Tuesday, May 30, 2006
There's this particular passage in Mario Puzo's 'The Godfather', where Michael Corleone suddenly stiffens and glares at his brother Sonny who's laughing hard at 'the kid who wants to gun down the police captain, all because he got slapped around in the face a little bit'. Puzo's prose is absolutely rivetting when he describes the change that comes over Michael's persona; a chillness seems to emanate from Michael that fills the entire room.
Justifiably, this scene is not present in Coppolla's own version; nor was it filmed by Mani Ratnam or RGV in their own versions of this masterpiece (I am not even looking at stupid remakes like 'Aatank hi Aatank', 'Abhimanyu' and others of their ilk). Trust cocky Selvaraghavan to take a stab!
As a gang-member repeatedly hurls abuses against Kumar's (enacted magnificently by Dhanush) dead mother, the hitherto meek and obedient Kumar suddenly snarls back: Shut up, #$#@ or else! Of course, the scene falls flat on its feet (as a 'Godfather' tribute, else it is rather decent); Dhanush, not a Pacino, Kamal or a Mohanlal on even his best day, has neither the looks nor the panache to carry off such a scene.
What does Selvaraghavan do now? Well, try again, of course! This time, he resorts to the genius of Yuvan Shankar Raja to provide a lilting bgm as he prises out a nearly perfect scene - as perfect as they can get in commerical Indian cinema, I'd say. As a political hoodlum swings his arm to finish off a battered, staggering and dead-on-his-feet 'Kokki' Kumar, the director - in an astonishing display of film-making savvy - has his gawky protagonist blindly hit out with every iota of strength left in his body. The hoodlum drops down dead, and the 100-odd mob stands by in a shocked silence as a clearly exhausted-but-indomitable Kumar yells out like a maniac for more punishment. Combined with Yuvan's background-score, the scene underlines yet again what tremendous talent this brother-duo possess.
Now, there are a whole lot of people who avoid Selvaraghavan movies, claiming that he makes utterly crass movies about psychopaths. Well, their claims are partly true - his protagonists do exhibit signs of mental illness. But his movies are never crass; he just makes movies on crass people. And that, my friends, is a huge difference. With 'Pudhupettai', Selvaraghavan reaffirms that 'Kathal Kondein' and '7G Rainbow Colony' were no mere flashes in the pan.
'Pudhupettai' tells the tale of 'Kokki' Kumar, who narrates the story of his life from an imaginatively shaded prison cell (was the dual coloring supposed to indicate symptoms of multiple-personality disorder in Kumar? I am not sure, but the thought certainly crossed my mind). Kumar ends up in a life of crime upon his sheltered life being thrown into shambles when his father murders his mother in a murderous fit of rage. The meteoric rise of Kumar from the baby of the gang to a sudden adult is depicted mostly through a series of random scenes - Kumar eating, Kumar having sex with the prostitute (Sneha, who puts in a performance that can be best described as dignified), Kumar surviving an attack by the skin of his neck etc. The pre-interval portion of the movie is a treat to watch.
Post-interval, Selvaraghan resorts to idiosyncratic techniques which are fascinating to watch but do end up spoiling the tempo hitherto established. Moreover, much like in Mahesh Manjrekar's Vaastav, this part of the movie deals with a Kumar drunk on power (as they say, there is no better aphrodisiac than power), and the gradual unravelling of his empire. Unfortunately, Dhanush tends to go overboard in more than one scene, and his gravelling voice is irritating in several sequences. There is also at least one song more than what would have been ideal, and the best song of the album has not been picturized at all. The politics-gangsta' nexus is all very nicely filmed, but evokes strong feelings of deja-vu (RGV's 'Satya', for instance). However, there was an AWESOME scene with Dhanush and Sonia Agarwal (whose sole purpose in the movie was this scene, IMO!), where she almost snidely tells Dhanush that Sneha's child may not quite be his; Dhanush's heartbroken expression and the subtle hardening of his eyes speaks volumes (more than his voice ever could).
