Monday, June 23, 2008

Awe and Shock

The recent Airtel advertisement shows Madhavan and Vidya Balan sauntering along in a train happily playing cards when a reminder comes on Madhavan's mobile about a bill payment. And before you know it, the bill's been paid, at the touch of the button. Awesome. And then they show the train moving out of a tunnel in some remote place. Scary!

So far at least if you did not pay certain bills, a few well paid body builders would come marching to your home and employing barely pacifist means, ensure that you shell out the money immediately. If you thought that the best way to escape was a nice relaxing holiday in the hills while you try and arrange money to take care of these bills, think again. The mobile phone is not only a device you can use in an emergency, it could just be the very tool which can send you into one of those emergency wards at a shady hospital in the hills. The lesson for all of us is to switch off our mobiles and switch it on only after you have paid all your bills, and not try some stunt of paying those same bills from your mobile phones. After all, wherever you go, your bills follow!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dasavatharam: Kamal all the way

Warning: Review contains spoilers, almost all of them. It may be excruciatingly long, like the movie as some would claim.

Releasing on the same weekend as the biggest disappointment of 2007, Sivaji, comes the magnum opus of this year, Dasavatharam. Having heard mixed reactions to the movie ranging from really good to pathetic helped lower my expectations and whether this is a good thing or bad thing I'd not know for it might have jaundiced my view into looking for the positives more than the negatives.

For starters, I wonder aloud the authenticity and the logic behind the claim that the film has no story or a weak one at best. To tie up so many things into one single plot is no mean achievement and Kamal does it without any glaring logical inconsistency. The character of Rangaraja Nambi though the strongest of the lot may be touted as the weakest link. Srikanth defends it with a rebirth angle, which seems to hold credence but seems a bit forced .If true however, it offers delicious parallels between the two characters, 4 if you include that of Asin. The highly religious Rangarajan countered by the atheist Govind, Rangarajan's love for the idol and Govind's looking at it as a mere container of the vial. At the end of the day both there lives become intricately connected with the idols and while Rangarajan while being a firm believer drowns with the God he so loves, Govind is saved by the fact that the idol serves as the safe carrier of the vial and therefore in a sense it is God who comes to his rescue. Asin's parallel's though not as intriguing still makes for interesting interpretations in the way she puts her love for Nambi ahead of the idol in the first place and in the latest avatar she puts the idol before anything else.

If one were to rate Kamal's characters right on top would be that of Fletcher. His mannerisms and body language are top notch and on par with any villain of Hollywood, though some may claim its more inspired than on par, it still is quite a big achievement to carry it off with as much elan as he does. Pairing up with him, in more sense than one is Mallika Sherawat as Jasmine a rather needless character and perhaps the poorest casting of the lot, commercial compulsions being the only possible reason. Both Fletcher and Jasmine are ex CIA agents. Is Kamal trying to make a point here?

Balram Naidu provides tremendous comic relief and showcases Kamal's mastery over comic timing and few of his dialogues have the Crazy Mohan touch to them especially "Osama Bin Ladder" and "Rao odha Rao a sendhu.. " . Kamal does not seem to be able to shirk off the influence of his long time comedy dialogue writer. His interactions with his assistant Appa Rao are reminiscent of the Janakaraj comedy track in Aboorva Sagadorargal.

Another character with heavy influence from Kamal's past movies is Vincent Poovaragan who reminds you of his character in Anbe Sivam, especially the scene where he goes in for talks with P Vasu (yet another disastrous acting performance from him). Though much loved, his link with the main plot is a thin thread. Perhaps one of the wasted characters but Kamal is likely to get away with this one because of the serious role ascribed to Vincent. "Nee enna ulaga Nayagana? " is needless self glorification as much as he tries to cover it up with the ensuing dialogue of how each one is an ulaga nayagan by himself.

