Saturday, January 06, 2007

Better movies of 2006

As popular bloggers like Balaji make year end lists and summaries, I too would attempt something similar, presuming some popularity for my blog. Of course since I have seen only a handful of movies, I would restrict myself to writing about what I felt to be two of the better movies in 2006. Of course this can be considered to be an excuse for catching up on reviews that I wanted to do quite some time back.

Veyil – good but not still there

This is yet another realistic movie from Shankar’s production. Coming after “Kadhal” it didn’t satisfy the high expectations but was still quite good. After these reviews by Balaji and B.Rangan, I don’t want to repeat much of the same thing and hence would touch upon whatever I felt strongly in this.

Being a movie where the protagonist is a theatre projector operator, the first half of the movie with its depiction of romance between the lead pair was one of the best I had seen in some time. Movies are an integral part of Pasupathy’s life and he growing up is shown through the movies of those periods. The romance is also tightly linked with movies, starting and ending due to it. It was excellent in the way director chose popular movie songs as a background for some romantic moments. In fact there were so many references to movies that I thought the film crew must have spent considerable effort to find them and fit them into a timeline!

The theme itself – how society treats failed people – was different and it could have been developed much better. The characters were very realistic and it was interesting to see how even with in the same family different people react in different ways to Pasupathy’s return home. The title “Veyil” is justified not only because hot sun is what causes the first twist in Pasupathy’s life, but also because many characters in the movie seem so hardened like any thing exposed to hot sun. Some of the songs, especially those in the first half were really good.

Despite this the movie doesn’t feel great. One of the main reasons could be that over the past few years there have been excellent realistic movies like “Thavamai thavamirundhu”, “Kadhal”, “Autograph” and “Azhagi” and coming after all these movies “Veyil” seems to be a bit too inspired by all these. Though the plot is quite different, many of the scenes seem to create a feeling of ‘déjà vu’ for people who had seen these movies. The other main reason is that the second half is way too melodramatic. We are supposed to empathize with Pasupathy’s character, but I could hardly do that. This should have had a treatment like “Azhagi” in the second half – where the audience would feel the tragedy without any melodrama. Also, there seemed to be one too many ‘folk songs’ inserted into the film and these don’t help in the sagging second half either.

In the end what could have been a great movie ends up being just good. As an aside, it is interesting to see that “Veyil” has no literal English translation. Literally it is only an extension of ‘sunny’, but has the directly opposite connotation. If ever there is a proof required for how languages reflect the life and culture of where they developed, this would be that.

Pudhupettai – Daring and different

As above there are excellent reviews here and here. This would again be a tertiary look at the movie.

This movie is extremely commendable for at least two reasons. First, probably for the first time I see so much of dark humor used in the movie. Right from the beginning, where Danush’s along with his accomplices confide about their troubled childhoods and then when his senior accomplice rates him for his first kill, till the end the movie is laced with an incredible amount of dark humor. Despite the strong part humor plays in Tamil movies, dark humor is of course rare. Probably, this was just a bit too much for many people as I think dark humor doesn’t gel that well with our instinctual moralities – at least until we get used to it. At least that is what I initially felt when I read novels like “Autumn of the patriarch” which had humor in the bleakest of the situations.

Second, I really like the movie for being brutally cynical about our political system and its nexus with criminals. Probably this might more be because I am myself more cynical these days. But still it is refreshing to see one movie exposing criminal – politician nexus and ending without that often farcical ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ climax. Some of my friends where feeling that this was far too cynical and the situation can’t be so bad. I too thought so, but then I remembered that I am from a state where a chief minister was voted back to power despite the cases against the person being so strong that the corruption which took place was open secret. Of course I don’t blame the voters – they had little choice. Despite all this the state is known to be one of the better governed in this country – so I can only imagine the political situation in other worse off states.

Having said this, the movie had quite a few flaws. For one, even I felt that dark humor was overused when in the climax, the villain and the hero (who is of course as bad as the villain) who is out to kill him, have a chat, share food and hero consults him on how to kill him painlessly! Also Sonia Agarwal’s character was left loosely hanging. I did read something in some reviews about her having a crucial scene in the second half, but think it was trimmed off by the time I watched the movie. The movie was very stylishly shot, with various techniques like mood colors and even split screen shots. However I felt this was another thing which reduced the impact of the movie. First, in a movie with so many abrupt twists this confused me a little by diverting my attention. Second, I felt that the seriousness of the movie was undermined by these. The movie looked more stylish than raw and disturbing. I still remember that in “Pithamagan”, the camera perfectly suited the dark and serious mood of the movie. Probably this cinematography should have been less stylish and more ‘raw’.

