Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Naan Kadavul (Aham Brahmasmi)

Surviving, as we barely manage (cinematically speaking, that is) with our sensitivities numbed by the mainstream movies here in this country, it is indeed with unbounded joy that one would welcome any film that breaks through the barrier of the mundane, elevates movie-watching experience to hitherto unexplored levels and, heaven forbid, makes us think. Unfortunately, Naan Kadavul does not belong in that category. Setting itself up for lofty expectations with the title and the marketing buzz and its director’s iconic status it had going for it, Naan Kadavul ends up dishing out mom’s apple pie (ok, amma’s tayir saadam). One would expect that Bala would have truly played with the gift of ambiguity that was given him by two potentially great themes in the movie – Advaita Vedanta and the Aghora philosophy (Opposites are illusory. Everything in creation is Shiva’s perfection.) – both of which are rich in interpretation and representation possibilities – but, no. Naan Kadavul draws unambiguously clear lines distinguishing the good from the evil, and for extra measure, paints the bad guy stereotype with lavish additional coats of black to ensure that thinking is not a mode the viewer even accidentally steps into. In essence, the potentially rich themes remain sadly untapped, awaiting better handling hopefully by some other, more adventurous, director in the future.

The characterization is laughable. Rudra, the protagonist (played by Arya) as an Aghora baba, looks ridiculously out of place with his corpulent physique and his Garnier coiffured, wavy locks (don’t miss the highlights!) and beard trimmed to perfection (hello! Ever heard of dreadlocks? Matted hair? Shiva?). The director seems to have him needlessly looking angry at the world all the time and speaking in some animalistic growl of a voice. Poor Arya might in fact have a good actor sulking deep in him, but Bala’s handling of him doesn’t seem to provide any exit routes for that in this film. Bala’s signature scenes of dark, musty, subterranean corridors strewn with live human bodies in varying degrees of degradation is a constant refrain and starts to get old fairly quickly (we have seen pretty much the exact same scenes starting with “Sethu” many times over now). A hodgepodge assembly of the other characters such as Rudra’s parents, Nair from Kerala, some seemingly hideous villain from somewhere else etc., don’t help the loose script much. Ditto for Pooja’s character - the blind beggar girl, Hamsavalli.

Much needed comic relief in the film is provided quite ably by one of the beggar boy characters (“ivuru periya Ambani” - “yaaru pa inda Ambani?” - “chel pone vikkara aalu – unakkellam teriyadu”) and the comic dialogues are truly funny and light and delivered with excellent timing. While the background score tends to overdo the drama bit (much like the movie itself), the tracks are fabulous – trademark Raja stuff.

So, should you go watch Naan Kadavul? My recommendation would be (notwithstanding the rant above) yes, you should – it’s not very often you see mainstream Indian cinema trying to peek outside through the keyhole. Even if, as in this case, the keyhole appears to have been closed by some errant kid’s chewed-up bubble gum, just the fact that someone’s trying to look, is reason enough to patronize. So, go and discover your inner rant.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Iravukku Munbu Varuvadhu Maalai (short story by Aadavan)

Would it that Aadavan's words were rendered in film, every frame would be a study in intentional anachronism, exaggerated for extra impact. So ill-fitting are the thoughts and actions of the characters and so seemingly misplaced are the props. But of course, to the writer himself, there would have been no intention of anachronism, considering he did in fact write the story back in the time it was actually set in.

இரவுக்கு முன்பு வருவது மாலை (Evening Is What Comes Before Nightfall) can only be described as fantasy fiction, for its visible detachment from reality, or at least how I understand reality to have been in the 60's and 70's in New Delhi, both place and time I cannot stake too much claim on true understanding of.

If the protagonist was a figment of the author's imagination, the insights into and observations of the patriarchal mind is definitely real and hits closer home than comfort would like.

