Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bommalaattam


Bharatiraja has been one of the most versatile directors in Tamil cinema, crafting both psychological thrillers like Sigappu Rojakkal and rustic films like 16 Vayadhinile with equal skill. His latest film Bommalaattam is a thriller set against the backdrop of the film industry and considering that his last foray into the thriller genre was the silly and amateurish Kangalaal Kaidhu Sei, it doesn't arrive with much hope. But the experienced director does make amends to a certain extent with Bommalaattam. It is an engaging, suspenseful film though the director's sleight of hand makes the film's conclusion a little disappointing.

Rana(Nana Patekar), an experienced and respected film director with quite a few movies and awards in his kitty, is currently working on a movie titled 'Cinema'. Frustrated by the heroine's demands, he fires her and halts the shooting until he can find a replacement. He finds the heroine of his dreams in Trishna(Rukmini) and completes the film with her. But just before the film's release, Rana and Trishna, while fleeing from the press, get into an accident that kills Trishna and leaves Rana injured. Vikram Varma(Arjun), a CBI officer, is convinced of Rana's guilt in Trishna's death, especially since there have been other questionable incidents in other locations where the film was being shot. And Vikram has a personal axe to grind with Rana too since Vikram's girlfriend Anita(Kajal Agarwal) is a big fan of Rana and is working closely with him.

The film is constructed skilfully, not giving us the full picture too early but never confusing us so much that we lose interest in the proceedings. Things are somewhat frustrating in the beginning as there are huge gaps in the story (as the movie fast-forwards through several events) and there are references to past events that we do know about. But as the gaps get filled in through flashbacks and the story begins to take shape, the suspense and the questions do draw us in. The red herrings(I counted 2) are added judiciously and not too obviously and so they do work in misdirecting us, even if only for a short time.

The film falls prey to the same thing most Tamil thrillers fall prey to - lack of focus. Partly due to the need to pad the running time and partly due to the need to ensure that the film attracts a wider audience, Bharatiraja adds extraneous elements that kill the pace and dilute the intensity requisite for a successful thriller. These elements - like Arjun's romance with a duet thrown in, Vivek's comedy, two other song sequences - are not intolerable or bad per se but interrupt the flow. The good thing is that they come early in the movie when the damage they cause is less.

Successful thrillers lull us into believing something and then surprise us using something that's been right before our eyes all the time. Bommalaattam too has a big surprise up its sleeve but it is brought in out of the blue, giving the viewer no chance of guessing what's coming. So it is a surprising twist alright but it doesn't elicit the pleasant surprise that usually accompanies a good twist. The feeling here is more along the lines of having been cheated - not just because we didn't see the twist coming but because the editing and the choice of actors ensured that we were never ven given the opportunity to see it coming.

With its film-inside-a-film structure, Bommalaattam seems as much an exposition on the orkings of the film industry as it is a thriller. So we get to see the unreasonable demands of actresses, the harsh treatment meted out by the director to the artistes(this is rather surprising considering the rumors that the film director's role was loosely based on Bharatiraja himself), the sorry state of the producer, the rumors accompanying a film shoot, the stress a shoot could put in the personal lives of those involved and the difficulties faced by some of the cast members, both from other team members and from the locals. Though none of this is new, it is still interesting since it is not something we see often. At the same time, since the movie is primarily a thriller, the goings-on don't have as much of an effect as they did in a more focused, emotional movie like Kodambakkam.

Nana Patekar, in his first Tamil film, imbues the director's role with the right mix of confidence and arrogance. His behavior on the sets is pitch-perfect and realistic. Arjun's role is more of an extended cameo though he does pave the way for the film's conclusion. Kajal Agarwal and Rukmini are adequate. Vivek has a few funny lines but is more of a distraction while Manivannan earns our repulsion easily.

9 Comments:

At 12:31 AM, Blogger skanda said...

so Balaji, i see that u were not actually 'stunned' by the climax, climax was really innovative not even seen in bollywood before. what do u mean by the feeling being cheated? i think it was a good suprise.

 
At 9:16 AM, Anonymous ram said...

I really liked the way "Bommalaattam" was constructed...the movie didnt make the mistake that some lesser thrillers do - try too hard to make the red herrings seem like the answer to the whodunit...the movie succeeded in gradually making me suspect several people before stunning (yes, STUNNING) me with the climax. I did not feel cheated maybe because bharathiraja mentioned in an interview that it was partly based on a true incident ...
Nana was brilliant as the eccentric director with different shades...I also liked the way human emotions (always a strength of b-raja) were dealt with in the movie...be it arjun's jealous comments towards nana, kajal agarwal's blind devotion to nana or even nana's protective nature towards krishna...
overall, it felt good seeing b-raja back in form...you have to go almost a decade back to "kadal pookall" for a decent b-raja movie and 15 years to "kizhaku cheemayile" for a b-raja classic... while no classic, bommalattam was still a very satisfactory movie watching experience...

 
At 9:56 AM, Anonymous vani said...

I didn't feel cheated. Rather I thought it was brilliant to show the possibility of such a climax.

 
At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice review.
Wanting to see the movie for quite sometime, where did you see it?
Swapna

 
At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't feel cheated with the climax. It was in line with the whole "puppetry" and creation of make believe worlds angle that BR alludes to throughout the film (notice the subtle comment of Nana to the hero who has trouble playing the dholak)

 
At 11:59 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

skanda/ram/vani/anon, i did say that it was a good surprise. yes, i did not anticipate twist at the end and it did surprise me. but i think bharatiraja cheated because he hid the most important part of the surprise from us. its kinda difficult to say more without revealing the surprise :)

swapna, thanx. online :)

 
At 2:43 AM, Blogger Bart said...

I enjoyed the movie even more so because of the bias I have for Bharathiraja.. The comedy portion was lukewarm but for which the movie just was pretty good. Nizhalgal Ravi's voice for Nana didn't gel well in all places. (BR himself might've worked better?!). Climax was just perfect (I tried to do over-guessing as BR had said in an interview no one can guess the climax. Obviously, i failed but felt happy about being cheated.) :)

 
At 12:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"its kinda difficult to say more without revealing the surprise :)
"
Not really, you can put a SPOILER ALERT. adhiayum meeri adhai padikkaravanai pathi neenga kavalai pada thevaiillai!

 
At 12:34 AM, Blogger R said...

Yes it did feel cheated... As balaji points out it was totally out of the blue -
almost like:
"aliens came and did this", or
"they are all ISI undercover spies so i had to kill them"
so would u call that a twist?

its like he took a random twist, and justify it with an explanation in climax

 

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