put on hold until she completes all her film commitments.

Some three years later, Ambu is on cruise ship touring Europe along with her childhood friend Deepa (Sangeetha), a divorcee and a mother of two.

Wanting to get her mind off her ever-possessive fiancée and decides to make this a get-away trip. However, Madan hires Major R. Mannar (Kamal Haasan), a retired army officer, to spy on Ambu during the trip.

But the turn of events soon bring Ambu and Mannar together, at the same time Mannar spins a lie in a desperate attempt to save his ailing friend Rajan (Ramesh Aravind)

One important factor of MMA is that the pace of the film is maintained throughout. Characters aren’t just thrown into a comedic mix like in the previous comedy films by Kamal and KSR, but instead Kamal, through his script, takes time to develop each character, and even the character charade is much smaller than the ones that came in his previous films.

Kamal as usual sleepwalks in his role as the charming, yet grieving Major. In the span of one song, he evokes sympathy for the man who had lost his wife. Every twitch of muscle in his face conveniently portrays emotion, and he doesn’t need too many scenes to move you.  Trisha is a fresh breeze in what is, in my opinion, her career-best performance. She is very likeable as Ambu and you end up wishing the real-life actresses did have another side to their character, like one that Ambu has.

Madhavan’s role looks like an extension to his role as the jerk of a lover in Jhootha Hi Sahi, and he delivers plenty of laughter with his dialogue delivery as the drunkard.

Sangeetha completely steals the show in almost all the comedic parts, especially in the climax. Ramesh Aravind’s shaven head itself evokes sympathy as he plays a cancer patient. Usha Uthup exudes a kind of coldness never seen before in mother roles.

However, there are myths that need to be solved about MMA. The film isn’t an out and out comedy, and there are actually more scenes that will try to bring tears to your eyes than ones that will make you laugh. In contrast to all other comedies, the love track is given importance in this film and Kamal takes his sweet time to develop the love story.

Even at 56, Kamal still manages to create chemistry between him and Trisha. But the film stands out because the story is realistic, and doesn’t proceed at any knee-jerk manner like many laugh riots do. The film doesn’t try to be a comedy; Kamal and KSR allow the story to take precedence over the laughter effect.

That said, MMA is technically superior to any movie Kamal and KSR have ever done together to date.

Hollwyood rom-coms have always been the flavor of lovers who go for such rom-coms so that they can relax. If you are looking for a rom-com in the Tamil language, you might not be able to exactly find one such film with the exception of MMA. That pretty much defines what the film is all about.

MMA is Kamal’s treat for Christmas. And yes, you do feel the cupid’s arrow in the film. I do not know why the naysayers of the film look for a ‘comedy’ flick. The film’s title is cupid’s arrow, and that is exactly what you will find here. Go for the cupid’s arrow and you won’t be disappointed.

The film is an absolute whiff of fresh air.

But that said, Kamal is too good to be doing these movies. This is good entertainment, but as a fan, I’d love to see him do a Marmayogi soon.

Top 10 Bollywood films in the last decade- Part 2

Continued from Part 1

7. A Wednesday (2008)

Cast: Nasseruddin Shah, Anupam Kher

Director: Neeraj Pandey

Writer: Neeraj Pandey

Brief synopsis:

It was a seemingly normal Wednesday when a common man walks into a police station, wanting to file a complaint, and at the same time plants a bomb in the toilet of the station. He proceeds to call Commissioner Prakash Rathod and threatens him to release four terrorists in exchange of the lives of millions in the city (he had planted four bombs across the city’s key areas).

As Prakash desperately tried to psyche and figure out the man’s profile and whereabouts, two of his trusted police officer board a van along with the four terrorists and escort them to the location named by the common man, only to have a surprise waiting there.

On face value, A Wednesday seems like a very regular movie with a very regular, Hollywood-inspired story. But the film offers a great surprise in the way it was narrated and presented, and even the issue it tackles on. Without trying to be preachy, the film effectively plays across the gallery a question so essential for the modern community.

Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher both deliver inch-perfect performances in a film which takes place in a single day, and happens sans any duet, romance, songs, or any form of melodrama. An intense thriller requires great writing, and that was what Neeraj Pandey manages to do. His direction is equally impressive, as he ensures that tension runs high throughout.

The film is thought provoking and at the same time has a screenplay that doesn’t allow you to breath. Talk about a well-carved entertainer.

IMDb rating: 8.2/10 (after 4,000 odd votes)

6. PEEPLI (Live)

Cast: Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghubir Yadav, Malaika Shenoy

Writer: Anusha Rizvi

Director: Anusha Rizvi

Brief synopsis:

Natha and Budhia are sibling farmers in the dry region of Peepli who are going broke due to their unproductive land. The brothers plot to commit suicide so that their family could receive the luxurious compensation that the government affords to the families of farmers who commit suicide due to overwhelming debt.

Natha decides to be the one who commits the act, and the pair unwittingly talks to a local newspaper reporter regarding their intentions. This sparks off a media frenzy and soon Natha becomes an overnight celebrity and struggles with the nation’s eye on him, asking questions as to when he will die. His statement also creates political tension between rival factions as election looms by in the region, causing chaos to reign in the otherwise silent dry land.

