Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bye Bye Comedy Tracks?

Its quite a coincidence but from around the time that I wrote the post comparing Tamil and Hindi cinema, there's been a marked improvement in the quality of Tamil films (increasing the coincidence is the fact that I haven't seen many good Hindi films during the same time period). It's not that there's been a string of masterpieces or classics but most of the movies since then have been 'watchable' - not a term you could use to describe a large percentage of the films released in the first 9 months of the year.

The films certainly have had variety. They have spanned many genres, have been helmed by both new and experienced directors and have featured fresh as well as familiar faces. So I've been trying to see if there's any one factor common to these recent movies that made them better than their predecessors and I came up with one - the lack of a separate comedy track. Among the last 10 movies or so that I've seen, only one (Kee. Mu.) featured a comedy track with Vadivelu. That's a remarkable track record considering our history of separate comedy tracks. We've had thrillers(Saroja, Alibaba), action movies(Dhaam Dhoom), youthful romances(Kaadhalil Vizhundhen), mature romances(Raman Thediya Seethai) and masala movies(Sathyam) but none of them saw the need to resort to a comedian trying to earn laughs in a track with no connection to the main track. Even the presence of a comedian(Vivek in Jayam Kondaan) did not automatically indicate a comedy track. And movies like Dhanam and Pandhayam, the worst among the recent bunch of movies, were bad for a number of reasons but a disconnected, episodic comedy track wasn't one of them.

Comedy tracks have been part of Tamil cinema for ages now. N.S.Krishnan, Nagesh, Koundamani-Senthil, Vivek and Vadivelu are some of the comedians whose independent comedy tracks have rescued many a movie. The comedy tracks in movies like Udhaya Geetham, Karagaattakkaaran, Winner, Run and Parthiban Kanavu are not likely to be forgotten any time soon and the movies were certainly the better for them.

The comedy tracks in the aforementioned movies gave an illusion of being part of the movie. By making Koundamani and Senthil part of the dance troupe in Karagaattakkaaran and by making Vivek look for Madhavan in Run and by making Vivek a counterpoint for Srikanth's mental image of a perfect marriage in Parthiban Kanavu, the directors made them a part of the story. We knew that they were there for comedy but they blended into the movie. But somewhere along the line comedy tracks began to be inserted forcefully simply for the sake of having a comedy track. Factors like the track's connection to the main storyline, it's effect on the overall tone of the movie and it's impact on the pace of the movie were disregarded, leading to silly comedy tracks in otherwise solid movies like Kannum Kannum. And slapstick and even violence began to be passed off as comedy as comedians got hit and kicked and punched. Naturally, the quality of the tracks suffered and they simply stopped being funny. I can't remember the last time that I really enjoyed a comedy track in a Tamil film.

In the Hindi Cinema vs Tamil Cinema post, I mentioned three things that have helped Hindi cinema race ahead of Tamil cinema in terms of quality - lack of image among heroes, elimination of the separate comedy track and elimination of unbelievable stunts. If the recent movies are any indication, we might be ready to adopt atleast one of those three things. If this is a permanent feature rather than just a temporary trend, its definitely a step in the right direction.


At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

balaji i heard about a guy called santhanam though haven't seen his he the next big thing for tamil comedy ?


At 3:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bb, lack of comedy tracks might be there in Hindi but unbelievable stunts? Adhula avanga dhaan champion. Enna ippadi sollittenga? Whats your comparison points? VIjayakanth vs Aamir Khan movie? Vijayakanth should be compared to Sunny Deol. If you do, then the situation is pretty much the same here and there.

At 4:50 AM, Blogger anantha said...

Boss, the most atrocious "comedy track" that i have seen this past year is from Kuselan! Vadivel's antics with is "wife" made me puke!

At 1:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji, I am surprised that you missed to mention Vivek in Anniyan. I thought his comedy in the first half was more related to the main track of Vikram's failed advances(while helping the movie a LOT) than even his track from Run which was quite separate from Madhavan's romance/action storyline for the most part.