Anyways with all its flaws, this was one of the honest looks at politician – criminal nexus and it was indeed sad (though not surprising) that it was a commercial flop.

Pattiyal” would have replaced “Veyil” in this list, except for the fact that I like movies with good theme more than stylish movies. And I didn’t like “Imsai arasan…” that much, probably because I saw it in a bad quality VCD. Of course, “Vettayadu vilayadu” was a pretty ordinary movie except for its lead pair. Overall 2006 seems to be a pretty bad year for Tamil cinema (at least in terms of quality of movies). Hoping for a better 2007.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Back with a difference!!

Yet again I have taken a long break and I don’t want to bore anyone by going into reasons for that (assuming I have some). Over the course of these months there have been quite a few posts which I wanted to write, but didn’t. Hence, it’s highly unlikely that I should come out of the break by writing a post not quite characteristic of my blog. It is no less unlikely that this is about a non-fiction book which was first book I completed in several months (after leaving 4 fiction books incomplete!). But unlikely things do happen and hence I am here with this post (or the above things are not so unlikely and I am writing this to only give a snazzy feel to my comeback post!).

Of late I have been fascinated by history and politics – both at national and international level. My interest in politics in not in everyday politics but rather in the conflicting ideologies and their approval or rejection by the society as such. All this lead me to wonder about human society as such and also about philosophy – since philosophy is basically about trying explain human life. I felt I needed a basic primer on this loosely bound array of subjects and luckily I came across this book a couple of months back. I wouldn’t really try to review this book as I don’t think I am competent enough (even by my standards). Instead I would try to summarize the content and what I had learned from that.

The book starts off by presenting the opposing theories of socialism (Marxism) and capitalism (functionalism). As the author observes both the theories start as grand theories which can explain everything in society – Marxism by focusing on class inequality and extraction of surplus value from labor and functionalism by theorizing a functional (utilitarian) value for any social trend, even devious ones. This same grandiosity becomes their flaw as instead of observing society and explaining it, they tend to fit the society to their explanations. Then the book moves into more pure sociological theories like action theory which try to observe specific scenarios and then propose theories suited for them. This wasn’t of much interest to me as except for some interesting scenarios this was like sociology for its own sake. The book later takes up a revised Marxism where the theory is extended to the current class struggle scenario – where a class is not related only by profession, but also by various other indicators like social status, religion, race and so on. This seemed to be an interesting one but there seemed to no strong conclusions like in original Marxism (which was probably why it was revised!)

Towards the end the author surveys mostly disparate elements in social theory like Critical theory, feminism, linguistic connections etc. I skipped most of the chapters in this except for critical theory which I found to be the most interesting. Unlike other theories ‘critical theory’ is not strictly a theory since it doesn’t try to explain any thing in society – the only thing it does is to criticize other known social theories. This seems to be crazy at first, but it does make some sense. When people support some specific theory they usually tend to become biased towards that and not be able to criticize it too much. Hence it is important for something like critical theory to exist, since they are the people who can give the most brutal criticism. This when addressed properly would only lead to a better theory. Apparently for this reason most of the critical theorists are not even attached to any universities. Of course the pitfall here is that they may begin to criticize just for the sake of it. More interestingly the critic of critical theory against capitalism was quite similar to what I have (based on, of course, Brave new world).

Apart from these specific learning it was interesting to get a feel of sociology as such. I knew it was not a science, but I didn’t expect it to be as far away from science as I found it to be. The author’s presentation itself leads to this as he presented the pros and cons of each theory before moving to the next. Therefore, at least by citing other people the author seemed to repeatedly contradicting himself. Of course I did like this format as I like to see opposing views. But what was more surprising was the skepticism expressed by several sociologists as to whether even core theoretical sociology can be treated like science.

The other interesting aspect was that to see the amount of contribution done by Marxism to social theory. Of course, it may not have contributed more than functionalism, but it is definitely a surprise to see the impact it has on other theories especially after reading some of our Libertarian bloggers who seem to bash Marxism as if it was the most evil thing on earth. Of course to counter them I also need to know a fair bit of economics, so at least until I find a good primer on economics I would restrict my blog to movies and book reviews!

