Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Man Madhan Ambu

In Man Madhan Ambu, Kamal Haasan proved once again that he can be a hell of a dialogue writer. That leaves fans of Kamal Haasan the actor cold because as a scriptwriter overall (in Tamizh films, dialogue writers are usually separate from screenplay writers), he wrote one of the dullest role for himself. This celluloid masochism takes a while to digest, especially for this writer who has been a fan for the last 27 years.

Anyway, the dialogue writer sure worked overtime, as the characters here, not unlike Woody Allen films, spend most of their waking hours talking. The dialogues can sometimes be awesome, and sometimes be done with simply because there are only two competent performers in this film, but more to that later.

Man Madhan Ambu is a baffling piece of filmmaking because when Kamal is in it, you expect magic. You expect stretching of boundaries, breaking of rules, and firm rooting in credibility and plausibility. In MMA, you get flimsy storyline wrapped in an almost three hour tourism promo video. Shot in France, Spain and Italy among others, as well as on a luxury cruise, this sure is one expensive brochure.

The story seemed to be related to that of There’s Something About Mary by Farelly brothers. But to credit the brothers for the private eye plot would be to credit Shakespeare for coming up with the assassination plot in Julius Caesar. But there is more just hiring of detective to spy on a lover, but there’s nothing new to it, and it includes easiest plot device that Tamizh films has been overusing for decades: coincidence.

Kamal plays an ex-commando turned detective, Mannar, who was hired by rich dude, Madhan (Madhavan) to spy on the latter’s lover film actress Ambujam@Nisha (Trisha), whereby the transaction involves paying for Mannar’s buddy/partner’s chemotherapy. Then, there are many other characters that comes in and complicates thing ala films Kamal wrote with Crazy Mohan in the past.

There are more misses than hits in the film which we see Kamal handling a role that can easily be done by any other decent hacks. True the hacks can’t do 25% of what Kamal contributed here, merely as an actor, but we have seen it all before. Trisha with her Buster Keaton demeanour rides on somewhat well-written role, and then there was Sangeetha, whose overwritten role made me want to get up and shout, “shut up, bitch!”.

One impressive moment involves a flashback sequence with song, shot in reverse. It was one of the best thing I had ever seen in films of recent times, but most of the best things I saw in recent times on film usually are quickly forgotten give or take couple of months.

But true saviour of this film is Madhavan. Descending from an uptight, possessive, arrogant affluent businessman to goofy alcoholic loser, Madhavan is a one man laugh fest all the way. I bet Kamal had already had Madhavan in his mind when writing the character, as I firmly believe; as of now, only Madhavan can justify it. Kudos to Kamal the writer and Madhavan the fabulous actor who, sadly, will not be recognised by most of the Tamizh film fans which are busy making stars out of low-graders and Kamal wannabes.

But there was something disturbing in my mind when I left the theatre. In one scene, there was a shot where the camera was positioned in front of Trisha’s stretched legs (she was wearing shorts), for a very long period of cinematic time. It reminded me of pork roast my wife did for Christmas. I don’t know why the shot exists. What was the director, K.S. Ravi Kumar (by the way) trying to tell us? What will the future generation of movie goers going to think, when they see this? In a Kamal film? And Trisha gets second billing during the credit scene, ahead of Madhavan. I give up.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Age of Rock.

Tune in to MusicFM (95.3 for Malaysians) from lunch hour onwards on weekdays and you will encounter a barrage of hard rock songs, both English and Malay language. What’s so great, you might ask. Well, for one, you might know that I am a fan of rock music, mostly hard and metal variety. Not many know that. Once, when I played a heavy metal music on my desktop at my place, a colleague looked at me as if I was molesting a hamster.

Well, deep inside I am a rocker. Deeper inside I am also a slacker, but that’s besides the point. What I wanted to talk about today is the memory of the time Malay rock ruled Malaysia briefly in the 80s, despite the fact that 80s was mostly known for Synth pop, Michael Jackson, and an assortment of one hit wonders that sounds alike mostly. And MC Hammer. If you thought they were glorious days, you have not heard or met Boy George.

