Monday, July 13, 2015

Baahubali - The beginning


Director: S S Rajamouli

I have said it in the past, I am saying it now, and from how he goes about his career, I think I will be saying it again in the future as well – what audacity does SS Rajamouli have! It takes a master with raw passion towards the material to create ingenuous piece of art with such banal stories. Yes, you read it right – banal; for that is what Baahubali’s story too is if you go by Rajamouli’s stories – stories that have been told since our puranas came into existence. What then transforms this material into something extraordinary is the conviction with which it is narrated. People who have seen the film Kadhalika Neramilla’s horror story narration scene (or its counterpart in telugu/hindi) will agree with me that the way Nagesh/Mehmoob narrated the simple scene created the chill & humour and not the dialogues itself.

Of all the praises I want to shower over Baahubali, the most deserving one is the laid back approach in the narration. The story essentially being about larger than life people and events, the audience or rather I needed the gestation time to get soaked in the laws of the world Rajamouli has created. He seems to have realized the same too and have given enough commas and dashes so that when the exclamation mark comes up it stands as tall as Everest. Take the re-interpretation of the famous ‘mera Karan Arjun ayenge’ arc in this film. While Rakesh Roshan in Karan Arjun had the emotions welled up for us in front of the screen through direct cause and effect formula, Rajamouli takes an outwardly look of the sentiment with little more restraint causing ripples that magnify into a big 125feet tsunami. It is one of the best executed arc I have witnessed in recent times that has both the visual and emotional grandeur – all within the superstar formula that is unique to Indian films. It is an arc that makes me feel proud of our masala film’s intentions and pump the chest and say to the outside world – you can’t make this even with $300 million at hand.

Yet the movie isn’t about that arc alone. It is in the details or rather the journey that Shivudu takes; strike that as well; it is in the manner in which Shivudu makes his journey from the downhill of the waterfall to the battleground of Mahismati’s empire that makes the movie an epic. Take for example the mountain climbing scene in the very beginning of the film, Rajamouli could have easily gone the Krish way with that village portion – and it would have worked for the average audience who care for the main plot alone – but he doesn’t. He creates an arc worthy of a movie for that mountaineering event and without overdoing its heaviness gives it a Mougli/Jungle Bookish treatment which sets up the tone for the film – the raw power of will.

Yes, power of will is the underlying trait of all the characters in the film. It is a world where everyone has the raw power to achieve whatever they strive for once they set their minds on it. But after seeing tons of inhuman acts achieved with √©lan, somewhere down the line I personally felt, what if these super-humans who so irrationally trust their will to achieve fail? What if the arrow they point at their target goes elsewhere? But that isn’t the story Rajamouli wanted to say.  His is a world of super-humans where their biggest enemy is their evil thoughts. His is a story celebrating the God-like power of humans who could move heaven and earth for the tears of their mothers.

Yet, these spectacles alone aren’t the movie. It is also about the street-smartness of the leads – right from how Sivagami handles her enemies to how Baahubali overshadows his cousin Ballaladeva in the race to the throne. But when I say street-smartness it isn’t as on-your-face as a K V Anand street-smartness where the hero/antagonist pumps the air and proclaims look how smart I am. Here the characters are by nature very smart. They read the situation and see the best possible solution by thinking outside the box. The magnitude comes into the play only when the elephant realizes the banana had a needle all along.

That however doesn’t coverup for the poor characterization of the guerilla warfare leader & tribal king. Yes, the king is just a prop for both the prince to show their acumen in war and for Rajamouli to enthrall us in a whistle-worthy war sequence, but it all feels weak if you see it from the neutral point of view. Same goes for the songs. Agreed, Keravani has lifted the movie through his background score but his songs are tiring – especially the duet where Rajamouli getting back to his pervert ways.

But the climax, oh the climax, I repeat it again – what audacity Rajamouli has to put a climax like that!! It is a middle finger to the audience telling them – this is my film, I will end it my way; you just sit in your seat till 2016 for the conclusion.


PS: a big thanks to the telugu crowd in chennai for creating the perfect ambiance to watch a film like this. Truly rewarding experience.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

OK Kanmani


He made a furtive glance; she gave an approving smile. Love spread as elegantly as the widening smile of her lips. 
He would say I am not a fool to wait for you for hours together; she would say sorry for making you wait. Love knows the words between the pauses.
She would say I am staying away from you for some days; he wouldn't say anything; but goes away with a smile, enjoying the pain that he is getting due to the separation. Love truly went mad.  

If you got bored just imagining what that would look like on screen, the movie OK Kanmani and this opinion piece is not the place for you to be in.

OK Kanmani, as you sensed from the treatment above, is a typical Mani Ratnam film, filled with his patented strokes of artistry on a  bright canvas setup by PC Sreeram, Rahman and others. It isn't a film that is cluttered with novel ideas or an unique treatment. But what sets it apart is the ingenuity it poses in saying differently what was already said in Mouna Ragam, Ayutha Ezhuthu and Alaipayuthe. 

When Shobana ran towards Rajini with wide eyes and the heart of a child, with quirkiness and yet with a pleasant liveliness; when Revathy ran towards a cat with playful demeanor; when Aishwarya jumps out a running car just to prove a point; when Shalini polishedly shoo Madhavan away after hearing him deliver one of the biggest pickup lines witnessed on screen; when Trisha gives her number to Siddharth and then goes on a date with him - a stranger; when Nithya repeately pulls Dulquer's leg, we know they are the same people enacted by different actors, and yet we also know they are all unique characters sharing a common ground in terms of sensibility and wit. For example, in OK Kanmani, when She makes fun of Him in one of the many occasions, we know that He will come back well; we also know that He will come back with something witty; heck we even anticipate it to be completely out of the box and yet within the context of the argument. But, when the come back eventually comes into existence on screen in the same form we expect of Mani Ratnam, it still looks fresh. That is the power of great writing - conjuring great things out of nothing - and this film is an epitome of that phrase. 

It may also be due to the way acting is extracted from the artists. For instance, how many times have we seen Prakash Raj play the father figure with a touch of maturity and dignity? How many times have we seen him recounting his old days as a lover in the film? Many a times when he recounts his stories, a pinch of laugh and a glint of happiness in his eyes goes above the level of tolerable sweetness. His now trademark loud laugh kills the sweet memories. But here in OK Kanmani, be it the laugh, the smile, or the concern, all are measured and too close to be perfect.

But there is an inherent problem with this language of film-making; magic out of nothing. It leans heavily towards the form at the expense of content. The smart comebacks, life problems that flies away with a hearty laugh, the strong will to be witty and cool all the time instead of being real, vulnerable and honest makes the film too light to stand its ground. While these aren't major bumps, the directionlessness of the film after a point acts as one. Similar to Alaipayuthe, from which the energy is borrowed, here too Mani Ratnam, after establishing the way of life of his characters, get weak in knees and ends up undoing his work. While Alaipayuthe' s couple were still in character after the mess created by the writer, the OK Kanmani couple takes a complete U-turn just because the writer wants them to. It isn't the decision that bothered me the most, but the reason for taking the decision. Another Mani Ratnam film that touches a serious topic, goes knee deep, enjoys the chill and thrill of the water, but as it raises to hip high comes out in a flash. The worst thing is that they ended up glorifying it similar to how Gautam Menon glorified his botched up ending in Neethane En Ponvasantham with the line - 'after every fight they had a baby; now they are living happily even after with 5 children'. In short as Mani Ratnam himself has said through a line in the film - 'nalla padathiku mokkai climax'.

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.


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