One disappointing (or rather expected) thing about the book was that it was entirely about western sociology (and philosophy). In the later parts, some theories like postmodernism seem to be like Hindu philosophies, but there was no elaboration on this. Probably I need to read something on Hindu philosophy to get a completely different perspective! Anyway this was one of the most informative books I had read, though it left me with as many questions as answers (and probably this was why it was informative!).

Monday, May 08, 2006

Revisiting some biographical movies

Biographical films are quite rare in Tamil. However in the last 10 years or so, we have been fortunate to get three such excellent movies. Although none of them were commercial successes, they are certainly worth watching. I’ll briefly review all the three movies, from the most realistic to the most stylistic. Also added on late as a fourth movie is a classic biographical movie.

Iruvar (The Duo):

This movie is based on the life of the real-life duo of M.Karunanidhi and M.G.Ramachandran (MGR). It shows the ascent of DMK, MK capturing power, the split in the friendship of MK and MGR, MGR forming ADMK and capturing power and finally MGR’s death. This is directed by Mani Ratnam and I believe this is one of his best movies. First, it takes a lot of guts to take a movie like this, when the protagonist’s legacy is still richly alive (and in MK’s case he is still in active politics). Though he has cleverly renamed all the characters, it is very clear as to whose life story is being depicted.

Though I was aware of the general events in these two people’s lives, this movie presented so many other details and as I confirmed with my parents most of these details were true. Most of these were kind of open secrets that everybody in my previous generation would know (for instance like how MGR marries Janaki). However some of the other sequences seem to either more closely kept secrets or just imagination – like how MGR’s first wife and Jayalalitha appear alike in the movie (are both played by Aishwarya Rai). But, at least in one case the director has clearly changed the real sequence in the movie (Anna never becomes CM in the movie). This is such a large gap that I consider this only to be a conscious attempt to disclaim this story as a true story. Also conspicuous is that he leaves the story of Jayalalitha totally hanging in the movie – this again might have been due to practical compulsions. Also the director has shown MGR’s reason for the split with MK as ambivalent.

This movie has an excellent cast – Prakashraj as MK, Mohanlal as MGR and Aishwarya Rai as Jayalalitha (her first movie!). Revathi, Tabu and Gowthami are the other female leads and everyone seems to have done their job very well. Stylistically this movie is top class. As it deals with the story of a scriptwriter and actor capturing power, it is filled with poetry and rhetorical flourishes – probably one of the reason why the film flopped in the box-office – which give a special feel to the movie. Though the poetry did seem to go overboard sometime, I did enjoy it mostly, like for instance in a romantic scene between MK and his second wife (played by Tabu).Among other things, the movie does an excellent job in showing how MGR influenced the public through his film songs and in fact two songs are created in the same style! “Kannai katti kollathe” is especially note worthy as it feels like just seeing a typical MGR song!

One thing which can be considered a flaw is that the movie romanticizes the life-story of these two people too much and in the process almost hides their mistakes. There was one scene in the movie, where MGR is questioned by his minister that he like MK is also not controlling corruption and MGR giving a weak reply to it, but this is only one scene which can easily be missed. Also there were too many songs featuring Aishwarya Rai and at least one of them was just an insertion in lieu of an item number. In essence Mani Ratnam might have just taken too many artistic liberties, but still this movie does record the story of two interesting individuals whose lives intersect at crucial points and with it what is till now the most important part of modern Tamil Nadu’s political history.


This is based on life story of Subramanya Bharathi, who is considered to be the greatest modern Tamil poet, despite having died at a young age of 39. Bharathi was a revolutionary in certain ways and he radically opposed many practices prevalent then (early 20th century) like caste discrimination, discrimination against women. As a result he was considered an unfit in his own traditional Brahmin community. Also he supported the freedom movement and his songs were instrumental in spreading the freedom movement in Tamil Nadu. Because of this, he had to spend a long time in exile in French governed Pondicherry. Despite all this what really distinguishes Bharathi’s poetry is that they have this spark of courage or even seething anger, in whatever he writes. Due to his genius and anger against society Bharathi was always an interesting personality and this is very well captured by the movie, giving it a very stylistic feel. The character of Bharathi is excellently played by Shayaji Shinde and Devayani plays his wife in a wonderfully underplayed role. All the songs (composed by Illayaraja) are good and very apt to the situations.