In Malaysia, funnily though, it was rock, not pop that made waves. I was living in a Felda-surrounded plantation where majority dwellers were of Malay extract, and the guys were furious rock fans. I mean seriously. Walk down the road and you see lots of pathetic Slash look alikes, piss-poor Dave Coverdale copycats and D-Grade Klaus Meine. They ain’t heavy, but they are rockers, or so they like to think despite the fact that all of us were consummate sambal belacan consumers.

But that is foreign influence. Thanks to the success of home bred bands like Search and Wings, suddenly there was a barrage of rock bands spurting out like frickin’ mushrooms after rain and cow dung. There were Lefthanded, Bumiputra Rockers (BPR), Iklim, Gersang, May, Xpidisi and many, many other bands with misspelled names

that ruled the airwaves, and thundered across the country holding concerts and indulging in Battle of the Band competitions after which conversations would go something like this:

A: Hey Mat.

B: Huh?

A: Hey Mat.

B: Huh?

A: Hey Mat

B: Huh?

These bands were just like their western counterparts, faithfully following the template laid by Led Zeppelin, though I recall an interview with the latter’s vocalist, Robert Plant, who did not take credit for the influence over, what he calls, “Screaming banshees in cod pieces”. The Malay rockers, consummate screamers they are, mostly dealt with slow or ballad rock. Usually they are much more radio friendly, compared to other fast metallic pieces usually found in the album. Actually, it’s the ballad rock which increasingly pointed out how much of a weenie the songwriter was, that killed the Rock era. Instead of singing about tying your mother down, or children of the graves, they sang about getting dumped by some chick. Instead of shouting about crushing the enemy, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women, they wrote songs about purity in ash (Suci Dalam Debu).

Above pix: Members of Superband Search and hair.

Anyway, what matters then was this: the influence. We were all aspiring rockers then, and that is why till today I am wearing pointy Cuban-heeled boots. Even for my wedding reception. But that’s me. My school mates were nuts about the then rock-influenced fashion. Hairs were long, and usually are voluntarily chopped off by the ever-helpful discipline teachers. Pants were so tight that you wonder they are hard core rockers or just came out of ballet rehearsal. Even the way one walks were influenced by rockers, but I suspect the swagger was from constantly attempting to reposition the crunched family jewels.

But one particular thing intrigued me now, when I look back. I have a very creative pal, Mohd Shah, who specialises in belt buckles. You know, those huge buckles with varied shapes, usually gigantically phallic so much so that they seemed to be making up for the shortcomings below the belt. So, this guy actually cuts these buckles off a metal plate and guess where these plates come from? Yes, he buys them from hardware store. Who am I kidding. He basically rips metal plates off, literally, from milestones by the main road. So, back in 80s if you don’t see the miles in the milestones from Kota Tinggi all the way to Desaru beach resort, you know who the culprit is.

Also intriguing was the rock speak of that time. Borrowing from Chinese, “I” became Gua (Chinese’ Wo that later sounded Wa) which is crazy because in Malay it means “cave”. The often used catchphrase was “Gua caya sama lu” which means I trust you, or literally cave trusts you. Often, the conversation is end with “sial” which is also strange, because it means, “curse”. “Gua caya sama lu, sial”. If it didn’t make sense, “sial” in a very short time, evolved into “siol”, which actually means “whistle”. Of course, I was not aware of the evolution, so once I asked a guy why he wanted to me to whistle after he said he trust me. He’s a crack addict now.

Okay, I was kidding. He is a good buddy, though I have lost touch with him, especially when I did attempt to whistle.

Speaking of which, there is also the joy of listening to the songs, very loud, over the walkman. Remember walkman? The box of a thing, where you “eject” the cover open so you can put the “tape” in it, and “press” “play” to play the songs until the spool gets stuck in the mechanism, which you have to “untangle” which means the only way to do it is to “cut” the tape and “stick” it back and play it again where the messed up part of the tape sound like the vocalist is gargling and singing at the same time, for which you should be very fortunate because the reel is not “stuck” again. Remember them walkmans? Where would we be without them.