Now, for the performances: its the gawky, skeletal Dhanush all the way. Overcoming his looks, the young actor puts in tremendous effort and delivers a powerhouse performance. The only scenes that jar are the ones in which he hams, and thankfully Selvaraghavan does a fine job of reining his brother in most of the time. Sneha does another one of her trademark roles (the beautiful, dignified-in-the-face-of-suffering Indian nari), and she does pack in a lot of screen-presence, one has to admit. Most of the new actors do well. Sonia Agarwal has nothing much to do, except for that great scene.
Selvaraghavan is a tremendous talent, and he will only improve (the guy is just 3 movies old!) as time goes by. One wishes, though, that he stops picturizing those inane dance-numbers even when they clearly do not fit in to the scheme of things. Also, I strongly felt that in 'Puthupettai' the erotic song with Sonia was put in only to underline the fact that he is not a director to shy away from depicting sexuality on screen. However, in his previous outings (namely 'Kaathal Kondein' and '7G Rainbow Colony', though to a lesser extent), the scenes were integrated into the script, whereas here it is NOT. The climax, though perhaps as close to real-life as one can get, is a tremendous letdown (this was the case in his previous movie as well).
Verdict: A firm thumbs up (not for the faint-hearted; there's plenty of sex, violence and abuse).
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Manmohan Singh (to George Bush): We are sending 10 people to the moon.
GB: Really? Who?
MS: 3 OBCs, 2BCs, 4 astronauts and a woman!
I am sure most of you would have received variants of the same message by now; after all, there are only so many new fwds on a given day. I am irritated by the whole issue, and hence my (outspoken) thoughts on the whole mess:
First of all: why do we oppose reservation? Is it because we are convinced that reservation is bad for the future for our country (i.e. moral and/or patriotic reasons), or is it more 'coz we strongly feel that a 50% reservation policy (or something of a similar vein) would severely undermine our own chances in the not-so distant future? I have to admit, I personally feel that it is predominantly the latter factor that has propelled the issue this far; it certainly is THE principal factor that makes me curse the ilk of V.P.Singh and Arjun Singh. After all, there are lots and lots of other equally inane things (reservation for women? demolition of slums? the Narmada dam issue?) that do not attract even a minor proportion of the publicity that this issue has (not to suggest that this is unimportant; it is, equally so).
If this vague feeling of insecurity were not enough, we have the fact that for the last 50 years the policy of so-called affirmative action has not helped in any way at all - we KNOW that mere caste-based reservation does not help. We have all those studies - the various ones that Karan Thapar quoted in his interview with Arjun Singh - to prove it. But do the pro-reservation dimwits care? No sir! Instead of doing the correct thing - which would be taking steps to reform our primary education and our inane examination system, which I grant is a long-term solution, but a sane one at least - our folks compound the problem by adding layers of reservations. Reservations for school seats, reservations for college seats, reservations for jobs, reservations for promotions (oh isn't that in yet? Fear not, the day is not too far away).
What makes this newfound enthusiasm for reservation even more abhorrent is that it is based on caste. Yes, you got that right - on CASTE. After 50+ years of Independence, after all those fwds of how India is 'shining' and 'improving', the elected leaders of our country still continue to think on the lines of segregating people on religion and caste. Most of us have already been privy to televised debates where students belonging to the forward classes have been accusing BC and OBC students of not being competent enough, and the disgruntled (but obviously) (O)BC students have been reacting in equally poor taste. Trust our politicians to create an issue where none existed, of course.
Now, I disagree with those who say that a reservation policy based on economic strata might be a better idea; I disagree with the whole policy of affirmative action itself. Why? Because any reservation in the educational sector is based on marks. And as anybody who has done his/her public education in one of the universities in South India (I am not all that familiar with the scene in the rest of India, but trust me, I am not too hopeful on that front either) can tell you, our examination system sucks. Big-Time.
First of all, we have an evaluation system where teachers are paid based on how many exam papers they evaluate per day; of course, they 'evaluate' a few dozen exam papers per day to earn as much money as they can (I apologize to all the sincere teachers out there, but even you know that you are outnumbered). One cannot really balme them; its their livelihood, dammit.
