Monday, October 25, 2010

Tamil Films, Beards & Kamal

There is an incredible amount of beards found in Tamil film these days. From barely visible stubble, to Che Guevara-ish spacious growth to full blown facial mess, you just see them everywhere, whether it’s the films the fuzzy owners are acting in, or in off-screen functions where the number of beards compete directly with the number of cleavages. Comparatively, the latter is less disturbing.

Its not only stars on off-assignment mode that maintains these beards, but most of the on-screen characters these days comes with beard. It should be noted that films with rural background theme is making a wave now, not unlike early 80s when the likes of Bharathiraja popularised more local looking dudes with crown of curly going northwest and southeast and lots of facial hair. Character actors like Chandrasekhar, who owes his entire career to Karl Marx (unions) and director/writer/composer/editor/actor/janitor T. Rajendar, whose height disadvantage cost him the role of Chewbacca*, were immediately accepted by the mass who suddenly didn’t mind seeing facial hair emoting.

Then, it died out. Heroes were back to mustache and most popular look was blown-dry hair. As far as heroes are concerned, beard, usually reserved for after jail-sentence hero back for revenge, Ilayaraja tunes crooning sadcases who lost his sweetheart (thus rendering Ilayaraja more free time since he composed single tune for the late heroine and his bereaved lover), martyrs dying of disease (cancer’s the favourite), lads who are also master of disguises that a single goatee would dumbfound his own mother as we find her dumb, and for those wielding multiple roles, especially the beard is assigned to the dad (master performer, Sivaji Ganesan, succumbed to this trend in film like Trisoolam).

Of course, villains are given carte blanche to have what would range from goatee, to full blown above mentioned Marx-ish beards, they accessorised mind you. Beards was a must in mythical films for the bad guys as usual, the swamijis, extras playing wise-men, and the lead character in bio-pics, like Shri Ragavendra where Rajini goes from clean shaven handsome young men to Santa Claus in white.

But that was the 80s.

Decades earlier, beard was made infamous by MGR whose heroes usually used them and a thick mole for disguise. Though he still looked like MGR with beard and mole, in his universe nobody knows him except, maybe, Nagesh. Beards at that time too were relegated to bad guys, and sales of fake beards must have skyrocketed at the time when director A.P. Nagaran felt enough with contemporary social reform crap back in the 60s and on with mythologies. Of the cast of 100, 95 had beards, and none were clean shaven unless they are playing Krishna/Vishnu/Ramar or was NT RamaRao. Many mythological films appeared in the 70s, but most of them were with contemporary settings and beard went out of fashion in favour of wigs that look like black fist coming out of their forhead.

After brief resurgence in the 80s, beards went back to the closets they were kept and appeared briefly during the moments mentioned above. But then, nobody was as enthusiastic, nay, fanatic about beard than one of the best actors of his generation and perhaps the best looking man ever to grace the screen, Kamal Haasan.

Kamal flirted with beard at a very young age, nicely stubbled at 26 as unemployed poet in Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu, and adorned a fake one for the old man getup in Kadal Meenkal. When his character was stricken with cancer in Vazhve Mayam, he quickly bearded up and lost his girlfriend (no, not because of the beard though I’d like to think so). In Oru Kaithiyin Diary, he loses his loved one and comes out of jail with beard. I, at that time, suspected that movie prison encourages beard, like cops are encouraged to have mustache. There were scores of heroes who were jailed and later comes out to prove their innocence with the aid of wit, newly acquired martial arts skill and beard.

Back to Kamal. Death and love played a part again in Punnagai Mannan, when after failing in suicide and killing his girlfriend in the process (planned paired suicide went wrong), Kamal comes back to the society (from the jail, remember) as bearded dancing master and a regular pain in the ass moody grouch bag, which would have ruined the film if not for cheerfully funny uncle of his, also played by Kamal. The second Kamal had almost Chaplinesque mustach, goes to show that funny does not equal beard.

But all these were fake beards, you can spot them so far away. He said to hell with his dry-blown hair, cropped it short and grew actual 100% pure facial hair. The film, Sathya, had some of the best fight sequences in the history, and the beard only made Kamal more ferocious. Fake beard made a comeback in Michael Madhana Kamarajan when the evil Kamal (there was four of them with varying degrees of facial hair) had a goatie that couldn’t make its mind whether or not to join the sideburn.

And ferocity was the key of Hey Ram, self-directed masterpiece that sees him seriously experimenting with facial hair. You get to see a clean shaven Kamal, and then lightly bearded with ponytail, then heavily bushed, then with a black caterpillar above his lips, back to beard so much so that, though it was chronological, you feel like you are in a Tarantino movie.

