Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Adhu Oru Kanaakkaalam


Balachander, Bharathiraja, Bagyaraj... apart from the first letter of their names, these directors share one other thing - they are all old-time directors who have failed to successfully make the transition from their generation to the next generation. They all have some true classics on their resume. But their last few movies revealed an inability to modify their style to provide movies that appeal to the sensibilities of a new generation of moviegoers. The taut thriller Julie Ganapathy made me think Balu Mahendra had bridged the gap between his style and the ‘new’ viewers’ expectations better than the others but Adhu Oru Kanaakkaalam makes me doubt that thought.

AOK combines a very Balu Mahendra-esque love story and a prison movie. The former reminds us of some other movies from the same director while the latter borrows liberally from his own Mammootty-starrer, Yathra, which itself was a rip-off of First Blood. So the movie raises a sense of déjà vu in almost every scene. But one thing that the movie has going for it is that it doesn't have the loudness of many movies in recent times. It is quite realistic and avoids special effects, superhuman stunt sequences and punch dialogs.

When we first see Srinivasan(Dhanush), he is in jail, serving time for murder. He escapes from prison and convinces a lorry driver to give him a ride. When the lorry driver recognizes him as an escaped convict and threatens to hand him over to the police, Srinivasan narrates his story about his romance with Thulasi(Priyamani) and the circumstances that made him end up in jail.

Considering that the romance between Dhanush and Priyamani is the backbone of the entire movie, it is given a very unconvincing start by Balu Mahendra. The two were childhood friends and haven’t met in several years. But it takes them only a couple of days to fall in love. Worse, all we see is adolescent lust on Dhanush’s part and some emotion bordering on sympathy on Priyamani’s side before they turn into lovers. So the two never seem believable when they swear undying love to each other.

But though the romance is unconvincing, the strong undercurrent of humor ensures that we don’t think about it too much. I had several hearty laughs during the initial meetings between Dhanush and Priyamani and the conversations Dhanush has with his friends. Balu Mahendra also has this knack of generating humor out of serious situations and so even clichéd scenes, like ‘Delhi’ Ganesh berating Dhanush when he learns of his romance, had me chuckling. Unfortunately, Balu Mahendra also tends to be extremely crude and some of the lines had me wrinkling my nose in disgust.

The second half presents scenes seen in every Tamil movie set inside a jail. We have sadistic wardens hellbent on torturing Dhanush and sympathetic cellmates willing to lend him an ear. Thankfully, Balu Mahendra drops the humor in this segment, which prevents the movie from turning into a farce. So you don’t have to see the prisoners singing a group song while drumming on their aluminum plates(Karunas does sing a song while drumming on his plate but it is a pathos number that is soulfully sung)!

For most of the movie, Dhanush’s character remains realistic. He is no wimp and is heroic(as he proves in prison) but realistically so. So it is a little jarring when the climax shows signs of turning into something along the lines of the climax in Chatriyan. But things thankfully get more down-to-earth soon and the character of Shanmugarajan adds a little suspense after that. But considering that the previous segment had resembled Yathra, I wish Balu Mahendra had retained the wonderful climax from that movie.

Dhanush looks almost skeletal and the movie takes several digs at his thinness. But he gives a good performance in a role shorn of the usual dances and fights. He is especially convincing as the sorrowful convict. Priyamani is good too and has very expressive eyes. But I did feel that a more expressive face would’ve helped in a couple of scenes. ‘Delhi’ Ganesh once again proves he is a very natural actor in a clichéd, unsympathetic role. ‘Thalaivaasal’ Vijay appears in a single scene and gives the impression that he is going to be the main bad guy but disappears after that.

As usual Balu Mahendra doesn’t resort to any regular duets between the lead pair and most of the songs play in the background. Andha Naal Nyaabagam… is the pick of the lot and is picturized in typical Balu Mahendra style as the song plays in the background and Dhanush and Priyamani go about enjoying life as only lovers can. Ennaadaa Nenache…(which was part of the soundtrack) is missing in the movie but Engo…(which was not on the soundtrack), a song about a mother, is a good replacement. Though it talks about the usual love, sacrifice, etc. that are part of all ‘mother songs’, it is somehow very touching. Unnaale Thookkam… has a Ponmeni Urugudhe… hangover but this unnecessary item number picturized on Dhanush and Tejasri is awkwardly inserted and is a black spot on the movie.