The movie starts with the child hood of Bharathi and how he was recognized very early. In this part the sequence leading to the “mayil pole” is very intriguing and I doubt whether it really happened in Bharathi’s life. The movie shows Bharathi in all his moods, as a revolutionary when he performs thread ceremony and puja for Dalit children, as a man nearly mad with ideas when he commands the Nawab to come and meet him and provide money for publishing his collected works, as a dejected father when he is intimated of his daughter’s marriage only on that day and a dejected man when he discovers that after all these years of reforming society he hasn’t been able to reform his own wife. In fact it also hints at widely believed notion that Bharathi consumed ganja for sometime. Especially impressive was the scene where Bharathi goes to meet Gandhi – he barges in when there is some discussion going on and requests Gandhi to head a meeting where he would sing his poetry. When Gandhi refuses due to lack of time and asks him to shift the meeting, he plainly refuses and leaves after saying that he is pleased with this meeting and that he blesses Gandhi’s freedom movement. This really summarizes Bharathi as he was, as a true unconquered and unhindered genius.

All the songs, many of them written by Bharathi himself are very good (music composed by Ilayaraja) and suit the movie. The movie ends with the funeral of Bharathi, which shows the lack of recognition for this poet, as it is attended by only seven people. Bharathi’s own song, “Nallathor veenai seithey” beautifully rendered in the background is most apt –

“Nallathor veenai seithey athai nalam keda puzhuthiyil erivathundo

Solladi Sivasakthi ennai chuddar migum arivudan padaithuvitai…”

“Do you make a good Veena and throw it in the dust,

Tell me Sivasakthi, you have created me with a sparkling intellect…”

(See here for the full translation, also other poems translated in the same site)


As the name suggests, this is a biographical film on Kamaraj, who was a popular CM in Tamilnadu and considered to be the ‘kingmaker’ nationally. One thing we can notice in the movie is that it is almost documentary style. While this does make us believe that all the incidents shown are true (which I think most of them are), it also becomes a little boring. Nevertheless, it does a good job in showing the principled life of Kamraj and how he virtually shames the current politicians (or perhaps all the politicians who came after him). In fact the dialogues in many places seem to be chosen for this effect as they virtually lash out at the various ills like corruption which plague today’s politicians. The scenes which showed how Kamraj got the idea for the now widely popular mid-day meal scheme for school children and then implemented it were particularly good. In fact this scheme started in Tamil Nadu and was so successful that it has been extended to most other states in India.

Despite being in a documentary style, the movie doesn’t aim to avoid all controversies. Towards the end, it clearly shows that Kamraj is highly disappointed with Indira Gandhi. In fact before going to sleep for the last time, he hears the news that she has imposed emergency and is furious at this and regrets that he had made a wrong decision by selecting her as PM. Also Kamraj is shown strongly criticizing the DMK, for populist policies like rice at Rs.2/Kg. (or some such related thing) and also gaining sympathy on an unrelated injury to MGR during film shooting.

Some of the incidents shown which seemed very relevant to the current political scenario are –

  • After Kamraj becomes CM, his house in his hometown immediately gets water connection. When Kamraj sees on going home, he immediately orders the removal of the water connection as he has not paid for it and as CM he should be a model for not abusing power.
  • A couple of cars and a police jeep escort Kamraj on a tour outside. He asks as to what all this is for and after being told that it is for security, he asks – “When I am in my country, among my own people why do I need any security?”
  • Kamraj usually helps some poor people who come to his residence for help, with his own money. However, when the wife of a person arrested for selling illicit liquor comes, he blankly refuses saying that her husband had done a serious anti-social act.

I felt many other dialogues were aimed directly against current political ills, but I don’t remember many of them now. In fact, if our current politicians were made to watch this, they would feel remorse for at least some time. Dissapointingly, whereas the above two films were at least well received by critics, this didn't seem gather much attention among critics or people - probably because it was quite a low budget venture?

One main thing the movie missed was to show how exactly Kamraj-led Congress lost to DMK in 1967 elections. It did offer some reasons like the populist policies of DMK, but I think the main reason is that Kamraj did not strategically tackle the anti-Hindi (or rather anti Hindi imposition) protests at that time. The movie doesn’t even make any mention of anti-Hindi protests (at least I don’t remember it), so in a way it seems to be blind to Kamraj’s flaws. Nevertheless, an excellent watch which shows how politicians ought to function.