Whether it is in describing the existential angst of the self-proclaimed rebel that is constantly seeking validation of his rebellion from the same mainstream that he believes himself to be in the fringe of (
ராஜசேகரனுக்கு சற்றே ஏமாற்றமாகக்கூட இருந்தது. சமூக இயல்பிலிருந்து மாறுபடும் ஒரு மனிதன் தன் சொந்த விருப்பத்தினால் - சொந்த நம்பிக்கைகள், தீர்மானங்கள் காரணமாக - தவிர்க்க முடியாமல் தன்னைத்தானே தனிமைப் படுத்திக் கொள்கிறான் என்றாலும், இந்தத் தனித்தன்மை தன்னால் நிராகரிக்கப்பட்ட சமூகத்தினரிடயே ஒரு சலசலப்பு ஏற்படுத்த வேண்டுமென்றும் அவனுள்ளே ஏதோ ஒரு மூலையில் ரகசிய விருப்பமொன்று இருக்கத்தான் செய்கிறது.), or in laying bare the unambiguous understanding of the patriarchal ego (இந்தத் தருணத்தில் அவரைத் தொடர்ந்து பேச விட வேண்டும். அதே சமயத்தில் ஜாக்கிரதைப்படுத்திவிடக் கூடாது என்று நினைத்தவளாக, "எனக்குப் புரியவில்லை" என்று மிக வெகுளித்தனமாகவும் மன்னிப்புக் கேட்டுக் கொள்கிற, இரக்கப்பட வைக்கிற பாவனையிலும் கூறுகிறேன்.) or in creating a vivid imagery of our middle class fears (அவள் முகத்தில் அபூர்வமானதொரு கிளர்ச்சியும் பரவசமும் தெரிகின்றன. அந்தக் கணம் ஒன்றே அவளுக்கு நிஜமாக இருக்கிறது. அந்தக் கணத்தில் மனதுக்குப் படுவதும், அதைச் செயலாக்குவதும். தன்னைப் பற்றிய உணர்வு - வெளியுலகத்தைப் பற்றிய உணர்வு, இரண்டையுமே வென்றுவிட்ட அல்லது மறந்துவிட்ட ஒரு மெய்மறந்த நிலையில் அவள் இருக்கிறாள். எனக்கும் அந்த நிலையை அடையவே ஆசையாக இருக்கிறது. ஆனால் என்னால் எப்போதுமே அப்படி முழுமையாக என்னை இழக்க முடிவதில்லை. ஒரு 'பில்ட் இன் டிஃபெக்ட்'. மதுவருந்தும்போதோ எதிர்பாலாருடன் கிடக்கும்போதோ, தியேட்டரிலோ, ஃபுட்பால் ஸ்டேடியதிலோ அமர்ந்திருக்கும்போதோ புதிய பிரதேசங்களில் பயணம் செய்யும்போதோ என்னுள் ஒரு பகுதி ஒதுங்கி நின்று என்னைக் கண்காணித்தவாறு இருக்கிறது. என்னை நான் இழக்க முடியாமல் தடுத்தவாறு இருக்கிறது. நிரந்தரமான என்மேல் திணிக்கப்பட்ட சில சிந்தனைத் தடங்களும் உலகாயுதமான ஜாக்கிரதை உணர்வுகளும் என் யதேச்சையான இயல்புகளையும் உந்துதல்களையும் முழுங்கச் செய்து விட்டதை நான் சோகத்துடன் உணர்கிறேன். இந்தச் சோகத்திலும் என்னால் என்னை இழக்க முடியவில்லை.), Aadavan’s clarity of thought and expression is downright scary.

In fact, along the way, Aadavan seems to force the reader out of the peripheries doubtless drawn by the reader initially (time, language, geography...) and mercilessly whips his (the reader’s) attention to focus only on the human intellect, transcending the preconceived notions – a feat not normally observed in vernacular literature, contemporary or classic.

The writing style itself is no less experimental than the thoughts it conveys. Aadavan’s characters slip easily in and out of their skins – now in the first person, now in the third. Now in true (?) character, now in a completely assumed role. My doubts (fears?) as to whether this level of edginess can truly be sustained get abundantly allayed as I read the last page of this short. How exactly? Go find out for yourself. But I will tell you this – there is hope yet :)

PS: A big thanks to Velu for making the introduction.

PPS: Yes, I do realize this is a post about a short story in what was supposed to be a cinema blog.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Paruthi Veeran (Tamil)

Aaahhhh.... finally.... a mainstream Tamil film where the hero is not some Robin Hood'esque tamer of the shrew; where the leading lady has balls of steel; where there is no presumptuous self-bestowed responsibility on the film maker's part to impart any "social message"; where the gratuitous violence is not apologized for in classic middle class style hypocrisy.

Set deep in rural south India, deep within the Tamil heartland, "Paruthi Veeran" is not your feel-good flick replete with lush river banks and swaying paddy stalks - step aside, Bharathiraja - Ameer is here, and is giving it like it is. Awesome direction combined with incredible cinematography delivers such stark realism that it leaves you as dehydrated as the parched lake beds and the dry grass that is a constant refrain of the movie's landscape.

