Saturday, November 15, 2014

Interstellar




There was a time when Nolan used to be a complete filmmaker, a puppeteer if I may, controlling everything happening on screen and inside your brain with just two hands. By the time Prestige became an instant cult, Nolan had by then gotten a name for himself for pulling all the strings at his disposal to drive home a single idea. Then Batman happened. As his visions started getting grand, the compulsion to set up every string in the film towards that single idea became paramount. In a black and white world it would be easier to say this fetish of his is undoing him; that now he has a string attached to himself to which he will always be binded. But if you look at the glass as half full, this string isn't a chain around the neck, but around the torso to not let him fall as he reaches for the stars. And with Interstellar he has gone beyond the stars into a new galaxy in the safety of this string.

Yes, Interstellar is convoluted, delusional and at times fabricated to drive home that single idea. True to Nolanverse, we have a protagonist who keeps throwing punch lines at moments notice. The scene structures are such that a scene must follow from a cue in the previous scene akin to forced poetry. But once we are acclimated to the fabrications and eye-roll worthy punch lines and once I saw where he is taking me I started enjoying the journey. It is a journey that swiftly shuttles between the original Star Wars and Gravity and showcases the best of both worlds in typical Nolan style. If it was about finding the force within you to fight for the universe in Star Wars and finding the determination within you to go against all odds to survive in Gravity, Interstellar is both and beyond.

Beyond the glossy layer of space travel, Interstellar is basically a Nolan's version of M Night Shyamalan's Signs. Here too a father and his child's relationship in a farmer's land is as important as the deep crisis the world is embroiled in. Here too things aren't as we see it and once the key to decipher it appears a whole new level of understanding prevails. But where Shyamalan scores big with the 'eventual payoff' interpretation, Nolan fails. In his usual obsession to do justice to the single idea, the concoction he creates feels natural only rarely. But in this journey of Interstellar where though I didn't like some of the routes for the bad roads I still ended up liking the view it provided. For from what I saw, the point of focus seems to be on how creatively and engagingly the simplest of events can be expressed on celluloid. In that aspect, Interstellar is a journey where my sensories gotten heightened to appreciate even the bare basic elements of the nature as I saw it through Nolan's eyes and Hans Zimmer's ears.

Interstellar may be the weakest film from Nolan the writer. The title Interstellar itself doesn't embody the single idea the film represents. But as a director he has gone into a new level with the visual narration, reiterating that he may sure be attached to strings but knows for sure which string to pull to make me laugh or cry or sometimes both in joy at the ability to be manipulated intelligently.

PS: Didn't Irandaam Ulagam deal with something similar?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kochadaiiyaan

Kochadaiiyaan

Director: Soundarya
Writers & Supervisors: K.S.Ravikumar / R. Madesh

Kochadaiiyaan is an unique attempt from Rajni. Not because of the computer-generated-photorealistic-animation (phew that’s a very big word with zero meaning and negative output!), but because it dabbles with the unwritten philosophy of life. Beyond the huge kingdoms and epic wars, Kochadaiiyaan is a battle between people with myopic views and it’s opposite. While this in itself is a giant leap for Rajni, the script proudly goes one step further and teases us at times by swapping people from the either side of ideology and at times by depicting a guy with both ways of life.

The last time Rajni tried something on these lines in Baba, he got a heavy beating in box office and rightfully so. But this time the stark difference comes in the form of the organic flow in the narration. While many writers are happy to just mount scene after scene primarily to fill-up the timeline and at times to convey the story to the audience, only few people passionate about the art see the strength of narration. To the uninitiated, narration encompasses the talent to identify which part of the story’s continuum is fit to be shown, which part is better left hidden, which perspective of the same plot is interesting, in which order the scenes flow smoothly. While this approach is necessary for any script, it is all the more necessary in Kochadaiiyaan for it balances a very thin line between revenge and justice, in that the hero has his own flaws. While any Rajni film will celebrate these flaws or worse make him a two dimensional saint irrespective of his inherent flaws, in this computer generated form, he is more flesh and blood. Fittingly, there is a scene in Kochadaiiyaan where Rajni intelligently uses his own blood to escape from captive. The script’s integrity enhances even more when it reveals that Rajni still has to pay for his sins in the sequel.