Veerapandiya Kattabomman:

Now, these is a late addition as I was planning to review only the above 3 movies. However, I recently watched this movie as part of the Raj TV’s series of movies called “Tamil Cinema 75”* – to celebrate 75 years of Tamil cinema. This too is a biographical movie, so decided to include this here.

This movie is one of the classics in Tamil cinema and in particular one of Sivaji’s dialogues is so well quoted that every person who has lived in Tamil Nadu would know that, if not the movie. This shows the life of Veerapandiya Kattabomman who ruled the areas around Panchalankurichi (in south TN). He was one of the earliest people** who resisted British rule bravely and gave up his life fighting for it. I have not been able to see how much of the movie’s story is real because, when I searched Wikipedia I found two articles, this and this, while the first one gave only very basic info about Kattabomman, the other gave very detailed info but it was exactly the same as that in the movie!

The movie is a long one running for more than 3 hrs and as I saw it on TV, it prolonged to nearly 4 hrs! I had missed the early portions of the movie, but true to its classic status it managed to keep me interested for the rest of the time. The movie proceeds at a leisurely pace, but is never boring. It has a lot of songs, but again they were also not boring since many songs helped in the narration itself. Even at the worst, I didn’t feel that any song was ‘inserted’ as I feel in watching many masala movies now. And surprisingly, except in portions towards the climax, the movie was never really melodramatic and didn’t involve too many verbose dialogues either. Of course I listened to the dialogue where Kattabomman refuses to pay taxes to the British officer for the umpteenth time, and yes the verbosity does seem justified!

Sivaji Ganesan, needless to say, gives a great performance as he brings forth the good heartedness and patriotic fervor of the character. The other lead actors like Gemini Ganesan, Padmini have also done well. In short, this justifies itself as a classic for a good patriotic theme and a good, if not great execution of it.

* - I have a big grouse against this effort by Raj TV. Though good intentioned, it doesn’t seem to be executed well. After some good movie in the start, it seems to be airing some very ordinary movies and suddenly some day we again see a good movie playing. Worse, they don’t advertise the movies even one week in advance and their website doesn’t even have info on what movie is playing today!

** - Though Sepoy mutiny of 1857 is popularly considered to be the first revolt against British, it is not. There were revolts by some chieftains in Tamil Nadu like Puli Thevar and Kattabomman, followed by a much a bigger revolt called the Polygar war.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Musings on Tamil serials

I had long wanted to make a post on some of the Tamil T.V serials but haven’t done so since I knew the post would be quite rambling. However in order to increase the dismal frequency at which I am updating my blog I have decided to include impulsive or rambling entries and this would be the first of such.

Tamil serials have often been the object of ridicule for mainly being recycled sob stories and most of them deserve that treatment. However a few of them are good, so let me highlight them first. I would reserve the brick bats for later. The serial which first prompted me to write this is “Devathai” being aired in Raj TV. The story is about a woman who dies in what seems to be a domestic accident coming as a ghost and seeing her family (husband and in-laws) and learning about the true faces of the family members. Though it is still not told whether the death itself was a murder, everyone in the family except perhaps her husband is shown to be suspicious in some way. At least in the first few months, the serial was interesting because of the mystery and the different way in which the story was handled. As a relief there is no crying, except when actually needed. Now it seems to have slowed down, thanks to a comedy segment which is not so funny and a somewhat contrived story which becomes as confusing as it is mysterious. Still it is worth a watch when compared to the other serials.

