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Raiders of the Lost Ark was enormously entertaining and barely let us catch our breath as it went from one adventure to another. The opening sequence where Indy escapes the boulder, the segment where he is caught in the cave with the snakes, the truck chase with Indy hanging on the truck's bottom and the special effects-laden climax all brought us the edge of our seats. And sequences that let us catch our breath, like the marketplace scene where Indy shoots the sword-wielding attacker, made us laugh too. The film was popular enough to make Indiana Jones an instantly recognizable name and so, not surprisingly, subsequent films were named after the character itself. But Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was too dark and perpetuated some offensive stereotypes about India. Inspite of the terrific action sequences, like the action on the rope bridge and the cart-chase in the mines, the dark and depressing feel of the movie made me dislike it. Spielberg made amends in a big way with the exhilarating and exciting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The film once again achieved the perfect blend of action(that amazing tank chase), smartness(X marks the spot!) and humor(Ford's perfect expression after Hitler autographs the very diary his men are looking for) that made the first film so enjoyable. Connery had a blast as Ford's father and the two shared great chemistry as their constant bickering never hid their mutual admiration and love for each other. The film had my favorite climax in the series and Indy figuring out the clues and surmounting each level(especially the 'invisible' bridge), still makes me get goosebumps each time I see the film.
Inspite of Rajni and Kamal being considered professional rivals for the better part of their careers, they have been extremely cordial off-screen and have never missed a chance to stress their friendship (its easy finding clues to their lack of rivalry in Rajni movies since he makes numerous references to Kamal. Chandramukhi, for instance, opened with a 'Thanks' to Padmasree Kamalhassan while Rajni referred to Kamal directly in movies like Muthu and Sivaji). Though our younger actors frequently refer to Rajni and Kamal as their role models, they did not follow their behavior off-screen and waged a proxy war on each other through their movies not too long ago. Vijay and Ajith routinely took digs at each other in their movies like Tirumalai and Attagaasam while even a younger actor like Simbhu taunted rival Dhanush with some not-so-subtle potshots in Manmadhan. Personal attacks onscreen cheer up an actor's hardcore fans since they frequently equate professional and personal rivalry. But to the larger audience, they just make the actor look cheap and label him as someone who would stoop to any level to strike a few cheap shots.
Masala films have been an inseparable part of Tamil cinema since the days of MGR. Offering a little bit of everything(action, romance, sentiments and comedy) that typically go into movies, films in the masala genre constitute pure escapist fare whose only aim is to entertain. But lately, this staple of Tamil cinema has given us few good entries with reliable directors and popular actors letting us down.
So what makes a film a masala film? The hero must be a simple, good man (no dark side or even shades of gray to muddy things up) and someone the common man can identify with. He must have a strong, worthy adversary to go up against. The film should have a simple, linear storyline whose primary - and mostly only - goal is to pit the hero against the villain. The film should incorporate action, romance, comedy and sentiments, with action being the primary component. And finally, the hero should triumph over the bad guy in the end and get the girl. Those are pretty much the basic elements of a masala film and how effective each of them is and how well they are put together makes all the difference between a good one and a bad one.
The golden period for masala films in Tamil cinema was probably the 80s. S.P.Muthuraman, with AVM behind him and Rajni and Kamal in front of the camera, spearheaded the movement with a series of films that were unapologetic masala films. Murattu Kaalai, Sakalakalaavallavan, Nallavanukku Nallavan and Thoongaadhe Thambi Thoongaadhe were some of the blockbusters that this combination delivered. Directors like Rajasekhar(Maappillai, Kaakki Sattai) kept the genre going into the 90s. Dharani, K.S.Ravikumar and Hari are probably the directors keeping the masala genre alive today. The revenge theme, which routinely saw our heroes avenging the death of their parents or the rape of their sister, has gradually given way to the theme of the hero going up against someone more powerful than him. The bad guy could be a cop, a rowdy or a politician but all that matters is that he is more powerful than the hero.
I enjoyed all those aforementioned masala films from the 80s. But the list is considerably smaller if we go back only a few years. Excluding Rajni films, which fall into a whole different category, my Top 5 masala films in the past few years would probably be Run, Gilli, Saamy, Dhill and Dhool. Personally, I feel that its the violence overdose that's killing off the genre. Once the violence becomes realistic and bloody, the movie takes on a certain seriousness and it then becomes oddly disconcerting to see the comedy track or flashy duets. This was why movies like Aaru and Saravanaa didn't work for me.
