Thursday, December 15, 2011

Old Grouch Fable Collection pt1

The Strange Orange Cat.
One day a strange Orange cat came to the Catville. The other cats walked over to him and said, “boy, that’s strange”.

The strange Orange cat didn’t understand that. “Dear brethren, what art thou meaneth by being strangeth?” he asked.

“Well for a start, you talk strange. I mean, who speaks like that anymore,” said one of the cat, the older one. He had a Hitler moustache and a Calvin Clein eyepatch, though it read Kevin Kline.

“Alright, I speak the way you speak, which is the way the village idiot back in hometown speaks,” said the strange orange cat.

“Who are you calling Village?” shouted a young cat, a rebel cat.

“Calm down,” said the strange orange cat as he pointed its index finger ala-jedi, only quick to realise that it has mere paws. The rebel actually calmed down, sucking his mother’s milk.

“Your bearing,” said the older cat, “it’s strange”.

Realised what they were talking about, the strange orange cat launched, “that’s right folks! Come over. I have here some ball bearings you can use to replace your old ones in your vehicles. These may look strange but they are awesome…”

Moral of the story: Never judge the cover by its book. Both may not be related to each other, but boy, does it have a story to tell.

The Stubbon Octopus

Mother and Father Octopus had a big headache in their, well, if you call that gigantic alien head thingy head. Their son is stubborn.

“You are stubborn, junior,” the dad told him after helping himself to a scuba diver. “Why are you so stubborn,” he asked after picking a piece of oxygen tank off his teeth.

“How do I know? Where do you think I inherited it from? The cuttlefish?” the son retorted. There was a gulping sound, though he was not sure where it came from.

“You can’t be stubborn all the time, junior,” said the red-faced Mother Octopus. “Even god took a break on Sundays.

“That explains,” exclaimed Father Octopus, raising all its seven arms (he lost one during the 7 Days Octopus/Scallop War). “Junior was born on Sunday!” He hi-fived with his wife, though Mother Octopus’ eighth arm slipped and slapped him in the face.

Moral of the story: Answers to some mysteries should come within. Like checking stuff out in the toilet if you forgot what you ate yesterday.

The Sleepy Snake.

On one fine morning where rain didn’t threaten to fall and flood the entire jungle, a young tree frog was leaping towards the jungle Cafeteria. The menu was themed Lobster and it brought with it extra butter.
But it literally stumbled into something causing the butter hit a chameleon which immediately roasted its own tail smothered in butter and ate gleefully.

The “thing” that the frog stumbled on was a snake! Frightened it froze, and it admitted itself into a microwave to thaw. It came back and looked at what frightened him. The snake was there and it was snoring.

Thoroughly embarrassed, the frog woke the snake up using a .45 Smith & Wesson shot in the air, killing the chameleon instantly (Funeral day will be announced shortly).

The bang woke the snake up. “Why didn’t you, like, give me a chase or something? I would have escaped and have an awesome table conversation with my buddies over lunch.”

The snake said, “I was cursed. I was supposed to sleep for 200 years before a fairy serpent comes to take me away”

“Oh crap,” said the frog realising that he shouldn’t have interrupted the snake, “I broke the curse. What will happen, now?”

The snake shook a little, looked up in the sky fearfully and said, “It’s going to rain, let’s go and grab some lunch.”

“Sure,” said the frog and both headed to the Cafeteria.

Moral of the story: Lobster is the key to the happiness of many

The mute goat.

The mute goat made its living by selling dried fish in the vegetable market. It did poorly as, though it knows sign language, using front hoofs make it fall forward and hurt its chin.

It was always in pain and it tells itself, “Bear, bear” to bear the pain. That’s why goats make that sound. Get it? Beaaarrr.

One day the owner of the market came to the mute goat and said, “Look, you need to pay the rent. So do something about your fall and sign-language thingy, most patrons think you are begging. By the way, this is a vegetable market. Hullo? I see you here with those dried fishes, you don’t want to know where I’m gonna shove it in and trust me the Brahmins aunties won’t like it either”.

The goat was very sad. Selling dried fish is the only way to make a living, though some of his friends suggested equally thankless jobs sanitation worker or being a prime minister.

One day it went to the mountain to see the wise and sage mountain goat. It explained its problem. The mountain goat said, “Go back to your routine tomorrow, your problem solved!”

The next day it went to the market and started to sell the dried fish. As client came and he lifted his hoofs, it fell forward. This time the pain was minimal. There was pain, but not like before. Why? Voila! It had grown a beard on its chin to cushion the impact of the fall. The goats you see these days are all from common ancestor, ie the mute goat.

Moral of the story: What moral? Old Grouch was just giving you the origin story. Does it have to have message all the time?

Friday, December 09, 2011

History of home and why bears made cave inhabitable.

Note: Wrote this for the bosses to evaluate the writing style for the new property guide book we are working on. Its supposed to be light-hearted with a dash of humour. No comments so far.

Early days there was no such thing as home. Home or property were unheard of during men evolved into homo sapiens, real estate back then was just a dude pointing to a plantation saying, “Look, a real estate.”

The early form of people roamed around and ate what they can wherever they are, sort of what we do when we hit the highway. It was not clear if they actually sought to reside on a tree ala chimpanzee or gorillas, but we are very certain that if they did they didn’t share the bathroom with the neighbours Mr and Mrs. Gorilla.

Great, great ancestors and cave (the ones without bat dung hopefully)

When our great great ancestors decided that they are going to ascend to the ground from living in the tree, they were immediately eaten by sabre-toothed tiger. Those who survived it went on to look for home that can shelter them against all sort of weather. Soon, they found caves where they were immediately eaten by hibernating bear.

But cave was beginning of what would be known as home, as clearly evidenced by archaeological discovery of bones of men inside bones of bear. It was in cave that archaeologist’s found many obscure instruments including weapons to fend off ferocious creatures like the abovementioned tiger, bear or in-laws.

Historians argue that cave dwelling could have begun during the early Neolithic period around 7000 – 6000 BC. When we checked last, they are still arguing and might also take up arm. But as Neolithic era also saw men building houses though at the same time people were still living in cave, tent and extreme poverty.

Great, great ancestors building houses (that probably had bat or other type of dung)

Historian, when they are not arguing, estimated that house building began in Egypt and West Asia probably about 10,000 BC and in Greece about 6000 BC. Alright there seemed to be conflict on the date, so they may still be arguing after all. While they were at it, the English came to the party late and only build houses at 3000 BC.

To the uninitiated, BC years are kinda backwards. The more the number the further away the year is. Of course, the next question is, if a dude was born in 3000 BC and at 2990 BC, would he be ten years younger? The BC dudes and gals were lucky, weren’t they? We can imagine the following conversation at a birthday party:

Gal: Dude how “young” are you?
Dude: I am 80 years young (then clutches his chest and collapses)

Difference houses including the ones that kept blown away

Okay, back to the house.

The kinda houses they had back then depended on where the location was. The weather made lots of difference.  In Northern Europe and Northern China, they build what was referred to as “hearth houses” which were huts with one square or round room (think studio apartment) and a fire on a stone hearth in the middle, this to heat up the room as well as to do weekly barbecue (except the Heinz sauce was not invented yet).

The smoke goes out through the thatched or shingled roof. Often animals are kept in the room with the people, for warmth. And depending on the animal, the human are kept in the room for good diet.
Please note that chimneys were not yet invented so we assume that Santa Clause made his entry, embarrassingly enough, by knocking on the front door.

The weather is different in Egypt and West Asia, as well as in Southern China and possibly this author’s living room, whereby it was hot all the time, and you can’t get wood. So, they use mud brick and were basically just wall with flat roof where they can sleep and expose themselves again to cool night and wakeup with pneumonia.

Beginning of the modern house, or, wait for it.

Semblance to modern housing could have begun somewhere around 3000 BC itself where Eastern Meditteraneanan and West Asia had richer folks and they built better and bigger houses, not unlike now where some mansions look like they were built for that beanstalk giant. Or Godzilla.