31 Comments:

At 10:09 PM, Anonymous ram said...

i've watched the first half of the movie...will probably post another comment after finishing the movie...but one thing i defn. agree with u, is abt the humor in the first half...and u r right...there was some genuine, natural humor in the scene where delhi ganesh imitates dhanush's actions in the restaurant (the way he says, "aa chollu...aa chollu...inge pudichikkuttu" to his wife was hilarious!).

balu mahendra has a very simple, straightforward way of storytelling that can be haunting in its realism...but in AOKK, something seems amiss...how many more scenes will balu mahendra shoot in restaurants?? an obsession, maybe?! but i love his atmospheric lens work...all his films have the same look n feel (!) but the shots and lighting have his distinctive stamp...

 
At 10:43 PM, Blogger DD said...

Not seen Julie Ganapathy, but as far as I saw the trailers and scenes, I m pretty sure it was based on (if not totally lifted from) a movie called Misery, a 1990 film that won an Oscar for the lead actress in 1991. Was just wondering how such an old movie could have helped BM 'bridge the gap'...

 
At 10:58 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

ram, that scene where delhi ganesh imitates dhanush is the one where i laughed the most too :)

and i feel BM's at his best in outdoor photography. he has an eye for gorgeous scenery. but there wasn't much of an opportunity for that here. too many indoor shots...

dd, yes JG was a remake of 'misery'. according to BM, a tamil writer had translated stephen king's book(on which 'misery' was based) and he made JG from that book. he said he did not know that the original book had been made into a movie.

as for bridging the gap, i was referring to the fact that he made a good thriller instead of his usual young romantic and comedy movies. And the thriller was quite different in theme, characters, cast, etc.

 
At 11:12 PM, Anonymous ram said...

finished watching the movie...i think i liked the first half better...overall, the movie was quite a disappointment...
btw, just curious-- what happens in the original climax of yathra? cld u answer that, with myabe a spoiler warning or sumthing...?

 
At 11:28 PM, Blogger Narayanan Venkitu said...

Thanks for the review, Balaji.

Yeah, Balu wanted to do another 'Azhiyatha Kolangal' looks like.!!!

I liked a few songs. I'll probably wait for the DVD.

 
At 11:54 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

ram, don't think itll be a spoiler since BM didn't use it. in 'yathra', mammootty hitches a ride on a schoolbus and tells them his story(there's no murder and he is actually released). shobana is supposed to wait for him and light a lamp if she's still waiting for him. so all the students and teachers look for the lamp and the buildup is amazing. and ofcourse the lamp is there and i remember getting all teary-eyed in that scene :) a classic film and a classic climax...

narayanan, yep. he's made the film in his own, old style.

 
At 11:59 PM, Blogger bhuvan said...

What exactly was so taut or excellent about JULIE GANAPATHY. I'd rather call it mediocre and lethargic. One thing Tamil cinema has a problem with is telling a story in its appropriate time without digressing into unnecessary romantic, comedic or musical sequences which have little relation to the actual plot.

Some movies, alas, most movies of the Vijay-type blockbuster don't even have a proper story, just a series of comedy, drama, action, romantic sequences with no apparent end in sight. True, JULIE GANAPATHY at least had a proper story and was more restrained than one would expect from a Tamil film, but then the director goes and blows it all by dragging the tale (once told in MISERY in about 100 minutes) for more than two hours, even adding a unnecessary (but still kinda hot) item number for Ramya Krishnan.

Something like AZHAGI could've been a good movie, if it wasn't for the familiarity of the material (it played a lot like a old Barathiraja flick) and the perfunctory Vivek comedy bits.

So a film only becomes a taut thriller if it actually manages to be searingly compelling for its running time, leaving you almost physically exhausted after the viewing experience. JULIE GANAPATHY just was too boring and simplistic to deliver that.

Tamil filmmakers should learn about keeping up the momentum, as American and other foreign filmmakers have learned decades ago. Stop catering to the common denominators of the mass audience (like the psychotic CHANDRAMUKHI did with superhero moments, ghost story moments, romance moments, comedy moments etc.) and try telling a story properly, without becoming as ludicrous as that horrible crap SHOCK which was not the least bit frightening.