The thing is although we criticize separate comedy tracks in films, I must admit that I have enjoyed these tracks in films which were otherwise terrible. Vivek, especially has quite a few such memorable tracks(Palayathamman,Saami etc.)although Saami was'nt a terrible film. Too bad directors have not found a way for the most part to incorporate his talent effectively in the main storyline. I believe the comedians too have to take part of the blame for probably demanding separate tracks to justify their inflated salaries. A lot of times they even write their own tracks. I have been imagining a political satire by someone like say Simbhudevan that effectively incorporates the nakkal of Sathyaraj and the intelligent satire of Vivek and the physical goofiness of Vadivelu, in an understated manner, in one movie. A pipe dream I should say.

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comedy tracks for long have been the one of the more necessary ingredients of formulaic tamil movies besides, of course, 4 fights, 3 duets, 1 solo songs & 1 item number.

It was there during the days of Nagesh, continued with Goundamani, and moving ahead with Vadivelu, Vivek etc.

So I suspect, it's here to stay.

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

sri, i found him to be funny in the first few movies. but he's already gotten repetitive. gets on my nerves these days :)

anon, i was talking about those physically impossible fights our heroes indulge in. sure sunny deol's movies may have them but in Tamil, every hero has them :)

anantha, oh definitely :)

vijay, yes 'anniyan' and even 'sivaji' would be movies where vivek was funny without a separate comedy track. and even those movies u mention like 'paalayathu amman' and 'saami' had comedy tracks that had some link to the main track or tried to convey some point relevant to the movie. not so in recent tracks :)

anon, but one can hope :)

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being an insider in the industry i can vouch that this is just a temporary trend.
You've picked some small movies that don't change trends and most of them failed at the box office.
Maniratnam has been successful in avoiding separate comedy tracks for almost 20 years now but that trend just doesn't seem to catch-up with others. Kamal too has had his share of comedies w/o a separate track.
In a distributor's perspective today only Vijay can shoulder a movie in B and C centers without a specialist comedian. Blame that on our actors - Ajith, Vikram, Surya (his Pithamagan is considered an one off), Jeyam Ravi need a separate comedy tracks. The only exception is Dhanush who too needs a sidekick.
Unless these guys buck up and improve their skills you have to put up with separate comedy tracks.

At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post balaji. i am not a huge fan of comedy tracks, especially when they ruin the momentum of the main track. the elimination of te comedy track i think illustrates how producers, directors, writers have more faith in the actual story and respecting of the audience's intelligence to engage with the main plot throughout without distraction. i am not advocating the total elimintion of the comedy track, of course they have their place, but hopefully we get more films with a great deal more concentration on story and characters.

At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you really touched on something really important here Balaji. I've also noted the increasing disappearance of the comedy track and it's no coincedence that as a result the quality of Tamil movies has significantly improved. Hopefully Anonymous is not right about this being a trend because I do believe there is more emphasis on great stories and charactes presently, and they seem to be pretty successful critically and commercially.

At 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For any change to become permanent more Producers should be interested in financing new ideas and scrips.

The self proclaimed Film savior(a corporate that recently produced a disaster film) has a pseudo structure to show off. You don't have one person to judge a good script there.
They have Hollywood dreams now by producing a 6th Century epic :)

It's almost the same with other coporates except that you will talk interact with someone who is more suave :)
The company that recently produced a 60 crore Tamil movie is run by Owner's brother who knows just one thing "Apparam Vanga". This Apparam is never going to happen for new ideas and scripts.

Unless these structures change we will not see any quality raise in Tamil films.
Paruthi Veeran is a good example where lead Protagnists Karthi and Saravanan do Comedy. Whatever little changes you see are from Independent small time producers or from directors that can produce their own movies.
When the content is ready, you will have the corporates waiting to acquire Exclusive distribution rights only to soup up their Brand name.

There's another self-proclaimed I-make-movies-only-for-families villain who is mute to any scripts from outsiders other than his friends.

A small time producer or producer from old school is forced to think of break-even from every movie unlike the corporates who can afford experiments by the sheer size and scope of their buisness.
If that happens Tamil Cinema will improve leaps and bounds.

At 5:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji u forgot to mention duets and unbelievable dance tracks... they are meaningless and degrade south indian cinema


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