In the meantime, the Greece folks were building “megaron” houses that transforms into a gigantic Trojan horse…wait, that’s a Transformer. A megaron house, boringly were the ones with one or two rooms and pillars in front making a porch.

It seems the bigger houses also have nice brick floors, and built-in benches and cupboards, and painted walls, and tiled roofs, and lots of people in airy toga.

So, there you go some basic information about houses back then. Of course, history did not stop there, and it ain’t stopping now either. It’s getting late and we need to get home. If only someone chase away the hibernating bear in it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

RetroReview: Ayiram Jenmanggal (1978)

The title refers to “thousand reincarnation”. It’s a line by the films supposed protagonist, future nAttamai, Vijaya Kumar, to his lover, saying that it doesn’t matter how many reincarnation they take, he will continue to love her. I’d say, this, provided they are born again in the same specie. What if Vijaya Kumar was born again as a platypus and the girl a Mongolian giraffe? Not a nice thought, but you know, love makes one a bad scriptwriter.

Despite getting third billing in the credit, the real star of this film is Rajinikanth. Yes, the same man who appeared in all my previous RetroReviews. For newer Rajini fans, this film is kinda pre-cursor to Chandramukhi - that insipid, manipulative film that was even insulting to semi-literates like me, which proved that given an opportunity, a director as vacuous as P. Vasu can make Rajini and Prabhu combination useless.

So, this film is about spiritual possession or soul taking over another body. Whatever. No, nobody gets to do 360 degrees head swirl, or puke out pea-soup. The subject of the possession is Vijaya Kumar’s wife, played by second billed Latha, and the one occupying her body is the spirit of the abovementioned lover who apparently died. We later find out that she was almost raped, died exposing her bra.

Rajini plays Singapore return brother of Latha. Or was it US? But he got back from somewhere to spent time with his sister and brother-in-law. The director, perhaps not knowing that Rajini is a goddamn good actor, got him to wear a pair of glasses, which Rajini takes off and puts it back on to show that he’s thinking. It’s not any ordinary glasses by the way. It was the kind worn in the 70s, where not only the lens provides excellent vision to the eyes, but also the eyebrows. The extra-vision eyebrows was the one probably highlighted Rajini that the sister was no longer the sister. It was the girl who died with exposed bra (GWDWEB).

Rajini does some serious investigation with his glasses off and on, and doing lots of cloak and dagger type of movement within the bungalow of his sister/brother-n-law. You would have seen this when Tom the cat was stalking silently to capture Jerry the mouse. He gets hold of a cassette apparently of Vijaya Kumar talking lovingly to GWDWEB. He confronts Vijaya Kumar and we are promptly given a flashback for us to finally use the fast-forward button.

In what one might refer to, pseudo-scientifically as, occupational hazard, by occupying Latha’s body, the GWDWEB had basically checked out Latha’s soul. The latter would appear right before the climax in front of the GWDWEB’s mother. It’s like days after Latha was possessed, and we, viewers, have no idea where her soul was. Maybe hanging out at Souled out café. Haha. Okay, only Malaysians will get that crack.

So, GWDWEB has plan to make love to the future nAttamai so she can go on living, but she got to do it in five days, failing which she plans to also kill the Vijaya Kumar so that they can happily live in the afterlife. Rajini got to know that and he proceeds to stop both of them from consuming their love. Awesome brother. To the point he resorts to arson! Nothing like a good burning house to keep the couples apart.

Like any good rent-avoiding spirit, the GWDWEB outtricks Rajini by putting, what looks like two big undisolvable aspirins in Rajini’s tea and his visually enhanced eyebrows failed to notice that. Rajini promptly goes to sleep while the couple proceeds to consummate their love. It was the family dog, which turned up from nowhere, that came to the rescue by barking to  awaken Rajini. No effect, Rajini’s sound asleep. But one tug at his bell bottom pant, the man sprang to action. It was not called “bell” bottom for no reason. Suddenly the dog is turned into Rajini’s sidekick, as he throttled his bike on to prevent the couple, and the faithful dog running by his side. Poor dog, his master didn’t even give him a ride.

I won’t spoil it for you, but you will kinda figure out how the story is resolves as in the climax we learn that the GWDWEB spirit is afraid of both God and doG. Waitaminute….Anyway, in between tense episodes, you get bunch of comedy scenes involving Surulirajan, Manorama and V.K. Ramasamy. Only VKR is effective…as usual. MSV did the music, and as he was during that era, it was loud mostly. The haunting Venmegame song stands out, the rest are forgettable.

The movie isn’t dated badly. The visual effects for the apparitions are quite good, though most of the time the hovering spirits looked like spilled milk. Vijaya Kumar sulks a lot, and already proves that he’s never going to be a cinema big wig, despite the fact that he wore a big wig. Latha’s as good as any actress of that era proved, preparing for matronly roles.

Rajini, when not doing the glasses thing, does make us curious as to how he’s going to resolve the whole GWDWEB issue. But he does look out of his place though, a good example is one folk dance song routine where he was just a spectator, and towards the end of the song he joins in the dance. While the rest were following the rhythm, in the groove, he looked like he’s swatting a fly, brushing off a mosquito and avoiding a bee.  

Aside: Wife said Rajini looks really good here, and even has nice costume. I disagree. Not with that bell bottoms. Any bell bottoms. End of aside.

A good lazy Sunday afternoon watch. It would be nice if Rajini and the sidekick dog went on to make a sequel, where the dog gets possessed instead. 

Tamil caption didn't say, "where's the goddam dog?"

Monday, October 31, 2011

7aum Arivu: A Review

There are movies that move you. That’s why perhaps they are called movies, short for “moving pictures”. There are also movies that make you think. Often way after you have watched it. And then there are movies like that uncle of yours who keep visiting you, taunting you for being so stupid and a loser, when he himself makes a living by cutting grass and has similar intelligence of the grasshoppers that evade his blade.

That was the kind of film 7aum Arivu was for me.

The whole condescending attitude the filmmaker, also the writer, A. R. Murugadoss, reminds me of one of our late grandfather on Deepavali days who sneers at us for being ne-er do well kids while he was high on 50 cent alcohol. It’s sickening, and I wanted to walk out of this movie at three occasions, but two things kept me at the seat.

One was the possible awesome martial arts showdown as promised by the trailer, and second, the debut heroine Shruti Haasan. More on her later.

Interestingly the movie picked up well enough with us following Bodhi Dharma in the 6th century, an Indian prince who taught the far east the ancient martial arts and medicine. That is about the best part of the film.

The movie then proceeds to present times, and it’s downhill from there. Borrowing from any Dustin Hoffman viral outbreak plotlines, it’s basically about a genetic engineering student with key to the one herbal medicine that can help the disease. An assassin is sent to India from China to spread the disease and he was also to kill the student.

Surya plays Bodhi Dharma and also his direct descendent, Arvind, who is research object to the student, played by Shruti. He first thought that he was having relationship with her, but later left heart-broken when he finds out that he was merely a research subject, but then, who could also possess the knowledge his ancestor had.

Surya, when not performing his usual six-pack porn, is fine here but was thoroughly wasted. He looked great as Bhodi Dharma, a sagely prince in the 6th century who shares same hairdresser as Gene Simmons and succumbs to male pattern baldness at later stage.

An agile and physical actor, I hoped to see Surya engaging in some batshit insane whop-ass martial art as I seriously (and foolishly, knowing this industry) thought this was an all-out martial arts movie. Apart from the interesting martial arts scene during the 6th century episode, the present day Surya he spend time running away from the bad guy and poor CG shots.

And the bad guy, some guy with penile name. Apparently he knows this special martial, which uses hypnotism. But it looked more like Sideways Stare Martial Arts (SSMA). Sure, we see him practising kung-fu on his own. But most of the action scenes involving him see him using SSMA. One SSMA has cops shooting each other. Oh, more SSMA has nut-munching knucklehead reveal informations. More SSMA, he gets some peanuts treat. No buttkicking. Only staring sideways.  And when it came to the final showdown…what a bummer.