Krishnaveni Paati will possibly go down as the most trivial and needless roles that Kamal has essayed in this movie despite him giving it importance to her as the person instrumental in starting the second round of lets-chase-the-vial. Khalifullah Khan as the giant with a kind heart is used to stress upon the viewer the fallacies of the prejudiced view of all Muslims being anti-nationalistic. Shingen Narahasi is used better than expected and his climax fight with Fletcher is perhaps one of the highlights of the movie. And Avatar Singh is perhaps one of the most contrived of the characters. Jayapradha as his loving wife though, is a casting coup. She fits into the role with ease and her dance with Kamal at the end showing how much grace she still retains.

George Bush is the surprise package of the movie. While one expected it to be just a role for the sake of number count, Kamal uses it to rip Bush apart. Right from his faltering speech in the press conference to his enquiry on the possibility of using the Nuke to counter the Bio weapon, Kamal portrays him as the George Bush we'd all love to see , a head of state with little intelligence and even less common sense.

Kamal's performance as Govind, the protagonist can be described in one word, neat.

Of the others, and there are so many of them, only Asin has an extended role and she does justice to it. Her incessant insisting about the need to keep the idol and keep it clean, though irritating set the tone for most of the God vs No God debate and therefore can be excused.

The most noteworthy contribution from Kamal apart from the story and screen play are the dialogues. Witty at times, thought provoking most of the times, they are succinct and full marks to him for avoiding any long lectures, which would have seemed only natural given the heaviness of the topics he's handled. All the dialogues revolving around God are especially noteworthy for their overall neutrality, as at the end of the film neither theism or atheism are claimed to be the superior philosophy. The lyrics department comes out with flying colours with both Kallai Mattum and Oh Oh Sanam being top draw stuff. Himesh's music is seemed to be made better with the visuals and Devi Shri Prasad's background score is neat with him working well within his limitations. It neither adds tremendously to the on screen happenings nor does it distract the viewer. Computer graphics are the biggest let down and at times look very amateurish. Scenes involving one or more Kamals are without any hitch though. The camera work is good enough in most parts and particularly good in the action sequences.

There are a few gems which stand out in the movie and among them is the idea to not involve Govind in the climax but instead let Narahasi and Fletcher fight it out. To have Narahasi, a Japanese point out the arrival of the Tsunami stands out for the thinking involved. And are the birds flying overhead in the climax just an indicator for morning or has Kamal put in the concept of animals and birds sensing natural disasters earlier? I wouldn't bet against the second possibility. "remember Hiroshima.. " lines are outstanding and so are Fletcher's last words. The fact that the boat in which Govind, Asin and Narahasi and the all important idol take refuge in, lands up in a church seems to tell us that God is one, across all religions.

As Srikanth has claimed, Kamal has portrayed Rangarajan Nambi as a sort of a Jesus Christ and this is an interpretation which puzzles me. Also among the many tiny loopholes are the amount of time which seems to lapse between the concert and the Tsunami. Too little seems to have happened to justify 8 hours. Also how does Kalifullah seem to know that Govind has to be protected against Fletcher and how can Balram Naidu not enquire more about the two people who had saved Kalifullah's family especially after K R Vijaya's claims that they were a couple? How the little boy from the Muslim family escapes from Fletcher is also not shown clearly enough. The mix up of the ice boxes in the lift is too contrived and just about passes muster. Also we understand that a butterfly's flutter can cause extensive changes elsewhere in the world, but to keep reminding us with that butterfly on the screen is too much in the face. Agreed that here it is India which saves the world, but so many Indian flags in the background and one of them piercing Fletcher's body proves to an overdose. Asin's sudden love for Kamal and Kamal's affection towards Asin also seems too sudden.

One of the recurring themes of the movie seem to be the good arising out of the bad. Be it the most vital destruction of the vial's constituents due to the tsunami or P Vasu turning into a good man after Poovaragan's death. You notice this again when Avatar Singh's cancer is removed due to the bullet wound and Krishnaveni paati's stress release on seeing Poovaragan's dead body. It can yet again be seen when Nagesh proclaims that had they not been taken for questioning inside the mosque they wouldn't have survived the tsunami. To have Kamal and Asin unite at the beach with all the gloom in the background seems to show that life must move on despite the tragedies which happen around us and maybe even to us.