 
At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Rekhs said...

but bhuvan who will watch it?
u and i r not gonna take the effort to go watch in a theatre again and again..and some movies not even once..
i agree with ur opinion that tamil movie makers shd tighten their presentation...
think abt it,isnt it such a vicious circle?..the refined ppl want a "tight" movie and the producer is scared to burn his hands with a good movie:(
we say why cant they make a decent movie,and the directors say wldnt we want to? engalukku mattum aasaiya mattamma padam pannanum nu?who will see it?
sad but true..
i have hrd umpteen times the directors /producers say lets add an item number here and a fight there..and garnish masala everywhere that makes logic and reason fly out of the window!
probly the rift bet the literate and illiterate and the front benchers and the balcony in india is the reason...???? JAT( just a thot):)

 
At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Rekhs said...

but bhuvan who will watch it?
u and i r not gonna take the effort to go watch in a theatre again and again..and some movies not even once..
i agree with ur opinion that tamil movie makers shd tighten their presentation...
think abt it,isnt it such a vicious circle?..the refined ppl want a "tight" movie and the producer is scared to burn his hands with a good movie:(
we say why cant they make a decent movie,and the directors say wldnt we want to? engalukku mattum aasaiya mattamma padam pannanum nu?who will see it?
sad but true..
i have hrd umpteen times the directors /producers say lets add an item number here and a fight there..and garnish masala everywhere that makes logic and reason fly out of the window!
probly the rift bet the literate and illiterate and the front benchers and the balcony in india is the reason...???? JAT( just a thot):)

 
At 2:02 AM, Blogger Zero said...

With utmost respect to Balu Mahendra as one of the best we had/have, the stories of most of his movies were lifted.
I consider Veedu and Sandhya Raagam to be his best. The movies which he made with no compromise and handled his kinda stories rather than trying his hand at all genres.

 
At 3:52 AM, Blogger Nithya Swaminathan said...

no mention about the rerecording? I am anyway planning to watch it only for his camera work... I think a BM movie can we watched even in mute and still be enjoyed, his photography is so stunning! Will check this one out too...

 
At 6:56 AM, Anonymous ram said...

narayan, azhiyaatha kolangall elaam oru thanee magic....aokk azhindhu pona kolangall!! sun tv style-la sollanum-na!

 
At 9:03 AM, Blogger bhuvan said...

Rekhs, I agree. Tamil cinema is made for the masses, just like Bollywood cinema, but still, one could make a proper, coherent, constantly entertaining, completely satisfying film with songs, comedy, romance, drama etc. K.S. Ravikumar proved that he could with MUTHU, but ever since he seems to be in decline.

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger giri subramanian said...

I watched this movie in theatre here in California and got scared as I realised that I was alone in the movie hall.It gets a little scary if you are caught alone in a movie hall with a seating capacity in few hundreds :).

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Me too said...

I feel so sorry for Dhanush. Masala movies don't work, big director's movies don't work!! Ennadhaan pannuvaaru paavam("mama un luck-a kodu"!!)

 
At 12:13 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

bhuvan, we're getting back into the masala discussion. rekhs said almost everything i wanted to. due to the pressure of making money, tamil film directors r forced to insert elements that don't go with the main story. i can overlook that if the main story keeps me hooked. and in case of JG it did. saritha did a fantastic job and there were some sequences of real tension. ofcourse the fact that i hadn't seen 'misery' b4 i saw JG helped too :)

and yes, directors like dharani and KSR have proved that u can make an entertaining, satisfying masala. but at the same time, i appreciate directors who try to tread a different path and so don't mind the allowances they make for commercial purposes much. don't get me wrong. they r still unnecessary and the movie would be much better off without them. that was why both JG and 'azhagi' got only 3 stars :)

zero, what is 'sandhya raagam'? not tamil i assume since i've never even heard of it?

u're right in that many of his movies r copied but i think he does a good job of the copy :)

nithya, rerecording was good at a few places(like dhanush's initial run from the police). but failed to catch my notice at most places.

ram, LOL. i was thinking more "thirumba thirumba varaindha kolangal" :)

giri, was it at naz8 by any chance? i've seen a few movies that way too :)

me too, LOL. that song line was creative and hilarious :) he defly needs some of it!