The biggest asset to this film is, of course, Shruti Haasan. What a revelation. And what a breath of fresh air. The industry was plagued with non-entities appearing has heroines for too long. It’s time to stop. Beginning with Kushboo and her temple, and the acknowledgment of standard nose-flarer Simran as a great actress, and letting walking totem pole named Trisha to continue do her business, we have steadily been making steps backwards in this department. Let me not even get started with the occasional visiting self-cleansing mannequin named Mrs. Bachchan.

There are bunch of wonderful actresses making the industry to sit up and notice. Anjali and Amala Paul comes to my mind, but they seemed to be lacking something. Something I believe Shruti Haasan has.

I mean, this film is filled with plenty of exposition, and pages of dialogues and most of it had to be handled by her character. And wow, she just pulls it off beautifully. Especially when she has to churn out some half-baked scientific mumbo-jumbo and tell off some whiny old farts who dismisses Tamil. She’s just so convincing.

In another scene, she actually moved me. She cries when she knews that inevitably her colleague is going to be killed, and even though the pal was some curly haired douchebag that I didn’t care for, I was moved by her tears. No contemporary actress had ever had that affect on me.

Anyway, back to the film. The scene after the climax just felt so wrong even in a bad film like this. If we wanted to be lectured, we go back to college. Stick to entertainment, A.R. Murugadoss. Oh yeah, there are the songs as usual, and they are a proof that however influential audiences are to the industry, the filmmakers just hate us. And in the middle of all the rambling, grumbling, SSMAing, we hear what sounds like Harris Jeyaraj composing for Ernest Goes to China movie. Harris, the party was over like four or five years ago. Get it? Hint, hint. Nudge, nudge.

Wel, whatever Murugadoss’ fault is, at least I’d like to thank him for introducing Shruti to us. Sure, she’s Kamal’s daughter, but she is now part of the Tamizh film fraternity and we welcome her with open arms.

This remind me of thirty years ago when we welcomed a chubby actor named Prabhu Ganesan. Heard his dad was not a bad actor.

Actual Bhodi Dharma and his, err, one pack.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Perilous Journey of Kamal Fans.

Kamal, not looking at his fans.

Back in the 80s, a regional Indian movie magazine, imaginatively titled, Indian Movie News, featured an interview with actor Kamal Haasan. The headline, “Kamal: I want to be a director”, and the pix have the dashing handsome actor peering painfully through a view finder. No prizes for guessing what image they would have included if the headline screamed “Kamal: I want to be a dishwasher”. It was a simpler time.

As a fan, I waited and waited, and what we got was an assortment of films that continued with what he felt he needed to contribute to the 80s beside dry-blown hair and Tom Selleck moustache. It was not until the late 90s, and after making accusation that he ghost directed some of the fine films followed, that we actually saw him helm the megaphone and directed the hirsute epic, Hey Ram – a brilliant film technically with fantastic script featuring a protagonist who is as interesting as a shoe rack.

Then, it was back to actor and scriptwriter for hire routine, until the equally brilliant Virumandi that he directed with gutso and features an awesomely grounded protagonist, and it will not be until next year that we will finally see another film he directed. The 80s promise he delivered in three instalment in three decades. He could have been the greatest director even in the industry if he had decided to also be behind the camera and take the credit for it, goddamit. Instead, the title supposedly went to a Bollywood pleaser.

Speaking of which, he could have made Tamizh films so awesome that it would have grabbed Hollywood by its collar, bitch-slapped it and made it bow to the master. Instead, of Oscars for Kamal the actor and filmmaker, we see him receiving Vijay awards, a function so insipid that they’d tailor make awards every year for the brilliant start (Suggestion to Vijay TV award committee next year: “Best actor to not star in the best film category”).

Furthermore, if his recent bomb, Manmadha Ambu is of any example, then fans’ expectation is the least of his concern. In fact, it seems that Kamal who declared that he was his own number one fan and critic, decided to listen to the man in the mirror.

Well, that’s telling so much for Kamal fans. The point is, life as a Kamal fan, it seems, is about as smooth as riding down a T-Rex’s tail naked.

But fans should understand something, he was his own man. He does whatever he damn well pleases. And he started early, very early dammit that he is not going to shed tears behind the keyboard because some fanboys were disappointed.

Making his debut as a child artist in 1959, Steadily, he appeared alongside giants like Sivaji Ganesan and MGR (first film was with Gemini Ganesan and Savithiri, if those two are not top profile enough), and there was no room for the kid to take to any of the camps.

Immediately, his love for multiple roles and stunts were implanted in his preteen brains when in Parthal Pasitheerum (Sivaji and Gemini), he did double role and in climax had to hang on to his dear life over a bridge. Take that, Jackie Chan.

He evolved slowly, sucking in the environment and picking up things from his seniors (acting from Sivaji, and showing off dance/stunts from MGR). Disappearing for awhile, though not from stage literally as he joined TKS Brother’s stage troupe, he appeared momentarily in a Jai Shankar movie, Manavan, in a song sequence, lip-synching, guitar strumming, and step dancing fresh faced boy and disappeared again….

…only to reappear as Sivaji’s pair of feet for a complex tap dancing sequence (PattikAdA PattanamA), and Kamal was the assistant choreographer that time, as well as assistant to some directors. Career behind the camera looked prominent, until he, now a handsome young man, appeared in K. Balachander’s Aranggetram as one of the supporting characters. Folks were pleasantly surprised. “Is that the boy who appeared with MGR in Anandha Jodhi?” “Is that the boy who sang, Ammavum Neeye?” “What’s up with showing your body off, dude?”

And whaddya know, Kamal abandoned clipboards, and dancing shoes, and embraced the might of movie star as strings of K. Balachander films showcased his acting chops. In the 70s Kamal was de Niro to Scorcese’s K.B, and the comparison does not stop there

Aside: In an early movie, a supporting cast remarks, “Wow, who’s the good looking man? Looks like Robert De Niro”, and I am sure it was Kamal, who’s absorbing the world of Hollywood at that time,  who fed the line to the actress. I mean, I can understand if it the good look at that time was compared to Robert Redford or even Paul Newman of the 70s. Bobby De Niro? Travis Bickle? End of aside.

And he went on to do what a growing young actor would, grab any offers coming along the way, creating the Romance Prince (Kathal Ilavarasan) persona with that smoldering good looks, with the kind of intimacy the censorship (or the involved actress) would allow at that time. He was alternating between making films for so-called auters like K.B, Bharathiraja and Balu Mahendran, and going for broke making entertainers for the likes of G. Renggarajan, and later S.P. Muthuraman.

Then, suddenly the inevitable happened; he was given the National Award for best actor in 1983 for Mundram Pirai. The National Award Committee, which turned the blind eye on Sivaji Ganesan, finally recognised a Tamil actor, though they could have easily picked Kamal as the candidate for his roles in Pathinaru Vayathinile, Uyarnthavargal, Maroo Charithira and the fantastic Sigappu Rojakkal, where the industry was seeing their first psychotic women serial rapist/killer, a total reversal of his Prince of Romance image. National Award committee, of course, is synonym for selected amnesia.

As a followup he did Sagar Sanggamam, playing a washed up drunk cultural critic who was once an aspiring Bharatha Natyam dancer. National Award committee was nowhere to be seen as they would for the next few years. What happened here onwards proves that for once, Kamal is deciding for himself, not fans expectation having won the so-called prestigious awards.

Let’s not even talk about Hindi films where he had started venturing few years ago (and roasted his co-stars, that’s a different story), he went haywire with 13 films in 1982 alone, with genres as varying as current Pizza Hut menu. There were hits and misses, but one humongous hit called Sakalakala Vallavan, a total entertainer would trap him in stardom forever. It was basically an MGR film (in fact, a remake of an Old MGR flick Periya Idattu Penn)

No matter which artist colonies he haunts, no matter which classy joints he frequents, no matter which maestros he hangs out with, the stench of heroism entertainers would pull him back, no thanks to the MGR ghosts that haunts him till today (find me a total negative, bad to the bone Kamal character since then, then I’ll give you the other unutilised 55% Kamal Haasan the actor).