Then of course, we have all those horror stories of exam papers missing - perhaps, half eaten by cows and goats 'coz the driver of the university van decided to take a leak in an empty farm, leaving the door open. Of course, then there are all those stories of how all roll-numbers beginning with 'S' got exactly 93 marks out of 100 - irrespective of how many questions they even attempted.
But you might say, the good students fare well anyway. Trust me, its out of desperation - one learns to beat the system. Use lots of color-pencils and crayons and stuff to 'beautify' your answer-paper; underline important points; practice your goddamn handwriting as if you were going for a friggin' handwriting competition instead of an exam on Discrete Mathematics - sound familiar? Yes, one learns to beat the system at its own game.
My point: any student with the sheer tenacity to grind it out - 'mug' pages and pages of the textbook with not an inkling of the concept behind it - is liable to get great marks and be 'eligible' for posts in institutions of higher studies. On the other hand, a truly intelligent and interested student who goes out of his/her way to refer other books and understand the ifs and the buts will most probably barely be able to gather passing grades. That's merit for you, most of the time.
Hence any policy of reservation in education finally comes down to this: those who learn to beat the system would now face competition from those who haven't learnt to beat the system; that these others happen to be from a different caste is but incidental IMO. Hence the very idea of reservation is repugnant to me - whether it be for other castes, or the underprivileged.
IMHO (mabbe a naive one at that) one of the best ways to help would be to establish a meritocratic system (a meritocratic system does have its share of flaws, but would definitely be an improvement on what exists now). Establish scholarships for the economically backward in all schools, be they private or public, and establish norms to ensure that only the truly economically challenged get to take advantage of such scholarships. Change all examinations to an objective-based system, so that one doesn't have to carry a whole friggin' crayon factory to the exams. Insread of pushing for affirmative action, establish a policy of zero-discrimination instead s.t. we do not have Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jainish schools. I belive a combination of these factors would help, but the implementation - sadly, that is another matter altogether!
P.S: The worst part is, do even the most hardcore advocators of reservation believe that it will help the truly underprivileged? Those who need real help - the last thing they have on their mind is attending school; they are struggling to survive. So who is reservation really for?
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Being basically a novelist, Padmarajan displayed a phenomenal flair for characterization (he always wrote his own screenplays). Be it the hapless old man of 'Moonnam Pakkom' (The Third Day) or the compulsive-obsessive stepfather in 'Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal' (Vineyards For Us To Dwell), the characters he created could never be accused of being ordinary. To the contrary, many of the protagonists penned by him were delinquent, often sexually (which was being pretty daring in the 1980s, one has to admit). Another thing I loved about his movies were their titles - they were rather like the ones found for short stories, and always just so apt. Its rather difficult to pinpoint the best movies Padmarajan directed; he's done far too many different kinds of movies with more than a mere semblance of competence to make it that easy. Here I present my personal favorites from his oeuvre:
'Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal' (Vineyards For Us To Dwell - a whopper of a title, even if it's a self-confessed Padmarajan fan saying so) starts off like a simple love-story, but the characters take on a life all of their own after half an hour, and keep you engrossed until the very end. Thilakan plays the stepfather of the girl, and just oozes slimy menace. With more than a hint of sexual harassment thrown in, this movie was far ahead of its times. Great pacing, a truly DARK climax (I just love these - exactly why I liked the recent 'Being Cyrus') and amazing performances by Mohanlal & Thilakan make this an eternal favorite.
Much before Deepa Mehta, there was Padmarajan; much before 'Fire', there was 'Deshadanakkili Karayarilla' (Birds That Migrate Don't Shed Tears - a terrible translation, but it's the thought that counts, I guess!). Unlike Deepa Mehta, who IMHO sought to obscure the issue with how the protagonists became lesbians because of their uncaring husbands, Padmarajan made no bones about the fact that his protagonists were probably lesbians. Narrating a tragic tale of how the meek, submissive partner of the duo tries to break away from the influence of her dominant & brash other half, the director never once resorts to the familiar filmi trappings (such as a flashback exonerating the perpetuator of everything); unpredictable twists and turns make this an amazing ride all the way through.