The other one which I was quite impressed with was “Chitamabara ragasiyam” aired on Sun T.V. This comes in, what I think is the, traditional mystery serial slot in Sun T.V – Wednesdays night. This slot once had the classic mystery serials like “Marma desam – Vidhathu Karuppu”, which looking back now was way better than current serials, not only because it was really thrilling but also in the way its ending tied all the loose threads in a logical way, which is really rare in Tamil serials. That serial was the first time in which I encountered the term, “Multiple personality disorder” and it did seem to explain it in very simple terms. Now coming back to “Chitambara…” though not as logical as “Marma desam”, it is quite thrilling. However thanks to a complex storyline and my infrequent viewing of the serial, it appears quite confusing to me. The story is about a series of murders and how they might be linked to an effort to find cure to AIDS. The base concept which is interesting like a conspiracy theory is based on “Nadi joditham” – where a person’s future can be predicted by inscriptions on certain palm leaves – which is popularly done in Vaitheeswaran temple near Chidamabaram, TN. According to the story there is a manuscript which lists in the form of a song, twelve people in whose Nadi joditham descriptions lies the cure for AIDS. These twelve people (or rather people with the same names) are killed and their thumb print is taken. This theme and also some of the characters like the half-mad scientist woman or some “chittars” provide ample scope to tell some confusing philosophical mumbo-jumbo and this is used to the full extent by the serial. Some of the things are based only on wordplay and are obviously wrong, but at least some thing like this is a refreshing change from the all the serials I’ll list after this. For example the last one was, “A doctor, an astrologer and a psychiatrist(?) should always see how a person dies,…,becomes mad(?)” I am at least sure of the first set, which would have been just puzzling to me had I not seen and read some parts in a book called “How we die” written by a practicing doctor.

Now for the ones which I don’t like or like them just enough not to walk out of a room where they are being played. Radhika’s serials have been steadily decreasing in quality and her current serial “Selvi” is ample proof for that. I started watching “Chithi” only mid-way, but it seemed quite good except of course for the ending which was an anti-climax. Her next serial, “Annamalai” started with a bang by talking about such things like re-birth, but it soon lost its way and of course the climax was as bad as it could be. “Selvi” was not impressive even in its start and soon I figured out that it was really going no where and worse getting quite intolerable. It must be really bad since I was able to convince my parents to stop watching it, which we rarely do for a serial. Still we watch it occasionally like once in a week (which by the way, is enough to keep track of a mega-serial without anybody’s help) and it doesn’t show any signs of improving. Then there are serials like “Kolangal” which would be tolerable if not for the amount of crying in it. And of course I am really irritated with all these serials showing their protagonist as perfect too-good people who sacrifice any thing for any one. I am not an Ayn Rand follower fundamentally against sacrifice, but seeing people sacrifice so many things reduces the value of a sacrifice. The other serials which I happen to watch, at least occasionally, “Anandham” and “Mughartham” are quite average and are at least watchable. Of course I guess there are some even worser serials running in the day time, like “Sorgam” which has been running since god knows when (at least since last 4 years?).

The one common, disgusting thing I find all Tamil serials (or rather serials on Sun TV?) is that they all have vendetta as a common theme. And worse they show it mostly among family members – like a daughter-in-law avenging her father’s death by taking revenge on her in-laws (“Anandham”). I feel that watching a lot of such serials daily really creates some negative feelings in our mind, which is why I have really been discouraging my mother from watching these serials. Here’s where I think we should appreciate serials like “Metti Oli”. Though otherwise quite average, it didn’t have vendetta or any other negative feeling as a main theme and instead focused on normal failings of people. I was a bit disappointed that its director, Thirumurugan, wasn’t directing any new serial but it is good to know he is coming to cinema. Talking of directors, I feel a good director and bound script is the second thing which all these serials lack. Stories develop in all directions for sometime and as the number of characters become too much, some are just forgotten for months together, only for them to be reintroduced later whenever the director has to wriggle out of some sudden twist which he has been forced to introduce. To add to all this Sun TV seems to have this irritating policy of allowing serials to continue for any length of time as long as their TRP ratings are high, but wrapping them up as soon as their ratings dip. I believe this has led to the sudden forced endings of many Tamil serials. I don’t have much idea about serials in other channels, though I feel they should be better then Sun TV’s. However, I guess a lot of people like us are stuck with Sun TV serials, simply because you have would mostly missed the starting part of the other serials. This reason may be one of the main reason why Sun TV still seems to have a strangle hold of serials viewership.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A clarion call!

Thavamai Thavamirundhu - Review
I watched “Thavamai Thavamirundhu” quite some time back and wanted to write a review ever since. Finally got the time and inclination now. Coming from Cheran, after his critically acclaimed and commercially successful “Autograph” this film carried huge expectations and I should say it has satisfied them. After a couple of disappointing movie outings, this one was a really refreshing one to watch.