Amidst these engaging character arcs is the epic score of Rahman. Right from the gusty voiceover at the beginning to the songs, he acts as a lifeline thread to the film, elevating the script’s level to greater heights and covering its shortfalls whenever needed; case being the ‘idhayam’ song. While the poor choreography depicts the song as a dance number and hence a speed breaker to the tense narration, Rahman’s structuring of the song, aided by Vairamuthu’s lyrics, fills the necessary gap. This song again is an example of the wonderful detailing present in the script level. While most scripts would have just jumped into the flashback without prodding, this script takes effort to show the agony and dilemma in the heroine’s mind which instigates her to take the uncharted path in love. But the script isn't just about the story; it also gives ample space for its stars to stamp their presence. Besides Rajnism, I loved how the dancing prowess of Shobana was elegantly tied into the narrative instead of being a forced cameo.


But then, most of the merits I listed out go to the script. With K.S. Ravikumar at the helm of affairs, aided in his absence by R.Madesh (erstwhile right hand of Shankar), little can be deciphered what was the creative contribution of director Soundarya besides creating an underwhelming animation of the wonderful script. But then, with all the resources in the world at its disposal, what Avatar and Tintin lacked, Kochadaiiyaan has in abundance – solid script.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Highway

Director: Imtiaz Ali

Besides Child molestation, caged city life, sufferings of the improvised society, longings of a motherless son, Highway is inherently a road movie of two people from different walks of life enjoying the uncharted journey and each other’s presence. While Imtiaz Ali fabulously mounts these precious moments on screen which I have till now felt only through other senses in real life, he squanders in the remaining parts.

Similar to how a long road drive starts with the commotions of the city, Highway begins with the eccentricity of the leads. While Veer (Ali) keeps rejecting the offer of her captor to escape, the latter keeps showering her with love like a quintessential rowdy with a heart of gold; all the while unsettling us. However, as the film unclutters from melodramatic reasons behind these events, similar to how the rustic beauty of the highway takes us to serenity, the film lands itself in its scenic stretch. It is in this stretch I realized what really wasn’t connecting me with the movie earlier. It isn’t the bewildering grammar of the narrative, but the execution of it. That was why, while I felt Veer opening up about her past in Act-1 to be a cheap trick in the screenplay, I was empathetic when her captor could see his mother in her in Act-2.

Though fulfilling, the long stretch of serenity in the highway does have to end and the ruckus re-enter our lives as we approach our destination. Similarly, this Highway too goes back to its staged drama. Yet, as Veer says, ‘I don’t want to go back to the place you took me from; I don’t want to go to the place where you are taking me; but this journey, this journey is what I enjoy’, the journey of the leads once they accepted each other is worth to be revisited.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Veeram


Director Vishnuvardhan could take a lesson or two from Director Siva (who has made the recent Veeram) on how to showcase the charisma surrounding Ajith. While Vishnuvardhan in his two films with Ajith was only able to exhibit the style quotient of the star, Siva here pulls of a spectacular show surrounding the magnetic personality of the star.

In ground reality, it is very difficult to weave a mass entertainer depending only on Ajith. Beyond his handsomeness, unlike his contemporaries, Ajith doesn't have a convincing physique to pull of an action hero. When he punches bad guys, more than the wobble in their abdomens, the wiggle in the triceps, biceps and even the paunch of Ajith is more pronounced. The sluggish movements in the action sequences extends to the dance numbers as well. The only area that attracts attention is his elan to breeze through the anti-hero roles that he has been enacting off-late. Yet, the larger than life type films he chose haven't allowed these elements to work into the screenplay; as a result they look nothing more than a photoshoot; or at the best a well made prologue to what could be done with the charisma of Ajith.

This area is where Siva has chosen to attack with his Veeram. Instead of inserting shots that drowns the screen with the white hair or the charming smile or the angry eyes of Ajith just for the sake of pleasing the fans (like how Mahesh Babu's films keep doing for aeons), Siva brings a purpose for these shots. It isn't logic that he is after that tests the grey cells of the audience, but an organic flow in the crazy narrative which works overtime to justify the hype surrounding the larger than life character that Ajith plays. In this mad world that Siva has created, the pose that Ajith (in all white) gives with a black tea goes beyond an aesthetic shot and tells his story through comedy, adulations and sentiment. The love between an aging Ajith and a petite Tamannah too stays true to the mad caper that Siva aimed to deliver. Also, during the whistle worthy action sequences the attention is more on mayhem that the Hero creates through his presence than on the actual fight.