In another self-directed brilliant film, Virumandi, Kamal sports what is known as “Franz-Josef beard”, though it looked more like he went, “Oh crap, what am I doing?” halfway shaving the bottom part of his full beard. It looked good nevertheless, as he did in Pammal K. Sambanthan where he sported lazy stubble and in Panchatanthiram looking good as a Pilot with a sharp goatee that did the acting on behalf of Simran. The goatee made a comeback in Mumbai Express to make up for Kamal’s deaf stunt man In Dasavatharam, he gave few of his characters (he played ten) different styles of facial hair, with two having beards. After that, he came out full fledged with nicely trimmed one in Unnaipol Oruvan, where his beard became evidence for his characters possible background. Was that a Muslim beard or a Hindu one?

Let’s face it, Kamal owns beard. It’s a copyright item belonging to Kamal Haasan that the other actors must pay royalty to. Kamal can sport a beard as and when he goddam pleases, in any which film whether or no he is in it. Kamal can have beard when he is in front of the camera, or behind the camera, or at his office or in your home doing plumbing. And he can still look awesome, no matter what style he chooses.

It is the assumption, that beard did the acting for Kamal, that the younger set of actors seemed to be bent on having beards or different style of facial hairs for each films. Wrong! To Kamal they were his prop, like Rajini and his fags or sunglass, like Sarath Kumar and his sombu. The rest is pure performance. If they have an award category for Most Awesome Facial Hair, Kamal is bound to win every year until they ban him.

*He was three feet shorter.

Friday, October 08, 2010

PKR Headlines and perceived report.

Oh man, the ruling party-linked press is having a field day with news surrounding Parti Keadilan Rakyat, seeing that it is going to have an election. I typed PKR in google news and boom! Many headlines with first few lines appeared. Too lazy to read the rest, I decided to come up with my own conclusion, as this is how reading news is done anyway these days. The lines in italics are those that appeared with the search result the rest is mine. Here we go:

Zaid riled by baseless allegations in PKR polls campaign

Malaysia Star -

PETALING JAYA: PKR deputy presidential contender Datuk Zaid Ibrahim says the party election campaign is turning dirty with various accusations being hurled him, including that he once dated a goat.

“It’s baseless I tell you,” said Zaid, who is a lifelong vegetarian and was once carrot-juice-holic. “It was an Australian sheep, by the way”.

The paper could not reach PKR’s de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who is currently in South Pole to discuss his Commonwealth Games with leaders from polar bear community.

PKR to demand apology, retraction of statement from Rahimi

Malaysia Star

KUALA LUMPUR: PKR will send Rahimi Osman a letter of demand for an apology and retraction of statement and expect a reply within a few days, failing which, ...the party will attempt to build the biggest Durian cake ever to make it into the Malaysian Book of Record.

“What Rahimi has done is damaging enough for us to consider various ways to win the hearts and minds of the Rakyat,” said a spokesperson from the party, though he is mute.

The Durian cake will be as big as “a typical Umno politician’s bungalow” and the party’s de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will not be able to make it for the launch event as he will be in appearing in BBC to talk about the merits of “tempoyak”.

Datuk Dr Lee Chong Meng Quits MCA

Bernama - ‎ ‎

There have been talks that Lee had joined PKR as early as June where he admitted that he had filled in an application form then, but did not sign it. his pen ran out of ink.

“I swear I didn’t know my pen got no ink,” said Lee, adding that the statement should be taken literally, and there was no sexual innuendo in it.

He added that it will be sometimes before he can refill the pen, noting that the incident signifies looming stationery problem in MCA. PKR’s de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim could not be reached for comment as he was using the restroom.

Kottapan Wants Probe Into Chaos At Kota Raja PKR Division Expedited

Bernama –

KLANG, Oct 6 (Bernama) -- One of the candidates for the division chief post in Parti Keadilan Rakyat's (PKR) Kota Raja division, who alleged that he was ...heckled at for having a comical name.

“In Tamizh Kottai means either seeds or testicles. Who are they to judge what my name means,” said Kottapan suffered injuries in one of his middle fingers which he raised in acknowledgement to the heckling during a recent division meet.

According to him, chaos broke up when someone announced that the division was out of Milo in the pantry. The party’s de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was available for comment but nobody bothered to ask him for comment as the division head declared emergency until the Milo supply arrived.

Chaos if PKR leads, says Umno man

Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: Umno continues to gloat as PKR dismays opposition supporters with its uproarious election process. If PKR were to come to power ...Umno-Man will retaliate with his superpowers which include, basically, telling unconvincing lies.

Umno-Man, once declared that his superpowers are so super that even Superman admitted that no way he can match his brain, brawn and ability to be more stupid (wearing underwear outside).

“Watch out PKR, for Umno-Man is here,” said err…Umno-Man. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, PKR’s de facto leader, wasn’t around for comment and was last seen in Justice League of America (JLA) office discussing possibility of JLA running the country with him at helm.