When I first saw 'Thoovanathumbikal' (Butterfiles in the Rain), I didn't like it much. IMHO, it still remains one of Padmarajan's lesser efforts; I mean, it somehow lacks that amazing completeness so many of his other movies boast of. But a re-watch of the movie by a better movie-literate me made me admire the hell out of the sheer ingenuity of the characterization - probably amongst the best ever attempted in Indian cinema. They (the characterizations) - especially that of Mohanlal - are so good that they linger in your mind eons after you have watched the movie. Moreover, there is a kind of poetry to the whole film that gets to you once the film approaches its all-too logical conclusion. Mohanlal magnificently depicts a two-faced personality, with the kind of nuances only he can even attempt without appearing to overact. In what had to be a real stroke of genius, Padmarajan gets footage of Mohanlal at his vintage best, showing the audience that there is more to it than meets the eye - after a boisterous session of drinking with friends after which Mohanlal leeringly arranges for one of his friends to lose his virginity with a prostitute, he suddenly sobers up and after carefully checking that nobody is watching him, composedly staggers down the stairs. I know it doesn't sound much on paper, but that one scene spoke volumes about the innate loneliness of the character. In yet another remarkable bit of inspiration, the director chooses to place rain in the background whenever the protagonists meet (hence the title), indicating, perhaps, the innocence of their love for each other; on the other hand, at another scene the rain stops and lingers, indicating that they are about to part (in a predictable finale, one of my chief grouses about the movie). Point and counter-point - amazing, subtle direction!
'Kariyilakattu Pole' (Like a Draft of Dry Leaves) adopts a story-telling technique that I didn't really appreciate at the time. When I chanced upon Nelson Demille's 'The General's Daughter', I was intrigued by the technique of knowing the victim through the investigator's eyes. When I commented on this to a fellow-bibliophile, he remarked that he had seen a Mallu movie (he was Tamilian) that basically did the same thing. His brief outline of the story triggered off my mown memories, and I went VCD-hunting. And o-boy - what a find I made that day. The movie is basically about an investigation into the murder of a prominent film-director. In a classic reversal of their onscreen images, Mohanlal (then, merely an upcoming star) and Mammootty (the reigning star then) play the investigator and the murder victim respectively. Though they never share screen time, one gets to know and empathise with the victim through the investigator's eyes, chiefly due to competent performances by both of them. Many years later, Mammootty would play the role of an investigator (well, a journalist investigating a murder) for the umpteenth time in a film of a similar genre; Uttaram (Answer) went on to become a huge hit with the critics, and played at several film festivals as well. Sadly, the pioneer of the genre remained unacclaimed.
'Season' is a personal favourite. It is widely regarded as a failure by most purists, but a rather unique screenplay plus Mohanlal at the peak of his acting prowess makes this a memorable experience, IMHO. The story is a one-liner, really; I imagine it this way. Padmarajan reads Stephen King's 'The Shawshank Redemption' and contemplates: what if Andy and Red had a history; what if Red had a personal agenda behind helping Andy flee prison? Mohanlal does the guy-who-can-get-it-done-for-you part with a straight face, never betraying his true intentions until the end. The film, though, is a tad predictable, and this may have accounted for its failure at the box-office.
I know I have missed out on many a perrenial favorite: Moonnam Pakkom (The Third Day), for one, is a haunting tale with some AWESOME acting. It is rather simply structured, though, and does not have the shock-value that his earlier films did. I discount 'Innale' (Yesterday) too, becuase I found Shobhana very, very unconvincing in the part of an amnesiac. Its all subjective, though. For all of you who have wanted to watch great regional cinema, you could do no better than getting a collection of Padmarajan DVDs with good sub-titles. The only movie I'd avoid would be 'Parannu Parannu Parannu' (Flew); well, everybody can make one mistake!