Witness the Tamil films he did afterwards; Toonggathey Thambi Toonggathey, a giddy better remake of his earlier Kalyanaraman which was remake of MGR’s Engga Veettu Pillai. More MGResque multiple role (the second role back for revenge) Enakkul Oruvan, a Hindi remake that was not quite up to mark, but displayed Kamal’s fascination with make-up (he was as much Nepali as John Wayne was as a  Monggol); Kakkichattai was a cop movie produced by MGR’s company, and there was no shortage of MGR posters in the film, and Kamal even prays to a still of a cop character played by MGR.

Then, there were a slew of movies that the seed it grew from didn’t fall far from MGR’s mould, like Andha Oru Nimidham a majestic screen fart from Major Sunderajan; Manggama Sabatham (double roles, one good another an idiot); Jappanil Kalyanaraman, a travel show sequel (homage to MGR’s Japan from Ulagam Sutrum Valiban), and Vikram, a low-rent James Bond movie, a high tech version of MGR’s Ragasiya Police 115.

And only a few years ago he won the National Award.

But Kamal was in a show-off mode, not so much on the acting part. If there was any show-off in the Tamizh film industry, after MGR, it has to be him. Dance? What dance you want, he showed them all except, maybe, breakdance. But that belongs to douchebags. Martial Arts? Whatever Jackie Chan has done, well, he tried to do the same, including the stunts which he did himself mostly (I heard there are more metal parts in him than the Terminator).

But something happened in 1987, that Kamal shed off his MGR suit. That was the year when Nayagan blew our minds away. It was time for Kamal to relish his own fanhood, with his performance picking up from all the Corleones (Marlon, Bob and Al), though all three can never do romance as only Kamal can with his scenes with Saranya. The film won him a National Award for acting again. Remember National Award? Yeah, back from vacation.

It was probably here where Kamal stopped looked back and thought, “Andha Oru Nimidham? I might as well doubled for Vijayakanth’s legs”. And steered his career away and did three “serious” films, Sathya, Soorasamharam and Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, all which were miserable flops. All these adds to the baffling his career in 80s. Earlier he even produced a Malayalam remake, this time casting flavour of the season, Sathyaraj as prostitute visiting, drinking tough cop in Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupadu. Verdict: flop. Though the film packed an interesting punch.

But 1989 was going to change all that, both Apoorva Sahotharargal and Vetri Vizha were success, and they were as different as day and light. What followed is an amazing switch of genres, brilliantly created characters, that further stamped Kamal as a talent to be reckoned with.  Brilliant double role in Indiran Chandran, four roles in Michael Madana Kamaraj, the celestial Guna, rollicking fun Singaravelan, and the epic Thevar Magan where he turned young punks attention to the grace of Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan. Intentional or not, there was passing of baton from Sivaji to Kamal.

But I disagree that Kamal is the next Sivaji. Bullshit. Kamal is Kamal. There can be only one Sivaji, and the proper heir is supposed to be Kamal’s buddy/rival Rajini if he had not decided to please ten year olds and the ten year olds in us. Kamal may have Sivaji’s influence, but there are more to him than Sivaji. There’s Chaplin, Sellers, the Corleone bunch mentioned earlier, and the whole host of screenwriters, novelists, great directors as we will soon after he astounded us with the brilliant script for Thevar Magan.

And what a followup when Mahanadhi, an epic journey that continued to question humanity and our moral values, was followed by a remake from Hindi, Kuruthi Punal, which the original director himself said was better than his. Totally devoid of songs, the thriller further explored Kamal’s interest in makeup when during the final scene, the brutalised Kamal looked like sexually assaulted water melon.

The same make-up men worked for him in Shankar’s fascist Indian, where he looked like white Californian dried prune and I assure you no more fruty wisecracks. The make-up was a disservice to Kamal’s own talent as it totally blocked his face, giving only the eyes a little room to act. The National Award Committee of course, after having multiple-orgasm, handed out another Best Actor award for probably the first to an actor who spent entire film behind mask. National Award committee. Sigh.

Its make-up time again for Kamal, though it was properly used this time in Avvai Shanmugam, and it will not be twelve years before Kamal and his make-up pals work together. A routine comedy schtick with Kadhala Kadhala was followed by the highly anticipated Hey Ram (he made noises threatening to unleash Marudhanayagam on us, but compromised with this instead).

The film was such a fantastic critical success that most Kamal fans collars resembled erection. Perpetual. Alas, whatever he touched next was underwhelming. A bumbling Tenali, mistreated Alavandhan, effective but not great comedies Pammal K. Sambandhan and Panchatanthiram (great on their own, but pales to his earlier better works), perking up a little bit with Anbe Sivam and second stint as director in Virumandi.

Then, down the escalator with pedestrian remake, Vasool Raja M.B.B.S, so and so heist caper, Mumbai Xpress, and decent thriller Vettaiyadu Vilayadu, though detractors cry remake seeing the plot similarity with the director, Gautham’s, earlier film Kaaka Kaaka. Confusing genre with storyline, it’s like both films are like Orange and Apple, and they say “hey, both are fruits. Copycat!”

The he probably woke up one day and realised that, “damn, I was supposed to be a damned good actor. And how many roles did the worlds greatest actor did? Nine? I’ll top that,” and wrote himself ten roles for the movie Dasavatharam, an excess with continued horrible use of prostethic make-up and poor CGI, benefiting largely from fast-paced funny script.

Back as producer and actor for hire in entertaining, but supposedly inferior remake of a Hindi film, Unnaipol Oruvan where he just sat around and scratched his beard while Mohanlal does lots of sneering. And early this year he joined force with K.S. Ravi Kumar in Manmadha Ambu where, for the first time after Ninaittale Inikkum, I liked the supporting star than the man himself.

Few years time he’d be pushing the big 6-0. How do we look back at his career. His body of work that seemed to be mostly overshadowed by Crazy Mohan comedies. But don’t let that fool us, the ones that stand out far overshadows the best of current crop of best actors have contributed. He stands tall. He outstands the best of them all.

But back in some corner, awaits his fans. Cowering, shivering, not sure what to expect of their idol, most of the time they live in frustration. Where’s the Oscar? Where’s the putting of Tamizh film industry in the world map as the place for awesomeness? The truth is, Kamal never promised all that, his talent did. And if his talent says it wants to joint force with Crazy Mohan and Prabhu again, we might as well shut up and enjoy it. Kamal can do any damn thing that pleases him. That’s why, I suppose, we still adore him.

Monday, October 17, 2011

RetroReview: Pudhu Kavidhai (1982)

The movie wastes no time in introducing the hero of this film, played by Rajini (going to be a regular in RetroReview, I guess). It’s motorbike racing. Assembled are bikes that looked like they came straight from All-In-All-Azhaguraja (AIAA) workshop.

Rajini arrives in one wearing what looks like a swimming cap. Or was it his helmet. Then the race begins. The announcer narrates the entire proceeding as if he was telling the Mahabaratha story over the radio.

It would hardly be justifying calling it a race. It was more like a stroll in the park. The racers looks more like rallying for some cause, maybe for better quality bikes.

Rajini himself has to go through some turbulence like the bike not starting (where’s AIAA when you need him). But the filmmaker, sensing that we would dismiss the race as non-race, had the racing bikers to overtake bullock carts. Those speed demons!

Anyway, Rajini wins of course, and receives the price from the films heroine, Jyothi an actress who’s achne spots are more than the number of films she did.

Okay, here’s the thing I disliked about this film. The bike racing and the bike riding was what between a good film that this is and a great film which it could have been. I mean, it could have been okay if the bike was Harley Davidson or the chopper thingy Raghuvaran was bumming about with in Siva. The AIAA bike already looked too old and clumsy when the film first came out.

Back to the movie.

