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.

Uttama Villain- An immortal work by a mortal

Uttama Villain is Kamal Haasan cementing his intellect and his love for the medium that made a man out of a six-year-old boy.

Uttama Villain starts in a very unconventional way for a vehicle carrying one of the biggest stars in Tamil cinema in a supposedly comedy caper. We are immediately introduced to a middle-aged superstar Manoranjan (Kamal Haasan), not in his fame alone, but also behind his fame.

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He is an alcoholic trying to stave off consistent headaches.

He owes much of his financial success to his father-in-law, who is a film producer.

His teenage son is busy trying to make out with his girlfriend during his father’s film screening.

He himself has an extramarital affair with his family doctor Aparna (Andrea Jeremiah).

He has fathered another child with a woman named Yamini and has just discovered about this.

All this is revealed within the first 30 minutes or so of the movie.

Doesn’t make for a very pretty picture about the man behind the stardom. But that was what the title implies- Uttama Villain. There is no grand introduction here for Kamal Haasan, because this is a story about a man, not a hero. A man with all his flaws, who realises that he is dying and wants to make one last film with mentor-director (K Balachander) to immortalise himself beyond the limited time he has left on earth.

There is no judgement of bad or good. It’s a humble, at times too honest a portrayal of a movie star who tries for one last hurrah, to do justice to his own existence. And as expected, while exploring a topic as deep as life and death, Kamal Haasan, the ever renowned atheist, does not try to justify it with religion, but leaves the justifications, vague, almost open to interpretation.

In the final scenes of the movie, Manoranjan will be wheeled to the hospital as his illness finally gets the better of him. But even in his final moments, he would be begging KB to allow him to take one more shot of a song they were shooting. KB acknowledges that Mano would never be happy until the final edit, but tells him, “listen to me this one time.” There was no retake. The superstar did not get to see the final edit, of what, poignantly, is the montage of his best performance to date.

As his family, from his long lost daughter, to his estranged wife, all gathered to cheer at his performance in a hospital, he breathes his last under surgery. He has done his part.

Then there is the recurring theme of the movie- “There is nothing sadder than immortality. There would be no listeners to an endless story.”

This was not a Ramesh Aaravind-Kamal Haasan comedy gala. Yes, the final movie Manoranjan ends up making is a comedy caper involving a folklore story involving a 8th century street artiste. Here, we are treated to generous dosage of laughter fits while admiring Kamal’s stunning eye movements and graceful Theyyam performances.

But the mainframe story, which runs parallel with the comedy film being shot, is as serious as it gets. While the comedy film tells of king who wishes immortality, in the mainframe, we have superstar who is trying to face his own mortality the best way he can. The way he interacts with his son, his wife, his love, his long-lost daughter, is not upscaled drama alone- it’s real, it’s imperfect, it’s full of human interactions. If you wear your heart of your sleeve, it would be difficult to keep your eyes dry in any one of these moments.

Kamal Haasan displays five dimensions here- first as the raging superstar, almost being a self-critical parody of his own self, which takes plenty of guts, as the comedic street artiste, as the Theyyam performer with an amount of grace so unreal for a 60-year-old (the finale Iraniyan Nadagam was epic), as the poet-singer (he wrote and sang most of the songs and you’d be hard pressed to find better theatre modulation and lyrics in any other album), and finally, as the man who wrote a parallel screenplay with such finesse.

Adding another dimension to the two dimensions existing in the movie, this is Kamal Haasan in an indirect way trying cement his own immortality while facing his own mortality at the age of 60. He’s not trying to appear young anymore, he’s trying to accept that he is middle aged.

Pooja Kumar at times looks out of place in the folklore setting, but it’s difficult to find chinks in a film with such heavy emotional performances. This movies does not have a cameo from K Balachander, in fact, it has the most extensive supporting role KB has ever played in a movie. And he is brilliant in every single frame he appears alongside his most prised disciple.

Andrea as Aparna shines in a grey role, who unconditionally loves Mano despite being unable to be formally recognised to the public as the wife. Urvashi is also brilliant as Mano’s wife who suffers from her own mid-life crisis. MS Bhaskar steals the show, however, as his manager, and it’s such a great pleasure an actor of his known calibre was given such a central pivot to the story.

Then there is the prodigous Ghibran with his stunning array of musical compositions. Uttama Villain is high on quality in the music department, though it must take a keen ear and an understanding of the folklore history to comprehend the amount of genius that flowed through the music department here.

But as the final montage says- “Love and intellect” are the immortal elements, one with which you cement your own immortality (said while juxtaposing with a legion of stars on the sky).

Uttama Villain is Kamal Haasan cementing his intellect and his love for the medium that made a man out of a six-year-old boy.

But it is an immortal body of work- not made for today alone, or tomorrow’s entertainment, but maybe for decades to come, for the times when there will be no Kamal Haasan peering over with his own genius smile and his impeccable love and experimentation of the medium.

The only question is if this depth resonates with the audience of today. But if there is anyone questioning their own mortality without any religious twist to it, UV is as inspirational, real, and close to heart as it gets.

There are movies and then there are movies. This is the latter.

I’m glad to be part of the crowd who resonated with the love and intellect of this particular galaxy of stars. The thing is, this legion of stars forms one personality- Kamal Haasan, in his many hats.

Multitasking didn’t always work well for Kamal, but when you make a honest movie, it all falls into place. It did.

UV is a movie for the shelves. It will come again handy someday. It celebrates death. It celebrates going away with a bang. It resonates with a man who had lost his guru

KB sir must be beaming from wherever he is. In Kamal Haasan, KB’s intellect has been immortalised.

Thank you Kamal, for being on the dais, for daring to write this.