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Every goddamn newspaper, magazine and television channel has some aged politician flashing his smile, with all the sincerity of a 4-year old begging for a lollypop. Everybody is busy discussing chief-ministerial candidates, possible outcomes, coalition-politics and/or despairing about the 'state of affairs' and commenting on 'the good old days' and the 'bygone era' and such crap, with all the seriousness and earnestness of experienced political analysts. What's more, they insist on dragging me into these inane conversations, asking me my political inclinations, favorite candidates and every other related thing they can think of. When I try to explain to them that I am the least bit bothered, there are two reactions: either they agree with me saying there is 'no use' and go back to the 'state of affairs' conversation, or they look at me condescendingly and remind me how its my 'duty' to be involved and vote and 'change the system' and ... - you get the picture.
Now, I have never understood how it is my 'duty' to help in bringing to power yet another corrupt fuddy-duddy, who probably spends time in Parliament having wet dreams about a good-looking nurse and a bedpan. Sure, it is my constitutional right to cast my vote to whoever I deem honorable and responsible enough to take up a cudgel for me, if it comes to that. That is my right, not my duty. Many people seem to think that voting is a barometer for patriotism; they keenly walk up and inform us that they went to vote with great difficulty, and then proudly display that little black mark on their finger. What's worse, most of these people vote for the party (or for that party that supports their caste and/or religion, but that's a different albeit sad story altogether), and not for the most deserving candidate (IMO, there is no 'most deserving' party), which is a pathetic state of affairs, really.
For instance, look at the Tamil Nadu elections. The 82-year old Karunanidhi, whose DMK was dismissed off by every media pundit in the country as having 'no realistic chance', romped home in style on the strength of his so-called 'brilliant' manifesto - an offer of a color TV for every household. It beats me how the DMK would ever fulfil this utterly unrealistic promise, reeking of bravado and a desperation to hang onto power. Now, the other side - the AIDMK headed by Jayalalitha - are no saints, but at least they made no rash promises like these. The third equation in the fray, the filmi hero trying his hand at politics, offers a frggin' goddamned cow for every household. Thank your holy stars he didn't win, or we would have had cows tied around the pillars of every flat! Now whether Karunanidhi lasts the term is debatable (there are all kinds of rumors in the air, ranging from doctors' prognoses to dire predictions from soothsayers), but I hear that the people are already disposing of their old B/W TV sets.
Now, Kerala politics is not as complicated. Every election, the so-called 'incumbency factor' somehow comes into play. This merely means that the people get sick of the existing goverment, and vote the opposition to power. This has been going on for donkey's years now, and as a result elections mein utna dum nahin hai. The ruling party doesn't waste much money on rallying people, giving enthusiastic speeches etc, while the opposition party runs pretty frugal campaigns - after all, everybody knows which way the vote's gonna swing this time. But the tussle for chief-ministership is pretty funny. Both the Congress and the Communist parties are filled with old geezers who still cling onto power desperately. There's Karunakaran of the Congress, the wily old fox, who's swung more ways than a goddamn pendulum in these last weeks. Then there's old Antony, the sacrificial lamb of the Congress. And there's the new CM from the Left (oh, he's pretty ancient too), who I would be ashamed to point to as being from my same state, forget being the CM.
Then we have the BJP, who have been having it bad from every direction. First, a leader with a decent public image (they don't have many of those, do they?) dies on them. Advani's been trying so hard to bend over backward to let go of his hardliner image, he almost looks like Prabhudeva from a distance. And good old Sonia's wallopped them every which way now, they probably think she's Mohammed Ali reincarnated or something! Now, for some inexplicable reason, Aamir Khan is gunning for Modi too (not that I mind, he deserves anything he gets).
Anyway, election-time is over. Except for some sting-operations or sex-scandals, hopefully these politicans will be unheard of for the next 5 years - blissful silence!
P.S: I guess this would qualify as a rant, huh !!
