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.