Cheran takes a similar milieu to his “Autograph”, but the treatment here is so refreshingly different that it makes me think that for such directors there would be no dearth of stories. The movie’s main theme is the travails a father undergoes to bring up his sons and how he is or ought to be treated in his old age. Rajkiran (as Muthiah) and Saranya (as Sarada) are the parents and they toil hard to bring up their sons. The elder son Senthil (as Ramanathan) changes after his marriage and doesn’t treat his parents well, though the younger son Cheran (as Ramalingam) learns just in time. The message here is much stronger than in “Autograph”. Yet Cheran manages not to become didactic and make the message seem very reasonable – quite an achievement by itself (this reminds me of “Vedham Pudhidhu”, of why a strong message need not be didactic). More on this later - the movie is also very good in other techniques, which I would try to list down,

Realism: The movie is always so realistic which makes this message even more believable. In fact, I should say that this movie has taken realism in Tamil movies (at least in mainstream ones) to a new level. (Though I am not giving a plot summary (one can be found here), there a few SPOILERS ahead. Of course this movie is hardly a suspense thriller, so this may not matter much!). As a striking example of the realism, I would like to point out one particular scene – when Ramalingam leaves the house to elope with his lover (on another pretext). In the scene, his mother is woken up by his father to wish him farewell and her voice started off by being really sleepy and feeble – in fact it was just audible! The cinematography is also excellent as it dwells on the various shades of grey in indoors.

Narration style: Cheran follows the same style as in “Autograph”, which is to go back to flash backs repeatedly from the present. Also, in the end he continues with the present for sometime, to result in a rather strong climax. Of course as would be well known by now, he has shot the flashback in color and present in black & white (as in “Hey Ram”). But what was much more interesting for me was the extent to which he focuses on various incidents. Incidents which conventional films would focus on like a normal marriage (of that of Ramanathan) are never shown and we are told of it only in later scenes (in interesting ways). This style allows Cheran to focus on the remaining scenes, allowing them to progress slowly to have the intended effect. Many complain that the film is over 3 hrs long, but I think the length is justified as it allows us to appreciate the feelings and settings. Of course, some scenes are very touching and I nearly cried in a couple of them!

Cast & Acting: There can be no two opinions in this. Almost everyone, especially the four main characters of the film have given a very good performance. Rajkiran as the father is the ‘hero’ of the movie and he blends into the movie so much that I couldn’t say he was acting! Especially his voice was so suitable (tender and caring during many scenes), that it alone was sufficient to convey all the emotions! Almost the same for the mother role played by Saranya. Cheran and Padmapriya could’ve given better performance, but it doesn’t seem to be lacking in any particular way. As much as I would have scoffed at this idea before seeing the movie, Rajkiran would definitely be in the running for the National award for the best actor.

Songs: Songs are exactly the way I like them to be in a movie – they blend with the movie and sometimes move the story ahead. “Ore Oru oorukulle” was a good song to picturise an excursion. “Oru muraithaan” was a touching song and I guess the song was split into portions with scenes in between them (something which I first observed in “Autograph”). The theme music which shows the parents having a good time at their son’s house is very apt for it and it was then I noticed that it had a very euphoric tone. Some segments like this and “Oru Muraithaan” song were like pure poetry on screen. That some little known composers like Sabesh-Murali can give such a fare reminds me the importance of context for songs.

The theme and its stress: Cheran uses the often used technique of using a counter example (Ramanathan) and example (Ramalingam) to convey his message of how parents should be treated in their sunset years. The technique is very effective, since Cheran doesn’t specially villainize Ramanathan’s and his wife’s characters. Their motives are shown to be quite natural, but misguided ones and he also shows their effects. For instance, he shows how Ramanathan’s wife is almost jealous at seeing the care given by Muthaiah & Sarada to Ramalingam’s children and in effect shows the futility and difficulty of trying to live in a nuclear family. The one flaw in characterization may be that the father – Muthaiah is shown to be a perfect person. But I guess the theme wants to stress that even such people are not automatically treated well by their children. Also, all of Muthaiah’s decisions are quite liberal (logical) and balanced and may be this also indicates to the parents that they should change with the world.

However I was having a feeling that Cheran was stressing more than love for parents in this movie and it was confirmed in the final scene when Ramalingam agrees to give the house to his brother, because, he was “his best relation”. Cheran in effect stresses on the importance of relations and the joy got from them, in this fast changing world where nuclear, single child families are the order of the day. In this world, when the necessity of relations and the importance given to it in our culture are being questioned, he shows how important they are – for instance to provide support during distress (like when Ramalingam has his first child). In effect it is a clarion call to restore the faith in our culture.