Sabak Bernam Fracas A Lesson To PKR - Khalid

Bernama - Oct 3, 2010

KUALA SELANGOR, Oct 3 (Bernama) -- The fracas at Sabak Bernam Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) divisional meeting on Saturday is a good lesson for the party in ...elevating the education level of politicians.

Selangor’s Menteri Besar, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim admitted that none of the party members even know what “fracas” means.

“Some thought it was a coffee item and some even asked if it comes with chocolate and cream,” said the sad looking Menteri Besar. The party’s de facto leader, Anwar Ibrahim finally relented and commented, “Look, even I don’t know what de facto means. It sounds like “dating” in Chinese. Is it?”

The reporter was not available for comment.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Endhiran – A Very Long Semi-literate Review.

In a way Endhiran still works like a Rajini-fan list:

Rajini in multiple getups. Check.

Rajini in uptodate chic costume. Check.

Rajini in awesome fight sequence. Check.

Rajini in beautifully shot song sequences. Check.

Rajini with gorgeous, but actress half his age. Well…check.

Rajini in Baba (film) look. Check. Okay, this is my wish, so be it.

Rajini doing verbal spar with bad guy. Check.

Last and not the least of recent times….

Rajini as bad guy. Awesome check. But more to that later.

So, there you go. With one exeption. Some of wishes fulfilled are not don(e) by a human character.

Here’s a checklist not fulfilled at all

Rajini spitting out punch dialogues.

Rajini eulogised by supporting characters.

Rajini (human) doing extraordinarily superhuman feats.

And you still have most Rajini fans coming back for second round of helping, because there are lots and lots of Rajini in this film. Mind you, not the heavy duty Rajini that I am fond of, the Rajini of Mullum Malarum, Johnny, Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai, Dharmadurai or Talabathi, but much simpler but effective Rajini of Netrikann, Mundru Mugam, Muthu, and to an extend, to me, Baba. But more on him later.

The film picks up straight inside scientist Vaseegaran’s (Rajini) lab where we see him constructing a robot (refered to as Robo in Tamizh, maybe adhereing to silent “T’, those damned influential French). We see the robot turning out to be more refined version of Vaseegaran himself, a herculian efforts by no means because according to Shankar hardworking brilliant scientists not only neglects his family members and girlfriend but also neglects appointment with barber. By the time Vaseegaran is done building the robot, he looks like brunette Captain Caveman. Oh, the neglect girlfriend part and making the robot looking like him sort of points to the certain psychological complex, but Shankar is lot more simpler-minded than that. (Re: Anniyan and juvenile theory of split personality).

So, you have a Robot, a machine, which is later compelled to pick up human qualities, you know, to love, to cry, like many bleeding hearts of Hollywood computers and machines aspired to be since the time Kubrick introduced us to HAL, a red light thingy with irritiating voice. And so the robot acquires heart and immediately falls in love with the scientists girlfriend. I suppose he is basically getting back at his creator because the scientist’s mom gave him one of the silliest names in this side of hemisphere, Chitti…short for Chitti Babu. It’s like calling a Hollywood cyborg Chuck Smith.

And so begins unfortunate love triangle which is too weird to begin with because it’s the scientist, his lover, and his creation which is based on himself in the first place. It’s like love triangle between a single man, his girlfriend and his self-persuasive nocturnal habits. Oh well…anyway, all hell breaks loose when Vaseegaran had to get rid of Chitti by totally melting him in a extreme heat till everything is melted.

Who am I kidding.

He throws it in a dumpster. The one that get picked up by garbage men and thrown on mountainous pile screaming for assembly of dismantled parts joined by acidic garbage juice where the robot rises…hahaha. What a juvenile imagination this review has. Oh wait, that actually happens and the risen re-asssembled robot ends up in the bad guys’ car. The rest is good machine end up in bad guys’ hand and goes beserk formula that Hollywood has been enjoying and been ripping you guys off all these years.

But wait, does it mean the film sucks big time. Truth to be told the script is predictable as many Shankar films would remind you. You have seen these scenes in other films by Bay/West/Emmerich, but thanks to Shankars’ own association with writer Sujatha, there is something very south Indian about this film in terms of clash of culture, the need for the machines to understand this side of ethics, morals, question of spirituality vs science. All south Indian. This is chunky piece of juicy lamb chop served on banana leaf with Sambar and coconut chutney. Do your maths.

So, are there really crappy scenes as it is synonymous with Shankar films? Sure, this is science fiction and it’s okay to have idiotic scenes in a sci-fi flick, but usually they are done knowing well that fast forward they would not be laughed because it has been done already. But some scenes in Endhiran like the one involving mosquitoes and its immediate brethren, the monstrously moronic climax are insults to an otherwise what could have been an explosive start of the genre to the Tamizh film industry.

