Sunday, April 23, 2006

Movie Review: Thanmatra (Molecule)

After almost 5 years of one insipid movie after another, Mohan Lal is back with another knockout performance. Although director Blessy 'borrows' liberally from the superb 'Iris' (where Kate Winslet delivers yet another class act; she really is an amazing actress), he has delivered a movie that is realistic as well as poignant.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Thanmatra narrates the tale of an ordinary government servant Rameshan Nair (Mohan Lal), who leads a simple life and has modest dreams of his teenaged son appearing for the IAS examinations. Having almost had a go at the IAS himself, he is keen to make sure that no stone is left unturned to educate and prepare his son. Being a man of no mean intelligence himself, Rameshan Nair has brought up his son educating him in the sciences and arts alike.

It is at this juncture that Rameshan Nair, who prides himself on his memory, begins to forget things - simple things, such as whether he has brushed his teeth in the morning, or where he has placed an important file. He begins to unravel rapidly, and things come to a head when one day Rameshan Nair goes to office, strips and begins to take a bath. Rameshan Nair is diagnosed as being afflicted with Alzheimer's desease (AD). From here on, the movie narrates the travails of his family as they attempt to take care of (and cope up with) their father, who can no longer recognize them; who can no longer find his own way to places; who can no longer even speak coherently.

It would be repetitious to talk about what a fine actor Mohan Lal is; he's already proved that several times over. But at this stage of his career, where he has made even his most ardent fan grimace with distaste at least once with the kind of movies he has been doing, Thanmatra arrives as a boon for the actor in him. And does he know it too - he sinks his teeth with relish into the role and comes up with the kind of performance that would have won him an immediate Oscar if he were from the Oscar-winning parts of the globe (not that I believe the Oscar is the award for excellence; but they are definitely a lot more consistent than their Indian counterparts). Whether its as the proud parent in the former half of the movie, or as the Alzheimers-afflicted patient in the latter half, Mohan Lal lives as Rameshan Nair.

The rest of the cast performs admirably too. Nedumudi Venu as the father is competent, as expected. Meera Vasudevan turns in a good performance as Rameshan Nair's wife. Arjun Lal turns in a remarkable debut performance, standing up to Mohan Lal throughout the movie (which is no mean task). He never once goes above the top. Innocent jars, though, as the Hindi-spouting father of Meera (when will our directors understand that Mallu actors do not speak Hindi well?).

Director Blessy delivers once again after Kaazhcha (Sight). However, he could have avoided flicking those scenes from 'Iris'; it raises unnecessary doubts about the skill he had so effortlessly displayed he possessed through his previous movie. The Tamil song is melodious, and picturized beautifully; it lingers in the mind long after the movie is over.

Verdict: A must-watch.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

My Engagement & An Escape From The mundu

Yes, I got engaged during my vacation - on 26-Mar-2006. A bit of history at first, though.

I work at this obscure location near Manhattan, where the average age of the female species appears to be 40+. A word to those of you who believe that America is the land of opportunity: well, not at this location, at least; my hopes were dashed irrevocably within a couple of week! Over the past year, being old (and desperate) enough, I tried offering some subtle (and then some not-so-subtle) hints to my parents, who unfortunately never appeared to understand my level of desperation !! At last, I had to resort to a dirty, underhand trick (I complained about my parents not doing anything to a close friend's mom, who conceivably had a long, serious talk with my mom about my diminishing 'prospects') to rouse my mom into action. And spring into action she did - bombarding unsuspecting marriage beaureaus with my photographs.

Now, me and the camera have a love-hate relationship. I hate getting photographed, and all cameras love getting me in wierd expressions (eyes closed, molars showing or nostrils faring - you name it, and I have pasport-sized photographs of them all). The one decent passort-sized photograph i have was taken approximately 4 years ago; I was so delighted when I saw a snap that actually looked looked passable that i had a 100 copies made immediately, and distributed it to all and sundry. It was this photograph that my mom now distributed to all the beaureaus. The only problem was that I had put on a bit (I'm being modest here) of weight over the past 3 years, and the photograph no longer beared any resemblance to me.

But i am going off on a tangent here. Surprisingly enough, the marriage beaureaus were able to find some matches. Of course, with my parents looking at horoscopes, family backgrounds and a zillion other things, I really didn't have much to do except ask my sister for updates on whether any good-looking snaps had worked their way.

In mid-December, an alliance filtered its way through my parents' safety-nets, and I was 'allowed to' talk to the girl (am exagerrating here, of course; but this keeps reminding me of that hilarious scene in 'Hyderabad Blues' where the hero's friend talks to his fiancee, with her parents attempting to eavesdrop). After a couple of calls and chat-sessions, the akwardness wore off, and we hit it off pretty well too. And 3 months later, here I am - engaged to Smitha.

The engagement ceremony itself was quite wierd, though. On one hand, neither me nor Smitha had an inkling of what to expect. Moreover, despite my best attempts to keep things on a small scale, both of our families were determined to make the event festive. So we had a decent crowd for the engagement - with photographers et al. And then there was the most important question that everybody had to ask - what I would wear.

Now I have a morbid fear of the mundu (the South Indian counterpart of the dhoti, but tied like the lungi), which is the default attire of the groom (and most of the guests) for a Kerala wedding. I have never perfected the art of fastening the damn thing so that it remains in place; instead, everytime I wear one I am always very aware of exactly where upon my waist the mundu is, and the velocity at which it is slowly but surely slipping down. As a result, I firmly put my foot down and said that under no circumstances would I wear a damn mundu for the engagement (at the wedding, I have no way out). There were a couple of discontented murmurs from some of the old folks belonging to my father's generation; but I acted as if I were deaf, and went off to buy a cream-colored kurta set.

The ceremony itself was brief; Smitha's dad asked my dad whether he was willing, basically, and my dad said 'Yes'; this was iterated thrice, and hey - I was engaged.

Now, the photographers - I have already explained my relationship with the camera. Hence being on stage and getting photographed while posing with strangers who you had to pretend to know was sheer torture. In fact, there was an upcoming actor who was related to Smitha, and I didn't recognize him (even after somebody asking me whether I recognized him); the poor chap appeared to be taken back. I wish people understood that I have a poor memory for faces, and an even poorer memory for people I have not seen over the past 15 years, and stopped asking me whether I recognize Mr and Mrs xxx. Back to the photographers - they were not done with us yet. After clicking away with the camera for what seemed like an eternity, they haunted us even while eating (I am sure they got a snap of mine at that exact second when I had opened my mouth wide to put in a ball of rice). And, horror of horrors, they were still not done with us.

Now, they led us outside to a lawn, and asked us to pose. The very thought of me posing and preening in front of the camera sufficed to make me break into a cold sweat. Moreover, these were not natural, everyday poses; these were the kind of poses that Jeetendra used to do with Rekha, Sridevi and Jayaprada with hundreds of pots and cans in the background, back in the early 1980s. Somehow, I tilted my chin, raised my neck and completed the ordeal.

Now, there isn't much time; the wedding date has been fixed. Its 26-Aug-2006. Let me get back to practising wearing the damned mundu.