Peepli Live is another never-seen-before attempt in Hindi cinema. It is a dark satire that spoofs and mocks and ridicules all the practices in the world of journalism and politics, and also paints a damning picture of how the current day India is in the rural areas.

Peepli doesn’t try to become an emotional film at any point, and thus it works big time for simply observes of foolhardy way many people conduct themselves when they are pushed to certain limits.

Anusha Rizvi deserves plaudit for such an uncompromising view of India.

It’s bitter, but it’s the truth.

IMDb rating: 7.9/10 (after 2,000 votes)


To be continued in Part 3

Top 10 Bollywood films in the last decade- Part 1

As 2010 reaches a crescendo, I am doing this compilation:

10. Taare Zameen Par (Stars on earth)- 2007

Cast: Aamir Khan, Darsheel Safary

Writer: Amole Gupte

Director: Aamir Khan

Brief synopsis:

Ishaan is the 8-year-old son of a regular, excellence-chasing middle-class urban family in Mumbai. Often overshadowed by his elder brother who excels in his studies, Ishaan struggles to reach similar academic heights but instead indulges himself in his own world of imagination. He paints, he creates scrapbooks, and he has fondness for small creatures.

Disillusioned by what they perceive to be Ishaan’s lack of discipline, the parents send him off to a boarding school, where a newly instated art teacher Ram recognizes that Ishaan suffers from dyslexia.

The subsequent story centers on how Ram tries to help cure Ishaan and at the same time raise awareness among his ever-demanding parents and teachers.

This film was definitely the flavor of the year as it was sent as India’s official entry for the Academy Awards. Backed by Amole Gupte’s taut script and Aamir’s assured commandeering in what was the popular actor’s directorial debut, the film works mainly because of child artist Darsheel’s excellent performance and also Aamir’s willingness to take a back seat while allowing Darsheel’s character remain the focus.

Great lyrics and also a very good score by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy back up the film, where most of the songs manage to heighten the emotional experience of watching the film.

The film gives the viewer a fulfilling cinematic experience, and was also the first film in Bollywood to touch upon the topic of dyslexia. The film also explores another important element, which is the demanding nature of the current Indian education system, and how art is being ignored and often considered to be not important.

IMDb rating: 8.3/10 (after 10,000 odd votes)


9. Dev D (2009)

Cast: Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin, Mahi Gill

Director: Anurag Kashyap

Writer: Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, and Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay (the author of Devdas, upon which the film was based on)

Brief synopsis:

The film is a modern day adaptation of Sharat Chandra’s famous 1917 Bengali novel Devdas.

Dev is the spoilt son of rich man from Punjab. He has a childhood sweetheart named Paro, whom he uses at his own will. He flirts with other girls, and yet chides her hesitancy to engage in sexual activities with him.

When Dev hears rumors about Paro two-timing him, he believes them and ditches Paro within the blink of an eye. Enraged, Paro opts to marry an elderly man chosen by her family. It begins to dawn on Dev that the rumors are false, and it turns him into an alcoholic while trying to live with the fact that she is now married.

At the same time he runs into Chanda, who is a young prostitute who ended up in the profession after a MMS scandal with her boyfriend drove her to the cities.

The story centers on how Dev attempts to curb his alcoholism and also his drug addictiveness, and at the same time tries to make amends with Paro.

The film stands out because, just like above, it is an attempt never heard of in Indian cinema prior to that. Director Anurag Kashyap, already known for his outspoken and bold nature, takes his boldness to a new level by narrating the story of the Generation X and how a story like Devdas would be if it takes place in the present society.

Anurag dwells on prostitution, MMS scandals, school-time sex, lust desires, drugs and alcoholism in the current day society, all without compromising.

Abhay Deol looks the part as a lost, rich brat, as so do all the other characters. Dev D is the story of real characters that exist in our everyday life- real characters that we distance ourselves from, characters that are far from good.

Dev D is the story of people we love to hate.

Amit Trivedi’s 18 tracks and the catchy ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ remains a cult song to date.

IMDb rating: 8/10 (after 5,000 votes)

8. Chak De India (Buck up India)- 2007

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Vidya Malvade

Writer: Jaideep Sahni

Director: Shimit Amin

Brief synopsis:

Kabir Khan is a former Indian men’s hockey team captain. After missing a penalty stroke in the dying moments, allowing arch-rivals Pakistan to win a tournament back in his playing days, he retired from the sport and went back to his ancestral homeland.

Realizing that the Indian women’s hockey team is in a mess, Kabir senses the opportunity to redeem himself, by offering his services to coach the women’s team ahead of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.

The film centers on Kabir’s struggles as he tries to find the right players and breed the right attitude among them.

The film was inspired by the true events in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, when the Indian women’s hockey team claimed gold medal against the odds.

The film’s strength is that it doesn’t stop at being a sports film and a film about national spirit. But instead, the film explores other issues such as religious bigotry, prejudice and most importantly sexist, chauvinistic mentalities in the country.

Jaideep Sahni’s script is almost immaculate, and the man Shah Rukh Khan himself proves his caliber as an actor with an excellent performance while carrying the film almost entirely on his shoulders, sans any of his renowned romancing or duets.

Shimit Amin directs without compromising nor exaggerating any of the film’s finer details, as the hockey scenes come across as the most realistic sports scenes ever shot in Indian cinema.

IMDb rating: 8/10 (after 5,000 odd votes)

To be continued in Part 2.