On the whole, as is this review, the movie is about one man, Kamal Hassan and in this it is easy to forget the fact that the director of the movie is in fact a one Mr K.S. Ravikumar seems inconsequential. But again,as in most Kamal movies it is Kamal's influence which is paramount and not regrettably so. He chooses to explore chaos theory and throws in questions of and about scientific ethics, religion, destruction of environment, the prejudiced views against the Muslims of the world post 9/11 and much more. He just about does enough justice to each of these causes. and all of this in the midst of a chase story. Thankfully this is no wild goose chase.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

His Highness Himalayas

The other day in the course of a chat with Srikanth, he suggested that I add a few pics to spice up my blog. I declined saying it'll be akin to using "item numbers" in movies. However in order that I try something different, I have chosen to have a photoblog, a la musical. So i present to you a few photographs taken during my recent visit to a couple of hill stations in northern India.

India's answer to the Golden Gate. Considering we have answered every other gate like Watergate, Camillagate. Monicagate etc this was only due.

What you see in the picture plain rice kept in the vessels being cooked in the hot water springs at Manikaran, a place revered by Sikhs and Hindus alike. This cooked rice is the served at the Gurudwara. The pic below is the Shiva idol in the temple. The rising steam can be clearly seen. The associated legend can be found here.

Wherever you go traffic jams follow. A clear illustration are the photographs below. This one was due to a landslide the previous day which had transformed the already single lane roads into half lane ones at places.

In the above picture focus somewhere in the middle. You'll see a line of small white dots. Those aren't rocks but cars and buses. The advantages of almost all vehicles belonging to travel agencies being white, they present a great picture even during traffic jams.

And while the human beings were suffering from bouts of hunger arising out of staying stuck in the jam for 8 hours, the horses had their fill.

Talk of each photograph speaking a 1000 words, the following speak a million and in turn leave you speechless. (atleast for me. lol. )

And while most of our activities usually begin with a prayer to Lord Ganesha this blog will end with one. Fondly labelled, by myself, as the Kit Kat Pillayar, this is what arose out of fiddling around with a kit kat wrapper.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Murphy's Paradox

If laws were to be proved, then Murphy's Law would not stand a chance, for if we tried to prove it right then whatever can go wrong will, and we'll never end up proving it. So would it be safer to label it as Murphy's axiom instead?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Picture (im)perfect

If you had watched the broadcast of Andrum Indrum Endrum, Illayaraja's live performance in Chennai a year back, on Jaya TV I am sure you will have been haunted by that lovely tune they played each time they went for an ad break. It was Ilayaraja at his mesmeresing best, not exactly a rare occasion, but almost always a breathtaking one. If however I were to ask you which movie the song appears in, I am sure you would draw a blank. I chanced upon the video while skipping through the channels, on Sun Music of course, and trust me I was totally taken aback. Waltzing, kidding of course, it can be described as walking at best, to that tune was Vijayakanth at his young and dashing best, kidding again, and a heroine whose vivacious face and curvaceous body, sorry couldn't resist it (i meant the kidding part) , left me wondering how she wasn't touted as Kollywood's answer to Parveen Babi. And the name of the movie: Auto Raja. Pretty sure that the makers of the movie Auto had this name in mind before having to settle for a more mundane Oram Po, thanks to Kalignar's tax sop to all movies titled completely in Tamizh. That he forgot to mention which dailect of Tamizh and the wonderfully creative titles which came up because of this ruling is another story altogether.

Coming back to the issue of the picturisation of the above mentioned song, it is indeed a sad situation that this is not limited to just this song but to almost all of Illayaraja's classics. Atleast in the times of MSV and before there was never a great effort made because the tunes were simple and the lyrics all powerful. Though the lyrics remained equally poignant through Illayaraja's times, the directors decided that mere walking around wouldn't be enough and they had to jazz it up with dance routines. While the intentions may have been honest,the songs suffered. Often these days, I find myself hurriedly switching channels when I come across an old Illayaraja song being aired because I do not want my love for the song be diminished by the jarring visual.