There’s a bit of formula that you know. Girl dislikes boy, boy teachers her lesson, girl likes boy, boy likes girl, and the girl’s mother gets henchmen to beat the living daylights out of the boy’s uncle.

Yeah, played by Tenggai Sreenivasan, he’s the girl’s family driver, and he overhears the part where the girl and her friends discuss how disgustingly black Rajini was (at the beginning, later she embraces black, literally). Angered, he stopped the car he was ferrying them with, gets out, scolds them, and throws in the key, the cap, uniform and…

…thank god he doesn’t remove his pants. If there are still many guys out there in their thirties or forties, still scarred by something that happened in their childhood/youth, to the point that they became homophobic, I got two words: Topless Tenggai (TT).

Anyway, thanks to TT, a sight that also would horrify any decent acne -scarred girls,  TT was punished with whipping to the point that he still got almost topless again due to torn shirt. Hah! You know what happens next, Rajini, after finding out, tears into the rich lady’s bungalow in the AIAA bike, and gives the henchmen who whipped TT, his share of lashing (Rajini usually don’t lash whip, he goes apeshit insane with it).

So, the girl’s mother, played by veteran “please hate me” mother/mother-in-law, Sukumari, harbours hatred towards him. You know, he’s dark-skinned, low-wage earning, AAIA bike riding bloke who has more hair than the all of the Three Stooges combined*.

Aside: Sukumari was shown as evil by the filmmaker by focussing on her fierce looking face, then on the stuffed tiger head in the background, back to her, back to tiger, back to her, back to tiger, back to her, back to….arrrr, I got it Mr. Director, she’s evil! End of aside.

In the meantime, romance developed between Rajini and “scarface” Jyothi. They greet each other with yellow flag, and yell off a mountain to echo “I love you”, kinda 80s version of text messaging and Facebook wall status. And off we go to a beautiful song, “Vellai Pura Ondru”.

Then, the song finishes and usually it’s Rajini back whopping some bad guys’ ass. Nooo…he was still romancing her. Involuntarily I yelled, “hey, the duet finished already-lah”. And voluntarily, with some domestic violence included, my wife yelled, “Let them-lah. What’s your bloody problem?” To those who are new to this blog, my wife is a hardcore fanatic terrorist fan of Rajini and refers to him as “appa” (dad).

And the romance goes on and on and on and on…and I bet the bad guys and henchmen were frustrated and retreated to the nearest tea stall.

Of course the mother being evil, this time she stands next to a full taxidermy tiger, gets to know about this relationship. To summarise the plot at this point, she opposes, then she relents and of course you know she’ll be up to something. You know this not because we have a bit of thinking capability. No, it’s because she was looking fierce besides a stuffed Tiger. Thanks director.

Blah, blah, blah, Rajini gets tied up literally in a chair, and elsewhere Jyothi was getting married. And this henchman, who was supposed to guard the tied up Rajini, wanted something to read. I mean, what else can there be in that room? Bagavad Geetha? Wall Street journal. No, Rajini’s diary of course. He reads it, becomes saddened by Rajini’s plight, and actually releases him.

Imagine if all the heroes carry diaries with them. In fact, Vijayakanth’s films would be quarter its length.

Scene: some goddown, Captain Vijayakanth confronts a Pakistani terrorist
Vijayakanth: Before we indulge in overlong fights, and do unrealistic stunts. Would you like to read my diary?
Pakistani Terrorist: Sure dude. Wait let me hang this AK47. (reads the diary and tears flows free from his eyes) Oh my god, what have I done. Can I be an Indian citizen? Pretty please?

Anyway, Rajini’s too late (it’s that bloody AAIA bike, I tell you. He would have reached faster with a mountain bike) and some junior artist ties Thali around Jyothi’s neck. Too late, dude. As per the norm since the Nageswararao days, he hits the bottle which immediately provides enough testosterone to give him beard overnight.

Cut to present day. He is sulking, and he apparently has a kid, a girl, and wife. And some dude played by Delhi Ganesh fixing things in the house. By chance, Jyothi would be in the same town as he is, working as a teacher. He’s married, she’s married. But he still yearns for her, and what happens?

Well, readers, this is the part where this review will get boring. Not that the scenes are terrible, I have quoted the terrible ones. This is the part where the movie gets awesome. This is the part where you Rajini fans can thump your chest and be proud to call yourselves his fan.

He is simply fantastic. There are long, quiet scenes later in the movie that would have made a hack actor awkward. But Rajini pulls it off professionally; the subtle change of expressions has to be seen to be believed. Especially when both Rajini and Jyothi meet again after the AAIA bike denied Rajini of last minute ass kicking and eloping.

And the ones that catch me off-guard each time I revisit the film is the romance. You would never have seen or would probably never see Rajini this romantic. Wife suggested that he probably did homework by hanging out long hours with Kamal. And the strength of this performance that convinces us on how he could not let her go even after she was married. The last half an hour will really tug your heart, thanks to his and her performance. Yes, all my insults apart, she’s a pretty good actress. Too bad she didn’t have the look to last longer in the industry.

Add that to some nice songs, the sad version of the duet mentioned, Ada Vare Vaa, where Rajini and the girl demonstrates various yoga moves in fast forward, and the beautiful, Vaa Vaa Vasanthame, this is a highly revisitable movie. And close your kids eyes when TT scenes occur.

*currently he has as much as only one of them.
Rajini, Jyothi and one of the many useless vehicles 
in Pudhu Kavithai.

Friday, September 23, 2011

RetroReview: Bhairavi (1978).

If there is one constant mistake celluloid god is doing is to provide Rajini with endless stream of soon to be dead sisters. Well, three* to be exact, as far as I know. Bhairavi should be Rajini’s first dead on-screen sister (the fact that an actress who played his sister in another film died off-screen should add to the eerie factor).

Sometimes revisiting these old films, you discover a bizarre moment or two. Or in the 1978 movie, Bhairavi's case, a total WTF gem that I shall reveal later. Alongside some scientific revelation as to why Rajini switches his costume from lungi and singlet to pants and unbuttened shirts halfway through the movie. Read on to find out more…

Considering its weekend and I am lazy, here’s the synopsis I purloined from IMDB (the normal font is my addition):

Mookaiyah (Rajini) and his sister Bhairavi (Geetha) are children of a drunkard who are left to fend for themselves. After Bhairavi is lost in an accident, Mookaiyah becomes a manservant at the home of a local landlord, and grows to become the landlord's faithful crony, taking unquestioning orders from his boss. The boss, Rajalingam (Srikanth), gets Mookaiyah to abduct a young girl from a neighboring village - Bhagyam, who he proceeds to rape. Manikkam, Bhagyam's brother (Some dude), swears vengeance on Mookaiyah who gets the blame for the incident. Meanwhile a revelation is in store for Mookaiyah. Written by Joyojeet Pal (Do they make “friend” pun jokes on you, Pal?).

But first things first, does anyone use the word purloin anymore? I know it sounds like cat’s groin or something, but that’s a nice word I picked up long time ago from Poe.

Well, the synopsis end with “a revelation is in store”, and before you guys go, “what store?”, I have actually gave out the spoilers. Yes, the Bagyam in question is non other than Bhairavi, Mookaiyah’s long lost sister (In a Oedipal/Fruedian twist, Geetha would appear as Rajini’s secret admirer in his dream in Ninaittale Inikkum). So, indirectly our friend, this Mookaiyan, was responsible for her rape, and later, her death.

Now, here’s something that bugged me. Obviously Rajini is the hero, but he got second billing here after Srikanth. Probably seniority, and Srikanth himself takes a break from playing betraying sibling/son of Sivaji Ganesan and plays betraying landlord of the other Sivaji, Rajini, who plays the Mookaiyan in question here.

Aside: V.C Ganesan, who was christened Sivaji Ganesan by Periyaar, also played a Mookaiyan several years earlier in PattikAda Pattanamaa. If that is not enough to confuse you, how about the great actor playing Rajinikanth in Gouvaram, a name later adopted by budding actor Sivaji Rao Gaekwod. That’s right, go and snivel elsewhere. End of aside.

