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.