While this is a new dimension for Ajith worship, Siva's formula is essentially a reworking of the successful MGR formula. We get to see shots of Ajith hugging a grandmother, shaking his forefinger sideways to say no to God-like treatment, giving away properties on marriage, making sure everyone is stomach full, standing up for farmers among other dramatic gallantry. While many other heroes have donned the MGR role successfully, Ajith seems to be most comfortable one in it. He is as at ease while riding a bullock cart as  he is when talking about castes, pride, philosophy and even Karmas and purpose of life at time as a big leader; and it never creates facepalm.

But once Siva moves away from magnifying the Ajith mania and starts focusing on the story, everything fizzles away into another masala film. Looks like Siva has used up his entire artillery only to showcase Ajith and not the entire film.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Irandaam Ulagam


Director: Selvaraghavan

Selvaraghavan's films post Pudhupettai, for reasons best known to him, traverse between goose bumps inducing and vein popping moments. While the ingenious plot in the second half of Aayirathil Oruvan overshadows its shortcomings, Mayakkam Ena disorients me by juxtaposing between nerve wrenching silly moments and heart drenching emotional sequences. 

Over the period of these two movies, having observed the inconsistency of Selva's narrative grammar, I became prepared not to be bogged down by the leads' forced comic moments with their supporting casts. Accepting his narrow minded approach to acting for what it is, that which can be convincingly portrayed only by Danush, this time around I also didn't bother about the uniformly terrible acting his casts were going to display. Also, the incomplete backdrops, blind eye to details or shallow grandeur that goes in vain weren’t my concern. Because, I realised, in a Selva movie, the tools for conveying the emotions goes beyond the individual elements in the screen and transcends the skills of the artists, whom he only uses as a reference point in frame to communicate with us through visual artistry.

These minor sacrifices started to pay rich dividends as I plunged into Irandaam Ulagam - a story of two worlds. While, I grinded my teeth through the artificial acting of Anuskha's friend and the lazily written Goa portions, I was bathed in poetry during the sequences where both Arya and Anuskha struggle to get in terms with their love. But, the story being about love stories in two parallel worlds, while these wonderful moments were coming only from the 1st world, the 2nd world looked too bland. Though I could understand that the callousness of the 2nd world was by design, and while I could also appreciate the much hyped hunting sequence, the 2nd world couldn't break beyond the intriguing shell it was trapped in. As boredom started to seep in, by a master stroke, Selva raises all hopes on the movie when he ingeniously charts a map between both worlds; but only to fall short of that promise in the aftermath of the surreal event.

Once the Messiah of love is brought from the 1st world to inadvertently spread pure love in the 2nd world which is devoid of love, Selva squanders the opportunity to express in terms of visuals one of the best ideas in recent times. For a film that intends to infuse first love into a disoriented land, nothing much was done in the screen time to sow the seed of love and water it, only through which the roots could have spread and let the love seed blossom into a flower. Instead he is satisfied that some shots of tears and few photographs are sufficient to drive the point home.

Another film, 'The Fountain' which dabbles on similar waters, doesn't shy away from going the length to establish the depth of love. Ironically its success stems from the fact that the film concentrates only on the couple and nothing else. Whereas Irandaam Ulagam dilute the concepts with a lot of unexploited characters - especially the 'Amma' role – once again clearly showing the inability of Selva, a past master in handling complex characters, to handle complex environments.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Raja Rani


Director: Atlee

Formulaic films have always been the safe-bet for our filmmakers ensuring a breather for struggling stars and gateway for new entrants. Is it mainly because of the abundance of successful reference material to source from for formulaic masala film, or because of the difficulty to create formulaic structures in other genres, anything done besides action or comedy in films have always been termed novel attempt. While many feel-good films have attempted to serve a commercial potboiler, only few were able to please the audience, of which Cinematographer turned Director Jeeva’s films contributed a lot. After a long lull created by his demise, debutante Atlee, with his rom-com Raja Rani, has successfully filled the gap.