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
I would rank the Randeep Honda story (directed by Chakravarthy who starred in and as Satya) the best by a comfortable margin. It boasts of some fine acting by the actors, and a couple of genuinely spooky moments. The Bachchan story, directed by RGV himself, has the big B and Ritesh Deshmukh putting in decent performances (Bachchan managed to startle me thrice, despite me promising myself every time not to be taken in again!). However, I found the ending really abrupt, and as a result, not eerie enough. The whole prelude episode, directed by Sajid Khan, was sorta nice as well, with the RGV protege taking generous digs at his so-called guru.
However, after these stories, thing go terribly wrong. The Rajpal Yadav (who hammed crazily) episode was amaturish and pretty dumb; the fact that it starred Sunil Shetty did not exactly help. The Bipasha Basu episode was predictable; even more so was the Anil Kapoor-Mallika story; believe me, a Murder-ishtyle lovemaking scene with Mallika in her usual skimpy costumes (and Mr. Hairy Kapoor most definitely fully clothed) would have helped that particular tale a lot! The worst of the lot, however, was the story connecting all these pieces together, and that is what screwed up the movie for me. The dadi trying to act scary (rolling up her eyes and all that crap), and the kids trying to act smart (why do kids have to be so damn pesky in all Indian movies!!!!) destroyed the effect completely.
And then we have the Bhatt camp, who have been quietly churning out decent filmi flicks (albeit flicked from Hollywood most of the time) month after month. This team has assembled a crew of low-profile professionals who go about their jobs quietly, without any fuss. As a result, the camp has produced some of the best music in recent times, some halfway decent flicks and a serial-kisser to boot! Emraan Hansini is a shrewd performer alright; he knows enough to underplay his roles, makes sure he gets some great songs and promptly kisses the heroine in most of them - as foolproof a plan to box-office success as you can get! The latest movie from the Bhatt camp is Gangster, and it does beat the RGV release by miles, I have to admit.
Supposedly 'inspired' (I know, I know!) by the Abu Salem-Monica Bedi angle, Gangster narrates an engrossing tale with debutante Kangna, Shiney Ahuja (who makes a complete transformation from the fantastic Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi) and Emran Hansini all putting in fine performances. The music rocks, and so the scripts takes enough twists and turns to hold one's interest.
Verdict: If you can watch only one movie a month, then Gangster is it - enjoyable masala fare.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
But of course, How Kaavya Viswanathan Got Famous is another story altogether. Accusations of plagiarism (especially from Megan McCafferty's first two novels) are flying all around like crazy, and the eerily similar paragraphs make the charges kinda hard to refute. There have been new allegations of other 'similar' passages doing the rounds of late as well. Sadly, the books have been withdrawn from the market (I have my copy - hurrah!).
I am not sure that I buy Kaavya's defense entirely, but it is indeed possible that a lot of paragraphs of a favourite book can stick in one's mind; believe me, I can quote from 'The God of Small Things' extensively (I can also recognize/remember most books and the characters in them just by reading the summary on the back-flap). Could passages from memory unconciously work their way to what somebody tries to put down? They could, I guess - this is really a question for psychologists who have worked with short-term and long-term memory, and not for the media to speculate and unequivocally condemn.
IMO, the plagiarism was not intentional. First of all, reading the book (or any book, for that matter)clearly gives you a mental picture of the author, and dumb this author certainly is not. Only really dumb people would copy passages almost verbatim from other books, and then publish the damn thing - I mean, this is something that is read all over the world, and I am certain that the author would have been concious that the possibility of discovery would have been failry high. Secondly, Kaavya Vishwanathan is no mean writer (read the book and decide for yourself), and she would/need not have copied passages so explicitly. And most important of all, Kaavya Viswanathan makes me want to support her. While countless episodes of even more blatant plagiarism (especially in the tinsel world) go unnoticed or are even excused, a 17-year old girl is being unmercifully lynched by the media for what might have been an honest mistake on her part. The fact that Kaavya had the gumption to admit her mistake and apologize (I can't stand people who do not admit her mistakes) also makes me want to go bat for her.
I hope the second Opal Mehta book (hope there is one!!) makes it to the bestseller list too, but sans the controversies !!