Every actor dreams of becoming Rajni and since those masala films of the 80s were a key part of Rajni ascent to the top, every present-day actor treats a masala film as his ticket to superstardom. But its getting increasingly difficult tocraft really good masala films. Considering the last films of our top stars, both Kuruvi and Bheema flopped while Billa, which could be considered the antithesis of our conventional masala film(it had no romance, no comedy, no sentiments and the action was subtle and stylized) was a big hit. Could this be a sign of changing audience tastes? Are masala films, as we know it, finally losing their charm?
Rediff has an interview with Rajiv Menon, who has worked as cinematographer for a few movies(including Manirathnam's Bombay and Guru), apart from directing Minsaara Kanavu and Kandukonden Kandukonden. He's talked about his favorite scenes and not just in his own movies. But the interview made me ask a couple of questions of my own...
Recently saw Home Alone and though I still enjoyed the movie thoroughly, I thought the basic plot point - a family forgetting a kid when going on a vacation - was too far-fetched. Guess not!
Reviews for Vedha, Thozhaa, Nepali, Arai Enn 305-il Kadavul and Kuruvi are now online @ bbreviews.
Ajay Devgan's transformation from action hero to romantic hero was surprising but even more surprising is his choice of subject for his directorial debut. Featuring him with wife Kajol, U Me Aur Hum is a film that portrays a couple's life as one of them is afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. A bit too superficial to have an impact, it is still a confident debut from the actor-turned-director.
The film is cleanly divided into two sections featuring completely different emotions and tones. Neither segment is particularly original or emotionally deep but they work well together. While the first half introduces us to Ajay(Ajay Devgan) and Piya(Kajol) as they fall in love and get married, the second half focuses on their lives as Piya is afflicted with Alzheimer's. Ajay's courting of Kajol isn't too original as he learns about her without her knowledge and then impresses her by feigning similar tastes. But there are a few fun moments and we do get to know and like the couple, which is what the section aims for anyway. The film creates believable supporting characters as Ajay's friends and the way they rally around the couple after their troubles is heartwarming.
The troubles Ajay and Kajol face after Kajol is afflicted don't have the impact of the troubles faced by the protagonists in similarly-themed films like Thanmatra. The problem is that the time period here is too long and we hardly see a fraction of it. The few incidents we see are touch our hearts on the whole, the film barely skims the surface of the situation's seriousness. Kajol's behavior in some places puts us in doubt as to her exact afflection and the film's ending feels artificial and contrived too.
Considering the long wait we had for Sivaji and the upcoming guaranteed wait for Robot, it'll be nice to see thalaivar on the big screen in 2008 and Vasu will make sure that happens. With Kuselan this year, Sultan in 2009 and Robot in 2010(I'll be amazed if it makes it to theaters before then, considering Shankar's leisurely pace of film-making), we're looking at three thalaivar movies in the next 3 years. Its been a long time since we had this kind of situation.
The rights for Kuselan were recently snapped up by Pyramid Samira for Rs. 60 crores. Even considering Sivaji's stupendous success, that's an amazing number. For one, Rajni is just playing a guest role here. Sure its going to be much bigger than Mammootty's role was in the original but its still a guest role in what is definitely not a 'Rajni film'. Also, the film's reach in the Kerala and Hindi markets may not be that strong since the original, Katha Parayumbol, was a blockbuster in Kerala and a Hindi remake, Billo Barber, is currently being made by Priyadarshan, with Shah Rukh Khan playing Rajni's role and Irfan Khan reprising Pasupathi's role. Considering these factors, the price tag for Kuselan simply indicates the value of 'Brand Rajni' after Sivaji. I guess Kuselan has made KB a Kuberan!
The cast of Kuselan seems to be expanding each day. It's already known that Nayanthara is paired with Rajni while Meena plays Pasupathi's wife. Prabhu, Vadivelu, Kushboo and Sneha are also said to be in the cast. Mamta Mohandas, who was the heroine in Sivappadhigaaram, is the latest addition to the film. According to Mamta, Kuselan is the name of Rajni's film inside the film and she plays its director. She also has a fast song with him. But most intriguing was her statement that she has a combination scene with Rajni and another superstar and that the star will play a cameo and come towards the end of the film. Considering that it is KB's production, her comment has me wondering if it could be Kamal. What a casting coup that would be!