Adding himself to the list of new age filmmakers with great taste for visuals, Atlee creates pitch perfect backdrop for the film’s riches and lower-middle class portions. Moving further in, besides fleetingly touching the sensibilities of the well-off audience through the leads’ sophisticated lifestyle, he also plays to the gallery through the usual charades of Santhanam and Sathyan and through a surprisingly urbane version of Nan Kadavul-Rajendran. And yet, for someone who shows great command over every part of filmmaking, Atlee fails to understand the requirements of the content he has chosen. Instead of plotting the film around the romance in the three love stories and flavoring them with other crowd-pulling factors, the love stories seem to be excuses for the irreverence of the key artists in each segment to take the center stage. While I don’t have any issue over irreverent comedy, this movie diligently asks us to take the love stories to be heart wrenching while not giving anything substantial to make us invest in these characters. While Jai/Nayanthara and Arya/Nazariya pairs fall in love because they have to, Arya and Nayanthara have only sympathy for each other. If they are that weak at heart, I wonder why they treat their spouses inhumanly when we don’t even dare to do such things to strangers in real life. Clearly Atlee’s only intention is to entertain us in each frame by any means available. Sundar C and Rajesh who are pioneers in this kind of nonsense comedy never ask us to take the subject seriously and only ask us to enjoy the comedy. To top it, the funny lines aren't extraordinary to forget this serious flaw. Till Anniyan, even Shankar, who fills his screenplay with impractical comic reliefs to balance his serious subject, doesn't compromise the emotional undercurrent of the film for the sake of having popular entertaining elements.

Sometimes a lack of strong love can be overcome by stellar captivating performances. While it’s overwhelming to see the actors completely surrendering to the director’s vision, except for Sathyaraj and Nayanthara’s roles, Atlee has only been able to give to most of his artists roles that they have become famous for. While Arya carry forwards his happy-go-lucky guy role, Sathyan reprises his overconfident-frail guy role, Santhanam his guide/philosopher/best friend role, Jai though continues where he left-off in Engeyum Epodhum, effectively captures the attention of the audience with an innocent portrayal of Surya. Meanwhile, Nayanthara though fails miserably in her college girl portrayal, becomes the main asset of the film in her matured girl segments. It is also a pleasant surprise to see Sathyaraj look and perform well especially after abysmal back to back performances in Chennai Express and Thalaivaa (I haven’t seen Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam).


While these were my reservations, like for any well marketed masala film, the audience with whom I saw the film seem to believe they have witnessed a masterpiece in terms of entertainment, completely moved by the ‘heart wrenching love story’. Maybe they are the people who were moved to tears on seeing the epilogue of Thuppakki. As far as my allegiance is concerned I will go back to re-watch Mouna Ragam and Rhythm, films that largely stayed true to its theme.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thandavam

Director: A L Vijay

A movie is often considered a symphony of the audio & visual medium; and sure enough the auteurs have always striven to tread on a path between the said & the unsaid in order to keep us in a trance. To achieve that feat in Thandavam, a self-proclaimed unusual revenge saga of a blind man, A L Vijay employs everything in the rule book & that could precisely be the reason for its inability to interest us.

Looking at Thandavam on the whole, the crucial problem with the film clearly lies in its immature treatment. Sure the premise of the action thriller is something even an infrequent film viewer would appreciate of. But when the film sets out to express itself, what clearly could be and had been registered through the visuals gets re-registered again and again till one feels nauseated by the events. As this redundancy gradually distances the audience for the silver screen, the age old formulas to invoke emotions becomes too tiresome & juvenile to warrant our attention.


Close to the release of the film, a trailer was released by the Thandavam team. Splashed all over the media, it started off with a song sequence followed by a caption stating ‘a love story’. It was then followed by snippets of the film’s different scenes with subsequent captions like ‘a story of friendship’, ‘family story’, ‘revenge story’, ‘fun story’, etc; and at the end of the trailer, they claimed it to be ‘a complete entertainer’. As any Actor Vijay or Salman Khan film goes by, the trailer simply shells out varied ideas and values like how the 27 states displays its props during the Independence Day parade. As demeaning as it could be to call it entertainment, the trailer otherwise is a perfect showcase for what the film stands for.  The film begins as action thriller interlaced with unintentional comedy, at the midpoint of which it discards that & becomes a complete romantic film. Long past the expiry date of the romance when the movie limps towards the end, it suddenly gets the urge to be a revenge saga again. All this while the main selling point of the film that the protagonist is a visually impaired person, is used only as a second rate prop. With such obscurity looming large on the screen, one wonders who really is the visually impaired – the writer or the protagonist.

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