That such a strong and relevant message can be given convincingly and engrossingly within the mainstream cinema format is a big achievement. That’s why even when I see that all reviews are praising the movie, I feel the movie deserves this and even more!

Friday, December 30, 2005

A shocking cowardly act !

Shocked at this! Terrorism is always a cowardly act, but when they attack an educational institute and that too a conference venue, the cowardice becomes too much!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

King Kong - Why this?

So I am back after a long break. Without going into any silly excuses, the break has been bigger than what I intended it to be. Though not many people seem to be missing my blog, I certainly missed my blog.

I saw King Kong recently and now have the urge to review it. Not because it was very good, but because my opinion seems to be so much different from the opinions I find elsewhere. I was quite easily getting bored in what is billed as a top commercial film for 2005. Actually I don’t expect much logic from a commercial (‘masala’) film. I only expect it to proceed in such a way (for example, move at a fast pace) so that we don’t notice the logical flaws, at least till the end of the movie. In my recent viewings, movies like Anniyan and Gilli fitted this quite well.

But King Kong was neither an absorbing masala movie, neither did it have an interesting story line. Of course, one thing I have to clarify is that I was never able to accept a gorilla expressing so much affection for a human (in such a short time) and even worse, the human reciprocating it! May if some one is able to accept it the movie would be more viewable. Nevertheless, I don’t find any excuse for showing a whole zoo of crazy creatures in the forest scenes in Skull island. Just because you have the power of computer graphics doesn’t mean that you have to overuse it like this! As every possible creature which fitted the imagination of the director comes on screen, we (myself and my friends) were laughing out at the action sequences, for otherwise we would have been nauseated by those animals.

I have jotted down some amusing and illogical things I found in the movie. Usually I don’t do this for a commercial movie, but in this I was able to find so many flaws even while watching the movie, that I thought I should put them down.

  • Most of the characters in the movie (including King Kong) seem to be mad – they do extremely risky things, bordering on illogical. I can excuse the movie producer’s madness in going to a remote island as ambitiousness, but I find no excuse as to why the crew of the ship went into an unknown forest for just rescuing a girl, how he accepted to encounter a mighty gorilla with only Chloroform and some ropes and finally how the girl thinks that climbing to the top of Empire state building can save the gorilla.

  • Every animal in the Skull island seems to be all set to fight until death! From my limited exposure to Discovery channel, my knowledge is that animals don’t hunt unless they are hungry and though they fight with each other over for instance a female, they rarely ever fight till death. But here we see two dinosaurs fighting to death with the King Kong over such a small prey like Ann. Of course the other thing I remembered when I saw the King Kong facing three dinosaurs was how it was exactly analogous to Rajinikanth (or any other mass hero) finishing of ten villains ;-)

  • Back in New York the movie’s human hero (forgot his name!) directs King Kong to Ann in the very next scene after wondering why she is not present in the auditorium.

Apart from the above, I did find numerous logical flaws later. Of course the main flaw was that the movie was too lengthy. It could have easily been trimmed of by 30 minutes, mainly in scenes in the forest and also in scenes on the ship. One thing I liked about the movie was the way it started and showed the New York of depression era. The relation between King Kong and Ann though unbelievable was shown quite subtly and some sequences like the skating scene were quite good.

In summary, this is quite a mediocre movie with an unbelievable storyline, entertaining only if you are ready to tolerate a zoo of weird animals and be able to appreciate an extra-human (!) relationship. I really don’t understand why it is getting such good reviews – perhaps a majority of people fit the above description!

Personally, my last two movie outings have been a disaster despite having selected the movies. The last movie was Ghajini. Except for cute romance between Surya and Asin there was really nothing else in the movie. And just like how I feel King Kong misused and overused some good computer graphics, I felt Ghajini had misused and disused an excellent movie concept like Short term memory loss.

This was a post written in some urgency, but I have two posts pending for a long time, which I am putting down just so that I don’t forget to write them.
  1. A review (or should I say an overview) of Tamil television serials.

  2. A review of three excellent biographical Tamil movies Bharathi, Kamaraj, Iruvar.