Is there a message that Shankar is trying to ram down our throats like his previous films? Well, maybe, but fortunately, in this film, Shankar is not condoning murdering corrupt file clerk or deep frying greedy caterer. He is basically saying that science, if not used responsibly, can ruin your breakfast, destroy your lunch and practically take you to the cleaners before your tea time. It’s one thing we can agree with having had dealt with faulty toasters, self deluding TV sets and of course, can you remember how many time you had to reboot your computer? The lesson learned is, keep on/off or reboot button nearby and deal with it in a jiffy. Unfortunately, this lesson, which Hollywood has not learned, is only begun to be unlearned by Shankar.

You maybe wondering why I keep bringing Hollywood here. Simple, Shankar has always been compared to the likes of Spielberg, and that would be an insult to the director of Jaws and Raiders Of The Last Ark. No. More appropriately, Shankar is Michael Bay with a little bit of heart, Simon West minus Steven Buscemi and Rolland Emmerich with lesser WMD. In Endhiran, Shankar may have done his best work since Mudhalvan and the job is easy because we have the one and only…

…Rajini….yes it’s Rajini’s show all the way, but more on him later.

How does the visual effects measure up since it’s the most hyped about thing after Shankar, Aiswarya Rai, A.R. Rahman and Rajini. Well, let’s say it ranged from really fantastic to Cartoon Network standard, right down to Mom & Pop store sketch book level. Choose your pick. Some parts look really effective like the scenes involving Rajini & Rajini, but that is because the actor knows his stuff. More to that later. Visual effects (VFX), though is part of Shankar’s bread and butter, is not exactly his forte. Indeed, I must admit, this is perhaps the most impressive in his resume, considering his past achievement as far as VFX or Computer Graphics Imagery (CGI) is concerned Shankar is always the kind of customer who would immediately want to chow down his cake before it is fully baked.

Another attraction to this film would certainly be Aishwarya Rai for those who don’t mind great looks and talents of a hamster on wheel. Grudges aside, I admit she did her part well, considering she has to look good, do lots of catwalk poses, dance and model for, borrowing my wife’s words, “gorgeous costumes”. Another thing that surprised me was her chemistry with Rajini. It was good, in fact. As a matter of fact (can you take more facts? Let me know) this is the best chemistry Rajini had with a pair since, maybe, Meena in Muthu.

ARR did a fine job as usual, though I suspect the songs here would not be as iconic as the ones in Muthu and Padaiyappa, but certainly more memorable than Sivaji the Boss. Don’t touch Baba, that’s my personal weakness. He is fine when dealing with small recurring sound, the only one who’s good at it after Ilayaraja and have certainly lived up to that reputation. If you call that a reputation.

Now, the man of the (3) hour, Rajinikanth.

It’s heartening to note that he actually put on lots of effort behind his roles here. His enthusiasm, if onscreen performance is an indicator, and they usually are, has been lesser and lesser since, maybe, after Baba. He looked tired in Chandramukhi, not helped by poor direction, and though seemed a bit chirpy in Sivaji the Boss, he was not giving his 60%, let alone 100%. Here, it may not be 100%, but certainly more than 60%. Oh man, how convincing he was whenever Vasee berates Chitti, losing his head the only way Rajini can being the only actor, next to Kamal, who can hit the rage-ometer as high as Sivaji Ganesan. When Chitti becomes evil, he totally leaves behind the subtle persona and you can see he is having a ball of a time, being such total badass that I think this is the best villain I had the pleasure enjoy watching since Amaithi Padai. Plus the funny scenes between Rajini and Rajini. Only Rajini can pull it off. In fact, the best chemistry in this film is actually between the scientist and the robot, so much so that the final scene actually would move you. Other actors except Kamal thinking of doing double or triple roles, think again. Rajini the actor is still around. Yes sir. He looks really good here, maybe a good 18 years younger than his actual age (60), and Chitti will be up there amongst the most memorable characters he played, next to Chakravarthi, Alex Pandiyan and slightly above Annamalai and Baasha.

This is the second grand visual spectacle I watched after Ravanan (as far as Tamizh films are concerned) that has more style than substance since as what you might expect from Shankar. But let’s face it, any film Rajini inhabits totally makes it his film. He still owns it even after all of us go six feet under. After this, without Rajini, Shankar will have lots of heavy thinking to do about his future as poor investment without Rajini is going to sink him. I am certain Rajini is leaving behind the superhero persona and will go back to his roots, as a fine character actor. In the meantime, I am revisiting Mullum Malarum tonight.

Note: Forgot to mention this, but Aishwarya Rai again proved that she's bullet proof.