The point is Srikanth was born to betray one Sivaji or another.

Back to the film. The first part of the film is a bit dreary, with Rajini doing “yes massa” to Srikanth’s whims and fancy, and romancing Sri Priya, portions of which are quiet funny. There are comedy tracks which you can safely forward away with your remote (Surulirajan, Manorama and the always welcomed V.K. Ramasamy). Then the tragedy takes place and Rajini goes apeshit insane with vengeance.

Equally insane was Ilayaraja’s background score, literally blasting off hundreds of trumpets everytime Rajini goes on rampage (very Bond-eque, compare the track with Thunderball’s). But seriously, it gets your pulse racing and I wonder if Rajini heard the soundtrack before pummelling the bad guys. Such motivation.

Speaking of pummelling, here’s the WTF part. One fight scene ends up with lungi wearing Rajini and another lungi wearing bad guy in a fenced goat pen. Needless to say, a bunch of goats broke their bones (Sup Tulang yumm...) with Rajini and the bad guy falling on them. But then, the fight gets so intense that - and I don’t think this was scripted - Rajini grabbed one of the goats and starts to beat the shit out of the bad guy.

It was unbelievable, I had to rewind to see the spectacle again. No guess on what’s for dinner for the film crew that night.

Of course, accused of murder and rape, Mookayan is on the run, a fugitive, and this was the part where he switches his costume from Lungi and Singlet to pants and unbuttoned shirt. Unbuttoned.

I shouldn’t worry about it, but I did ponder about the reason costume switch, besides providing the costumer a second meal. And then! Holy Harrison Ford, it struck me the practicality of it all.

Now, here’s the scientific explanation. Obviously with lungi on, you can’t make long strides when running away from cops. Pants can enable you to take those lengthy strides when running away from long arms of the law. Besides, a lungi has broader per-square foot of target for police dogs to pounce on than a pair of pants.

As for the unbuttoned shirt. To quote Mr. T, I pity you fools. Imagine the same long arms of the law (does that make them a gorilla or orang-utan?), grabbing your singlet when you are on the run. But unbuttoned shirt! Not only you get to show your awesomely flat ab, but if the collar is grabbed by cop, you can let it go easily. A technique clearly borrowed from domestic lizards**.

All in all, it’s a thoroughly revisit-able film, but the downside to the film has to be the use of wrong singer for Rajini. TMS, by now, has voice thicker than Sivaji’s wigs and was totally unsuitable for Rajini. It’s like listening to Michael Jackson voiced by Elvis Presley.

As usual as with Rajini films, it’s his show. Oozing with infant version of his powerful charisma, he gets to flex his acting chops here. If only he had pursued that direction he’d be up there with Kamal as brilliant actors. Emoting his way to the climax, he showed raw energy and emotion that make us feel his pain. The best scene has to be the sad song when he visits his sister at the graveyard (Nandooruthu Nariyuruthu).

But of course, at that moment you feel like saying, “Like, dude, you were responsible for her dead?” You better not. He might grab anything he could get, and beat the crap out of you. Like a Barn Owl.

*Bhairavi, Dharma Yutham & Naan Sigappu Manithan. If I have missed others, please get them to register in Rajini’s Dead On-Screen Sisters Registry, not Rajini’s Betraying Brothers Registry or Rajini’s Betraying Landlords Registry.

**Come on, you know this. The lizards let go of the tail when is caught. And leaves the dead wiggling tail to horrify us.

Pix: Rajini in Bhairavi, with the weapon of choice, when there're no goats available.

Monday, September 12, 2011

RetroReview: Naan Vazhavaipen.

Note: RetroReview will look at fun old films from totally contemporary sense. No disrespect to the filmmakers, just a mix of respect and tease.

Rajini has made a total of five films the great actor Sivaji Ganesan. The most recent, Padaiyappa is a bore, with Sivaji playing Rajini’s father and quickly shuffling off under the guise of onscreen death, though I have a feeling that he’d rather not be in that dreadful film.

Before that, both were in Padikadhavan, though it’s a Rajini show all the way. Earlier they have both appeared in Justice Gopinath, and all these three show both of them having blood relationship.

That’s not fun. That’s not half as fun as nAn vAzha vaipEn where they are not father/son or siblings. They are almost enemies. And they kick each other’s butt, and that was what made me write this review. Actually they do that in Viduthalai too, but that's too horrible a film to write....maybe another day.

Movie starts from Sivaji playing Ravi, a poor travels agent who wears suit, and highlight the fact that his big-mouthed sister was wheelchair bound and his younger brother looks suspiciously like a girl and even sounds like one (don’t scratch your bald spot, those days “boys” usually played by girls, and Sri Devi made a fortune out of that).

We also get to know that Sivaji was the last to be seen with a murdered rich man, Ramaraj. Along the way we get to know that Sivaji also has brain tumour, but not in a fashion that is usually dealt with in Tamizh films. The buildup to what’s worst gonna happen was, well, quite bizarre for me. Only the lame dialogue ruined

what could have been an awesome scene. The doctor was played by Poornam Visvanath by the way. In order to make it interesting, let me reconstruct that scene from Scorsese's angle.

Doc: You see the spot here (showing X-Ray of a very normal looking brain)

Ravi: I ain’t seein’ no spot.

Doc: What’re’ye? Frickin’ blind.

Ravi: Who you callin’ frickin blind. I aint’ blind. I ain’t seein no spot that’s all. Frickin’ mook.

Doc: What’s a mook?

Ravi: A mook. A mook. Get on with it, will ya. What’s wrong with my head?

Doc: This spot here? It says you got toomer.

Ravi: A toomer?

Doc: Yeah, a toomer.

Ravi: A toomer?

Doc: What’re’yer frickin’ deaf? A toomer. A brain toomer

Ravi: Brain tumour? Holy shit. Am I dead?

Doc: Not yet. I am talking to you.

Ravi: You talking to me? You talking to me?

Doc: Ain’t nobody here. Yeah. You’re gonna die.

Ravi: Oh shit. I got family.

Doc: So do I, is that a coincidence or what, you dope.

Ravi: Who’s gonna take care of them if I am gone?

Doc: How the heck do I know? Okay, you can do an operation (surgery).

Ravi: Ah, what a relief. A minor operation. Phew.

Doc: Who said it’s a minor operation?

Ravi: It’s just at the corner of my head. Gotta be minor.

Doc: No, you stupid dope. It’s major. Here (drills Ravi’s head on the side with his finger), we’re gonna frickin’ open this and spill your noodles out, badabing!

Ravi: Jeesus. You gotta be kidding me. But that would make me alright, right?

Doc: What’s that?

Ravi: The major operation, it’d make me fine right?

Doc: Not really. There might be some side effects.

Ravi: Side effects? Like what? Scarred head?

Doc: Nonono, nothing bad like that. For a starter, you could have a stroke and get paralysed.

Ravi: Holy mother Mary!!!

Doc: Or you could be a retard for the rest of your life.

Ravi: Hare Krishna!

Doc: Even if you do live, you could become blind.

Ravi: Oh shit(reaches for his gun and shoots himself).

Well, no he doesn't shoot himself. That’s what the doctor tells him in a bizarre, build-upy way that either he dies of the tumour, or, after surgery, live with those aweful predicament ie, paralysed, become blind or a retard.

Ravi then does something more sensible so that his family is taken care of. He got to know that there’s a reward for those who provide information leading to the arrest of the rich man’s murderer. So, what he does? Yes, he makes himself the suspect and plants evidences pointing to him. A letter is dispatched to lawyer whereby once he is sentenced, a sealed note would be open that would instruct him to give the reward money to Ravi’s family.

Now then, the lazy cops swallows the trap, hook, line and sinker, and arrests Ravi. He gets death sentence, but before sentencing our friend gets a massive headache and is forced to undergo surgery done by the same doctor, Poornam Viswanath (PV).