To repeatedly watch a Karthik or Murali, or even worse some unknown face, try horribly to match step with the tune is a punishment which I wouldn't wish even on my enemy. At times I wonder how Illayaraja could allow for such blasphemy. Here's a genius belting out one masterful tune after another, only for it to be picturized in such a ridiculous manner. Would he not possibly envy the Harris' and Yuvans of today whose songs are made to appear, pun intended, much better than they actually are. How Shankar might have handled a "mayanginen Solla thayanginen" or a "kadhal kasukadaya", if you haven't seen these songs on television blame it on the lack of visual appeal, is a rather intriguing thought. Would he have still gone for those gigantic sets or instead understood the innate brilliance of the song and kept the picturization simple and hence enhance its appeal? Would "podhuvaga en manasu.. " song include some umpteen jaw dropping moves if picturised on Vijayrather than the rustic feel given to it in the actual movie? These are questions which one might say are best left unanswered. One supposes its pretty much the same with Illayaraja's songs. One just wishes they had gone "unpicturized".

Monday, June 2, 2008

Branded Items Only

Once on my way to school, a friend of mine , a year older than myself, asked a kid in 3rd standard from a rather affluent family what his favorite song in Alaipayuthey was. Pat came the answer " september maadham". Slightly taken aback my friend decided to ask just one more question, "have you seen the video?". The reply was not only an emphatic yes but also a naughty smile.

Give and take some exaggeration from the above story it still makes quite a .. story. No this is not a lecture on depreciating moral values in our society. This is about a term cinema critics use: the front benchers. Should a song with suggestive moves or shady lyrics appear in a movie these critics are ready to label it as an effort to please the front benchers. Do they mean to say that the people who sit in the 2nd row of the theatre have any different emotions and reactions to such a song from someone who has paid Rs. 150 and sits in cushioned chairs with his arms wrapped, protectively or otherwise, around his girlfriend. Isn't the baser emotions what the name suggests, something basic. Despite the rather negative connotation to it, its still the same for everyone, independent of the strata he/she belongs to.

To derogate the taste of those sitting in the front rows or to claim that the "back benchers" have a liking only for quality cinema reeks of arrogance and classist tendencies. One would like to ask those who pay in excess of 100 rupees for the movies they watch if they have seen movies from Iran, Korea or Mexico where some of the best and most wonderfully crafted movies are made. I haven't seen them but that doesn't mean I look down upon a Sandai or a Arasangam. If you don't like it, then no issues. But then to claim that one's taste is poor just because he/she finds the movie entertaining is to be judgmental without being practical. After all one man's liking can very well be the other person's dislike.

Another of the prejudices that these critics carry is to judge an "item number" by the director or the star cast. A Mani Ratnam movie item number will be described as tastefully done and providing refreshing change (remember the song in Bombay,? Any other director would have been lambasted while Mani Ratnam draws cheers). I have nothing against Mani Ratnam, in fact I would claim to be his ardent fan, but what irks me is the attitude of the critics and their elitist friends to item numbers. I am pretty sure that parents in posh Mumbai locals wouldn't mind their kids watching Mallika Sherawat belly dance in Guru but would have an issue with her item number, or any song rather, in another movie.

My understanding of the situation, and I would love to hear views, contradicting or otherwise, is that what you watch and appreciate depends on what the people around you would allow you to. In other words, while the tastes of individuals is independent of the strata of society, the appreciation, and I mean the open kind, is very much a reflection of the peer group. What decides whether you are impressed by something is whether it impresses the people you want to impress that you were impressed by that something. Too confusing? This is nothing compared to the tribulations of the guy sitting next to you in the theatre wondering whether he should clap and enjoy an item number or whether it'll reflect badly on him and therefore try and give the impression he's squirming in his seat. By the time he makes up his mind on either choice, the song would have been long over and all the time spent mulling over the options is a waste. Maybe now I understand why they say these songs are meant for the front benchers. They are the ones who derive maximum enjoyment from these songs. They are free of any inhibitions and all those considerations of what the person next to him/her feels. If only the critics would climb down from the false high pedestal they are sitting on and be more open minded in their evaluation of an item number.