Vel(Vijay) is a racecar driver who lives with his extended family. He has been the breadwinner for the family ever since his dad Singamuthu(Manivannan) abandoned them after accumulating a lot of debt. Vel learns that Cocha industries, based in Malaysia, owes his dad a lot of money and working as a kuruvi(someone who transports goods between Malaysia and Chennai), he travels to Malaysia to recover the money from Cocha. With Cocha(Suman) unwilling to hand over the money, Vel robs his diamond, apart from unwittingly capturing the heart of Cocha's sister Devi(Trisha), and returns to Chennai. Little does Vel know that his dad and his employers are being held as slaves on a piece of land that is jointly owned by Cocha and an MLA Konda Reddy(Ashish Vidyarthi).
Dharani's previous three films were so successful since he mixed brain and brawn in the right proportion. The heroes there beat up the bad guys too but they also came up with clever plans that put the villains in trouble or helped them escape their clutches. But Kuruvi relies on brawn almost exclusively. Whether Vijay challenges the villains in their own place or is caught in a tight spot, he only flexes his muscles and rarely puts his brain cells to use. Even opportunities for some clever planning, like the diamond heist, are left unused. Ofcourse, the villains here are not the kind who call for such cleverness. Suman doesn't kill Vijay even when he is face-to-face with an unarmed, jailed Vijay and after planning en elaborate death for him, walks away without checking if he is actuallydead(apart from being thick-headed, he is also apparently thick-skinned since, at another point, he doesn't realize that he is actually hurt enough to be bleeding!).
Vijay's first car race starts off as a perfectly good, well-filmed race capable of giving the film a rousing start. But then as Vijay's car loses its gas pedal and he clenches the cable between his teeth to continue the race before dramatically leaping over the finish lane, it is transformed into a cheesy, ego-massaging stunt. This kind of an over-the-top punchline exists for every action sequence(in another example, a nice little chase through tight streets is ended by a ridiculous leap from a building to a railway track bridge), rendering them completely ineffective (even the romance is not spared from this sort of action as Vijay saves Trisha while hanging on a rope with fireworks exploding the background). And when the action is not exaggerated, it turns violent with Vijay's choice of weapons being an axe and a knife. When a film that is primarily an action thriller is filled with this kind of exaggerated action sequences, boredom sets in pretty quickly.
Thankfully, the romance and comedy relieve the boredom somewhat. Vivek, as always, has some funny lines and moments(the time he is caught at the airport metal detector is the best of the lot) and tags along with Vijay to keep things moving. The romance isn't particularly imaginative but with Vijay and Trisha sharing good chemistry, it has enough fun and cute moments to keep us interested.
With the loud villains, the isolated land and the workers trapped as slaves, Kuruvi reminds us of the second half of Thagappansamy once Vijay moves to Cuddappah. Thats not a good comparison since all adjectives that applied to that film - silly and outdated, to name a couple - apply to this one too. With Vivek out of the picture and Trisha on hand just for the duets, Dharani struggles to move the story forward and employs obvious, irritating tactics(like Ilavarasu requesting Vijay to control his temper) to stretch things out. There are a few attempted comedy interludes but they are unfunny and seem out-of-place considering the seriousness of the proceedings. The area is gorgeously barren and the diamond-mining delivers a unique setting(as shown in the quick fight between Vijay and Ashish Vidyarthi) but these are wasted by the dragging screenplay.
Vijay is his usual, energetic self, throwing in his usual comic expressions, punchlines and Rajni dialogs(here it is "Unmaiyai Sonnen"). Of late, he has started trying out complicated steps that look more like exercise than dance steps and this takes the fun out of Dandanaka Darna.... The simple but graceful steps in Palaanadhu... and Mozhu Mozhunnu... are a lot better to look at. Trisha goes through the entire first half with a bemused expression that suggests that she wasn't taking things too seriously. She looks cute though some of the dresses in some of the song sequences don't suit her too well. Suman doesn't make much of a impact, especially since he is immobilized for quite a bit of time while Ashish Vidyarthi gets on our nerves with his shouting.
This kuruvi flies real low.