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger bhuvan said...

I'm all for directors trying to do something different in Tamil cinema, but the problem is that they don't really know how to do it within the given masala structure. Sure, movies like PARTHIBAN KANABU, JULIE GANAPATHY, AZHAGI and most of the stuff Cheran and Saran should be applauded for their ambitions. I'm just always disappointed by the more commercial elements and can't just block them out or ignore them like you do, since they destroy an otherwise perfectly watchable movie. Ah well... we need someone like Ashutosh Gowariker (SWADES, LAGAAN) to make it work properly.

 
At 1:52 PM, Anonymous ram said...

bb, i've heard a friend of mine (a fellow art house fan) say that sandhya raagam (i think it was a kannada movie *ing "veedu" fame archana and chokkalinga bhagavathar) is even better than veedu or moondraam pirai, two of his finest works in my opinion.

director vasanth once told me that irattai vaal kuruvi is a frame-by-frame remake of Mickie and Maude, a film unseen by me.

 
At 6:22 PM, Blogger Raju said...

Nice review.. Only good thing about the movie is, as you mentioned, down-to-earth performances and quiet scenes.

Another director you can add in the 'Ba' list would be KB.. His last hit movie was what, Vaanamey Ellai in 1992?

 
At 8:16 PM, Blogger Suresh Kumar said...

hi,

as nithya swaminathan said, what about the "Background Score". I heard that IR has done a great job in BGM of this movie. Please tell me about that. I am going to watch the movie only for IR.

 
At 9:53 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

bhuvan, i dont block them out or ignore them. i just don't let it bother me too much if the rest of the movie is good. and out of the 3 movies u mention, JG and 'azhagi' were the ones i thot needlessly added ill-fitting and awkward commercial elements. i thot PK blended the elements like comedy really well...

ram, didnt know that. but i've heard that 'sathi leelavathi' is a remake of 'she-devil'.

raju, i did mention KB in the first line. sariya parunga :)

suresh, i answered it above. there were a few sequences where the BGM stood out for me. but overall, it was good but not exceptional...

 
At 10:10 PM, Anonymous ram said...

raju, i think kalki did reasonably well...

 
At 11:05 PM, Blogger Zero said...

Balaji,
err.. you haven't seen "Sandhya Raagam"? Thats one of the finest films he made soon after "Veedu" (in 1989 as per IMDb), in a very similar fashion (the BM-indie look) to "Veedu" and it was in Tamil.
Ram,
Are you confusing it with "Kokila" (made in 70s), which was a Kannada movie made by BM starring Shobha and KH? [Incidentally BM even remade* it in Hindi starring Heera and Ramesh Aravind and I was surprised to find a couple of songs from the Mahendran flick "Johnny"!!]
* - seems to be in 1996.

 
At 8:15 AM, Blogger Raju said...

oops.. sorry.. must have been an early morning blues for me.. :(

 
At 9:57 AM, Anonymous ram said...

oh, okay...sandhya raagam was in tamil, is it? even better...shld maybe check it out sometime...for those who're interested in my take on the fantastic Veedu, here it is...lemme know if the write-up evokes memories of this wonderful movie...am sure ppl commenting here would've watched it sometime or the other in the last 17 yrs!
www.geocities.com/ram_aishoo/Veedu.htm

 
At 12:43 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

zero, wow a lot of new info in there! but no, havent seen 'sandhya raagam'. not sure i've even heard of it actually!

 
At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SR got the best film national award. Its about the twilight years of a human being (chokkalinga bhagavathar in this case).

BM's kadhai neram tele serial also won popular and critical aclaim. AOKK is a misstep - pardonable considering the bad physical and financial state BM is in.

 
At 9:57 PM, Blogger Zero said...

All,
"Sandhya Raagam" got the national awards for the best regional film, if I my memory serves me right.
I happenned to see the movie (!!) again yesterday in Podhigai.
Now, I made no mistake placing it right along with Veedu. This movie is just too good.

 
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