Aside: Few words about PV. I always find him creepy, there’s something more to him than meets my contact lensed eye. Look at how lusty he gets around Silk Smitha in Mundram Pirai. Remember, he was the one who got Rajini in trouble in the first place in Tillu Mullu. As a father he was rotten, and remember how he chased out Kamal in Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu, only to be united years later in jail in Mahanadhi? End of Aside.

So, the operation was successful, and the doctor celebrates it by having a fag at the no-smoking zone (really, not making this up). Ravi does not get blind, paralysed or become a Vikram. Now, fully recovered he feels stupid, since he is healthy to the core, except maybe having few extra pounds of weight (This is Sivaji in post-lean looking years). He got death sentence on him, remember? Only way to sort things out is for him to find the actual murderer himself.

He escapes through the hospital room bathroom window (yes, the cops put him in a room where the bathroom window is big enough for tubby Ravi to go through). And in the course of finding the murderer, his path crosses with the pickpocket character played by Rajini.

If you have seen this movie, you will know Rajini's name. You will know his character’s name, because he keeps saying it goddamn, I don’t know, 57 times? “My name is Michael de Souza. I am a true Chris Chen”.

After a pickpocketing gig, we see Michael frolicking with a girl singing about sky is up there, and hell is somewhere down and we should be happy in the earth. He does few dance moves that later inspired K. Bagyaraj to pick up aerobics. Then, the unavoidable brush with Ravi, who has moved on from family burdened travel agent with brain tumour to full-form action figure.

“My name is Michael de Souza. I am a true Chris Chen”.

Ravi’s trace from a clue, a really terrible looking humongous gold ring, got him face to face with…

“My name is Michael de Souza. I am a true Chris Chen”.

Thinking that Michael killed the rich man Ravi confronts him and one thing led to another, and both end up brawling. Well, actually three of them if you consider Sivaji’s thinner double.

“My name is Michael de Souza. I am a true Chris Chen”.

Then, a gun turns up, and they sort things out and Ravi realises that Michael is not the killer. Oh, by the way, soon to be MGR’s successor, Rajini was actually wielding a revolver with no bullets (yeah, go ahead and do your Freudian analysis). Michael stole the hideous ring from someone and he has a photographic memory and would be able to assist Ravi in finding the real killer, but not without the intend of double crossing for money.

Aside: Michael’s photographic memory is triggered by the complex technique of pretending that your fingers are binoculars. Also, “My name is Michael de Souza. I am a true Chris Chen”. End of aside.

Probably he is not only a true but a good Chris Chen, Michael abandons the intend to betray Ravi and nails the actual murderer- Ramaraj’s brother, played by one of the most uncharismatic actor ever to grace the screen and yet get shitload of assignments, Major Sunderajan.

Upon identifying Sunderajan, the unflappable Michael immediately swung into action and said, “My name is Michael de Souza. I am a true Chris Chen”. Oh well, he was to bring our Major (I think his name is Jeyaraj, I forgot, who cares) and hand it to Ravi. Ravi arrives at some stupid location (abandoned house, etc, etc, why can’t they meet at Starbucks or something), some shootout ensues, and Michael gets shot, like three or four times, enough to kill an elephant, but this is a movie so he gets to live longer.

What follows is a series of shots of Ravi rushing in his cute little VW (sports version) to get a doctor, and the very dying Michael holding Major at gunpoint. It really looked pathetic, Major siting on the floor wanting to do overacting badly yet he was refused at gunpoint. Ravi comes with the doctor, and cops too (it’s complicated), Major gets arrested and Michael shuffles off to meet his Chris Chen god. Funny though, he was given a Catholic burial.

Despite my ribbing, the film was pretty good the second half. Sivaji sleepwalks in this role (again case of feeding twigs to an elephant), and Rajini does his best to lend some credibility to sell Chris Chenity or whatever he was preaching.

Most importantly, it has beautiful songs by Ilayaraja. Thirutheeril Varum Silayoo, Enthan PonVanname, Ennodu Padunggal, and the abovementioned Agayam Mele Paathalam Kizhe are all radio favourites.

Watch it if it’s on TV, especially the brain tumour scene. Also…

“My name is Michael de Souza. I am a true Chris Chen”

In the pix: Rajinikanth (the original Ajith) as whatsisname, Sivaji Ganesan (the original Rajini AND Kamal) and what looks like....oh my apparitions..arrrrrrr.....

Monday, September 05, 2011

Mankatha: Crystallising Ajith.

In a defining moment before the interval of Venkat Prabhu directed Mankatha, Ajith glowers at us audience and does something that would make Spielberg proud during his Jaws days. I jumped in my seat, never thinking that this actor that I once dismissed as pretty boy would move me, literally.

It has been a long journey for him appearing as, yes, a pretty boy with buggy eyes in Amaravathi, which I must have watched and dismissed as another pallid romance movie, for actor Ajith Kumar, now appearing in his fiftieth film, Mankatha, an event which was visibly celebrated during the title sequence.

Funny though, in the earlier days, actors would wait until their 100th films before celebrating it. Times are much slower, prolific actors are not heroes or leading stars, they are usually comedians. The generation X actors had to settle for lesser films per year, sometimes per two years, and mull about their box office charm before deciding their next venture.

Ajith is no different. More often than not, he was not sure what kind of actor he is going to become. While others opted to become Rajini’s chair dusters or six-packed bipedal, Ajith often just relied on the directors to pull him to this direction and that, and occasionally making personal statements on things affecting his career (and intertwined personal) life.

His weakness has always been his voice, that childish drawl that often killed many important dialogues, if at all those existed in his films. Heck, in his first film he was dubbed by another artist. Subsequently, it was when he is quieter, like the mute character in Valee, or films where he has minimal dialogue like Billa or Aasal (yeah, I liked this film, sue me), where he was effective. But all that is gone now.

Lifelong smoking has put gravel in his voice, and it was most effective in Mankatha. In this film, he is not a lover boy, not a mute desperado, neither is he a stylish anti hero. He is a tubby, greasy, smoking, boozing, cheating swindling, devious suspended cop who is only eyeing after money. To quote George Thorogood, he was bad to the bone.

In the middle of the film, he goes into a long monologue on plotting certain “deaths” - a one man act that not many of his generation actors can pull off - and he snaps at you. If it was in 3D, it would have given me a stroke. It was that effective. The evilness in him looked real. Ajith the actor has finally found his calling.

He, in my opinion, is going to fulfil the need for more three dimensional, shady characters played by leading stars that has been lacking in the industry. Thanks to Venkat Prabhu, the director who also wrote this film, and what appears to be early success of this film, in future we can see Ajith fulfilling that need.

The film itself is a neatly packaged retelling of chaos. Or heist went wrong and the chaos ensued. Chaos first orchestrated by Ajith’s Vinayak character, and what ensues when he lost control of it. It is not a brilliant script, but it warranted enough scenes to keep us, as the cliché goes, edge of the seat. Or in my case, corner of my seat as I was seated at extreme right (not bad crowd at a sleepy neighbourhood cinema).

Besides setbacks like poor comedy from Premgi, unnecessary songs and dances, too many shootouts (who’s shooting at whom is a secret only Venkat Prabhu knows), choppy fight scenes and a poor leading actress who gives tough competition to the timber industry, the film is as engaging as the recent KO that I enjoyed immensely.

Only difference is, you find yourself rooting for a sleazebag. You find yourself biting your nails figuring out what the unkempt, gray haired, cigarette chomping slob is up to next. Yes, the same scumbag played by Ajith. It was a brave effort, to push the gear, nay as the pilots say, “balls to the wall”, attempt in acting and yet still not showing the limitation he already had.

Other cast members gave a considerably wonderful input, especially Arjun, who knew that we are going to see him as the same, good, disciplined heroic cop that he played hundreds of time. That what made the twist in the climax more surprising and entertaining.

Without Ajith, this will be another heist movie. Good movie, but not as entertaining thanks to Ajith’s performance. So, Ajith, you don’t want to be the next Superstar. That chair is still warmed by the 60 year old grandpa’s bum. You don’t want to be the next Kamal. Nobody can. You just be who you are as we saw in this film, a character actor in a leading role, and to quote one of Rajini’s famous lines, be in your own “Tani Vazhi”.