Debutant actor Karthik Sivakumar delivers with such aplomb, one wonders if he is going to upstage his talented older sibling Surya. Playing the title role of a local rowdy who gets off on seemingly random acts of violence, Karthik comes across as a natural (born killer?). Not to be outdone so easily, Priyamani (a Bharathiraja discovery), playing the feisty village belle "Muthazhagu", does her bit with a fair amount of flair as well. Major kudos are due Ameer for retaining the edginess, both in their characters as well as in the general feel throughout the film.

The background score, while not exactly Raja material, is still in the "thoroughly enjoyable" category with pretty much all the songs blending almost effortlessly into the script, being as folksy as they are. Yuvan Shankar Raja could yet carry his dad's mantle.

By all means, get on it and rent this movie and watch, but if you're the queasy sort, might I recommend that you switch off before the climax and read up on how the story ends or ask your friendly neighborhood Tam moviegoer. Like I said, Ameer's kid gloves are most decidedly not on.

The details:
Direction: Ameer Sultan
Starring: Karthik Sivakumar, Priyamani
Music: Yuvan Shankar Raja

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Mozhi (Tamil)

A breath of fresh air. Mozhi came in quite highly recommended from a number of quarters, and while it didn't quite stand up to all the expectations set, it must be said that it didn't fail to bring a smile as one was watching it. The humour in the movie is nice and subtle, though not delivered with the best of comedic timing. The general lack of histrionics was very welcome, and treatment of the story as well as the experimentation with the frame compositions deserve some sincere applause.

But it's not as if the movie is without its faults. There are quite a few.

Jyotika - arguably, Mozhi's biggest fault. It appears that the director forgot to tell her she was simply deaf and dumb - not spastic. That scene where Karthik (character portrayed by Prithwiraj) is all over her, venting his anger, and she looking into the camera at some weird angle with her huge saucer eyes wide open - what the f*@# was that all about? I can understand how Prakash Raj would have wanted to cast somebody who had expressive eyes, considering that the rest of this protagonist's faculties are lacking, but it's high time somebody told this world that Jyotika's eyes are just big, not expressive. My choice for this role - Shalini, without a doubt (I can still remember her in Alai Paayuthey, where I feel she did a great role in spite of Mani Ratnam).

There were a couple of other places the treatment could have been a bit more sensitive. While the outpuring scene is somewhat relevant to the character, I did feel that the director lost the connection with the character at that point. And what's the deal with him saying "idhukkappuramum nee kalyaanathukku varaley...." leaving an ominous "or else..." dangling? Or else, what? That scene was some fairly mediocre directing.

While I am very clearly not a "social message" seeker in cinema, I also do feel that it's an art form for expression, and in that vein, I really think Mozhi missed a trick or two. Here it is, a seemingly adult movie where the protagonist is big into social service and orphan care and all that - why is the whole child thing such a big deal? If Archana (Jyotika's character) is concerned that her kids might be mute as well, the boyfriend could have suggested they don't have a baby, but adopt one instead. Pity that our cinema doesn't push certain touchy boundaries :(

And that one liner suggestion from Karthik to Viji (Prakash Raj's character) when he (Viji) mentions that he is going to get married to Sheela (Swarnamalya's character), the widow - "unakku romba periya manasu daa" - huh??? WTF?????

As far as performances are concerned, Mozhi is carried by the supporting cast through and through. Swarnamalya as Sheela delivers a very acceptable performance, and M.S.Bhaskar as the developmentally stunted professor just kicks a**! Brahmanandam as the society secretary chips in with some well timed comedy contribution as well.

Going by what noted film maker Howard Hawks once said - a good movie has three good scenes and no bad scenes - Mozhi certainly has three strikes in my view in terms of number of bad scenes, but it is still a movie I would buy and own and would recommend. While it's not exactly parallel cinema, it is still relatively on the fringe and hats off to Prakash Raj for taking the plunge.

Go watch it!

The details:
Language: Tamil
Actors: Prithwiraj Sukumaran, Jyothika, Prakash Raj, Swarnamalya, Brahmanandam
Director: Radha Mohan
Producer: Prakash Raj
Story: Radha Mohan
Screenplay: Radha Mohan
Dialogs: Viji
Music: Vidyasagar
Lyrics: Vairamuthu