Anyway, coming back to the radio show. By the looks of it, there seemed to be renewed interest in the rock bands of the past. Some of them are making comeback, one even claimed that they were wooed by fans through Facebook! That’s an awesome news. With lots of sappy syrupy pop stuff ruling the air waves now, it is a great breath of fresh air to see these rockers strutting their stuff. Of course, some of them may have to keep their pacemakers away from the huge speakers, but I welcome them with open arm. But I am not getting into those tight pants, I’m married.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

New MIC President: Of shoes, style and performance

A newspiece the other day intrigued me, because a politician was talking about shoe. You see the only time shoe and politics is mentioned in the same breath is when both meet, or should I say, when the shoe becomes projectile. There is a long history of shoe and politicians, most prominently in Taiwan, and the best in the recent memory should be when a Iraqi journalist decided his shoe would improve George W. Bush’s diction.

But here’s the excerpt from the Star newspaper, with regards to a press conference given by the new Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) president, G. Palanivel who is replacing his predecessor S. Samy Velu. Samy who has been ruling the party with iron fist, transplanted hair and replaced hip, is finally moving on, leaving behind chair that contains three decades of dust and possible fart particles.

But before that, here’s what I have done. I have been a journalist before and covered many press conferences. For our stories, we would include usable quotes to support our lead (main angle) and leave out the rest of the junk (usually they are). Here’s me imagining what the rest of the quotes would be. The bold lines are actual quotes, followed by what I imagine he said:

“I cannot wear his shoes. He will always wear a different shoe. I will wear my own shoe. It’s not that Datuk Seri (Samy Velu) is stingy about lending his shoes, just that hygiene factor may contribute to foot diseases. My shoe is very different. In fact, it’s so different now I am not sure it’s even mine. Even the Disney logo looks fake, don’t you think?

“We have very different styles but we are both committed to doing what is best for the party. I mean look at our hairstyles for example. You know yourself what Datuk Seri’s hairstyle did to the party all this while (*wink-wink*), but my hair style is set to bring a lot more winds of peace, rays of serenity, and possible downpour in the afternoon.

“I have not given deep thought to being the eighth MIC president (since 1946) but I have been well-prepared. But the thing is, I know numerology a bit and 8 is not exactly a lucky number, so can I opt for 7 ¼th President or maybe One minus Ninth president? Please? Because I already got warning from my astrologer, who charges RM 500 per minute, which shows how authentic he is, who said I better not associate myself with number 8 or next year I might be selling Puttu Mayam.

“I may be low-profile but I have performed as a leader. If you won’t believe me ask the people in my former constituency, the last time they saw me President Nixon was making that visit in China. Nixon…is still…the president, right? As for leadership, I recently led a fraction and won many Teh Tarik championships. I am sure that all the MIC members will co-operate with me, put their heads together and come up with the decisions that I make.

“Samy Vellu has taught me how to handle the political ropes both directly and indirectly. Directly as in holding my hand and showing how to tie a knot, or how to build a rope bridge. Nothing sexual, okay? Indirectly as in through his various MMSes on him doing weird thing with ropes. I mean…next question?

“I have learnt a lot from him on how to handle various situations. About that rope thing, can you not quote me? Thank you. Now, there are many situations which I know how to handle. Being married with kids, I know situations. Yes, situations are like box of chocolates, you won’t know who finished it ahead of you. I watch CSI, and whoever stole my chocolates will pay with blood!!

“I do not have a personal or selfish agenda as I am not ambitious. You see when I was a kid I wanted to grow up and become a cardiologist for the lab mice. You call that ambitious? My school mate wanted to be President of Lithuania, now that is ambitious. Not as ambitious as my brother who wanted to assasinate Al Qaeda’s chef, but still?

“I do want to mobilise Indian votes, we must go down to the ground and meet the people. You know, like mobile library, mobile police station. I will have Mobile votes that we will drive to town to town, city to city, kampong to kampong and present use them for that extra votes. Wow, is that innovation or what?

“The Indian voters are coming back but more needs to be done, because we are not sure they are coming by boats or plane. Some say even flying saucer, and if so they cannot vote because they are technically Kaum Pendatang.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Dude, Where’s My Spage Age?