Kudos to Venkat Prabhu in bringing out the best in Ajith. I dismissed the Billa prequel idea whereby the second Ajith was the best in the first Billa. But after seeing this, I really look forward to the badass dude’s formative years in the prequel. Just don’t give me the near heartattack like you did here, dude.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Brand India: No thanks, we have our own.

For the second issue of The Analyst. Not sure how the edited version looks like, so this original draft would do.

Lately the media has been buzzing on how the western brands especially the luxury items have been invading the Asian market and how it has been embraced. It’s true in most cases, but not altogether the reality in India.

One such report quoted McKinsey and Co noting that spending on luxury goods by Chinese consumers is predicted to rise by 18 per cent a year to about US$27bn by 2015 – surpassing even Japan.

However, most excitement seemed to be centred on east Asia, hardly mentioned India which shocked Apple when it failed to make it to the list of top 20 companies in India. The maker of iconic iPhone and iPad, it seems, is not the apple of the Indian’s eyes.

The research that was conducted by research consultancy firm GlobeScan for TLG's Index of Thought Leaders 2011 says, "India has greater conviction about the leadership credentials of indigenous companies than in the UK; over half of the companies are privately owned or listed in India."

Leading the list are indeed home-grown brands like Tata and Infosys technologies. Aside from Apple, other major Western brands failed to make the cut of India's top 20 companies.

Microsoft, which was ranked number six in both the UK and US came in at number 37 in India and Toyota was ranked number 17 in the USA but only hit number 39 on India's league table.

In another survey earlier this year by Trust Research Advisory, a research and communications organisation, again finds name like Tata, Reliance, Maruti, LIC, Airtel, State Bank of India, Bajaj, Hero Honda, ICIC Group listed among the top 20 most trusted brand in India.

The comprehensive brand study featured 16,000 brands with over 100,000 touch points across nine cities.

A less informal survey, conducted by Indian online magazine, Afaqs, on “buzziest” brand saw Tata making an appearance again, alongside, to remind us that this is a cricket mad nation, Indian Premier League.

India, it seems, is comfortable with its own skin, or whatever is making it glow. It welcomes visiting brands, but not without growing and unleashing the potential of its own brands.

This will not be a revelation if one were to take history into account, whereby brand India once stood proud and mighty.

It boasted the word’s first university in Takshashila in 700 BC, was far ahead of others in medicine and surgery 2,500 years ago, led the world in astronomy and mathematics, taught the world how to navigate, and led the textile industry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

This was before the British company came and “carpet-bombed Brand India”, as Reliance Industry’s chairman, Mukesh Ambani once put eloquently.

Cultural brand burst

But all was not lost post-independence as it started to export culture and “spirituality” to the world. The world of pop-culture was awakened by the pop-rock band Beatle’s association with Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, which helped trigger the entire hippy culture in the 1960s.

Yoga, which was basically a mix of turn of the century Indian gymnastic exercise and breathing technique, swept throughout the west and is still sweeping (it’s not as ancient as it is reputed to be). No matter which gwailo or mademoiselle is teaching it, it will forever be associated with India.

One of the most auspicious brands that have made its mark in the global arena is certainly its film industry. Brand Bollywood, a concoction of the word Bombay (its city, now Mumbai) and Hollywood, is now an international affair.

Once a much maligned industry that’s associated with heroes and heroines making musical around trees in the park, are now accepted as colourful celluloid entertainment.

For instance, audiences in US and UK flocked to see the opening of Bollywood’s science fiction feature, Endhiran, earning itself 12th and 11th position, a tremendous feat competing with Hollywood giants.

Its music composer, A.R Rahman, dubbed as Mozart of Asia (really) won two Oscars for a single film two years ago, and was widely nominated for numerous Hollywood related award functions.

Bollywood talents, including the “Mozart of Asia” can now been seen also working in Hollywood projects.

Historically, the Bollywood films are already accepted and widely marketed elsewhere. Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal and even Russia can be chalked up as major market for Bollywood for the last few decades.

Ditto the war-torn Afghanistan which needs the much needed visual break. In fact, even China in the early days (40s) before decline set in, and interest resurged ten years ago.

One of the non-Indian company that’s riding on the success of Brand Bollywood is Sony Music Entertainment which recently announced that its revenues from India to grow to US$50 million in the next three years vowing to continue to grow its presence in the Hindi film music segment with investments of about US$15 million this year.

The music group generates about $20 million in revenues from the Indian market. alone

A large chunk of Sony’s business comes from the Bollywood music segment, where it has a 20% market share and reportedly India's Rs 500-crore (US$112 m) music industry is growing 20% year-on-year.

In fact, it’s the same Bollywood that produced many willing brand ambassadors with veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan plugging no less than 60 brands.

The younger group joined in with acclaimed actor Amir Khan endorsing Indian tourism and an actress, a ex-Miss World, was chosen to hawk watchmaker Longines, cosmetics leader L’Oreal, and India’s own jewellery maker, Nakshatra.

Owners differ, Brand stays

The Indian identity is so strong with the brand that even when takeovers were mounted, many multinational corporations were forced to retain the Indian brands to satisfy the locals.

Take for instance, Thums Up, which was the carbonated drink of choice for Indians for decades, not by choice as the Government back then closed the door to Coca Cola.

When the door was open later, Coca Cola barged in, grabbed Thums Up by its collar and had it in its pocket immediately (they bought it). But Thums Up was holding up a huge market share, cramping space for Coke’s arch rival, Pepsi. Hence the decision to let the brand stay rather than showing thumbs down.

Similarly, Hindustan Unilever, which is 52% owned by Anglo-Dutch company Unilever, faced identical problem when it acquired Hamam, one of the oldest Indian beauty soap brands. It was owned by Tata Oil Mills Company (TOMCO), which HUL took over in 1993.

HUL tread to repackage and modify the brand but they found out that by changing the composition of the soap they were loosing the loyal customers, so HUL have gone back to old composition and is using ‘trust’ and ‘quality’ as this brand’s salient points in marketing it.

In fact, HUL should be credited for the rise of another home brand, Lakme, which was drowning, recording losses after losses. HUL took over the brand in 1998, and today Lakme is a household name in cosmetics in India as well as abroad.

Steady expansion

Moving out of India, the Brands has been selective about its market and has been targeting countries that sees Indian brands, as moderate as they are in hometown, as with luxury tag.

Recently India’s Bharti Airtel group announced that it earned a record US$13.3 billion in revenue from its 2010 operations following its entry into Africa. With 15 markets in Africa contributed a total of US$924 million, it was generated from telecommunication and television businesses across those markets.

No Indian story would be complete without acknowledging Tata Group’s towering brand value over its peers and competitors.

The companies under the group are itself formidable brands such as Tata Steel (including Tata Steel Europe), Tata Motors (including Jaguar and Land Rover), Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Technologies, Tata Tea (including Tetley), Tata Chemicals, Titan Industries, Tata Power, Tata Communications, Tata Sons, Tata Teleservices and the Taj Hotels.

Lastly, the moolah factor. Indians may be becoming more brand conscious, tech savvy and still gawking at musicals in the park; the price factor still plays a big part when it comes to the consumers.

According to a study by Global Retail Index end of 2010, after economic slowdown, 38 per cent Indian shoppers have become more conscious about the price than brand. The poll interviewed 19,000 shoppers, who are also Internet users, across 17 global markets to study in-store and online shopping behaviour.

The study noted while 39 per cent India shoppers spend more time looking for promotions and deals, 34 per cent spend more time looking at stores to find greater value.

Values that they would associate with brands at home. What’s Bud Light, when Kingfisher offers premium beers and cheap flight? What’s Marlboro when Gold Flake has been smoking Indian lungs for ages? Ignore Vodafone’s advertisement, when Airtel which not only provide great services, its advertisement also features A.R. Rahman’s music.

And speaking of whom, who needs Mozart when India has Mozart of Asia?