I have a scaled-down version of the Concorde aircraft on top of my car dashboard for sometimes now. Yesterday, that is after three years of driving with and one year of living with me, my wife asked what happened to the real aircraft of that model. At that moment, I wanted to turn to her and ask, “what’s my name again?”.

Explaining to her what had happened, I mentioned that the Concorde once represented the pinnacle of our technological achievements. Alright that was about the same time as bell-bottom, disco and pornstar moustaches, pinnacle of achievements in their respective departments. One step ahead of Concorde was to actually have passenger flight into the space. That’s how we saw future then. Also we thought we can travel through time, go on hyperdrive or do warp speed, get beamed from one place to another, but space exploration was the starting point.

Back then were in the midst of the dawn of Space Age. Space exploration was the in thing and was the future. Space themed films and TV shows were all over and every night, I imagine I was Hans Solo navigating through the asteroid fields with the Millenium Falcon, which I believe severely contributed to my now insomnia case.

I was so into space stuff that when I was 8 or nine years old, I memorised the names of all the planets, and I can recite them off the cuff. The proof is simple, when I was kid we wore no cuff. Lame joke aside, once even a teacher had to refer to me when she forgot the name of the planets (this was before google and wikipedia remember?). That enthusiastic we were about flights to space. I even do my own rocket flight thing by simulating a blastoff using my ballpoint pen and slowly removing the lower part of a ballpoint pen, the cap, the barrel, and anything else till it remains the tip that looked like a space capsule. All by doing the rocket sound with mouth, and I don’t have to say why many friends either stay away or reached for their hankie.

While parents wanted more boring profession like doctor, engineer and lawyer for their kids, us boys were thinking of becoming cowboy, spaceman (or astronaut) and in my case, cartoonist (really, even though back then I suck at drawing and colour blind and have the sense of humour of a butter cake, in fact there’s not much improvement thirty years later). But every kid I know admitted that becoming an astronaut and being in space was cool.

My assumption then was by now we were supposed to be so technologically advanced to the point that we should be surfing the space and unloading space cargoes, intead we are surfing cyber space and downloading internet porn. The spirit of exploration that got the world over gungho about going where no one would boldly go is now limited to writing blogs so bad that no sane publisher would publish.

Yes, somewhere along the way when we ascended from Industrial age to Space Age, slipped broke our crown, and fell into Information Age, where the need for attention and bad taste led directly into internet and the mobile phone . Instead of looking up at the space and stars, everyone is hunched over their mobile phone. Instead of dreaming of our own space exploration, we are dreaming about how much we can download at 4G. When we look at space stations, we think of how rain screws our satellite TV transmissions. When “thinking big” is preached, we think of blue-ray discs. And Big Losers. The Asian version.

Okay, to be perfectly honest it was through the same satellite TV I watched this excellent documentary called, The Black Sky: Race for Space about Burt Rutan, dubbed as “the man who reinvented airplane” and his team try to put a civilian austronaut into the space with the aircraft he designed called SpaceShipOne. This took place in 2004 actually, and the same aircraft was the basis for Virgin Galactic’s (yes, the same Branson’s outfit) first space tourism. A great endeavour from a private enterprise. Meanwhile, the governments, especially the US, is panicking over WikiLeaks. The Internet. Greatest invention of the 20th century. Spawning youtubes of people picking their noses, Facebook accounts of sexual predators, twits of obnoxious celebrities (redundant, I know) and thousands of idiotic weblog writers, this author included.

We are now in Information Age, or is it Knowledge Era? In this era, everyone becomes smart and famous. Everyone gets more than 15 minutes, and if you think of Facebook accounts, that would be frighteningly forever. Space age is thing of the past. If you dream of becoming an astronaut there will be many lashbacks calling you not to wast their tax money which they have been evading anyway. If you urge for space exploration, they say time is better spent in fighting corruption, which is like attempting to annihilate cockroach anyway.

Prorities have changed. I can only be bitter about it, and so could you, especially those from my generation. Go ahead and sulk, while I post this link in my Facebook and Twitter accounts.